A version of this story appears in the Aug. 11, 2017 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Pick it up on stands Friday and available here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
My favorite book as a kid
Pinocchio. My mother read this to me at a very young age, 3 or 4. The original Pinocchio is very violent — Pinocchio takes a big wooden mallet and smashes Jiminy Cricket against the wall, and then he falls asleep with his feet on the stove and burns his feet off. And there I was, three years old. So that’s why I’ve been obsessed with puppets and dummies ever since. It was a terrible book to read to a kid!
The book that inspired me to become a writer
Barefoot Boy With Cheek, by a Midwestern humorist named Max Shulman. I read this book and I laughed so hard, I couldn’t breathe. I tried to copy it. That’s what I wanted to do — write funny novels. I never planned to be scary. You never know where you’re going to end up.
The book I’ve read over and over again
Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, about growing up in the Midwest. It’s like poetry — every page is beautiful. I try to read it once a year just to remember what good writing is. He’s a real hero of mine. He actually turned me into a reader when I was 9 or 10.
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The TV show I’m binging right now
Bloodline, about a tangled Florida family. It’s really good.
An illicit book I had to read in secret
When I was a kid, there were horror comics: Tales from the Crypt, and The Vault of Horror, and the Witches Cauldron. They were gruesome, horrible comics. I wasn’t allowed to have them in the house. My mom said they were trash. So I used to go get a haircut every Saturday because they had these comic books at the barber shop. I had less hair then, when I was a kid, than I do now. But I got to read these comic books.
A book I’ve pretended to have read
Well, a lot of times, people ask me to give cover blurbs to their books. I kind of pretend to read those books. Everyone asks my friend Harlan Coben, the thriller writer, for a quote. So he has a policy: Either I’ll read your book or I’ll give you a quote. And I pretty much do that. The funny thing is, then when I’m in the bookstore and I read some good quote, I fall for it. “Lee Child liked it!” And you know how phony it is!
My guilty pleasure TV shows
This is how I knew I was a good parent, okay? [My son] Matty was this little guy, and he has a couple friends over. And I’m listening to them. They’re in the other room, and they want to watch a movie. And Matt suggests something to them, and his friend says, “We can’t watch that! It’s in black and white!” And I hear Matty say, “But that’s when all the funny people were alive.” Isn’t that good? I knew I’d done my job. Now my grandson, Dylan, is 3, and he’s watching Laurel & Hardy. He thinks it’s hilarious.
A writer I really admire
P.G. Wodehouse. I love the Jeeves books, and I think I’ve read them all. I’d recommend Right Ho, Jeeves, though they’re all pretty much the same (hey, that’s what I do!). His language is almost Shakespearean; it flows with such ease. He’s hilarious. The characters are so stupid!
The fictional character I’d want on my side during the zombie apocalypse
Definitely Jack Reacher.
A book I consider to be grossly overrated
I was very disappointed with The Girl on the Train. I thought it was humorless.
My all-time favorite movie
A Damsel in Distress, with Fred Astaire. I watch it once or twice a year.
The fictional character who is my hero
Peter Pan, because he can fly and he never gets old!
The actor I’d want to play me in a movie
Come on! Jack Black already played me! How lucky was I that the movie turned out good? A really horrible movie can ruin a book franchise — look what happened to the Lemony Snicket books. Jim Carrey just ruined it. He was so awful.
It’s weird, they can’t really translate it because Lemony Snicket — Daniel Handler — is one of the funniest people on earth. I was on a panel with him, and afterwards, I swore I would never go on a panel with him again. He finished every one of my jokes. He was hilarious!
The last book that made me laugh out loud
Garrison Keillor’s Liberty. It’s a Lake Wobegon book, and I think it’s actually Mark Twain-level. I think people take Garrison for granted. He’s just a great storyteller, and to me, Liberty is his best book.
The last book I gave as a gift
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, a really good old-fashioned mystery. Keeps you guessing.
The TV show I think doesn’t get its due
You ever see Shades of Blue on NBC? It’s a cop show, Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta. The two of them together are fabulous. It’s so gritty, the cops are so crooked, and it’s just so tense. You wouldn’t think it would be on a network.
The last album I listened to
The new Shakira album [El Dorado]. Most of it is in Spanish, but it’s great. I love it! This is the most popular tweet I ever did, and I’ve been tweeting for years. You ready? Here it is in its entirety: “Shakira, Shakira!” [Laughs] That was the whole tweet! Hundreds of likes. Hundreds of retweets. Why? Why?
Have I ever bought my own book in a bookstore?
I do it all the time! People are very polite. They don’t say anything. Publishers are cheap, so I always have to buy my own stuff. I do it constantly. I give away a lot of books, like for school auctions, we’ll give away a set of 10 autographed Goosebumps books. So I buy Goosebumps all the time.
What I’m reading right now
I’m reading a Joseph Kanon spy novel that just came out called Defectors. I love Joseph Kanon. I would recommend one of his books called Stardust — it’s about this soldier coming home after World War II and getting mixed up in the movie business with this great movie mogul character. He’s very underrated.
The scariest book I’ve ever read
Pet Sematary by Stephen King is the all-time creepiest. I’ve stolen that plot about five times — I had to!
The scariest movie I’ve ever seen
I don’t get scared at movies! There’s something missing in my brain. Really. Horror makes me laugh.