Author Interview: Garth Stein

Garth Stein, bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, has always been a storyteller. He went to graduate school for film and made documentary films for years before he wrote his first novel, which he did while also working on grant proposals.

“It was almost accidental,” he says. “But I enjoyed the process, so I kept going.”

The Art of Racing in the Rain was his third book, and it spent 158 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The story is told from a dog’s point of view. Enzo knows that he’s different than other dogs: through his race car driver master, Denny, he’s gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he believes that in his next life he will surely return as a man. The inspiration for such a unique story?

“When I was making documentary films, I had seen a film made in Mongolia about dog reincarnation, dog transmogrification. It’s about the evolution of a dog’s soul into a human soul,” says Garth. “When I moved from New York to Seattle, I started doing some car racing and thought what a great world for a story. The dog came into it, and the next thing you knew, I had a book. Even though I wrote the book in only four months, it was years in gestation.”

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Garth had it in the contract for The Art of Racing in the Rain that he would read the audiobook himself, but ended up deciding that someone else should tell the story after he read a chapter of the book to his wife.

“After I was done reading she said, ‘You read like an author.’ And I said, ‘Well is that good?’ And she said, ‘No. People listening to the audiobook want to hear an actor.’

Though he didn’t end up narrating the book himself, he was involved in the narrator selection process. He chose Christopher Evan Welsh to tell his story: 

“He’s an actor, and I liked him because he studied at the University of Washington, so he knew how to pronounce Northwest State words, like Issaquah and Puyallup and that kind of thing. He passed away a few years ago tragically, but he really brought great life to Enzo.”

The Art of Racing in the Rain movie will be released August 9, 2019. The director consulted Garth a little bit, and he would make his opinions known, but he says that all he really had to do throughout the process was let them adapt as they would. 

“I feel that fans are more excited about the movie than I am,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t care about it, I do. I’ve seen it now, so I know what it is. It’s just that reading a book is a very unique experience. It’s a singular experience. It’s a relationship you develop with the writer of the book and it’s personal. It’s almost like taking that out of the book and putting it on a movie, which is more of a group experience, is different. Not that it’s better or worse. I’m sure it will be interesting. People in groups react differently than people individually. I’m interested to see how the humor will play, as well as the tragedy that’s built into the story.”

Garth Stein reads a lot of audiobooks, and he had some great audiobook-listening tips to share with us.

One had to do with learning to focus on audiobooks: “You have to train yourself to listen to audiobooks. When I first tried doing it, it didn’t work for me because I was daydreaming and my mind would wander. Then I realized you really have to train your mind to focus on it. I started listening because I travel a lot, and I find when I get on an airplane and try to read a print book, I immediately fall asleep. Now, I put on an audiobook and I do jigsaw puzzles on my iPad, which is mindless, as I listen to audiobooks.”

The other had to do with the speed at which he listens: “I do tend to speed up audiobooks. I listen at a regular tempo for the first 10-15 minutes, then I’ll go up to 1.25 because my brain is going faster than the narrator. Then it depends on the book: I may go up to 1.5, but sometimes I have to slow it down. I always slow down the last chapter because I don’t want it to end.”

His top audiobook recommendations? 

“Kenneth Branaugh is a fabulous actor of course, but he does great audiobooks. There are two books he did that I’m a big fan of. One is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. He also narrated The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Those are really terrific performances. Ruth Ozeki is terrific. My Year of Meats, narrated by Anna Fields, was terrific. I really enjoyed Circe. I read a lot of audiobooks.”

“I’m listening to a book on right now Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, and it’s a performance. It’s an actor doing it. He’s doing all the different voices and it’s all interior monologue, so it’s really quite captivating. There are some cases where authors are good at that: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki—she narrated her book and she’s fantastic.” 

As an author, independent bookstores have meant a great deal to Garth both personally and professionally. He called them “the writer’s best friend.” He also noted the importance of the relationships and human connection they bring to their communities. 

“I think it’s important that we recognize it’s not just about a transaction of product,” Garth said. “It’s about relationships and it’s about human connection. You go into a bookstore and you go to the bookseller and ask, ‘What do you recommend?’ It’s a real thought process as opposed to ‘Let me tell you, based on your buying history, what you should read next.’ No, no. I want to hear what someone else thinks because I want to broaden my horizons, not narrow my horizons. In a bookstore dealing with a bookseller–or with librarians as well–that’s where you broaden your horizons because you’re taking someone else’s ideas into account.”

Garth Stein is also a champion of literacy in America—he’s on the board of Hugo House, a literary center in Seattle.

“Writing and literature is crucial to our society, so it’s great to work with Hugo House and be able to broaden their reach,” he said. “In order to read a book you have to practice empathy, so I think all people would benefit from reading as much as they can.”

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