1) How did you start writing or being involved in the world of literature?
I fell in love with books as a young teenager and knew I wanted to be a writer when I was probably seventeen or eighteen. My taste was only beginning to develop, of course, but I was always drawn to fiction. I grew up in a house with books and readers but not serious readers, not people who lived and breathed books. I don’t mean that in a condescending way –only that books affected me more strongly than the people around me. I probably read a lot of writers when I was too young to really understand or appreciate what they were doing even though I felt there was something there, something that spoke to me. Writers like Henry Miller, Virginia Woolf, Céline, and Nabokov.
2) In your opinion, what role does literature play in the modern world?
I have no idea. I can tell you the role literature plays in my world, which is immense, and one of the reasons I get up every day. Literature is everything to me. I can’t objectively say the role it plays in the modern world because I live in a sort of bubble, in the rarefied world of books and bookstores and so it seems like books play a major role in the world but it’s really only my world. I talk about books and share books with people every day. In the store and on social media and the people I usually talk to are likewise obsessed with books. But it only takes a moment to step out of that world to realize it’s a very small sliver. To be honest, I can’t say literature plays a major role in the world. I wish it did. But if we’re being honest, I don’t think it does. Ideally, if literature had the place I believe it deserves, things would improve overall. That probably sounds self-serving or myopic but I think readers are more thoughtful people. They have more empathy, the ability to think critically; they’ve experienced things and places they’ve never actually had or been. Books, and fiction especially, give the reader a perspective often unavailable either in the real world or if they’ve only ever lived in one place. Books explore and celebrate our shared humanity. Also, poetry! Poetry is immensely important to me but sadly, in the larger world, has only a small fraction of the attention it deserves.
3) Your new book, Reinhardt’s Garden, comes out this October. What can you tell us about it?
It’s a single-paragraph novel about two (somewhat bumbling) intellectuals in 1907. They travel from Europe to South America in search of a lost prophet or philosopher. It moves quickly and has lots of digressions. The time in which the book takes place is set in a jungle but much of the book is actually looking back, which takes place all over Europe. It deals with melancholy and hubris and obsession. It’s meant to be funny or absurd, however I take comedy seriously, as serious as life and death. I never seek to be funny or make jokes but to look at things askew, if that makes sense. If the humor isn’t a question of life and death, then what’s at stake?
The book is hugely influenced by Thomas Bernhard’s novels, but where his novels are very internal, with very little outside action, Reinhardt’s Garden mixes the two so there are things taking place both externally and internally. I’m also hugely influenced by Wolfgang Hilbig, Daša Drndić, Laszlo Krasznahorkai, César Aira, and the small strange worlds of Cristina Rivera Garza’s novellas. I also love the mix of high and low culture that Saul Bellow mastered.
4) How has working in Brazos Bookstore impacted your relationship with books and literature?
It’s strange because I’ve been able to get to know people that I’ve dreamed of knowing. I’ve gotten to meet writers and see what editors, translators and publishers do. I’ve realized, of course, they’re just people too. Still, it’s a huge honor to me and publishing books still seems like magic, probably because I love books so much. And working at Brazos has been a dream in a lot of ways. It’s also humbling too, because one moment you’re discussing great works of literature and the next you’re emptying the trash or explaining to an angry customer why you can’t get books as fast as Amazon. It’s fifty percent dream job and fifty percent tedious retail.
5) How would you describe your work?
That’s difficult! I would describe it as voice more than anything. I’m not interested in plot but finding a specific voice. Once I have that voice the story follows. I’ve actually heard translators say the same thing, that once they have the voice of the writer they’re translating than everything sort of clicks. I also love the rhythm of language, that’s hugely important. Books where the language carries you and you feel almost disembodied, a sort of mystical experience at its very best. The River, by Esther Kinsky, and Milkman, by Anna Burns are recent books where the story, at least to me, is secondary, and the voice and the language carries the reader from page to page, masterfully too.
I also see myself as sort of a foreign American writer, meaning my influences are largely international and translated. I love English-speaking writers, but I may look at the jacket of a new book and see it’s about a family in the suburbs of some American city or a young woman or man finding their way in the big city and though the writing may be incredible, I know immediately that it’s not for me. Yet when I read books that I feel strongly connected to, that I have an affinity for, they’re almost always foreign. Hence my love of translators. I think you can read Reinhardt’s Garden and see those influences. To me, it doesn’t feel like a book written by someone who grew up in Florida.
6) Do you have any projects planned out for the near or far future?
I have two different novels I’m working on right now (not simultaneously). One very small and the other a little larger. Larger for me is maybe 200 pages or a little more. I’ll never write an enormous book.
Imagen destacada: Mark Haber via Writer’s League of Texas.