Nudism, The Great Equalizer: A Q&A with Mark Haskell Smith

Article by annalia

by Annalia Linnan

Sometimes your dad writes a book. Sometimes your dad writes a book about traveling around the world to smoke the most primo cannabis. Sometimes your dad says his next book—the one after the cannabis chronicles, as if that wasn’t enough—is going to be about naturalism (a.k.a. nonsexual social nudism, a.k.a. letting it all hang out). If these statements apply to you, your dad is Mark Haskell Smith.

Mark Haskell Smith is not my dad, but I read NAKED AT LUNCH all the same. When the store received advanced copies, we were unanimous in our interest. Not only does it glimpse into an alternative lifestyle, it meets all the requirements on the summer book checklist: travel, laughs, pro tips about sunscreen. However, for those less inclined to read about individuals who feel comfiest when in the buff, please note the book’s subtitle: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World.

Picture this, my friends: you are on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean when your captain says, “We are safely away and you can now enjoy a...a carefree environment.” This is how Smith’s naked vacation begins, with himself and nearly 2000 other patrons removing their sarongs and shorts. Fresh, fascinating, and full of insight, NAKED AT LUNCH surprises with its finesse as well as its frankness.

In his (presumably) clothed life, Smith lives and writes in Los Angeles.


Brazos Bookstore: Your daughter Olivia Taylor Smith is an editor at Unnamed Press, and you've mentioned that your wife works in the industry as well. What are the advantages of being in an all-literary family? Are there any disadvantages?

Mark Haskell Smith: My son isn’t in the book business, but he’s an avid reader, probably the best read bartender in town, so we’re pretty much all involved or interested in some way. We love books. It’s like the best possible hereditary condition. The advantage is we always have a lot to talk about. The disadvantage is that storage is a problem. We have a lot of books.

BB: Is there anything taboo for you in terms of writing, now that you've written about marijuana and nonsexual social nudism?

MHS: With fiction, I really dislike stories with serial killers and gratuitously high body counts. So I try not to write that kind of story. I’m not sure there’s anything taboo in terms of nonfiction, but there are things I just don’t want to do. Like, get killed trying to write a story from the front lines of Syria or swim with sharks. I also don’t want to dress up like a woodland creature and jump in a “plushie pile.” These aren’t really taboo, just things I’d rather not do.

BB: How did you choose "method writing?" What are your thoughts on the idea that it is impossible to both faithfully record and fully participate in something?

MHS: A philosophical question! Since the world is filtered through our individual perception, can we ever truly be objective? Probably not. But I think it’s important to go out and have real-world experiences. You can’t really understand something (like nudism or cheese making or marathon running) if you don’t get in there and do it. I try the best I can to relate the facts as I see them. I’m recording my impressions of an experience and those perceptions will always be colored by the things I’m interested in, the world view that shapes my thinking. I guess the hope is that other people will find my perceptions interesting or entertaining.

BB: In your opinion, what is the relationship between naturism and class? Given the potential for repercussions, how does one go about practicing nudism if it's not financially possible to take a traditional “nakation?”

MHS: Nudism is one of the great economic equalizers, and there is a long tradition of working-class nudists (which would be a great band name). If you want to be a nudist, all you need is a nude beach or a private backyard. It doesn’t cost a dime to drop your clothes, as long as you do it in a discreet place.

BB: You mentioned in a Q&A you did for the LA Review of Books that 100 YEARS OF DISCO is a "someday" book you'd like to write. Do you actually like disco? When was the last time you went to a concert, and whom did you see?

MHS: Disco music is undeniable. Who doesn’t like disco? The last concert I saw was a Ride reunion show. They’re one of my wife’s favorite bands, and it was my first exposure to incredibly loud shoegazer rock.

BB: What is your Moleskine notebook of choice? Do you have brand loyalty to a particular pencil?

MHS: I am addicted to the hardcover Moleskines that are about the size of a paperback. Unlined. Just pages and pages of emptiness. Perfect for sketching or making notes. Check out this tumblr page to see amazing things done with Moleskines.

I exclusively make notes and edit with a Paper-Mate Sharpwriter mechanical pencil. At the risk of sounding insufferably snobby, I prefer the ones I got in Europe because the erasers don’t dry out. And I use the erasers a lot.

BB: You have no idea whom we'll talk to for the next Brazos Q&A, but never mind that: What should we ask him/her?

MHS: Have you ever been naked in public?

BB: Speaking of, Kevin Kwan wants to know: If you could take one memory of this life with you into the afterlife, what would it be?

MHS: Hanging out at the kitchen table with my wife and kids, drinking wine and talking about books.

Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist's Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World By Mark Haskell Smith Cover Image
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9780802123510
Availability: OUT OF PRINT - Not Available for Order
Published: Grove Press - June 2nd, 2015

A Brazos Best Pick for June 2015

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