Dawn Raffel

Dawn Raffel’s new collection, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe comes out in March from Dzanc Books. She is also the author of a novel, Carrying the Body, and a previous collection, In the Year of Long Division.

what are you reading now

Jane Eyre, because I am re-reading the classics with a group of writers. Actually, I’m getting annoyed; I’ve never developed much of an affection for classic British lit. Can I also confess to not liking Jane Austen?

classic you’ve been meaning to read

The remaining volumes of Remembrance of Things Past, after Swann’s Way.

last book you finished in a single sitting

I don’t finish anything in a single sitting. I am the world’s slowest reader. If I really like something, I might need to read a single page multiple times before going forward.

book you borrowed and never returned

Petersburg by Andrei Bely

most treasured book in your collection

The “autobiography” my father wrote when he was 16 and that I discovered only after his death.

favorite neglected book by a celebrated writer

I can’t really call Blood Meridian and Suttree neglected, but these two should have gotten the accolades Cormac McCarthy got for his later books. Blood Meridian is a masterpiece. Suttree is sprawling but has some of the most gorgeous writing I’ve ever read, as well as a salacious passage involving melons that made me laugh so hard I thought I’d be ill. Also, The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor. Everyone (rightly) cites her stories but this novella is worth revisiting.

book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone

Books written by friends when I know they’re coming over. I guess I have to stop that now.

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

Sorry but I need to pick three: NOON comes out only once a year and Unsaid even less frequently. There’s also The Collagist.

best thing you’ve read online recently

Vernal,” a poem on The Collagist by a poet I hadn’t read before, Henry Kearney, IV.

most anticipated upcoming release

You mean besides my own collection, which took more than seven years and often seemed as if it would never come together? I’m looking forward to reading Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask. I also need to get my hands on Justin Taylor’s new collection, which just came out.

recommended reading list:

Books Worth Reading Three or Four Times

- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (I am a fanatic about this, which surprises people)

- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (a brilliant collection not only about war but also about the act of storytelling and remembering)

- Fairy Tales, any and all (while you’re at it, check out The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim)

- Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley (she gets better with every reading)

- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (this is what power looks like)

- The Half-Inch Himalayas by Agha Shahid Ali (I encountered him when he was selling chapbooks out of his trunk at Bread Loaf; he was eventually published by Norton and died way too young)

- Warrenpoint by Denis Donoghue (a deceptively lean memoir )

- Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen (especially “I Stand Here Ironing”)


Ken Sparling

Ken Sparling’s books are: Book (forthcoming in May from Pedlar Press); Hush up and listen stinky poo butt; For those whom god has blessed with fingers (Pedlar Press); untitled book (Pedlar Press); Dad says he saw you at the mall (Knopf). Contact Ken at kensparling@live.ca.

what are you reading now

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible! by Jonathan Goldstein. I bought it a few months ago, and read the first chapter right away. It seemed silly, so I didn’t read any more. I loved Goldstein’s first book, Lenny Bruce is Dead, so I was disappointed when I read the first chapter of the new book. I wanted to love what Goldstein was writing. I’ve sort of known Jonathan for a long time and I really like him. I wanted to be able to tell him I liked what he’d written. The book sat beside my bed for a long time. Then I put it on one of the bookshelves downstairs. A few weeks ago, when I found out Jonathan was coming to Toronto and I would be seeing him, I went and got the book from the bookshelf and read the second chapter. The second chapter was silly, too, but there was something else going on. It was only silly on the surface. I mean, the stuff that was going on in the book looked like it should be silly; but it didn’t feel silly. Goldstein was sneaking something in, something that was sometimes really funny, sometimes really sad, sometimes a little of both – or a lot of both. It was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Whatever it was he was sneaking in there, it kept me reading, and somewhere along the way, I came to understood that Goldstein's silliness was somehow approaching the poetic. It's very beautiful, what Goldstein does. Don’t ask me how he does it, but there were places where I felt like laughing and crying at the same time.

classic you’ve been meaning to read

Ulysses and some of those other fat ones – Gravity's Rainbow, that sort of thing – not because I think I'll enjoy the experience, or it will be an inherently good thing for me, or anything like that, but because I want to know just what the hell is inside those giant books that make people talk about them all the time.

last book you finished in a single sitting

I don’t think I’d ever be able to do this. The books that pull me into their story, and are at the same time well enough written to keep me reading, eventually become exhausting for me and I can only go on reading them for so long before I feel like I’m sinking into a place I don’t want to be. And the books that have really lifted me up and inspired and surprised and excited me – usually these are books that don’t rely on story, but on language – are ones I have had to constantly put down and stop reading to catch my breath and sit and quietly be amazed. I have to stop reading these books not so much so that I can contemplate what I’ve just read or anything like that; I don’t contemplate anything at all in those moments, it's more like I’m emptied, cleared out, stopped in time. It’s like the writing is so powerful that I just have to put the book down and wait a bit before I take on any more of it or it will overwhelm me.

book you borrowed and never returned

I work at the library, which is where I borrow my books, and I always return them, if not always on time. When I borrow a book from a friend, I always return that too, because I’m afraid if I don’t, that person will stop being my friend.

strangest book you’ve ever read

I think every book I've totally fallen in love with has seemed strange to start with. When I read Céline's Death on the Installment Plan and Journey to the End of Night they seemed pretty bizarre at the outset, but it didn't take long for me to feel quite comfortable amid all those ellipses... and to find myself laughing out loud – belly laughs. (Actually, Céline’s The Paris Review interview seemed strange from start to finish, I never really got over how strange it felt as I read it – by far the best interview I've ever read.)

Maybe it's that I feel uncomfortable with what I'm encountering, maybe that's what I think of when I think of a book seeming strange. The writers I most love give me something I start off thinking is strange and before too long I'm totally in love. Lish did it with Peru and Krupp's Lulu. Jonathan Goldstein did it with Lenny Bruce is Dead and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible! Derek McCormack keeps doing it every time he gives me something of his to read – recently it was a short article about the Flintstones and an artist he knows and admires. And the preface Derek wrote for Hush up and listen stinky poo butt is pretty strange. That one totally freaked me out, because, when he sent it to me to look over before the book came out, I thought he'd sent the wrong file for the first two or three paragraphs. I closed the file so I could check the file name on the email attachment. Finally it became clear what Derek was doing, and I laughed in utter joy, because what he’d managed was so beautiful.

The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills seemed bizarre when I started it. The Man Who Loved Children was another strange one. Like I said, they seem strange when I start out, but it doesn’t take long till I feel like I’m in exactly the right place as I read and it doesn’t seem strange anymore, only wonderful.

Blood Meridian had me flummoxed for the first maybe fifty pages, I didn’t even want to keep reading, but somewhere along the way I lost track of who or where I was and I was just on some kind of high from what McCarthy was doing. I remember riding the bus to work one day and reading a passage where the riders were encountering shadows on a ridge (big surprise) and suddenly I couldn't catch my breath from how unbelievably beautiful the writing was. I looked out the window of the bus, and everything out there in the real world looked strange. I wanted to stop after every sentence and die from how wonderful that book was.

last reading you attended

Linh Dinh at This Ain't the Rosedale Library bookstore in Toronto. Linh and I read together in Buffalo a few days earlier and he totally blew my mind, so when I saw he was going to be in Toronto a few days later, I went. Also reading that night was Angela Rawlings, who is a friend and worked with me on some projects at the library, but I’d never heard her read. She spends a lot of time in Iceland. That’s where she met Linh Dinh, which seems pretty weird, since neither of them is from there. They were both just there at the same time, doing poetry things. There must be a lot of amazing literary activity in Iceland. Angela’s reading at This Ain’t the Rosedale Library was awesome. I had no idea what to expect from her. Talk about strange and beautiful.

most treasured book in your collection

The Bicycle Rider in Beverley Hills because I read the library copy and decided I needed to own a copy of the book. It was out of print, so I went looking online and found a listing for it at a bookseller in Toronto who also ran a bookstore. So I went to that bookstore, thinking I could find it and buy it and save on shipping, and the bookstore was a mess. Everything was piled in no order. The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills wasn’t shelved with the fiction in alphabetical order by author, or even by title. It wasn’t shelved in any order in any section of the store, as far as I could see. I wandered around the store for a while, thinking how hopeless this was. I don’t know why I didn’t just ask the guy who was working in the store. I guess I felt sort of stupid, or cheap for not ordering it online and paying the shipping. I was going to give up when I saw a shelf labelled: First Editions. None of the books on this shelf were in any order, either. The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills was in a stack on the floor in front of the First Editions shelf. That’s my most treasured book, not so much because I loved reading it (I did), but because I found it in that disaster of a bookstore. Don’t get me wrong. I loved that bookstore. It’s exciting to find something beautiful in the middle of chaos – maybe the middle of chaos is the only place to find something beautiful.

if you could subscribe to only one literary journal

New York Tyrant, because its attitude makes it the most out-there representative I've encountered of an attitude that I’m sure lots of journals have (Blake Butler’s No Colony comes to mind; or Gigantic magazine). But New York Tyrant is like a magnet for adventurous literary exploration. I love what it stands for just as much as I love what it publishes.

best thing you’ve read online recently

Molly Gaudry, a bunch of her stuff – a great piece at Titular most recently. After I read her novella, We Take Me Apart, I wanted more, but this was her first book, so I went looking online. Also, those transcripts of the Gordon Lish class somebody posted, I haven't read more than a few lines, but I feel happy knowing they’re there.

recommended reading list:

Great Books by Canadians I Have Met

- The Show That Smells by Derek McCormack

- The Haunted Hillbilly by Derek McCormack

- Dark Rides by Derek McCormack

- Darkness Then a Blown Kiss by Golda Fried

- Lenny Bruce is Dead by Jonathan Goldstein

- Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible! by Jonathan Goldstein

- Kiss Painting by Sandra Jeppesen

- Burnt Orange Lipstick by Lydia Eugene

- by Julian Zardonovsky (this guy hasn’t actually had his book published yet, but when he does, you should read it)

- The Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler (okay, I never met this guy, and he’s dead, so I won’t meet him, but what a great book)

- Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill (technically, we’ve only met by email)

- Ten Thousand Lovers by Edeet Ravel

- Testament by Nino Ricci

- Tell It Slant by Beth Follett

- The Drowned Lands by Stan Dragland

- Found by Souvankham Thammavongsa (okay, another one I’ve only emailed with, but I’m going to meet her at the end of March, and her poetry is sublime)

- Nights Below Station Street by David Adams Richards

- The Withdrawal Method by Pasha Malla (I might meet him soon)