This week’s Bookshelf is more like a show and tell than we’ve had before and we imagine Justin Taylor to be sitting very close and very quiet somewhere near. But really he’s in Brooklyn, writing for the likes of the New York Times Book Review, The Believer and at one time, issue #5 of It’s Nice That (we’re still very pleased with ourselves about that one). He’s also authored his own shelf worthy additions in The Gospel of Anarchy and Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. He will now direct your attention to five books of personal interest…
The Waves Virginia Woolf
(Top shelf, right-hand side, five spines down from Veronica by Mary Gaitskill, partially obscured by The Passage by Justin Cronin and The Professor by Terry Castle) – I think of Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves as a trilogy. Each one explores how loves and friendships (hardly distinct categories) endure and change over time. It’s a theme I’m constantly preoccupied with, in my writing and in my life, and The Waves treats it more fully and more powerfully than any other book I have read. Just the other day I was emailing with a friend about favourite books and I said to her that there’s a small part of my mind that’s never not thinking about this book.
Jesus’ Son Denis Johnson
(Top shelf, three spines down from The Waves, also partially obscured by The Passage and The Professor) – An acknowledged modern classic that was so strongly in vogue for so many years that I think maybe it’s not cool to name-check it as a touchstone anymore — but if so then so much the better. This book is exquisite and insane; there’s not a flubbed line or a false note in the whole damn thing. You can read it in an afternoon.
The Collected Poems Wallace Stevens
(Top book on the middle pile on the lower shelf) – For a long time I didn’t like Wallace Stevens. I thought he was very fussy and boring, which is obviously not the case. But what made me read him that way, and what changed my view? Hard to answer the first part of that question, but I can tell you that Harold Bloom’s readings of Stevens helped me find a way into the poems. Over the past few years I’ve become an avid Bloom reader, and while I don’t always agree with him unequivocally, there seems to be a correlation between his championing Stevens as one of the great American poets and the Collected Stevens becoming one of my go-to books.
Where I’m Calling From Raymond Carver
(Middle of the middle pile on the lower shelf, between The Ice at the Bottom of the World by Mark Richard and The Book of Frank by CA Conrad) – Another book that’s become so familiar it’s easy to lose sight of how strange and original it was—and still is. Here are some favourite stories of mine: Vitamins, Feathers, Gazebo, Chef’s House, Are Those Actual Miles?, One More Thing, Fat, What’s in Alaska?, Neighbours.
Selected Non-fiction Jorge Luis Borges
(Bottom book on the middle pile on the lower shelf) – Of the books on this list, this is the one I’m least familiar with. Last year I was writing a piece on G.K. Chesterton for Tin House (it was published in Issue 47: The Mysterious, on the bottom of the left-side pile on the lower shelf) and I went to the New York Public Library to photocopy two short pieces he’d written about Chesterton. Between the stacks and the copy machine I became so taken with this collection that I put it back, left the library, went downtown and bought my own copy. I dip into it whenever I want to know what Borges thought about something or someone (“Nietzsche wanted to be Walt Whitman; he wanted to fall minutely in love with his destiny”), or when I simply feel like being in his company awhile. The pieces are mostly very short, and there tons of them to choose from — essays, book and film reviews, capsule biographies, other stuff. I may or may not ever read the whole thing, but I like just knowing that it’s here.