One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.
What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down.
George Orwell’s 1984. I read it in middle school on the edge of my teenage years just when I was just becoming politically aware, and it just cracked the world open for me.
What one detail do you still recall from that book?
People forget that it’s a love story.
The book I imagined/imagine living inside of is,
Well, I remember seeing the back cover of Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends, and reading his bio, which ends with, “He also writes songs, draws cartoons, sings, plays the guitar, and has a good time,” and thinking, that’s exactly who I want to be.
The one book I have most often re-read is,
I like to re-read the intro to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. There’s a plain-spoken Midwestern-ness in his voice that makes me want to write.
The kinds of books I am most appreciating or seeking these days are,
I like books with tight, short chapters and snappy sentences. It’s a rare song that needs more than 3 minutes, a rare movie that needs more than 90 minutes, and a rare book that needs more than 300 pages.
I will read anything written by,
Survey: Roughly what % of books do you read digitally versus in paper? (What’s your preferred reader?)
Oh, it really depends. I’d say it’s split into thirds — 1/3 paper, 1/3 on my Kindle, 1/3 on my iPhone. I buy a lot of books from Amazon, a lot of used books from Bookpeople here in Austin, and I download a lot of ebooks from the Austin Public Library. What I’d really like to do is read a paperback in bed at night, and then have the ebook version on my phone throughout the day. Vinyl records these days come with a download code — why can’t hardbacks and paperbacks do the same?
In a sentence or two, what’s your forecast for the future of publishing?
Writers will keep writing, readers will keep reading. The writers who succeed will be the ones who establish and keep a direct connection with their readers. The publishers who succeed will be the ones who figure out how to connect their writers with more readers without getting in the way.
What one thing do you hope your patch of the planet (readers) come away with in reading your books?
Creativity is for everyone.
If you had five days off to read books next week, which books would you at last read?
I would finish Studs Turkel’s Working.
The little-known book I most relish and champion is,
Joe Brainard’s I Remember and Lynda Barry’s What It Is.
The book I am most embarrassed/proud [specify] to say I’ve never read is,
Never proud that I’ve never read a book. Embarrassed by all the classics I’ve missed — but there’s still time!
If I had the time, talent, grit, and support, the book I would write is,
The one I’m working on now.
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