Describe your latest book.
I woke up one day from a sort of daydream with an idea for a book's structure, and for the thread of that book, one predicated upon the protagonist's loss of memory. In many cases, such memory losses are accidental or undesired, but in this case, it is an asked-for amnesia. And what if there existed a department of government whose sole purpose was to offer this service?
If society is a ship, it appears to many to be firmly at anchor in moral waters. Perhaps this isn't so. If we take certain extraordinary situations, we can better see basic truths about the ordinary. The events of A Cure for Suicide take place in a near future. The lives that the characters live are ordinary lives, but because of some extraordinary developments, their lives become emblematic of certain troublesome human directions.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Chased Out with a Broom, Chased Out with a Newspaper: Life of Jesse Ball, Vol. 2, 1983-1985.
If you were trapped in an elevator, what fictional character would you want with you?
In an elevator? Perhaps No. 44 from Twain's novel The Mysterious Stranger. I have been fond of him for a long time (ever since I wrote a paper about him in 1993), and the little fellow is capable of all sorts of magical feats. I am sure he could get us out of the elevator, if he wanted to, if he could understand why we should want to leave.
Describe a recurring dream or nightmare.
The worst nightmare that I had as a child, an absolutely petrifying one, was rather simple. It was a seascape, poorly painted, seen from afar, everything about it predictable. But in the distance there was a ship at anchor, and as the focus grew to encompass entirely the ship and the water around it, I felt the grievous weight of the ship, I felt the ship rocking back and forth in the water, and all of its weight was on my chest and draped over my body. I knew then that I was absolutely doomed and that there was nothing I could do to save myself. This was a dream I began to have around the time that I learned the sun would eventually wink out. When I learned that fact I guessed that everything everyone tells you that is hopeful is a lie, and that the world is bleak and terrible, that our joys are brief and half-hearted, and that, although we should try and dwell in them, they are more likely to be taken away too soon than prolonged.
What do your bookshelves look like? Are you a book hoarder? Do you embrace chaos, or are you a meticulous organizer?
My bookshelves have no order. I prune them regularly and sell the books to Myopic Books, a Chicago bookstore. They give me store credit, and then I spend all the store credit, and, presumably, return to sell them back more of the books I bought from them. The house that I live in has many shelves built into the walls. I call it the House of a Thousand Angles because nothing in the house is straight. Everywhere you look there is another meeting of walls and roof. In the loft on the highest floor there are many bookshelves beneath the sloping ceiling — and that's where I like to sit and read. All my art books are piled there on top of the different bookshelves. It is a pleasant place.
As for why I keep books or give them away — I don't like to keep a book that I feel is insufficient or useless to me, so I give away most of the books I receive. But I don't believe that a book needs to be technically great or even good in order to merit a place. It simply needs to be dear to me. I love to reread, even more than I like to read, so keeping a hold of books that I adore is very important, although they flee from me — they are always fleeing.
Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
I have an Airedale named Goose. He is fleet of foot and stubborn.
Name the best television series of all time, and explain why it's the best.
I like that show All Creatures Great and Small from the 1970s. It is about a veterinarian. I also like The Woodwright's Shop from the early 1980s. The miniseries of Pride and Prejudice from the '90s is completely wonderful. I like some of the episodes of The Black Mirror. It is hard to make anything good by committee.
What fictional world would you want to visit?
Probably The Wind and the Willows. I would like to go boating with Rat and Mole. Alternately, I would be overjoyed to be a part of The Tale of Genji.
If you could have been someone else, who would that be and why?
Maybe La Niña de los Peines. Or Jack Sheppard. Life must be interesting, no?
In the event of a zombie apocalypse, where would you go to be safe?
I would become a zombie — it is probably nice!
Five books that I have broken into bits from happy use:
This is an honest list — books whose physical structure I have entirely compromised.
1. The Histories by Herodotus
You cannot be better entertained.
2. Exeter Book
3. Book of the Courtier by Baldassarre Castiglione
We should all surround ourselves with more wondrous wit.
4. Direction of Play by Takeo Kajiwara
This one is for go-players.
5. Diaries by Franz Kafka
My favorite of his works.