Drawing Media, an Interview With Rex Parker

Drawing Media, an Interview With Rex Parker

Edith here. For the latest installment of my newish illustrated columnI spoke with Rex Parker, a.k.a. Michael Sharp, of the beloved crossword puzzle blog Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle. (I started following relatively recently but now read it daily, leaving it perpetually open on my phone.) Sharp also teaches English Literature at Binghamton University, runs a vintage paperback blog called Pop Sensationand tweets about The Lamps of Film Noir at The Lamps of Film Noir.

Rex, have you read (watched, listened to, or otherwise experienced) anything good recently?
Sure. Lots of stuff. My best friend and I decided to read all of Proust this year. We’re way behind already, but I have read Swann’s Waythe first of the seven volumes, and it’s exquisite. And hilarious. I did not expect Proust to be hilarious.

What’s something you’ve read or seen that changed your life, even in a small way?
I was buying something at my college bookstore in ’90 or ’91 and there was this amazing point-of-purchase display for a a new line of crime fiction from Vintage called “Black Lizard.” The display was a cardboard standee with this set of amazing-looking novels housed inside, covers facing out — black-and-white stills (evoking midcentury B movies) with bright slashes of color across them that featured the authors and titles. I’d never heard of any of them, but there were blurbs from people like Stanley Kubrick on them. They were so beautiful, so striking … they struck some chord in me that I didn’t know was there. I would later recognized this chord as “Noir.” I bought two of those books on the spot: Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson and The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford. I read them both immediately, in two gulps, faster than I’d ever read anything (I’m a slow reader).

Five years later, the Robert Polito biography of Jim Thompson, Savage Artcame out and was a big splash. *That* book changed my life — it featured a photo spread of all Thompson’s paperback originals, the 25-cent pocket books with lurid covers and taglines. I was mesmerized. I knew I couldn’t afford Thompson originals, but at some point, I thought, “Well, there must be lots of other paperbacks out there from this same era, with this same look, that I *can* afford.” And I marched right into downtown Ann Arbor, to the first used bookstore I came to, and started my vintage paperback collection right then and there (a collection that’s at about 3,000 books at the moment). The first one ever bought was called Louisville Saturday, which I wrote about here.

Do you subscribe to anything you don’t read?
Of course. Mostly Substacks I *want* to read but just don’t seem to get around to. Maybe this summer? (Maybe not.)

Read anything you don’t subscribe to? Like, are there paywalls you’re always skirting?
I don’t skirt paywalls. As someone who relies on his own readers for a good part of his income, I believe in paying for the media you consume.

Do you have a favorite newsletter?
Vince Keenan, former editor-in-chief of Black Cityhas a noir-themed newsletter I like.

Scott Hines’s Action Cookbook Newsletter is fun. Those are both newsletters with regular cocktail content, which keeps me coming back.

Have you ever lied about reading or watching something? Or felt tempted to lie about it?
The great thing about getting old is that I do not give a fuck about whether anyone thinks I’m well read or up on current shows. So no, no lying, as a rule.

Are there any cultural moments you currently think about unusually often? A song lyric, a moment from a TV show, or anything like that?
There are thousands. I don’t know how to pick one. If I can call the first decade of “The Simpsons” one cultural moment, yes. That show rewired my brain. It was the best thing on the air by light years. I still can’t believe it was real, let alone (somehow) still on the air thirty+ years later. So much about the way I write, think, teach, etc, comes from being immersed in that show for years and years. Not just direct quotes, but my whole sense of humor, my sense of timing. So many great, great, funny writers and performers were at the core of that show, from Conan to Albert Brooks to Phil fucking Hartman. And it was a show that didn’t treat women horribly. You could feel the affection that show had for Marge, and especially Lisa, who is an icon. My personal hero. That first decade was truly miraculous to me. The only thing that compares in live-action shows, for me, is “Freaks & Geeks,” which lasted just one glorious season. Again, I can’t believe something so perfect ever even made it to air.

What were you really into when you were 12?
Sadness. Donkey Kong. And The Motels — I listened to the album “All Four One” over and over and over and over. Martha Davis was my first celebrity crush. No, second. Olivia Newton-John was first.

Is there a book/movie/whatever you’d like to experience again for the first time?
Not really. Maybe The Long Goodbyewhich is my favorite novel, but I actually enjoy rereading it every year. I enjoy knowing it so well. I enjoy meeting sentences and paragraphs again like they’re old friends. You can’t get that on a first reading, obviously.

Is there something you wish your phone could do that it doesn’t?
Go away.

Please tell me something silly that you love.
My cats. They have such weird habits. Like, Alfie hates when you make the bed. He will not let you. Clean sheets are his enemy. No one knows why. Both cats have figured out that if you sit at the bottom of the stairs, you can look in the mirror on the closet door there and see the sliding glass door in the kitchen that opens onto the back deck (and vice versa). Sometimes I find the cats in these completely different parts of the house, one in the kitchen, the other at the bottom of the stairs, just staring at each other in that mirror. I’m like “buddy, you can just go in the next room and see Ida in person,” but no. Mirror staring. Cats are ridiculous, which is why they’re great.

Thanks, Rex! Rex’s crossword blog can be found here. And past Drawing Media installments can be found here.

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