Each summer, Oxford University Press USA and Bryant Park in New York City partner for their summer reading series Word for Word Book Club. The Bryant Park Reading Room offers free copies of book club selections while supply lasts, compliments of Oxford University Press, and guest speakers lead the group in discussion. On Tuesday 16 July 2013, actor Raúl Esparza leads a discussion on The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
What was your inspiration for this book? (Choosing The Count of Monte Cristo for the book club discussion).
This is the first book I remember my father giving me to read. It was, he said, his favorite book growing up. It’s an easy read. I was a boy in middle school. I fell in love with the world and the drama of it. I used to act out the story. It’s a swashbuckler so it appealed to the tree-climbing dreamer in me, living close to the beach in Miami, imagining my own treasure islands and daring escapes and intricate 10 year old revenges. I also had a Spanish teacher who used to insist that we learn to be on time like the Count of Monte Cristo; this is a harder task for a Cuban boy than it would seem to be on the surface, but the idea of arriving melodramatically as the last b ell tolls the exact hour always appealed to me in theory.
I’ve read this book over and over in my life. As a boy. As a teenager. In my 20s and 30s. It changes, like all great writing, depending on when you come to the novel. It’s not an adventure story to me anymore. It is in reality a much darker kind of epic, dripping blood and acid and regret. But, of course, as a child, I had no idea this was the core of the novel all along.
And so the book lives as two experiences at once for me: first, as an inspiration for a boy to become an extraordinary man, perhaps someone who dreams of transforming himself constantly, as I have chosen to do in my life professionally, and then also, as a warning that the bitterness we hold onto in our lives and the fantasy of revenge that we all engage in at some point whenever we are deeply and truly hurt will always transform us, mold us into something, perhaps, that we do not wish to be, change us fundamentally in a dangerous ricochet we may not even notice until we have failed to live today because we have wasted all our life mourning what we used to have yesterday.
Where do you do your best writing?
At the top of mountains at the end of hiking trails next to waterfalls in the Rockies, and in the corners of old theaters annotating scripts and making up lives for characters I’m playing during breaks from rehearsal. Though that’s not really a question for me, is it?
Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?
Anne Lamott cause she’s honestly funny and heartbreakingly honest and I think she would be a teacher who would make English such a cool, wild, inspiring class to attend. That Spanish teacher I mentioned earlier, Beatriz Jimenez, I had her from 7th grade to 11th; she was one of those.
What is your secret talent?
I can sing pretty well.
What is your favorite book?
The Waves by Virginia Woolf though I don’t think she would have been a fun teacher at all, and I couldn’t possibly ask anyone to come discuss this painful masterpiece for an hour under the trees in a park. We’d never get past the first ten pages, or we’d sit around midtown in a deep existential funk.
Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?
Longhand. Writing on a computer is too cold. Pen in hand, unedited and uncensored, is a better way to get the heart of things, I think, and go past what you expected to create, especially when riffing about ideas for a performance or engaging in the kind of Rorschach test needed to fill in the spaces a great playwright leaves for an actor to climb into, but you don’t care about that do you?
What book are you currently reading? (Old school or e-Reader?)
I read too many books at once. For today:
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (old school)
Wild by Cheryl Strayed (iPad, wish I’d bought the hard copy)
Religion for Atheists by Alain de Boton (old school)
What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing?
; [The semicolon]
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
If I weren’t an actor, I might just be a writer. (I had figured I’d be a lawyer, but I’m not. I just play one on TV.)
Raúl E. Esparza is a four-time Tony Award nominee in every acting category. He currently plays the roles of A.D.A. Barba on Law & Order: SVU and Dr. Frederick Chilton on Hannibal. He has played recurring roles on A Gifted Man and Pushing Daisies, and guest starred on 666 Park Avenue, Medium, Law & Order: CI, and Law & Order. Film credits include Sidney Lumet’s Find Me Guilty and Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take. On Broadway, he has appeared in Leap of Faith, Arcadia, Speed-the-Plow, The Homecoming, Company, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Taboo, Cabaret, and The Rocky Horror Show. Other notable stage credits include the 2002 Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration: Sunday in the Park with George and Merrily We Roll Along, Shakespeare in the Park’s Twelfth Night, ENCORES Anyone Can Whistle, and Off-Broadway in The Normal Heart, Comedians and tick, tick… BOOM!. He is the recipient of the OBIE, the New York Outer Critics Award, the Barrymore, the LA Ovation Award, the Jose Ferrer Award and three Drama Desk Awards.
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