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Steve Martin Likes Books in the ‘I Can’t Put This Down’ Genre

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

I once received a coffee-table book of the work of the artist Walton Ford. I call it a coffee-table book not because it belongs on a coffee table but because it’s the size of one.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

I’ve drawn a lesson from Hannibal Lecter. When writing movie characters, the studio often wants the lead to be “likable” by giving him or her so-called likable qualities. “Oh, look, he likes puppies.” I always point to Lecter: At the end of the movie “Silence of the Lambs,” don’t you kind of like him?

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I always remember the “S.N.L.” bit where Nora Dunn referred to her collection of Vogue magazines as “books.” That was my childhood. Growing up, reading was not a part of my household, so comic books and magic catalogs were it for me. Once I hit college though, wham. Camus, Thomas Wolfe, James Baldwin, Sartre. I once picked up “Being and Nothingness,” thinking I would breeze through it. More like walking against the wind.

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

I’ve definitely swung to biographies, which are great for my audiobook habit. Blake Gopnik’s sizable Andy Warhol bio occupied my summer. Before that, I was on an electricity craze with Tesla, Edison and Ben Franklin.

Many readers report rapture in picking up a hefty, real book bearing the smell of the printer’s ink. I mostly mislay them. “Now where is that book? Oh, it’s in another state.”

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

All I really want from a dinner party is to have fun. I just don’t know if Socrates was fun. I know Nora Ephron was, so she’s in. Oscar Wilde, too, but what if he’s having an off night? Could be a disaster. Mark Twain had a wide-ranging intellect, so he’s in, plus I owe him. Dorothy Parker, just to find out if what they say about her wit is true. Adam Gopnik is always a welcome guest: How is it possible to be smart about everything? And now I’m rethinking the Socrates invite. He could moderate and probably do it very well. Oh, and Rebecca Solnit. I loved her book, “Men Explain Things to Me,” so she could throw me looks whenever I became “that guy.”

What do you plan to read next?

“Moby-Dick.” Yeah, right.

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