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Books of My Life: Rainn Wilson on J.D. Salinger and other favorites

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To celebrate the publication of The Bassoon King — which charts his rise from band geek to sitcom star — Rainn Wilson talks to EW about his most memorable reads.

My favorite childhood book

The Phantom Tollbooth. I loved the wordplay, the humor and the fanciful characters, and the wild imagination. I wanted to be that little boy driving with his dog in the toy car through all the magical kingdoms.

The illicit novel I read in secret

From age 12 to 15 or 16, I was a huge science-fiction fan. And some science fiction and fantasy gets really risqué. I remember this one book with a guy with a sword on the cover, called The Vengeance Masters of Garnoth or something like that. Outside it looked like Lord of the Rings, but on the inside it was Fifty Shades of Grey.

The best book I read for school

Moby-Dick. I thought it was extraordinary. It was obviously written by a madman, but it’s such a great examination of the obsession and the underbelly of America.

The book that cemented me as a writer

Franny and Zooey. I was obsessed with J.D. Salinger when I was younger. And I liked Catcher in the Rye, but I loved Franny and Zooey. That was a great influence on me. It’s a spiritual book, but it’s also very funny and entertaining at the same time. There’s a lot of connections between me and Salinger. In my book I tell the story of seeing the face of God after smoking some pot that was obviously laced with something when I was in my 20s, and how my roommate read me Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters until I came down.

The book that people might be surprised to learn I love

M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. It’s treated like self-help, but it’s a brilliant part-memoir, part–psychological treatise of the human condition.

Classics I’ve pretended to have read

Never finished Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov. When people talk to me about Dostoyevsky, I’m like, “Ohhhhhh, yes, Dostoyevsky.”

Classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read

There’s so many. I’ve never read The Grapes of Wrath. Everyone says Grapes of Wrath is pretty great, but I kinda saw the movie. I get it: They’re in a car, it’s dusty, they’re going to California, there’s grapes and raisins. That was the origin of raisins, I think. California raisins.

The last book that made me laugh, and the last one that made me cry

Nick Offerman’s memoir, Paddle Your Own Canoe, was the last book that made me laugh. One that made me cry was Angels by Denis Johnson. It’s about people at the end of their rope, looking for love in all the wrong places.

My literary hero

Conan the Barbarian. He solves all his issues with a sword. I’m a neurotic guy, filled with angst, and life is so simple for Conan.

My literary crush

I remember when I was a kid I read a story about Raggedy Ann and Andy. I kinda had a crush on Raggedy Ann, and they took Raggedy Ann and Andy to an underwater world filled with beautiful sea nymphs in gossamer robes. They were very evocative pictures — vaguely pornographic for a 7-year-old — of these water nymph fairies under the ocean, longingly beseeching Raggedy Ann and Andy to stay with them. And I remember feeling like, “Why wouldn’t they stay with them? They’re so beautiful. I want to live under the water with the sea nymphs.” I guess I would say that in my ideal world, I’d be living underwater with Raggedy Ann and the sea nymphs.

The last great book I read

George Saunders’ Tenth of December. It’s hard to put a finger on what Saunders does, but he does it expertly. It’s like Twilight Zone meets Raymond Carver meets David Sedaris. The stories are funny and almost science fiction, but literature at the same time.

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