10. English Major
RCS: Alright, last question. You're always bragging about being an English major. So what's your favorite book?
Kornheiser: I have some works that I’ve read that were absolutely mind boggling for me that I envy beyond comprehension. There’s a list. There wouldn’t just be one. It would have to be Ulysses by James Joyce; it would certainly be Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller; some of the new journalism of Tom Wolfe and up to The Right Stuff, which is a fabulous book; it would be the rolling, cascading, incredible sentences of E.L. Doctorow; it would be Shakespeare because I've read just about every play there is.
I will tell you this though, when I started to write -- and I liked to write very much, even though I didn’t think I was very good or anything -- I was influenced by other writers. But you can’t really write until you get the other writers out of your system. At the beginning, you’re always aping someone until suddenly your own voice comes out and you don’t even know when it happens. It takes a while, it’s a process and if you look for it, you’re never really going to get it. You just have to trust that this voice that is you will eventually come out.
Truman Capote's first book, Other Voices, Other Rooms, I can’t tell you how many times I started that book, maybe 40-50 times, and couldn’t get past the first page. I would pick the book up in my hands and say out loud, "I can’t do this, this guy is so great, what am I doing in this business?"
Everybody wants to write novels, everyone wants to write plays. I wanted to be a newspaper writer cause I’m not as good as them. I wanted to write newspaper stories that could bring you laughter and bring you to tears. I wanted to be able to do that.
When I read Capote, it was unbelievably humbling, seeing genius in front of you thinking, “Check! Check! Get me into a cab!” As an English major, you’re almost constantly humbled. You take Shakespeare for granted. Everything the guy wrote was great, and he wrote it in the 1500s. He’s being studied in the 2000s. You think anybody is gonna pick up anything I ever wrote in 2100? What are you, crazy? Being an English major prepares you for how great others are, and teaches you a certain amount of humility.