By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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SPARROWSparrow lives in a double-wide trailer in Phoenicia, New York. His hobbies are watching stand-up comedy and practicing Zen Buddhist meditation. His essay “My Book Life” appeared in our May 2019 issue. We asked him about Twitter, Trump, and playing the flutophone in an anti-rock band. You can follow Sparrow on Twitter: @Sparrow14.
“My Book Life” outlines your reading habits and comments on the habits of others. Do you have a reading pet peeve? Cracked spines, dog-eared pages, mouthing the words?
I secretly despise anything that substitutes for a bookmark: an apple, a cell phone, and, worst of all, a book turned upside down. (Though a rubber band around the edge of a novel is quietly elegant.)
Many of your pieces, especially the journal ones, feel like a series of tweets linked together. (This is a compliment.) Has regularly tweeting influenced your writing?
My paragraphs began getting shorter and shorter, until they were down to one sentence. Then Twitter was invented. I just got lucky.
You have no qualms about sharing your thoughts about our current commander-in-chief. (Perhaps this is the result of your numerous failed bids for the presidency.) What’s been the biggest surprise of Trump’s tenure to you?
Much of what Trump does surprises me — and some of it, I suspect, surprises him. His bizarre semi-courtship of Kim Jong-un, complete with threats to blow up the world if Kim wouldn’t rendezvous with him, still mystifies me. Certainly Trump’s conversation with Kanye West was one of the high points of American civilization. When Trump tried to take his wife, Melania’s, hand at Ben Gurion Airport in 2017 and she slapped it away — how poignant!
In addition to being a writer, you also play the flutophone in the “anti-rock” band, Foamola. What’s an anti-rock band? Is being “anti-” something a helpful prerequisite for making art? Is your writing “anti-” anything?
By “anti-rock” I suppose I mean that Foamola has no guitars, we sit while we sing, we hold the printed lyrics in our hands, and we’re never “cool.” And yes, the art I like — for example, the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti — has destructive intentions. As for my writing, I guess it’s “anti-literary”; I avoid those serious words like “crevasse” and “vibrato.”
You once shared a room with the late poet (and regular Sun contributor) Tony Hoagland at a Sun retreat in Big Sur, California. Do you have any recollections about him that you’d care to share?
We lived together — for two days — in absolute silence. I would do my yoga on the floor; he’d step over me to shave in the bathroom. We were elective mutes. Mostly he would stare out the window at the ineluctable Pacific Ocean, occasionally making entries in his notebook.
What are some aspects of your daily routine that Sun readers might not expect?
1) I am an olive gourmet.
2) I do lots of Sudoku.
3) I listen to hit radio: music for fourteen-year-olds. (For example, I just turned on K104 and heard “Rockstar” by Post Malone.)
Much of your writing, even pieces that tackle big subjects like an entrenched patriarchy or a crumbling democracy, has a sense of humor. Why is it important to you to make your readers laugh?
I have no desire to make my readers laugh. I have a compulsion to make myself laugh, which creeps into my prose.