|photo: Jessica Blackwell
Gabriel Blackwell is the author of the story collection Critique of Pure Reason and the novel Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Conjunctions, Tin House, Unstuck, Puerto del Sol, DIAGRAM and Rain Taxi. He teaches creative writing at Willamette University. With Matthew Olzmann, he edits the monthly journal the Collagist. His new book is The Natural Dissolution of Fleeting-Improvised-Men (just published by Civil Coping Mechanism).
On your nightstand now:
Gina Ochsner's The Necessary Grace to Fall, E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Devil's Elixirs, Roxanne Carter's Beyond This Point Are Monsters and J.M. Coetzee's Doubling the Point. I've found that some of them are more relaxing than others.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Time-Life's Mysteries of the Unknown. Probably everyone reading this is already familiar with MotU, but, just in case: It was a series of books about stuff like "Mystic Places" or "Mysterious Creatures," and it was sort of like Columbia House or BMG Music Club, in that Time-Life would send you a new book (and a new bill) every month. If you didn't like the book, you could send it back. I never sent one back; in fact, I'm pretty sure I still have almost all of the set (my parents got sick of paying for them and canceled my subscription at some point) somewhere in my parents' storage unit. I'm going back home soon, for a wedding. I may have to bring them back with me.
Your top five authors:
I'm not much for ranking, so I'll just list five authors whose sections I drift toward when I find myself in a bookstore wondering why I've come to the bookstore: William Gass, Nicholson Baker, W.G. Sebald, Guy Davenport and Thomas Bernhard. I already own most of their books, so I'm always caught between wanting to fill in the blank spaces on my shelves and wondering, "Don't I already have this book at home?" Which I think means that there will always be books by those authors that I won't have because I will always think that I've already bought them, and so I'll never actually buy them.
Book you've faked reading:
Why fake reading something? Is that a silly question? I can't recall ever feeling the need. If I haven't read it, I haven't read it. I'm human. I mean, it's okay; the number of books one has read is always going to be much, much lower than the number of books one hasn't read.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain. I have recommended that book to more people than any other book. I hope that means many of my friends have read it, or will. Have you read it? You should read it. It's something else, seriously.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Sara Levine's Short Dark Oracles is the only one that comes to mind. The cover's a painting by an artist named Olaf Hajek, though, when I first saw it, I thought maybe it was an Arcimboldo. I like Arcimboldo (and I have a lot of trust in the book's publisher, Caketrain), so I bought the book. I'm very glad I did.
Book that changed your life:
Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman forced me to confront the fact that I wanted to be a writer. I haven't been the same since.
Favorite line from a book:
This one's impossible, but here's a good one from my recent reading: "A thing that has failed can, if you change its place, be a thing that has come off." It's from Robert Bresson's excellent Notes on the Cinematographer. Many of Bresson's notes are applicable to any act of creation, not just filmmaking.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
José Donoso's The Obscene Bird of Night. That book was a wonder. I can remember reading through the first transformation and thinking, "What is this? What is this book doing?" It was a good feeling.