Summer reading: T Cooper on 'The Odyssey'
T Cooper's new novel, "The Beaufort Diaries," is a surrealistic satire in which Beaufort, a polar bear, flees his diminishing arctic home for Hollywood and stardom. Cooper, who was raised in Los Angeles, enlisted the help of a genuine movie star for his book trailer, an animated short narrated by David Duchovny. "The Beaufort Diaries" is Cooper's third novel; he reads from it Wednesday at Book Soup at 7 p.m.
Jacket Copy: Do you remember reading a book or books during a specific summer?
T Cooper: I remember feverishly trying to plow through "The Odyssey" many summers ago, right after I graduated from college, in 1994.
JC: Where were you?
TC: I'd just gotten my first full-time job out of school, teaching middle school English and writing at a prep school down in New Orleans. I remember receiving (by fax!) the syllabus of what the kids were generally expected to be introduced to during their eighth grade year, and since I hadn't read most of the stuff since I was in seventh or eighth grade myself (and likely nominally at that), I was panicked that I wouldn't know what I was going to say and do that first week of school. Mostly I just wanted to remember how to spell "Odyssey" correctly on the chalkboard. It's really hard. But there was a ubiquitous Toyota minivan of the same name on the road back then, so that helped.
JC: Why was the book significant to you then?
TC: I think it took the terror of teaching the material to others to really figure it out for myself in ways I hadn't when first encountering it as a young pubert in middle school. If I'm remembering correctly, I ended up structuring the school year so that we considered pretty much everything we read (or watched) through the lens of "loneliness" and "difference" -- wonder what that says about me.
JC: Have you re-read it?
TC: No, I'm good. But I do think about Odysseus from time to time -- in fact he crept in a lot when I was writing "The Beaufort Diaries," which I think ended up as a post-war epic hero's journey with equal amounts of sex and drugs -- only set in different oceans: the Arctic, New York and Hollywood.
JC: Have you returned to that place?
TC: I've been to New Orleans a handful of times since moving to New York in '96. I was there about a year after Katrina, to interview my favorite soul music legend Irma Thomas for The Believer. It was a few weeks after Irma and her husband Emile were able to get back into their house after it was heavily damaged by the flooding. And I was just there for a few days last month. It's hard not to let yourself be swallowed by the epic nature of the tragedy that took place there. Even though we all probably should be letting it swallow us whole. I suppose that city has always been about nostalgia, even on the first day I moved there before I had a personal history or relationship with it.
JC: What are you reading this summer?
TC: I'm currently on book tour, so once I've sufficiently assessed all of the celebrity summer beach bods ("fab or flab?") I can stomach in Us, Star, and Life & Style magazines, I usually like to have some literary fiction along with me. This time I'm so happy to have grabbed from my bookshelf my dear friend Maud Casey's novel "Genealogy." I'm ashamed to say I'd never before read it, but at the same time I'm humbled to report that reading this beautiful book has done something I'd been thinking was impossible of late: remind me that I want to write another novel.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: T Cooper. Credit: Alison Glock-Cooper
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