Reading is about more than following a narrative or absorbing information; 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, which celebrates the books that inspire Denver artists.
Troy Walker has quickly become one of Denver's most sought-after comedians, a designation he'd dismiss with a modest scoff, despite its accuracy. A regular at Comedy Works, Walker has opened for some of the most prominent comedians in the country on their way through our humble cow town and also served as a fine ambassador for our scene during recent trips to Portland's Bridgetown Comedy Festival and in Los Angeles, where he performed at UCB's Put Your Hands Together. This week, Westword asked Troy about his favorites books, his influences and his time in law school.
See also: - Author Mario Acevedo discusses his literary influences, Rocky Flats and dogs - Nerdist's Erotic Fan Fiction leaves Denver filthy with laughter - Comedian Deacon Gray on comedy, comic books, and the Theory of Stew
Westword: You went to law school and were considering pursuing a legal career, right? Were you a fan of Grisham-like legal thrillers growing up?
Troy Walker: I read some John Grisham stuff when I was growing up. The Street Lawyer was great. I actually won my copy of that book in a Sixth Grade geography bee. Basically, I've been cool forever. To be honest, though, I never really read too much Grisham. A book here or there, but I never got too deep into his catalogue. When I was growing up, the author I read the most of was Michael Crichton. He's still my favorite author to this day. I've read almost every novel he wrote.
Is it a relief not to have to read and retain information from dense legal texts anymore?
Honestly, not at all. I actually miss it. It seems like most people don't enjoy law school, but I loved it. I really liked all of the complexity and malleability of the law. Law school is three years of intellectual boot camp, like cross-fit for your critical thinking skills. I absolutely geek out for that kind of thing. Even now I wait on Supreme Court opinions like they come with a check.
Do you remember any key books that were introduced to you through some mentor figure, like a parent or a teacher? What were those books and how did they affect you?
Well, my mom worked for Denver Public Schools for 32 years as both a teacher and an administrator. She always made reading a huge and important part of my life. I don't know that I would say that any particular book impacted me in any significant way. Rather, I would say that it was all of the different books she exposed me to in the aggregate that had an effect. I know for a fact that if she had not constantly read to me, brought different books for me to read myself, and absolutely indulged every literary impulse I had, I would not have the love for the written word that I do.
Which books do you find yourself recommending to friends?
My taste in reading material tends toward the eclectic, so my recommendations do as well. I'm very into non-fiction. Especially, books about American history. A couple of my favorites are Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and 1776 by David McCullough. They are about Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet and The American Revolution, respectively. They are amazing books and I make sure to recommend them whenever I get the chance. More recently, I really got into Confront and Conceal,which is about all of the covert actions that have been authorized by the Obama Administration. There is so much wild stuff that I had no idea about before I read that book. I've been recommending that a lot lately. As far as fiction, I recommend anything written by the late, great, Michael Crichton. I also have a few classics that I love and think everyone should read, to wit: A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, or any Dickens, really, Pride and Prejudice, and As I Lay Dying. I'm pretty sure those responses are basically the interview version of wearing a cardigan with leather patches on the elbows.
Hey, take it easy on the cardigan, it's the noblest of sweaters. Have there been any pop-literature phenomenons, i.e. Harry Potter or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that you've gotten into?
Well, to be honest, no. Not even a little bit. I saw the GWTDT movie but never read any of the books, though they seemed interesting. As far as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Twilight, etc, that's just stuff I would never read. Harry Potter is just kind of dumb to me. I know, something is wrong with me, but I just can't take those books seriously for some reason. I want to start reading the Game of Thrones books, but I started watching the show first so the books will probably have to wait, lest they ruin my new favorite way to spend time by myself.
What are you reading currently?
Currently, I am in the depths of The Second World War by Antony Beevor. It's this great historical narrative that covers the entire conflict in enough depth to be interesting and provide new information, without getting so bogged down in minutiae that it becomes a burden to try to get through. Probably not for everybody, but I'm really having a great time with it.
Does your schedule as a comic leave you with much extra time for reading? Do you have any favorite books to bring on the road?
(laughs) My Schedule as a comic? That's hilarious. Yes. I'm left with plenty of time for reading. I don't go on the road much yet. Hopefully that will change soon. However, when I do go on the road I just bring whatever I'm reading at the time with me. I don't have a particular favorite that I travel with. I feel like in a lot of ways that would defeat the purpose of taking a book with you when you travel. If the object is to avoid boredom, I feel like, for me, it would not work to look back through something I've read a ton of times. I suppose it doesn't matter much either way, seeing as how my face is going to spend the vast majority of any trip glued to a Nintendo 3DS.
Are you into comic books at all? Are there any superheroes or graphic novel series that you like to follow?
I never really got into comic books. I was always interested in them, but never really made the leap. I suppose that my interest was always just a passing one. I think comic books and graphic novels are great though. I should probably look at finding a good graphic novel series to give a shot. I've heard that the storytelling in many of them is topnotch.
I think you might enjoy Y: The Last Man, but it's a whole series, so there's a bit of a commitment. Anyway, last question: were there any comedy books or books written by comedians that you found instructive when you were starting out?
I actually never did read any of the comedy books a lot of new comics do. However, I don't really have a particularly good reason why. I suppose that I always doubted that those books could actually help me be a better comic, and outside of that I wasn't very interested in them. I think they can provide some perspective, but I'm a firm believer that, like writing, comedy is one of the things you can only learn by actually doing.
Walker will perform at the upcoming one-year anniversary of Matt Monroe's Propaganda! comedy show, at 8 p.m., on Sunday, July 18, at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret. He's also participating in the High Plains Comedy Festival, August 23-24.
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Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.