Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor is the editor of The Apocalypse Reader and Come Back, Donald Barthelme.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Not to boast, but I'm a fairly voracious reader, and I like to have a few things going at once. At least one novel and one poetry collection at any given time, plus usually a story collection and some nonfiction. I just got back this week from a three-weeks trip to Hong Kong, and when I was preparing to take that trip I had to make some hard decisions about what to bring. I decided to bring three short books, one medium book, and one long book, and to only dive into the long one after I'd knocked out two of the three shorts. The short books were Vertigo by W.G. Sebald, Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard, and Master of Reality by John Darnielle. Sebald is one of my favorite writers. Vertigo wasn't great, at least not compared to his other books, at least two of which are bar-none masterpieces (those would be The Rings of Saturn, and The Emigrants), but because he left behind such a small body of work, it felt good to me just to be able to immerse myself in his voice. It was also interesting to see his style in its early, awkward phase; most of his work is totally seamless but in Vertigo you can tell that he's sort of figuring it out as he goes along. John Darnielle's novel, Master of Reality, is about the Black Sabbath album of the same name. I'm interviewing Darnielle--who you might know better as the band The Mountain Goats--for my books column in FLAUNT, so I'll save my raves about it for said column in the June/July issue of the magazine. The Kierkegaard was a much less difficult read than other stuff of his I've attempted (namely, Training in Christianity, at which I failed utterly). Fear and Trembling made me want to try again. I think I'm falling in love with K a little.

The medium book was Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories by Tobias Wolff. I've been dipping in and out of it. The prose isn't quite as strong as I thought it would be, and his endings are a little beat-you-on-the-head, but the stories take surprising, sometimes fascinating turns so I think I'll eventually make it through the whole thing. The long book was Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. As of this writing, I'm only about a quarter through it, but with Dickens it's pretty hard to go wrong, and I love knowing that the book will be in my life for a while. It came highly recommended to me from David Gates, who is the guy who turned me onto Dickens in the first place, so I went all over town to find a Modern Library edition with his introduction.

Given that I started out by claiming that I'm "always" reading at least one poetry book, it might have seemed odd to you that there was no poetry in that very long list I just made. Well, what happened was I had just finished Ashbery's newest (A Worldly Country) before I left, and didn't have anything else on hand, so I figured I'd just find an English-language bookstore when I got to Hong Kong and buy a book of poems there. As it turns out, you basically can't buy a book of poems in Hong Kong. There are English-language bookstores, and English-language shelves in most of the Chinese bookstores, but 95% of what they stock is strictly commercial (ie Dean Koontz, Robert Ludlum, etc) and the literature shelf is a weird hodgepodge of Penguin Classics, cheesy anthologies, and Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In one store there was one single sad shelf devoted to the franken-category of "essays, short fiction, and poetry"-- which turned out to contain two David Sedaris collections, The Selected Poems of R.A. Tagore, and Samuel Beckett's novel--novel!--How It Is. I was seriously tempted by the Tagore, but in the end decided to pass. Now that I'm home, and more or less over the jetlag hump, I want to go out to St. Mark's Bookshop tomorrow and spend some time discovering things. My friend Mike Young, who edits NOÖ Journal, recently recommended the poet Christian Barter, and the other night I saw Graham Foust hold his own at a reading where he had to follow the incomparable Anne Carson, so he's somebody I'd like to know more about. About a month ago, on a whim, I bought a $2 used copy of Gerard Manley Hopkins' Selected Poetry and Prose. I keep thinking I'll want to start it, but so far I haven't. Part of me thinks I'm ready to take Hopkins on, but the other part of me thinks I'd rather re-read Tao Lin's new collection, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and maybe something else by John Ashbery. I've always been curious about Hotel Lautreamont, though if I do that won't I be pretty much obliged to read Lautreamont himself? And is that really such a problem?
Visit Justin Taylor's website and MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue