The best books that make me feel like an absolute fraud

Who am I?

Why do I use the word “fraud?” The answer is agonizingly simple. My whole life, and I mean since I was ten, I wanted to be “a real writer.” Whatever that was. And now here we are, 55 years later. Despite my great good fortune to spend 24 years coming up with jokes for Dave Letterman, three years as a columnist at Sports Illustrated, and to have my name on four novels, if you asked me, “Are you a real writer?” I would tell you, “not yet….” Here are five real writers.


I wrote...

Shrink Thyself

By Bill Scheft,

Book cover of Shrink Thyself

What is my book about?

In Shrink Thyself, Charlie Traub decides to leave psychotherapy and live the unexamined life. A noble goal, which would be even more noble if his former therapist (now his friend) didn’t turn out to be beyond inappropriate and his mother didn’t die in a way that would have made Freud transfer to dental school. Despite all unexamined evidence to the contrary, Charlie just might be unable to accept that wherever he goes, there he is.

Bill Scheft has created a sad-sack hero with the exuberant narrative verve of a character out of Philip Roth or Saul Bellow…”  The AtlanticA laugh-out-loud commentary on life, love, and loneliness.” – Foreword Reviews

The books I picked & why

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A Special Providence

By Richard Yates,

Book cover of A Special Providence

Why this book?

My favorite novelist. Laureate of Broken People. Criminally underappreciated. In 1987, 15 years before I was lucky enough to be published, I wrote to Yates after I got his address from his daughter Monica, who was dating my fellow stand-up comic friend, some unknown guy named Larry David. In the letter, I revealed that I had just stolen his out-of-print 1969 novel about a post-WWII mother and homecoming son from the NYC Public Library and that it would always be my favorite book of his because it was the only one I had not yet read. He wrote back that it was his favorite work as well, then added, “I admire comics because it is much easier to break people’s hearts than to make them laugh.” (Spoiler alert: Larry David turns out okay…)


Elsewhere: A Memoir

By Richard Russo,

Book cover of Elsewhere: A Memoir

Why this book?

A memoir of his mother and his life in Glovershville, New York from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. It is utterly unfair that such a singular writer of fiction can be this deft at non-fiction. The best piece of advice I ever got as a writer was “Make your characters complicated…” Some characters, like Jean Russo, come complicated out of the factory. (By the way, Russo is a friend, and once told me at a book event in his honor that he felt like a fraud. So, I am in fine company). 


Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

By Jane Leavy,

Book cover of Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

Why this book?

This biography of the legendary pitcher, lovingly structured like a double helix entwined through his life and his 1965 perfect game, came out two weeks after my first novel. Jane and I shared the same publisher (HarperCollins) and editor, David Hirshey…and nothing else. It was a surprise bestseller to everyone but me and contains one of the great lines ever by a living icon: “Late success is quieter…” I started as a sportswriter. To call this a baseball book is to call Huckleberry Finn a fishing guide.


Mike Nichols: A Life

By Mark Harris,

Book cover of Mike Nichols: A Life

Why this book?

Let me ask you something. How do you write such an unflinching biography when you have the total cooperation of the subject without the subject having the good taste to pass away during Week One? Harris does it, and in doing so, vaults over the “Bang the Drum Slowly” author to number one on the list: “Greatest Writers Ever Named Mark Harris.” It is exhaustively researched yet reads like a thriller. And like Jane Leavy, Harris stays out of the way and leaves no fingerprints.


Post Office

By Charles Bukowski,

Book cover of Post Office

Why this book?

Note-perfect 200-page tent flap pullback of the gloriously flawed Henry Chinaski, the poster manchild for living life on your own terms. But you already knew that. Gambling, drinking, aimlessness, and all the stuff we love to get neck deep in. And by “we,”  I mean me. And maybe the greatest opening line in the history of literature: “It began as a mistake.” Here’s why I am a fraud: I didn’t know about this book until four years ago.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in making movies, childhood, and baseball?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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