Welcome back bookish people! in Case you missed yesterday's post, it was the first half of a pretty spectacular interview with literary publicist Julia Callahan. Here it is. The rest of the interview is little more personal, even a bit more controversial, and I think you'll love it. When I first read over her emailed responses, I found myself gradually curling up into a cozy self hug, nodding my head, grinning in an alternating pattern of agreement and amusement. Without further ado...
What is your opinion of electronic readers? Do you own one? How does it affect the economics of a publishing company and the author?
Oh yes. The Hot-Button issue in publishing. I do not own an electronic reader myself, though I don’t have a problem with them. In fact, I think they’re great. Anything that gets people reading is wonderful in my book. Here’s the thing about them though, I’m not a big fan of the Kindle because of my distaste for Amazon. I don’t like that you can’t buy books from anywhere but Amazon on the Kindle. Every other e-Reading device allows you to buy from whatever platform you want (even the Nook). Insert rant about Amazon’s unwillingness to pay taxes in most states here…but seriously, look it up, it’s not okay. People should be able to buy from indie bookstores, B&N and Amazon. Also, Amazon sells you the Kindle at a loss because they know they’ll make up the margin in your book buying purchases….it makes the playing field extraordinarily uneven.
All the research shows that people who read from eReaders read both regular and eBooks, and they read a lot more than they did before the eReader, so I can’t hate that.
For me personally, however, I like the feel of a book, I like to turn the pages and smell the book. I just like books. I guess I’m weird.
Tell us exactly why you so strongly support independent bookstores? Is it as simple as Walmart economics?
That’s definitely part of it. Small businesses drive the economy and Independent bookstores are small businesses. But really, the strength of the Independent bookstore is its employees. You’re talking about highly educated, ridiculously well read people, who are there to help impart their knowledge onto you. They can take what you've read and liked and point you in the direction of any number of books in a way that Amazon’s algorithm cannot. Independent bookstores are a place where books like The Help become bestsellers. Without those people reading that book and recommending it to you, the reader, no one would know that that book had even been released. Indie booksellers got behind that book, and look at it now. Hit movie, Oscar nominations, HUGE bestseller. You can thank your local indie for that. Walmart would never have known.
What titles are on your coffee table right now? How do you decide what to read, or is it an assignment situation? I know you have a book club with your roller derby girls. What are you reading there now?
There are a million titles next to my bed right now, but there’s a pecking order. I kind of go through cycles. Right now I’m reading a lot of newer fiction, so I have Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hector Tobar’s The Barbarian Nurseries, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 next to my bed, just itching to be read. I also keep a copy of John Cheever’s short stories next to my bed, just in case I need some stark reality.
That being said, I have to read A LOT for my job, so those titles often get pushed back. Work reading always comes first for me. I read every book that I represent (right now we are working on 19 books) and I am the fiction editor of a literary journal called The Rattling Wall so multiple times a year everything gets put on hold to read slush.
Right now for derby, I’m actually racing through Boomsday by Christopher Buckley so I can lead the discussion tonight.
All of this leads to a very large back up of my magazine subscriptions. I have about two years worth of unread New Yorkers and Vanity Fairs so I’m always behind on reading. I have shelves of unread books that taunt me on a daily basis.
You once talked to me about growing up in a quiet house with a fire blazing during rainy season, reading the afternoons away. That has stuck with me beautifully. Describe for me your ideal reading environment present day.
I grew up in Northern California, which isn't exactly Oklahoma when it comes to weather, but we've got some pretty great storms. My parents are both big readers and valued reading time, so every night there was a certain time when the TV would go off and it was reading time. That, more than anything else, made me a reader.
Also, power went out a lot. At least once a year, more during El Niño years, the power would go out and my mom would light candles and a fire, and we’d read. Even if the power wasn’t out, there were countless Saturday mornings where my mom would light a fire, make hot chocolate and we’d read for hours. It’s hard not to have an innate love of literature and the pure pleasure of reading when you grow up like that.
Nowadays, my ideal reading environment is close to the same. Rain always makes me want to read, cold makes me want to read. I also love reading in coffee shops. I love just losing myself and looking up and having a moment of not recognizing the world around me before I adjust back. Trains too, man, I love reading on trains.
You toil in a word-rich profession and live in a culturally diverse part of the world, for sure. What do you think of Ebonics? What do you think of multi-lingual living (or the widespread lack thereof)? Do you have an opinion on our country having an “official” language? Feel free to quote Sarah Palin if you need to.
I love language, all language. I love diversity. I’m a native Californian and think that it’s tragic for us not to be accommodating to groups of people who live in utter and dire poverty, who live in constant fear. I’m also from a recently immigrated family. My grandparents were both born in Italy, and yes, they know English (they came here when they were kids), but I have been in countless family functions where no one was speaking English. I was told bedtime stories in Italian, and sung songs in Italian. I loved them as much as I loved listening to my mom read me Shel Silverstein.
I don’t mean to sound like a complete hippie, but we all just need to embrace each other. We’re all people. I think education on all sides will help. Personally, I speak enough Spanish to get by, but I’d love to be fluent. I’ve heard the stories about how awful it was to move to the U.S. from Italy in 1934, to be called Mussolini by other children, to not understand anything that was going on in school, in the news, anywhere. I understand the fear, and I think when we make these broad assumptions that all immigrants just need to learn English because we’re America and we speak English, I think we’re being unbelievably ignorant, and unbelievably uncaring. We’re all human. As Americans, we’re lucky enough to have been born into a truly great country. A country I don’t always agree with, but a country where that is okay, a country where we’re not constantly worried about civil war, a country where we don’t worry about the military coming to our house and killing our children. And by shutting down borders and employing xenophobic legislation and ideals, I think we are doing a disservice to ourselves as well as others.
I think language is important, no matter what language it is. Without Spanish, there would be no Gabriel Garcia Marquez, no Don Quixote, no Mario Vargas Llosa. That would be a true tragedy.
What is your take on the use of vulgarity in literature?
Well, one of my favorite words to say is f%#k. I love a great string of curse words more than just about anything else. I am also a firm believer in the first amendment. So I think that if you want to be vulgar in literature, more power to you.
Personally, though, I’m not a huge fan of reading overly sexual literature. I think that the experience of sex is the most difficult thing to write well, and for the most part, the way sex is written just grosses me out. Because, when you think about it, as wonderful as it is, sex itself is kind of gross. There’s lots of fluid and people make weird noises. It’s not all that flattering when you actually describe it, because it’s about pure animal feeling.
That being said, I love to see writers try. My favorite literary award every year is The Guardian’s Bad Sex award. I say be vulgar, keep trying. I love to see potential in writing, even if the goal isn’t fully achieved.
I recently read an interesting article on the use of “expensive” words versus common words, and an old debate between Faulkner and Hemingway was cited. Do you have a baseline opinion on this?
Well, I love both Faulkner and Hemingway. Using the metaphor of Faulkner as expensive wordsmith and Hemingway as common wordsmith, I will say that both of them are equally deep, equally difficult to truly grasp (though it’s hard and maybe impossible to truly grasp either author’s work).
But here’s my real opinion. I think that there’s a time and a place for both. I’m not always in the mood for Faulkner. I don’t always want to read Infinite Jest. Sometimes I want to not have to work for meaning; sometimes I just want to be entertained. Reading is entertaining as well as enlightening. Sometimes you have to work, sometimes you have to play. That’s the best thing about literature, it’s like life in that way.
I will also say, I hate it when people complain about ‘big’ or ‘expensive’ words. If you don’t know the meaning of the word, look it up. I underline words I don’t know and look them up in the dictionary. That’s how people learn language. Do I find some words pretentious when people use them in a certain way? Of course! But I also appreciate a great use of words, no matter how big or small.
Dean Koontz or Stephen King?
Old school King. My dad is a big Dean Koontz fan, and I appreciate how popular he is, but man, The Shining, It, The Stand, Dolores Claiborne, Different Seasons, etc. There is nothing better than that. I read the first chapter of Cujo when I was 16 and didn’t sleep for a week.
William Shakespeare or Mark Twain?
Now here’s a real battle. In my mind it’s apples and oranges. However, I’m a British Literature nut, so I’ll say Shakespeare. The way that Shakespeare manipulated language is an absolute triumph of artistry. The stories he told are still relevant 400 years later.
However, as far as being an American goes, Twain captured the meat of being truly American in one book. Huckleberry Finn, which is often hotly contested because of the N-Word (please ask me about my opinion of the censoring of Huck Finn sometime because I could write about 900 pages about it), is THE American novel. Adventure, self-sufficiency, freedom from oppression, and a buddy comedy all rolled into one book.
Apples and oranges.
Anne Rice or Stephanie Meyer? (That is a trick question.)
Team Meyer. No, I’m totally joking. Team Rice all the way. I’m not the hugest fan of vampire fiction, which you would never know because I've read a lot of it, but I’ll tell you, Forks, Washington may be having a tourism surge now, but I’d be impressed if thirty-three years later, there are vampire tours of Forks. The Anne Rice Vampire tour is still one of the most popular in New Orleans. All of that aside, Anne Rice creates a world that is so vivid, so interesting, so truly tragic, that it lingers in our imagination even if we haven’t read the book. You know who Lestat is even if you've never read an Anne Rice book, but if you haven’t read Twilight, you know who Edward Pattinson and Taylor Lautner are, Edward and Jacob are just shorthand for good-looking young actors. I don’t see Tom Cruise when I think of Lestat, I do see Rob Pattinson when I think of Edward. And that’s the fault of the writer.
BONUS QUESTION WRITTEN BY THE INTERVIEWEE: HUCK FINN
It makes me insane when people don’t take historical context into account when they’re reading a novel. Huck Finn uses the N-Word over 200 times, but was published in 1885, when that was the term used at the time. I think it’s important that we don’t forget where we came from, especially in the ways we used to think. Perhaps we can learn something from the way we used to treat people and stop that kind of thinking in the future.
"I love just losing myself and looking up
and having a moment of not recognizing
the world around me before I adjust back."
Don't you wish that we were all sitting in a room with a fireplace, cold rain streaming down the windows, hot mugs in our hands, while we chat this smart lady down to her last nerve? I personally am so happy to know that bibliophiles still run things in the world. History is not only being written as we speak, you guys, it is being shaped by writers, and readers fuel it. So keep reading.
If you are a young person looking for inspiration, understanding, or connection, you can absolutely find it in books. If you are looking for a career in books, take Julia's lead and follow your passion. There are opportunities out there most people don't even know about!
Thank you again, Julia! Thanks for entertaining us, enlightening us, and prodding some good questions. Your token of thanks, an Amazon gift card, is in the mail.
Much love from the Lazy W!