Comedian Roger Norquist on Paul Auster, postmodernism, and not having sex with people who don't read
Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature celebrating the books that inspire Denver artists.
Roger Norquist is a comedian, podcaster and self-styled occultist. As co-host of the Lion's Lair open mic, Norquist is a Denver comedy-scene ambassador for the scores of novices who cut their teeth at the legendary Colfax dive. Norquist, who's known for his absurdist one-liners, also co-hosts the resurgent Werewolf Radar podcast, which has returned from a brief hiatus better than ever, releasing episodes on its website and on itunes every week and recording a live show the first Wednesday of every month. Tonight, Norquist will join co-hosts Jordan Doll and Nate Balding and guest Bobby Crane and Chris Charpentier for a live podcast recording at El Charrito. In advance of that event, Westword caught up with Norquist to discuss Paul Auster, postmodernism, mythology and a John Waters quote about refusing to fuck people who don't own books.
Westword: You had a pretty funny tweet a while back. I think it said something like, "If you go home with someone and they don't have books, don't fuck them."
Roger Norquist: The John Waters quote?
That's a John Waters quote?
It's probably good for the species to not fuck people who don't read, though. Everyone should have at least a couple books in their house.
I don't. I like well-read women. I'm also a very nervous guy, and books are something that I can talk about without having inhibitions about what to say next. I always generally know what to say about a book. Because if you've read it, it's just expressing your opinion at that point.
It's an unobtrusive way of getting to know someone.
Yeah, you don't have to talk about your families and that bullshit.
Discussions like that can be a real minefield when you're getting to know someone.
"What's your favorite book?" A way better opening question, and you can learn just as much about a person.
So then, what's your favorite book?
My favorite book is probably The New York Trilogy. It's a series of three novellas written by Paul Auster: City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room. They're existential crime novels. Where there isn't really a mystery to be solved or a point to learn, it's just a lot of weird coincidences happening and the world being deconstructed.
I haven't read any Auster, but those books sound like something I'd enjoy.
City of Glass was one of the first novels he ever had published. He also wrote Moon Palace, which taught me the best scam ever. In census-taking -- and I think it's still this way today -- all they're really doing is looking for names, so you can just make shit up and have fun inventing whole lives and families. That's what the beginning of Moon Palace is about, just him scamming the government. Paul Auster is definitely one of my favorite writers. I suggest him to everybody. He's doing what postmodernists should do, which is having fun. It's not about proving how meta he can be. It's supposed to be fun to deconstruct stuff and build a new structure.
When did you first start reading Paul Auster?
In a post-modernism class. We were reading a lot of stuff from the late '80s and '90s, so of course, graphic novels were a part of that. So we read a graphic novel adaptation of City of Glass. It was adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli. David Mazzucchelli is the guy who co-wrote Batman: Year One with Frank Miller. They're superhero guys; they had a darker take on Batman and his backstory. They actually deal with big ideas. City of Glass was a phenomenal adaptation. It's more driven by language than most other comic books. The graphics are more metaphorical than narrative. Like a cave drawing, almost. It took them like five years to adapt it.
Was that class your first exposure to postmodernist literature, or did you sign up for the class because you were already interested?
I took the class because I was into that style of literature. I was studying to be a teacher and what I wanted to teach was modern and postmodern fiction. Writers can't really seem to move past postmodernism right now. We'll figure it out. But some of it has more credibility than others, it's not all just Norman Mailer talking about himself. Paul Auster is more existential. He understands that postmodernism is about blurring every genre.
Do you mostly stick with that kind of literature?
I read a lot of classics, too, but probably with a postmodern eye.
What are some of classics you've read?
All the big ones. The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid. I love Joseph Campbell. I went through so many years of college just being a stoner who took whatever lit classes I thought sounded cool. So I did a few mythology courses, too.