The 4thcoming series is all about introducing you to our authors. If you’ve ever wondered what your favourite 4th Estate author is currently reading, listening to or what their writing ritual is, then we’ve got all those answers for you. Ian MacKenzie’s latest novel Feast Days is a taut, powerful and profound novel about a young woman who follows her husband to Sao Paulo. Find out more about Ian here.
Name: Ian MacKenzie
Occupation: Writer, diplomat
What you’re reading: I have an awful habit of reading many, many books simultaneously. Philip Roth somewhere said that if it takes you more than a couple of weeks to read a book, then you haven’t really read it—he’s probably right, but I find myself in perpetual violation of this rule. (I started Infinite Jest in 2011 and don’t intend to start over.) Now, especially as the father of a young daughter, I feel a certain pride, all out of proportion, whenever I reach the end of anything. I recently finished Hisham Matar’s The Return, as beautiful and intelligent and rich as Manet, whom he invokes to great effect. The roster of books I’m currently reading is far too long to mention, but includes Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom, Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s Heads of the Colored People, and Emma Larkin’s No Bad News for the King. I’ve also been dipping into Patrick Modiano’s oeuvre, immensely enjoying its mood and texture.
What you’re listening to: I listen to a lot of jazz, electronic stuff, chamber music, modern classical. And the listening habits of youth – alternative and indie, Dylan, punk and post-punk, all that – still obtain. Aphex Twin and William Basinski. Hamilton Leithauser and The National. Miles, Mingus, Trane. Schubert. There’s a young Ethiopian electronic artist, Mikael Seifu, making really interesting music. Nadia Sirota, the violist. I should mention Brazilian music as well—there’s so much that’s excellent. I love Jorge Ben. Toward the end of writing Feast Days, I often listened to Jamie xx’s In Colour. The structure of the first track, “Gosh,” was an inspiration: the way its second half, with the shifting of a couple of notes, grows so subtly and organically out of the first, becoming something brighter and deeper. I wanted to achieve that feeling of effortless evolution. What most excites me is introducing my daughter to music—that starts with Nina, Otis, and Aretha. She’s not yet one and a half, and already there’s a sense of rhythm and joy.
What you’re watching: Art on walls, when I can, but more often it’s too much T.V.—I suppose that’s the era we live in. Armando Ianucci’s Veep is excellent: the American absurd pressed through the sieve of a British sense of humor. And Donald Glover’s Atlanta, which homes in on something that should be obvious: existence is just really strange. On that show, the strangeness (and injustice and absurdity) comes out of the experience of being a black American—look no further than finding yourself arrested by the police for sitting at a table at Starbucks—but this recognition, that being sentient isn’t clarifying so much as bizarre, is a universal one, I think. My favorite film of the last ten years is Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. From Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius was exceptional. My wife and I also started watching The Leftovers. I like it because the show’s premise—two percent of the global population vanishes in an instant, without explanation—creates a world in which the prevailing emotions are confusion and anger, which feels a lot like the world we live in, anyway.
Favourite word(s): Like Emma, the narrator of Feast Days, I love the Portuguese words saudade and cidade. And I’m helplessly charmed by flights of inventive, operatic cursing. What could be richer and more human than that?
Favourite song: Bach’s cello suite no. 1, performed by Pablo Casals.
Living person you most admire: Three women: Joan Didion, Jamaica Kincaid, my wife.
The trait you most deplore in yourself: Unclear thinking.
The trait you most deplore in others: Unclear thinking.
The book you wish you’d written: The better version of a book I’ve already written.
The book everyone should read: I don’t think I’m endowed with the kind of authority you need to assign everyone a single book to read.
Writing ritual: I wish I had one; I might write more.
Best advice ever received: To be a writer, do something that isn’t writing.
Think of something beautiful: The Wadden Islands, off the NW coast of the Netherlands.
The most memorable sentence you’ve ever read: “He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.”
If you weren’t writing: Session drummer.
Best place to write? Not a place but a time: when my daughter is sleeping.