Joshua Cohen is a Brooklyn-based writer who’s been hailed as “The Great American Novelist.” His latest fictional expose, Book of Numbers, follows the life of a writer, also named Joshua Cohen, who becomes the memoirist of the world’s most powerful tech company. The book follows Joshua throughout the murky webs of surveillance, technology, and its effects on our day-to-day lives.
Cohen lives in Red Hook, where we recently shared crab rolls and broccoli rabe at his neighborhood hangout, Brooklyn Crab. We spoke about his rigid morning routine, love of whiskey, and stalking exes on social media.
What’s your morning routine?
I just work all day. I have no routine whatsoever. I smoke a cigarette, drink a cup of coffee, and get to work. I usually work from 8 or 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Then I eat the same thing everyday, pretty much, which is whatever the sandwich special is at Defonte’s, the Italian sandwich shop nearby. I typically order the “Enzo Special,” which is roast beef with broccoli rabe. And then I work again from 5 p.m. till 10 p.m. And then I’ll probably go out drinking.
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How do you write such prose after drinking every night?
I don’t really get hungover.
Even from whiskey?
I mean…I only drink whiskey.
Good for you.
It’s actually pretty bad! You should feel the damage you do to yourself.
Do you celebrate the weekends?
I don’t even know what day of the week this is right now. I’m good with the numbers, not with the days. I haven’t worked in an office, ever. Or maybe since I was 21 or so, but that was an office in Berlin and one in Prague, which weren’t really American-type offices.
The protagonist in your book stalks his soon-to-be ex-wife like crazy on the Internet. Do you think it’s a lot harder these days to get over someone or just simply hard in general?
Well, I think it’s just hard in general. It depends if you’re the kind of person whose imagination is harsher on them than reality. Previously, when you couldn’t see what someone was up to, you would imagine what he or she was up to. So, if you’re the kind of person who punishes yourself by your imagination, perhaps confirmation of reality is a little bit easier to deal with, because no one’s lives are really ever that good. But, if you’re the kind of person whose imagination imagines that person to be worse off than they tend to be, then yes, technology probably hurts you in that regard. Are you an imaginer or a confirmer?
I’d say I’m an imaginer and a confirmer. And Instagram exacerbates it all. The worst is right before bed and then you can’t sleep. Do you sleep well?
Oh, no. I can’t sleep at all.
Do you do anything to help yourself fall asleep?
No. But there’s hope, just not for us—that’s how I feel.
What’s your own use of technology like?
I have no Instagram and no Facebook. I check email, that’s it. I keep myself pretty offline.
One is because I don’t trust myself. If I had any sort of platform where I could write something, I’d either be offending someone or giving away my best lines for free, which would be a bad personal and business decision. I try to guard my time, and it honestly all seems fairly banal and stupid to me. The social networking aspects, at least. That’s not what has attracted me to my own use of technology. Why I’m interested in the subject is very different from my own use of technology. My use of technology has to do with being able to preserve my interest in the subject and write about it. If I used it to the degree to which I’m interested in it, I would have never written a book.
Fair. Lastly, you live in Red Hook. Tell us some of the best places to eat and drink there.
Sunny’s is a great bar right behind us. The Icehouse is great too, and Bait and Tackle. I’ve now pretty much named all the good bars in Red Hook. Defonte’s is the best sandwich place. Also, the best place to meet young mothers who’ve just given birth is the café at Fairway.
Is that your type?
Your type becomes what’s available. No, that’s not my type! But I do like women who like supermarkets.