Describe your latest book.
I recently edited and illustrated a collection of ghost stories, Ghostly. It features stories by E. A. Poe, Neil Gaiman, Saki, Kelly Link, and M. R. James, and also some stories by writers who one might not associate with ghost stories, including A. S. Byatt, P. G. Wodehouse, and Edith Wharton. I also discovered some new favorites: A. M. Burrage's story "Playmates" is tender and matter-of-fact about its haunted child; Amy Giacalone's "Tiny Ghosts" is hilarious and never before published.
The stories are all domestic and they feature haunted children, lovers, houses, and cats. My own story in the collection is "Secret Life, with Cats," about a lady who unexpectedly inherits a house full of mostly invisible cats.
I appreciate ghost stories that are built out of longing and loss; none of these stories are conventionally scary, but they all linger in the mind. They are haunting in the best way.
What's the strangest job you've ever had?
When I was 15 I worked as a switchboard operator for an answering service. This was in 1978. The service's clients were doctors and dentists, so most of the people who called were patients. The switchboard operators sat at actual switchboards and wore bulky headsets. We answered each call by placing a plug into a hole. It was an archaic system, even for 1978.
The lady who owned the service sat in her office, behind a desk. She was a large lady with stiff hair and she did not seem to leave the office very often; she listened in to the calls. I was not good at answering all the calls on my board before the callers got discouraged and hung up. One of my problems was that male callers often wanted to chat.
Me: "This is Dr. So-and-So's answering service, may I help you?"
The Caller: "Uh... what's your name?"
I lasted about two weeks. My boss fired me while I was sitting at the switchboard, unaware of my fate. She called my house and left a message with my mom.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands, and why did you read it?
I am quite infatuated with Burger Force, the comic book/graphic novel by Australian artist and writer Jackie Ryan. It was given to me by Eddie Campbell, my fiancé. He thought I might like it because it is extremely stylish and strange. And I do. It's also funny and smart and hard to get your hands on, but there is a website, http://www.burgerforce.com and you can get a taste there. It's about to be published as a book.
What do your bookshelves look like? Are you a book hoarder? Do you embrace chaos, or are you a meticulous organizer?
I enjoy rearranging my books. And I like to put things in books (obituaries, reviews, somewhat relevant postcards) and to include other sorts of objects with the books (taxidermy, pottery, kid gloves, clocks, etc.). I have thousands of books; they are organized loosely by subject (birds, art, medical texts, cookery, books I have blurbed, books by friends, music, cemeteries, travel) or by association (fiction is grouped by country, by writers who hung out together, by how much I like it). All the children's books are in the guest room. All the poetry is in my bedroom for late-night insomnia reading. All the books about death are near my desk, to remind me to get on with things.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I've just started reading Louis de Bernières's new novel The Dust That Falls from Dreams, which I am enjoying very much. His best-known book is Corelli's Mandolin, but my favorite work is his trilogy which begins with his first book, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts. It's set in a fictional South American country and is full of absurdity, humor, violence, love, and large black cats that adore chocolate. So begin at the beginning, and then read everything.
Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration.
In no particular order: Charlotte Salomon, Aubrey Beardsley, Patti Smith, Eddie Campbell, Rebecca Horn, Gwen John, Max Ernst, Joel-Peter Witkin, Kara Walker, Ai Weiwei, Joseph Cornell, Bea Nettles, Andrzej Klimowski, Joni Mitchell, Wayne McGregor, John Adams, the Beatles, Chris Ware, Elizabeth Ockwell, Kiki Smith, Philip Chen, Riva Lehrer, Egon Schiele, the Quay Brothers, Theaster Gates, Natalie Frank, Lynd Ward, Lucian Freud, Vincent Desiderio, Antonio López García, Remedios Varo, Henry Darger, Anders Nilsen, Sally Mann, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Bach, Vermeer, Goya, Duane Michals, Eadweard Muybridge, Sophie Calle.
What fictional world would you want to visit?
The Northern England of the Raven King, from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.
Do you have a favorite font? Does it change depending on the project?
It's hard to have one favorite, but the Doves Press type would be very high on my list. It has a strange, sad story: all the punches, matrices, and type were thrown into the Thames by one of the Doves Press partners, Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, to keep it from his former partner, Emery Walker. There has been a digital revival recently by Robert Green — who went so far as to salvage a few pieces of the original type from the river in the service of his efforts to remake the face as accurately as possible. It is a marvelously serene, spare, and beautiful typeface, certainly worth all of the effort to let it live again.
Five books of fairy tales:
These are five books of fairy tales, or books that feature fairies or try to explain what we mean when we tell fairy tales. I have been interested in modern reimaginings of what fairies are and what they mean; I have been slowly working on a collection of fairy tales of my own, in which the fairies are haughty, capricious, and inscrutable in their purposes; I am reading to discover other possibilities and depths.
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman
From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers by Marina Warner
Tales of the Brothers Grimm: Drawings by Natalie Frank
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Great Night by Chris Adrian