|photo: Susan Simmons
Sean Wilsey was born in San Francisco in 1970 and lives in Marfa, Tex. He is the author of a memoir, Oh the Glory of It All, and co-editor with Matt Weiland of two collections of essays: State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America and The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup. For many years Wilsey was editor-at-large for McSweeney's Quarterly Concern and on the staff of the New Yorker. He recounts his travels across the U.S. in More Curious (McSweeney's Books, July 15, 2014).
On your nightstand now:
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley and History of My Life, Vols. 7 & 8 by Giacomo Casanova. The former because I have a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old. The latter because I have been reading the complete edition for a memoir I'm working on.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Your top five authors:
Joseph Mitchell, Thomas Pynchon, Jennifer Egan, Haruki Murakami and Pat Barker.
Book you've faked reading:
I sat staring at the New Directions paperback of Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre in a café for much of a school year. The introduction [by Hayden Carruth] was more engaging than the book itself. It tantalizingly described denizens of Left Bank Paris as "disreputable young men in paint-smeared jeans, and their companions, those black-stockinged, makeupless girls who smoked too many cigarettes and engaged in who knows what follies besides." Yo!
Book you're an evangelist for:
I will press any book I'm enjoying on complete strangers. Recently I was traveling from rural Texas to California. When I got on my Southwest flight, after hours in the car, I was so tired that I immediately slid down the window shades and shut my eyes. At which point a woman on my row's aisle said, "Excuse me, but are you planning to sleep?" I said I was. "Oh. But would you please open one of those windows? It just makes me really uncomfortable taking off without seeing what's outside. I'd make a terrible astronaut."
We got to talking. She was reading a book set in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. I said I lived near there, in Presidio County, Tex. She asked what I was reading, and I told her Casanova, Vol. 7. She said she used to live in Rome. Then she apologized for waking me up. I said it was fine and that I was now going to read Casanova. She went to the bathroom. Then I started reading this scene, set in the "rooms" of an earl in Rome:
"His Lordship took up his watch and offered it to the first person who could give either Poinsinet [a French poet] or himself an erection. The hope of winning the watch put all the girls, the abati [priests], and the castrati on their mettle.... I laughed, chiefly at the distress exhibited by Poinsinet, who was reduced to being afraid of having an erection, since the drunken Earl swore that if he made him lose his watch he would have him pitilessly [humiliated] in the presence of all the actors. The scene, and the drama, ended when there was no one left with any hope of winning the watch. However, the secret of the Lesbians was employed only by the abati and the castrati; the girls would not use it; they wanted to preserve their right to look down on those who had employed it. It was pride rather than shame which stood them in good stead. They were afraid of employing it to no purpose."
My neighbor returned and said, "I see you're still awake."
I said, "Yeah, I just read this really vivid scene in Rome."
She was curious, so I handed her the book. As she read her cheeks got more and more flushed and she exclaimed, "Oh, wow!"
"How about that part with the watch?" I said.
"I loved that."
We agreed that "the secret of the Lesbians" would have been a great place for an explanatory footnote.
Book you've bought for the cover:
See entry two slots above [book you've faked reading].
Book that changed your life:
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami!
Favorite line from a book:
"I am writing my life to laugh at myself, and I am succeeding." Casanova said this in a letter.
Character you most relate to:
Having worked in some terrifying restaurants, I relate to much of what happened to George Orwell in his memoir/novel Down and Out in Paris and London.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle!