James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime? Yes, he's read that. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas? That too, yes. The Butcher, an erotic novel by Alina Reyes? Absolutely. He's never put off by a dash of kink—in fact, he'd be happy to recommend a volume in that vein. "You've read Bataille, right?" he asks.

I admit that I haven't.

"Oh, dude," he says. "Well, let's get you a book."

We search the shelves but find no Bataille. "Dude, I'm not seeing any," I tell him, and then I apologize in case my use of that timeless West Coast honorific looks like a way to curry favor—a transparent ploy to dude-bond with Johnny Utah. I tell him I can't help it sometimes, I went to high school in Southern California, and . . .

"No, dude is an excellent word," Keanu says. "I won't take it personally. I had a great run with dude."

He bounds over to the poetry section and mentions a night years ago when he saw Allen Ginsberg performing at McCabe's guitar shop in Santa Monica. "He had, like, a little piano, and he was reading his poetry," Keanu says. "I just remember him. His eyes, his sweat—he was kind of beautiful and passionate. And there was an eroticism that came off of him too."


Keanu philosophizes with Socrates in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.


Off Ginsberg?

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah!" (The word yeah, as a crucial instrument in the orchestra of Keanu's vocabulary, has the nuanced up-and-down dynamics of a Nirvana song: There are whispered passages, and then brassily emphatic ones—all in the course of one syllable.) "He was just . . . illuminated." Keanu still wants to recommend a book. An idea surfaces. "I'm sure you've read it," he says. "The Elementary Particles? Michel Houellebecq?"

I admit that I haven't.

"Oh, fantastic!" he says. "I hope they have it . . . " He lurches back to fiction and spies The Elementary Particles, a book that was kinky enough to scandalize the French. It's near the bottom of a shelf. "Oh, yeah, baby!!" he says. "When I read this, my head exploded."

By now the two of us have amassed a heap of homework—along with my Houellebecq are Borges, Robert Lowell, and Kay Ryan, which I've picked out for Keanu's home library—and I wonder out loud if it's too awkward a load for him to carry on his Norton motorcycle. "Not at all," he says. "I'm a professional."

We bring the books to Fawn at the cash register and pay up. Only later will I learn that Fawn—I'll keep all your secrets—is in fact Fawn Sugerman, née Fawn Hall, the woman who was thrust into the glare of fame in the eighties as the secretary who shredded Colonel Oliver North's documents during the Iran-Contra scandal, and who later battled crack addiction with her late husband, Danny Sugerman, the author of No One Here Gets Out Alive and the onetime manager of the Doors. I find this out on my own, by accident. During our time together, Keanu never breathes a word of it.