Ryan Lieske: What is the first book you remember reading, or having read to you?
James Harris: The first book I could remember being read to me was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in 2nd grade. It was also my first introduction into the fantasy genre.
RL: Is that book or series that you’ve gone back to later in life?
JH: Sadly I’ve never re-read that book since. Maybe someday.
RL: What are the books that sealed your fate as a lifelong reader?
JH: The Choose Your Own Adventure books series. They were addictive to read because you have to make choices as the protagonist. It almost felt like a video game in book form. I don’t know if the books still hold up now. I haven’t read them in a long time. I need to read them again someday.
RL: I was very addicted to, and influenced by, those books as well. Are there any particular ones you can recall liking the most, and if so, what was it you dug about them?
JH: I can’t remember the title but the main plot in one of the book was that you played a worker in a space station. You’ll be in random situations where most of your actions are build around random luck.
For example, you’re walking down the hallway in the space station. The hallway ends and you’re standing in front of two space dock doors. Which one do you choose? I choose door two. Ooops, now you went through a time warp leaning to the Triassic period. You get killed by a T-Rex.
I would be so upset by random stuff like that but I think the writer knows who are reading these books. It keeps you on your toes and that is why I liked reading these books.
RL: A lot of people tell me that, even if they were a voracious reader as a child, it was their middle-school and high-school years that had the most impact on the reader they are today. Would you say this is true for you?
JH: Actually, I never was a heavy book reader back in grade school. Comic books were my thing. Growing up watching Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men got me hooked into comics. The comic book series that shaped me was Preacher. Reading Preacher in high school blew my mind and made me realize that there are more than just superheroes in comics.
RL: What were some other comic series that you were really into?
JH: Hellblazer. I didn’t start reading that until later in high school. Around the time when Preacher was almost done and I needed another series that would replace Preacher for my monthly reading. Hellblazer and Preacher are both dark fantasy horror but in different ways. John Constantine isn’t the noblest, most likable character (like Jesse Custer), but he is, like Jesse, a complex character.
John Constantine is an occult detective who uses his wits, charm, and magic to get out horrible situations. He is not a guy who you’ll call a friend. You’ll be killed just by being associated with him. Maybe that’s why he is one of my favorite comic book character of all time.
RL: Speaking of this time period, were you one of those kids who went rogue from the curriculum and read whatever you wanted, sometimes even ignoring what was assigned to read altogether?
JH: I can’t think of anything memorable my teachers gave me to read. I hated high school and I still do. I was the weird art kid who liked anime and comic books.
RL: What new books, literary styles, or genres were you exposed to in college?
Around that time I was reading the first two adaptations of Richard Stark’s (real name Donald E. Westlake) Parker graphic novels by the late Darwyn Cooke. It wasn’t my first time visiting the character. By that time I’d seen two loose adaptations of his first book, The Hunter, made into films: Point Blank with Lee Marvin in 1967 and Payback with Mel Gibson in 1999. Richard’s Parker is a no nonsense criminal who says very little and gets straight to the point with his actions. Darwyn’s art displays this beautifully. I’m sad he’ll never do Butcher’s Moon.
RL: Can you talk about any social justice books from that time that still stick out to you?
JH: Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. The book shows how unfair and brutal the criminal justice works in America for people of color. Alexander goes in-depth on how this came to be: racism, slavery, the war on drugs, and the prison system to name a few. The books open my eyes that not everyone is a criminal and life after prison is the just as tough as being locked up.
RL: What were your first bookstore experiences like?
JH: Argos Book Shop was the main bookstore I would go to back in the day. I still go there from time to time. I mostly go to Vault of Midnight for my comic book fix. I own a Kindle now so all my book reading is mostly done through that.
RL: Did you find, as you grew older, that the books of your youth began to mean less to you?
JH: No. Not really. Whatever I still read, I’ll go back to read that book later in life. If the book wasn’t that good, I’ll never read it again. It’s that simple.
RL: How has your reading life survived adulthood?
JH: My reading lifestyle has changed a lot. I can’t get enough of it. I mostly read at the coffee shop, bar, or before going to bed. I always try to make time for my reading.
RL: What types of books are you mostly drawn to now?
JH: Non-Superhero comics and non-fiction books. I’m reading mostly comics from Image Comics. Some of my favorites are East of West, Southern Bastards, and Outcast. All three comics are creative owned which gives them all the freedom of creating the series. East of West is my favorite of the three. It reads more like a TV show than a comic book. Large cast of characters with plots and subplots with big sci-fi concepts.
RL: How do you share your love of books with others?
JH: I always ask my friends what are they reading recently. Luckily, most of my friends read books. I do loan books from them too.
RL: Anything good been recommended to you lately?
RL: I’m glad you read that. But I almost feel like I should apologize? Haha. It’s definitely a fucked up read, and one you’ll probably never forget. I know I haven’t. Stokoe has agreed to do this interview, and I’ve definitely got a few question I need to ask that dude about Cows.
Now, I’m one of those people who reads several books at a time. I’ve been called a “reading polygamist.” Are you?
JH: I can do that with comics but not with books. Comic books I can take my time with or blaze through them; not with books. I read one book at a time.
RL: I’m not a big fan of the term “guilty pleasure.” However, for want of a better term, so you have any literary guilty pleasures?
JH: Nope. I really don’t. My reading habits are either like or hate.
RL: This one could apply to all art, really, but in terms of writing, what are your thoughts on “genre?”
JH: If you want to sell your product, make money, and make a living off your writings; yes. Does that book can have multiple genres and be noticeable among the populates? Of course. Labeling genres do matter so you know who your target audience is.
RL: Are you a physical copy person, or do you prefer other ways of “reading” books, such as e-books or audio?
JH: I’m still a fan of physical print but I do love my Kindle Paperwhite. I only do physical print with comics, art books, and textbooks. Print will never go away.
RL: Do you take a book with you wherever you go?
JH: Yes. 95% of the time.
RL: Do you collect books?
JH: I try to collect books that I’ll re-read again in the future or use them as references. Most of my books on my shelf have replay value. It’s important to me that everyone should own books at home. It shows that you’re a reader and not just some dude who only watches Netflix all the time.
RL: What is your current favorite book?
JH: My recent favorite is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. There has been many great books about being black in America, dealing with the struggles against racism, and finding identity as African-Americans but not many of them at this point talks about what’s going on with Race in America these recent times. Coates displays it in such a emotional, intellectual, and straightforward level that Coates leaves nothing unturned. I think it’s a modern classic that everyone should be reading.
RL: I’ve had this book on my To-Read list for awhile. Can you talk to me in more detail about one or two key points the book makes and your own thoughts on those points?
JH: The Dream (American Dream) and the body (or the black body). These two themes works hand-in-hand throughout Between The World and Me. Coates sums it up perfectly:
“I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.”
I’ve been told that message of “do hard work” and “have great character” to succeed but it’s hard when you’re black in America. [To] know that this country was built on the bodies of bondage and sorrow. The Dream wants me to forget that and move on. I can’t do that.
RL: Nor should anyone forget that.
JH: Also: “The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous, thinking, and honest writing.”
I’m a critical thinking SOB so you already know how I feel.
RL: Lastly, just for fun, what is the one book―be it a widely lauded classic, or bestselling popular phenom―do you find absolutely unreadable?
JH: 50 Shades of Gray. I’ve never read it and I will never read it. I would rather watch hardcore porn instead.
RL: Thank you for discussing your reading life with me. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
JH: I did! This was fun!
See me in the upcoming horror anthology TV series, Local. I’ll be in an episode directed by Jason Roth. I’m playing as a producer that helps the director put a curse on his film from illegal downloads.
FIND JAMES HARRIS ONLINE AT HIS FACEBOOK PAGE.