Photo credit: Maarten de Boer Getty
Note: Jeffrey Tambor will be at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing in conversation with Kristi Turnquist on Monday, May 22, at 7 p.m.
Describe your book.
Like you, I love books. I love them so much I co-own a bookstore in Los Angeles called Skylight Books. I also wrote a book of my own called Are You Anybody?
During the process of writing the book, I realized the same thing that draws me to writing is what feeds my love of acting: connection. As E. M. Forster once wrote, “Only connect!” That is the essence of what I’ve tried to do my whole life. From hosting a talk show in my basement as a kid to playing a talk show sidekick on television, I have always sought to entertain as a way of connecting with an audience.
In Are You Anybody?, I share with the reader key moments in my life that taught me about creativity, play, pain, and fear. I talk about learning the art from the best of the best — Al Pacino, George C. Scott, Garry Shandling, Jill Soloway. I also mention many unexpected teachers, from the nameless man in a Detroit bookstore who made me love reading, to my young children who have reintroduced me to play, bravery, and the simple joy of not giving a shit. I invite you behind the scenes on Broadway and on the sets of The Larry Sanders Show, Arrested Development, and Transparent.
Basically, with my book, I try to answer the question: Who the hell is Jeffrey Tambor?
What was your favorite book as a child?
I have a different answer to that… My dad used to drive me to the West Portal Library in San Francisco. He had no idea why or what I was doing. I used to go and hang around the 812 section of the Dewey Decimal System and read plays. I had no idea why I did. I loved them. I loved reading plays. I didn’t tell my friends because it wasn’t very cool. That’s what I did as a kid. I was smitten. By the way, those were the days of card catalogs.
When did you know you were a writer?
I don’t take that word lightly. I co-own a bookstore and I grew up in libraries. I revere authors. I say “I’ve written a book” and don’t really call myself a “writer,” yet. That’s like a pianist playing his first piece. Is he a pianist, or...? Now I sound like some… god, stop me.
What does your writing workspace look like?
Well, it depends. It sort of looks like my lap, because that’s where my computer is. I like to write in different places with different moods. I usually rise with a cup of coffee, walk about eight steps to my chair, and bang away at my computer. Those first two hours in the morning are glorious to me.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
I love watching people. I am a people watcher. I find them to be books unto themselves. I’m quite often picked off as staring at people because I try to do the summation of the parts, which always comes out unequally.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
Well, one person told me they laughed and cried on the subway and that’s always good news… because that’s one of the great learning places of all time. I love the subway.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
No, I’m too embarrassed to admit it. Instead, I refer you to the chapter “The 13 Most Embarrassing Moments of My Career” in Are You Anybody?
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Lincoln in the Bardo. Because it literally floored me, because I have not seen a book quite like it. But I would start with George Saunders’s short stories. If you like genre and detective fiction, I would get into Michael Connelly and just start at the beginning. I have a literary crush on both of these authors.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
One of my favorite books of all time (and I still have a copy, which is mostly underlined) is A Moveable Feast, which was given to me by a bookseller — the mythical bookseller from my book, actually. It’s my go-to-all-the-time.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
J. C. Penney shoes salesman. I was in charge of putting on the babies’ shoes… which is impossible.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I consider every time I go to my bookstore, Skylight Books, a pilgrimage of sorts. Forgive me for my indecent plug. Hi, Powell’s Books!
What scares you the most as a writer?
That people won’t get my intention. I wrote this for my kids. It’s not “Hey, look at me,” but I hope people get something out of it and don’t mistake it as me trying to score anything other than that.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Here’s Beppy: A Life. My dad used to call me Beppy because I couldn’t pronounce Jeffrey. He also called me Stinky, so it could also be called Here’s Stinky: Also a Life.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question.” — Hamlet by William Shakespeare
(Also a perfect introduction to Are You Anybody?)
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
“Gosh I can’t — give me another book or two.”
Describe a recurring or particularly memorable dream or nightmare.
Note to readers: be careful with melatonin.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
I am at war with the semicolon — and I’m in love with the em dash.
Do you have any phobias?
Again, I refer you to Are You Anybody? See specifically the chapter “Old Mrs. Cohen.”
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
The Great British Bake Off. I’m devastated that Miss Mary left. Goodbye Mary Berry.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done in the Pacific Northwest in the last year?
I went to Powell’s Books.
My top five books:
1. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I know I'm mentioning it again, but it's that brilliant. I have never read anything like this. It’s based on historical truth — Abraham Lincoln’s beloved 11-year-old son dies and is buried in a Georgetown cemetery and Saunders spins it into a crazy story of little Willie hanging out in this strange purgatory — the bardo — with ghosts. Fascinating read. Full disclosure: I recorded the ebook, so I might be biased. No, I am biased.
2. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
I try to read a chapter a day. I laugh, cry, and underline in my book like someone possessed. Wit and wisdom are all throughout this book — wonderful.
3. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
I’m a family man — I have five children, after all, I have to be! — and this story about family, and Enid desperately trying to bring hers together again, struck me to the core.
4. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
My favorite book of all time. It’s about the American Dream. And the American Dream gone horribly awry. Roth is a brilliant writer of character. A truly powerful story… one I have read over and over again.
5. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
A masterpiece. This is a very erudite list, right?
÷ ÷ ÷
is an accomplished actor known for his unforgettable roles on The Larry Sanders Show
and Arrested Development
and his Emmy award-winning performance on Transparent
. Tambor has had memorable roles in films such as ...And Justice for All
, Meet Joe Black
, There’s Something About Mary
, City Slickers
, and Pollock
. He has also received two Screen Actors Guild Awards and was awarded a Television Critics Association Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Comedy Series. Are You Anybody?
is his first book.