Who is your perfect reader?
My late writing teacher John Hersey, who was very formative in my wanting to be a writer and who I still dream of pleasing.
Who are your literary influences?
John Dos Passos, Raymond Carver, Flaubert and William Maxwell were all very influential when I first started writing. Now, the writers I’m most interested in are the writers who are most unlike me, for example Denis Johnson.
Can you remember the first book you read?
I remember the short story “So Much Unfairness of Things” by CDB Bryan, which I read in sixth grade. This was my introduction to the idea of ambiguity as a pleasure in fiction rather than a mistake.
Which book changed your life?
Anna Karenina. I read it in college. I was so engrossed that I couldn’t stop reading it and neglected all my other studies. I would go to the library even on nice warm weekends and just lock myself up. I think that was the first time that I felt transformed by a book.
When did you know you were going to be a writer?
When I was nine or 10. When I read a book I liked, I would get a pen and one of my father’s legal pads and rewrite it from memory as if I had thought of it myself. It was a clear sign that I wanted to be involved in writing, even if it was just pretend at that point.
Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?
Kenneth Branagh. There was a time in my life when people would tell me constantly that I look like him. I could do a lot worse than that.
Do you remember when you last cried?
When I had to tell my then four-year-old daughter that our dog had died. You never want to have to give your child bad news of any kind. When I had to tell my daughter about death like that, it really got to me.
Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?
Flaubert, even though he’d probably be rude and sarcastic. I’d enjoy seeing his mind at work, especially in a social situation.
If you could own any painting, what would it be?
“Rokeby Venus” by Velázquez.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter. A great literary novel but also the most erotic book ever written.
What does it mean to be a writer?
It means being engaged in a counter-narrative to so much else that dominates mass culture. It means doing something solitary rather than collaborative; something private rather than crowd-sourced.
Jonathan Dee’s latest novel is ‘A Thousand Pardons’ (Corsair)