What books are on your night stand?
“Vile Days,” by Gary Indiana, “The Japan and India Journals: 1960-1964,” by Joanne Kyger, “Maybe the People Would Be the Times,” by Lucy Sante, “Bee Reaved” and “When the Sick Rule the World,” by Dodie Bellamy, “The Stone Face,” by William Gardner Smith, “Since When,” by Bill Berkson, “Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara,” by Joe LeSueur, and “Was This Man a Genius? Talks With Andy Kaufman,” by the charmful Julie Hecht.
What’s the last great book you read?
I loved the pair of Gwendoline Riley novels NYRB put out last year, “My Phantoms” and “First Love.” I enjoy reading about awful, sickening people, and these books are filled with them. But they’re awful and sickening in a way that, while not unfamiliar to my life experience, felt new — they’re awful and sickening in a way I’d not seen in literature before.
Can a great book be badly written?
It depends on what you mean by bad. There is such a thing as a text being emotionally effective in spite of the author’s apparent disinterest in composition or editing; if we’re talking about this manner of bad, then I suppose a great book can be badly written. But if you mean simply shabby, or written by an incurious person with a tin ear and lacking all talent for pleasing sentence construction, then no, I don’t believe it can. For some of us, the shape and sound of a line is as important as its content.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
I bought a book called “The Loser,” by William Hoffman Jr., based on its incredible cover (Funk & Wagnalls hardcover edition circa 1968). It’s a memoir of Hoffman’s gambling addiction, which eclipses all aspects of his otherwise healthy life and leads to a state of grisly degradation. It’s nothing like a masterpiece, but it’s well and sensibly told, the story drawn in a pleasing, plain tone. Especially memorable are the passages where Hoffman describes the outsize role of Luck in the life of a gambler, and the gambler’s never-ending pursuit to identify it before it manifests. In telling his story Hoffman affects a remorseful attitude but you can sense the addict still present in the narration — some tamped-down piece of the man wants to place another bet.