After being away far too long, the 3MI has come roaring back in style, in a new, expanded format. The rules remain this same but it's been a while, so we'll refresh - the first three questions are customized for the interviewee, and the remaining seven questions (formerly three) are the same for all comers.
Jesse Ball is a novelist and poet whose latest novel, The Way Through Doors, is a beguiling tale that draws readers quickly into a fully realized world that exists at strange angles to our own - it's recognizable but only just. The Los Angeles Times called it "lovely" and "unpretentious," and thought Ball has a "flawless, compassionate ear." Ball is also the author of Samedi the Deafness, Parables and Lies, Vera & Linus, Og svo kom nottin, and March Book. He won the Plimpton Prize in 2008 for his novella, The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr, and work of his was included in Best American Poetry 2006. He's also reading in New York tomorrow night (details at the end), and we think you'll enjoy what he has to offer. We'll also be giving away five signed copies of The Way Through Doors on Friday. Here he is, subjecting himself to the 3MI:
1) We normally don't waste a question on something as banal as "tell us about your book," but The Way Through Doors defies easy description, (though we can tell our readers that it is smart, witty and moving, and rewards attentive reading) so we decided to punt that task and ask you to tell our readers something about this Russian doll of a novel.
JB: It is book of delight -- a love song of the imagination sung by a young man for a young woman who has lost her memory.
2) Can you talk about how poetry can, should, might inform the task of the novelist, and what it's like to move between these forms. Do you think poets in general make for successful novelists?
JB: Hardly. D.H. Lawrence could do it, though. Thomas Hardy, too. Of course, there will always be novelists who trade on their fame to publish bad poetry. I think the transition is easier from poetry to fiction than from fiction to poetry. Although, of course, the best writing is simply writing -- and equally good however it is placed. For me, I began with poetry, and I think that what helps me is that I try to accomplish particular things in verse -- I think of the best poetry as manuals of thought. The greatest foolishness at the present time, though, are the legions of novelists who do not READ poetry. That would have been a preposterous idea one hundred years ago -- a person would have looked like an ass for making that claim. However, I have heard writers say that to a whole room of people with no shame whatsoever. And, I must say, the shame of not reading poetry is a deeply personal one. You are giving up one of the world's tools, and what you find there you won't find anywhere else.
3) It seems easy and obvious to apply "Kafkaesque" to The Way Through Doors but the echoes feel unmistakeable. Can you talk about your literary influences in general, as well as those specific to The Way Through Doors?
JB: Well, I adore Kafka, certainly. Others: Proust, Rilke, Crane's poetry, Whitman (1855), Conrad, Abe, Plutarch, McCarthy, Lady Murasaki, Herbert. My favorite period is this time 1890-1930. I don't know why, but the work from that period is almost unreasonably strong.
4) What is the best book we've never heard of?
JB: Dreams and How to Guide Them by the Marquis D' Hervey de Saint Denys.
5) Windows or Mac?
6) Why do you live where you live?
JB: I teach in the graduate writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Practical classes on Lying, Dreaming, False Identity. Before that I was in Iceland.
JB: I got into a fight at a take out Chinese restaurant. Not a particularly honorable experience. I knocked a guy down and then ran away. There were too many of them! In terms of purely culinary delight: an evening that I had in San Sebastian in Spain wandering through the old section and stopping in the many bars where the bars are covered in pintxos, similar to tapas. One drinks wine and eats these miraculous things off tiny plates. The bartender expects you to keep track of how many you've had and you pay when you leave in a sort of good faith system. The whole thing is unlikely to exist, one says that to oneself in the midst of it, and the pintxos are very fine, very fine indeed.
8) What was the last library book you took out and why?
JB: Usually I buy books -- or read them at libraries, at bookstores. I don't often remove them. My mother is a librarian, however. When I was in Iceland, I did borrow a few English language books from the library -- a big Shakespeare, and also, The Pigeon [Patrick Suskind].
9) Name three things on your desk right now that aren't books or computer equipment.
JB: My desk is large: a door on sawhorses. Nonetheless, it is mostly books and papers. Other than that, let's see: a chess clock; a ukulele; beeswax candles from Plimoth Plantation.
10) What's at the top of your Netflix queue?
JB: The Prisoner, disc one.
Jesse Ball reads Thursday Feb 19 at Solas Bar, (around the corner from St. Mark’s Bookshop) 232 E. 9th Street, New York, NY 10003, sponsored by St. Mark’s Bookshop, at 7:30pm