The star of The Squid and the Whale and The Living Wake on Woody Allen, Ween, and What is the What.
Jesse Eisenberg is the star of Adventureland, Zombieland, and the upcoming The Living Wake, a whimsical, absurdist comedy which finds him chauffering a terminally ill friend around in a bicycle-powered rickshaw. It is sad, weird, and improbably hilarious. In The Squid and the Whale, Eisenberg's pretentious teen was all too ready to hold forth on culture, even culture he wasn't too familiar with; in one almost unbearable scene, he parrots his father's description of This Side of Paradise as "minor Fitzgerald" and goes on to call Kafka's Metamorphosis "Kafka-esque." The real Eisenberg is more retiring, protesting, "I'm not really the arbiter of anything," but we managed to coax these recommendations out of him all the same.
Crimes and Misdemeanors, Husbands and Wives, and Hannah and Her Sisters are my favorites. Woody Allen spoke to what I grew up with. He developed my psyche before I even had one. It was the biggest honor last year — I got an email, Woody Allen had written to a director who directed me in a movie last year called Adventureland. The characters in Woody Allen's movies are usually kind of vindictive and selfish, and Adventureland is very warm, the characters are generous, but he had seen the movie and loved it.
What Is the What
I'm about eighty percent into it. I haven't slept this past week. Somebody bought me a Kindle, and you have no sense of how long books are — I realized it's a very long book, but it's just remarkable. It's the first Dave Eggers book I've read — I've read other stuff he's written. I think he's the best. The proceeds from the book all go to the school that the characters created. He's such a unique writer and a wonderful guy.
I read it every day. I've had two pieces in it in the last two months. I also annoy my friends and family trying to think of little ideas. The last piece I had in it was called "Marxist-Socialist Jokes." In any other context, it's like the most annoying thing you could describe to somebody, but if you put it in a McSweeney's context, it's like it adds some distance. There's this one guy named Ben Greenman, and this other guy Dan Kennedy, who runs The Moth. To me their stuff is just head and shoulders above the rest.
Philip Roth's Patrimony
Of course, he fits into the Woody Allen category. My favorite is Patrimony, which is his book about his father dying. It's incredible, the way he's able to evoke humor from the his father dwindling away. The Plot Against America is so great too — I love history, and he's able to make political statements without jamming it down your throat.
Ween's Chocolate and Cheese
I have all of their CDs. They're wonderful. My favorite is maybe Chocolate and Cheese, which is an old one, or Quebec, which is a newer one. You can't tell when they're being ironic and when they're being sincere. My friend and I were working on something, and in it, one of the characters had spinal meningitis. He gave me the song "Spinal Meningitis Got Me Down," as a joke, and I thought it was so great. It was like ten years ago, and my mom would scream at me every time I played it, cause she thought it was disgusting. It became, probably way too late in life, a form of rebellion for me. That's why I like it. I'm a middle child, but the only boy, so, you know, my mom told me I was precious growing up, and now I'm in therapy.
The Living Wake comes out in New York this Friday and in Los Angeles on May 21st.
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