Best known for co-hosting MTV’s Catfish along with Nev Schulman, Max Joseph is also an acclaimed film director and avid book lover. Over the past year, Max embarked on a journey not only to find the world’s most beautiful bookstore, but also to figure our how to read the most books possible in the time that he has.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Max ahead of the release of his documentary short BOOKSTORES: How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content on this, World Book Day 2019.
You’re best known for your role co-hosting MTV’s Catfish with Nev Schulman, but last year you left Catfish and turned your attention to books! Your Book Stores project launches this month on World Book Day. Can you talk a little about it and what led you to embark on such a quest?
There was really no causal relationship between leaving Catfish and starting the Bookstore project, I had pretty much shot it all and edited it all before I left, truth be told. There were like one or two more places I wanted to go, and then I wanted to wait till world book day to release it. I had always loved bookstores and I know I’m not the only one. You know the way a new book feels and smells and the fresh cover art and the colors, coupled with wanting to read so much and knowing I wont be able to get through enough books before I die and the added obstacles of the golden age of content we’re living in where there are a million distractions from getting through a book. So I kind of wanted to unpack that anxiety and see what it was all about and try to get to a place of peace and I think I kinda did.
In terms of the origins of the piece, I was actually commissioned to make this. I brought up the idea to my friends at VERO, which is a social media platform, based out of London. And they’re just kind of like the quirky culture nerdy guys who immediately identified with this anxiety, and who wanted to see this made and so they gave me support to go out and do it.
Well it’s great to hear there’s hope for us. You’ve said that ‘bookstores are basically like art galleries, with stories attached.’ Were there any bookstores in particular that inspired this quest, that made you think “I want to see more of this”?
Not really, there wasn’t one in particular. It’s just really any bookstore I duck into there’s always a feeling of euphoria coupled with extreme existential anxiety. I worked in a bookstore for a summer and that was an amazing experience, I bought so many books with the staff discount that I still haven’t gotten through, they’re still on my shelf, and that was part of the experience too, that led me to making this project.
Part of this quest was to consult experts in an effort to learn to read more quickly and absorb more information in the time you have. What’s a tip you can give readers who might want to read more quickly?
A core hack to reading more quickly is to really immerse yourself in what you’re reading, so really try to go into a deep meditative trance and see the images of what you’re reading. Anyone who gets really immersed in a book says it’s like watching a movie, but it never occurred to me to consciously try to do that the second I sit down to read. And so that helped. Also the Total War approach to reading a book, which is buying the hard copy, getting the e-copy on Kindle or iBook and then getting the book on tape and while that’s kind of expensive, the price of it makes you really invested in that book and you’re less likely to stop reading and pick up something else if you’ve spent a bunch of money on it. And then you really have no excuse to not get through the book as fast as you can ‘cause if you’re in your car or commuting on the subway on you’re on a plane and there’s not enough room to bring the big book that you’re reading, even reading off your phone instead of checking instagram and twitter, those are all great tips and tricks. And my friend Tim who’s featured in the peace, brought up the great hack of listening to books on tape at two times the speed, speeding up the pace at which the reader is reading.
Were there any books you came across as a result of this project, or that you tried these techniques on, that have stood out to you?
I made a list of books that I read over the course of it… I really did up my numbers significantly. I read a lot of non-fiction books so making a visual movie of a non-fiction book doesn’t work as well. But I recently read The Scapegoat by Daphne Daphne du Maurier, which was a great movie, to read. It was really cool and very engrossing, she’s so amazing and eloquent with her language so you get kind of hypnotized. Then I read Sapiens and Homo Deus and Lethal White by JK Rowling under her pen name Robert Galbraith too.
That sounds like a super satisfying upping of numbers! Speaking of books as movies, you wrote and directed We Are Your Friends, which starred Zac Efron and Emily Ratajkowski, along with Meaghan Oppenheimer, and it was adapted from a story by producer Richard Silverman. Could you talk a little bit about that adaptation process and if there were any books you’ve come across either in this project or throughout your life that you’d like to see adapted.
Well, that process was kind of more of a straight-forward development process, part of the Hollywood development process in which there was a seed of a story from a writer, and Richard’s many things on top of being a writer, and there was a seed that Working Title was very attracted to and I spoke to them about it and imagined other things around it and developed it with Meghan into what it became so that’s not quite like finding a book, falling in love with it and wanting to adapt it to the screen.
A lot of the books I love would be almost impossible to adapt into movies. I really love The Largess of the Sea Maiden that Denis Johnson wrote, it was published posthumously, and it’s really breathtaking. It would be an interesting movie to make. I mean, they did adapt Jesus’s Son into a great movie, I really enjoyed it and a lot of other people did too, so maybe it’s possible.
So the project is released on World Book Day. Do you have any special plans yourself for World Book Day?
That’s a great question. I’m going to go to the Last Bookstore in Downtown L.A. and browse. I feature it in the document. It’s the one that has the circle made out of books that you can put your arm through, and then there’s also a tidal wave of books in there. It’s a great store, I think it’s in an old bank. There’s an amazing room of books in the vault. It’s a great independent bookstore, and a gem bookstore of L.A.
Check out the premiere of BOOKSTORES: How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content below!