What books are on your night stand?
I chose the night stand for its stalwart qualities and it is currently holding up well under the eclectic weight of an advance copy of John Paul Brammer’s “¡Hola Papi!,” B. R. Yeager’s “Negative Space,” Bernard Rudofsky’s “The Prodigious Builders,” Eley Williams’s “The Liar’s Dictionary,” Rita Indiana’s “Tentacle,” Stephen Graham Jones’s “The Only Good Indians,” Julienne Ford’s “Paradigms and Fairy Tales,” Angelo Maria Ripellino’s “Magic Prague,” Vigdis Hjorth’s “Will and Testament” and Sayak Valencia’s “Gore Capitalism.” I’ll leave it to readers to guess which are for research and which for pleasure.
What’s the last great book you read?
The novel I can’t get out of my head is Audrey Schulman’s mid-Collapse “Theory of Bastards,” with its nuanced confluence of the personal and the epic, the human and the nonhuman. The poetry book I can’t shake is Vanessa Angélica Villarreal’s “Beast Meridian,” which takes so many chances, is so, so brilliant, and the lines just burn into you.
Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?
Gogol’s “Dead Souls” had escaped me — or, rather, I’d started and stopped reading several times, perhaps unable to reconcile the style with that of beloved short stories, like “The Nose.” But I sneaked unnoticed into the Everyman Library edition recently and, burrowing deep, loved the rich complexity, the wise and barbed exploration of corruption and the absurd irrationality of the human condition.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
Some of our most memorable reading experiences have been in bars and pubs, while on the road for book tours. Once, Ann and I followed the distant sound of mysterious music in the heights above Prague only to discover a local beer bar tucked away behind a maze of shrubbery. At home in Tallahassee, I used to love reading outdoors at a local park, but the ecological crash course required to rewild our yard means being outdoors is too distracting now. There are too many good stories all around me — some of them flying from branch to branch. But I do also like to read before drifting off to sleep. And if a book is truly amazing, then I’ll read in the midafternoon for long stretches. But they have to pass that before-bed test first.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
For years, I would recommend Deborah Levy’s “Beautiful Mutants,” but thankfully she’s well known now. Then it was Olga Tokarczuk’s amazing “Primeval and Other Times,” from Twisted Spoon Press, which I discovered water-warped and without fanfare in a book bin in Prague — but thankfully she’s won the Nobel Prize now. So, it’s down to “The Traitor,” by Michael Cisco, a novel that unfolds like a lucid fever dream or some undiscovered Brothers Quay film written by Bruno Schulz and directed by David Lynch. Such a mind-altering exploration of mortality, the supernatural and colonialism. All this and prose that’s on fire, a plot without rivets and a healthy undercurrent of humor.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
The short stories of the new writer ’Pemi Aguda are so brilliant that she has quickly become a favorite. But any list of writers I admire, all for vastly different reasons, would fill a banquet hall. With apologies to the other 127, I will single out, in no particular order: Tatyana Tolstaya, Dasa Drndic, Joy Williams, Daisy Johnson, Catherine Lacey, Tamas Dobozy, Jenny Hval, Forrest Gander, Colson Whitehead, Maryse Meijer, Virginie Despentes, Ottessa Moshfegh, Carmen Maria Machado, Kai Ashante Wilson, Fred Moten, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Marlon James, Philippe Claudel, Rachel Cusk, Kelly Link, Nnedi Okorafor, Kristen Roupenian, Tommy Pico and N. K. Jemisin. Meanwhile, Brian Evenson continues to quietly and in quantity write original and beautifully strange fiction. And, I find Charles Yu a wonder — it’s so difficult to engage in structural experimentation and metafictional play that intensifies rather than deadens emotional resonance.