Henry Winkler’s Dream Dinner Guests Wrote for Stage, Page, and TV

From a New York Times By the Book interview headlined “Henry Winkler’s Dream Dinner Guests Wrote for Stage, Page, and TV”:

What books are on your night stand?

My appointment book.

What’s the last great book you read?

Daniel Silva’s “The Collector.” Daniel writes the way I dream of writing. In my mind, he writes sentences the way I imagine traveling down a beautiful river in a fly-fishing boat: smooth and natural and clear.

In your Hank Zipzer children’s book series and again in your new memoir, “Being Henry,” you write about growing up with dyslexia. How did that affect your life as a reader?

My dyslexia has been a lifelong learning challenge. I am unable to sound out words, spell or do math, and I am grateful for everyone who has helped me each and every day. When my children were younger, I could not read them the bedtime story. My wife, Stacey, read those books aloud, and I acted them out. That was my job.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

My ideal reading experience is the dream of being able to read as smoothly as other people do. I can only read for about 15 minutes and then my eyes go askew, or I don’t remember what I just read, or I fall asleep. I really want to read, I wish I was better. I heard that Jack Kennedy would speed-read six newspapers in the morning by running his finger down the middle of the page. I tried to do that for a while.

Since reading was a struggle for you (and still is), what book made you most determined to persist in spite of the challenge?

Oh, it must be “Angela’s Ashes,” by Frank McCourt. I called the writer, I found his number, and I said, “Mr. McCourt, hi, this is Henry Winkler, I’m an actor.” And he said, “You don’t have to tell me who you are, I wasn’t born on the other side of the moon!” So I had the chance to tell him how meaningful the story was to me. That book zoomed like a rocket into my emotionality. I was amazed by the tenacity and the improvisation of living with nothing and making a life of something. It really made an impact on me.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

Lee Child, Rex Huppke, Steve Schmidt, Jamie Gangel, Jake Tapper, Maureen Dowd, Lewis Capaldi, Bruce Springsteen, Brandi Carlile.

You recorded the audiobook version of “Being Henry.” What was that experience like for you? How was it different from the acting work you’ve done?

Most people read a novel on tape in two days. The company that recorded the book allotted me 100 hours in front of the microphone. My director/engineer, Dennis Kao, was so patient with my stumbling, and I was able to get through it. Recording the audiobook was one of the most difficult parts of my professional life; it is also one of the most rewarding.

What book would you most like to see turned into a movie or TV show that hasn’t already been adapted?

“The Clan of the Cave Bear,” by Jean M. Auel, was the first book I ever read, and it was a triumph for me. I got a sense of what it was like to live at that time. I was so moved by the characters’ journey. If an adaptation was true to the author’s vision, I would love to see that onscreen.

Of all the characters you’ve played across different media, which role felt to you the richest — the most novelistic?

I love my work. I love the jigsaw puzzle of putting a human life together — from the description a screenwriter gives you, to what the other characters say about you, to the miracle of what happens in the moment. From the Fonz to Gene Cousineau in “Barry,” my overall journey as an actor is such a blessing.

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

“Ordinary People” — when I first met Stacey, we spent an afternoon chatting about that book and the band Huey Lewis and the News. She told me I needed to buy that book and adapt it. The next morning, I got in my car and sitting on the front seat were the new Huey Lewis and the News album and a hardback copy of “Ordinary People.” We have been married for 45 years, and I still have no idea how she got into my car.

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

My brain still reads a thriller better than anything, but I have so many books on my shelf that I wish I could read. I would love to read President Obama’s recent memoir or Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

I know my limitations, but I would still invite William Shakespeare. I would also invite Daniel Silva and definitely Larry David!

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