Rob Roberge is in conversation with Joshua Mohr on Wednesday February 10th at City Lights Books about his acclaimed new book, Liar: A Memoir (published by Crown). He took the time to answer our 5 questions.
Event: Wednesday, February 10, 2016, 7:00PM at City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CA 94133.
About Liar: When Rob Roberge learns that he’s likely to have developed a progressive memory-eroding disease from years of hard living and frequent concussions, he is terrified by the prospect of becoming a walking shadow. In a desperate attempt to preserve his identity, he sets out to (somewhat faithfully) record the most formative moments of his life—ranging from the brutal murder of his childhood girlfriend, to a diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, to opening for famed indie band Yo La Tengo at the Fillmore in San Francisco. But the process of trying to remember his past only exposes just how fragile the stories that lay at the heart of our self-conception really are.
As Liar twists and turns through Roberge’s life, it turns the familiar story of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll on its head. Blackly comic and brutally frank, it offers a remarkable portrait of a down and out existence cobbled together across the country, from musicians’ crashpads around Boston, to seedy bars popular with sideshow freaks in Florida, to a painful moment of reckoning in the scorched Wonder Valley desert of California. As Roberge struggles to keep addiction and mental illness from destroying the good life he has built in his better moments, he is forced to acknowledge the increasingly blurred line between the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.
“Roberge’s writing is both drop-dead gorgeous and mind-bendingly smart.”—Cheryl Strayed
About the Author: Rob Roberge is the author of four books of fiction, most recently The Cost of Living (2013). He teaches creative writing and his work has been widely anthologized. He also plays guitar and sings with the Los Angeles-based band the Urinals.
City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?
Rob Roberge: I made it a point to get to City Lights the first time I was in the city as an adult. My memory of it was that I expected it to be a special experience because of its enormous importance in the literary fabric of America for so long. And it was quite a memorable experience. Later, when I had a piece (very early in my career) taken for a City Lights anthology, I took it as a sign that I had made it in some way.
CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?
RR: It sort of does have a soundtrack, as it’s a memoir and music is such a major part of my life. Some of the musicians/records mentioned in the book are Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Mingus’ Mingus at Antibes, Tom Verlaine’s Warm and Cool, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, The Dream Syndicate’s The Days of Wine and Roses (and Steve Wynn solo stuff), The Velvet Underground’s eponymous third album, Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights, Miles Davis Elevator to the Gallows, Glenn Gould, an early piece by Glen Branca, and a whole bunch more. But that’s probably more than enough to mention.
CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?
RR: Other than really early ones like Hop on Pop, the first one I remember picking out myself was [W. Somerset] Maugham’s Of Human Bondage in high school for summer reading, because it sounded like it might be hot. It was not hot . . . it lacked bondage entirely, but it was the first literary book I fell in love with.
CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?
RR: Wow. This is the first job I haven’t hated. So . . . what would I do? I think I might like to do guitar amp repair (which I do as a hobby as it is). I like taking old broken things and making them work again. Plus, I’d get to play guitar as part of the job description.
CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no wifi).
RR: No wifi, but (since you didn’t say no), I’m assuming I could have music? I’d want music. Some paper and pens/pencils to write. I guess I should have put food first. I would need food. And books. Ones that I knew were great, so probably a lot of books I’d already read–I’m a big re-reader as it is.
Join Rob Roberge at City Lights on Wednesday, February 10. He’ll be in conversation with Joshua Mohr at the bookstore. For more about Rob, check out his official website. Pick up his memoir, Liar, direct from City Lights, at Penguin Random House, or at your local independent bookstore.