What have you been reading lately?
I just read BLINDSIGHT by Hervé Guibert. I read it because a friend recommended that I read BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watts, which is a mind-bending sci-fi novel about a sentient alien spacecraft. I love mind-bending sci-fi and the book sounds rad. You can actually download Watts’s BLINDSIGHT from his website and read it for free as a PDF or e-book, which I would definitely have done if I had an iPad or Kindle, but I don’t. I didn’t want to read an entire novel on the computer, so I tried to get it from the library at Bard College, where I work. They didn’t have Watts’s BLINDSIGHT, but they had this other Guibert book with the same title, so I decided to check that out instead, based on the library catalog description, which said: “The rat race inside an institute for the blind. The protagonists are three young inmates–two men and a woman–as perverted as they are intelligent. A literary novel, full of insights into a world no less violent than the seeing one.”
It’s an excellent description! The book was extremely perverse and violent and erotic and revolting and smart and conceptual and French and short-and-sweet. I loved it. I had never heard of Guibert, but now I have read about him on Wikipedia, and it seems that he was very sexy and very brave, and I think that I will read almost everything that he has written.
Interestingly, when I tried to interlibrary-loan the Watts book, I received yet a third novel entitled BLINDSIGHT. Sadly, it was a real piece of shit about a cute but lonely crime-solving girl pathologist. I really wanted it to be amazing and all novels called BLINDSIGHT to be completely awesome. Maybe I will write a novel called BLINDSIGHT, which will of course be brilliant, to even things out. Maybe you should! After all, BLINDSIGHT is super interesting, as a thing: Blindsight
I have also been reading Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN, because for years everyone I’ve ever met has been telling me to read it. They were right. It’s absolutely the best thing ever.
What book have you read the most times and how many times have you read it?
This is a hard one, because I am a big re-reader. Not in a committed, digging-deep, relentless, investigatory kind of way, but in a lazy, comfort-food kind of way. When I am tired or sad or when I am reading while eating dinner or brushing my teeth, I do not want to read a challenging experimental novel. I want my brain to roll easily but safely away from me, around a known track. So there are a lot of books that I have read countless times, with lots of those re-reads continuing on from when I was just a kid to now. For example, I have read all of Dorothy Sayers’s mysteries at least ten or fifteen times. I’ve re-read many Agatha Christies even more than that. I just love them so much! There is nothing better than a fun, clever, charming little puzzle of a murder. And with Christie, in the MARPLE books or novels like AND THEN THERE WERE NONE or TOWARD ZERO, there’s this really light, barely-there, unsettling, unnerving conjuring up of menace and, in general, of just a frightening kind of wrongness, which never ceases to work its creepy magic on me, no matter how many times I read the book. Which is funny, because she’s kind of a sloppy writer, it’s definitely not about the prose for her, but then she manages this very delicate and rather rare thing.
Ivy Compton Burnett is a writer that I would like to have had the chance to take a bullet for, and I’ve read all of her books six or seven times each. She wrote in the early to mid-1900s, short, cruel little claustrophobic novels set in Edwardian England. They are savage, stifling portraits of family life on isolated country estates, insanely funny, written in very very spare, very very stark, flat prose, which contrasts superbly with the ultra melodrama of her plots: incest, will-tampering, murder, suicide, adultery, etc. They are worse than crack for me, dopamine-wise. Their subject is always tyranny; sometimes the tyrant is the villain and occasionally is a kind of hero. They’re about power and its vicious misuse, the power of money and masculinity or the even more devastatingly dangerous power of weakness, sickness, and slyness. She has absolutely the best children in all of fiction, and some of the most brilliant and delightful and courageous queers ever.
And I’ve probably read INFINITE JEST five or six times now. It really works on me exactly the way its debilitating Entertainment works on DFW’s poor characters: I’m completely under the spell, immersed, immediately and hypnotically. The first time I read it, in college, I read it in a weekend, in bed. I think I had people bring food to my bedside and then silently shuffle out backward so they wouldn’t disturb my deep-sea submersion. Now I read it more slowly; or sometimes, like with the Christie mysteries, because I’m so familiar with it, I can just pick it up and open to the middle and read until I’m interrupted or fall asleep and then end up putting it back on the shelf. Obviously, technically, on the levels of both prose and form, it’s a masterpiece, but actually I just read it to feel loved. It’s a book about hitting bottom and walking around down there, among other things, and then crawling back up, fingernails in the rock wall, not like a hero, but just like any fucker has to do. It has some extremely unpleasant characters, but it doesn’t make any of your judgements for you, and it gives everyone in its cast their own completely exceptional and juicy and unforgettable voices. Essentially, just to sound like a total asshole for a minute, it’s an utterly honest and accepting and affirming and supporting book, and when I read it I feel like Foster Wallace is just saying to me, There, there and also I know, I know.
If you could parachute a crate of a thousand copies of one book onto a town, city or other location, what book do you drop and where do you drop it?
No question that I would drop Tom McCarthy’s REMAINDER on London. REMAINDER is one of the all-time greatest books, and it starts off with the protagonist being whacked on the head by a never-identified object that has fallen from the sky. So clearly it would be hilarious to have REMAINDER falling from the sky and whacking everybody on their heads, especially since McCarthy is himself quite the artworld prankster (he is General Secretary of the International Necronautical Society), and even more especially because REMAINDER is a book with one of those self-consuming Möbius-strip modes of narrative logic, and touches on the fictionalization of reality, as in turning the actual physical planet into a controlled stageset, in forcing real events into your plot. So it would really be perfect and now I agonizingly want to do it.
Micaela Morrissette’s fiction has been anthologized in Best American Fantasy (Prime Books), The Pushcart Prize XXXIII (Pushcart Press), Best Horror of the Year (Night Shade), and The Weird (Tor and Atlantic/Corvus). Periodical publications include Conjunctions (where she is the managing editor), Ninth Letter, Weird Tales, and Paul Revere’s Horse.