Reference Couch: Whistle While You Read

The Reference Couch

In Which A Librarian Tries to Solve Your Personal Problems with Literature

Today a question for the multi-tasking lover of music and literature from Joelle:

Q: Can you tell me some good music to listen to while reading that is not classical?

A: The folks over at Psychology Today say the jury’s still out on whether or not it’s productive for you to listen to music while you’re doing other stuff. I guess they’ve never experienced Dark Side of the Rainbow. I think, with the right type of music and a good book, you can get an excellent flow happening. And, as always, Tom from Sight & Sound can help you find it.

Here are the library’s Top 10 albums to listen to while reading:

William Ackerman – Imaginary Roads (Guitar Music, New Age)

Ansel Adams: Official Film Soundtrack (Instrumental Music that brings to mind the American wilderness)

Bill Frisell – Big Sur (Jazz)- “California dreaming adds sweep to jazz.”

Wes Montgomery – Movin’ Wes (Jazz)

Carlos Nakai – Earth Spirit: Native American Flute Music

Noah Preminger – Before the Rain (Jazz)

 Patricia Spiro – Silk and Bamboo (Chinese Harp Music)
 The Straight Story: Official Soundtrack (Soundtrack) “Tenderness can be just as abstract as insanity.” -David Lynch
Photo credit: Woman reading a book via photopin (license) and DJ Popeye

Got a question for The Reference Couch? Email us at, or send a message to us on Facebook.

PBF | March

Party Banter Friday: 

In Which A Librarian Provides You With An Interesting Fact to Make You More Popular During Weekend Socializing

If there’s anything we Midwesterners like more than fancy snacks (hot dips, tiny meats, deviled eggs), it’s fellow Midwesterners. This month’s party fact has to do with both:

On March 8, 1941, novelist Sherwood Anderson died of peritonitis after accidentally swallowing an hors d’oeuvre toothpick.

Unveil the above at this weekend’s gathering. It’s a bold I-am-well-read statement wrapped in  a gentle reminder for guests to stop hoovering all the meatballs. In that way, this fact is like an hors d’oeuvre itself.


The Ohio-born Anderson, though he doesn’t pop up in your everyday list of famous classic authors, influenced many of the names that are on those lists, like Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Hemingway. Stuart Dybek, who we interviewed with 3to5, was also inspired by him.

Anderson was a self-educated writer, who one day walked out of his job in the roofing business to pursue his creative dream. By far, Anderson’s most successful work is the novel Winesburg, Ohio. He was also a much-lauded short story writer.

For your own enjoyment and enlightenment, you should read some Sherwood Anderson. A Midwestern fella we can be proud of. Also for more on fancy snacks, click here.


Future Islands Changed My Life

One year ago this month, the band Future Islands appeared on Late Show with David Letterman and blew everyone’s mind, including Letterman’s, leaving him chuckling, “I’ll take all of that you got!”

It was my first time seeing and hearing the band and it was the first time in a long time that I felt moved by new music. They oozed sincerity, not aloofness, not hipness, not rock-starness. They made me smile. That performance should have been the final scene in a movie where everyone finally recognizes how sweet and awesome the guy they’ve been ignoring is. If they ever remake Back to the Future*, it should replace the scene where Marty McFly and the Starlighters play Johnny B. Goode.

Then I looked up the video. More genuine feels.

Step three. See if my local public library has their records. Of cooooourse they do! I even got a “good record” and a nod by the Sight & Sound department when I checked it out. That’s the public library equivalent of street cred.

So here it is one year later and I’m still listening to and thinking about the Singles album and what I’m thinking about it is that I think it changed my life.

Not in a big way, but in some important ways. The way books usually change me. I loved it so much I wanted to call old friends and talk about it, which reminded me I should call my old friends more and made me miss them in the best I-have-great-old-friends way. I started feeling brighter in the dark winter mornings because I danced and sang “My Sun In the Morning” with my son. The way frontman Samuel T. Herring seemed to pour his heart out with his unadorned lyrics made me feel less self-conscious about the way I expressed myself, through words, and dress and dance.

Being moved by the authenticity and simplicity of Future Islands also made the irony and sarcasm and power-trips, and yadda yadda yadda seem that much more tiresome. And I began looking for the feeling I got from that music in the television and movies I watched, the books I read, the Facebook friends I followed. I’m still looking (LA Story with Steve Martin comes close). But in the meantime, I’m not sick of listening to Singles on repeat and I don’t know if I ever will be. Daaaang,  “Back in the Tall Grass” makes me feel like a teenager with the whole summer ahead of me and a big ol’ crush to take up all my thinking time.

So lots of other people have written much smarter and more informative reviews of this band, but I hope this one is the most sincere because this band makes me want to make the whole world more sincere. I hope they have the same effect on you or, rather, I hope something you read or listen to or watch has this effect on you. Start looking for it at the library.

*: please don’t ever try to remake Back to the Future.

Photo Credit: Bjørn Giesenbauer via Flickr

3 to 5 with Courtney Maum

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

Courtney Maum is a contributor to the New York Times bestselling essay collection, “Worn Stories,” and the book reviewer for Electric Literature’s satirical “Celebrity Book Review.”  She is also the author of the novel “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You,” which we are reading for Books & Brewskis this month, and we are sooooo excited to talk about it (and even snuck in a little teaser talk at the last meeting).


The publisher describes the book as: “a love story in reverse, set in Paris and London, a failed monogamist attempts to answer the question: Is it really possible to fall back in love with your spouse?” The B&Bers who’ve read it already (over-achievers!) describe it as: “funnnnny!” Read more about the IHSMFHWY here and our interview with Courtney below:

Q: How much research did you do for the setting of this book? Did you travel to Paris? Become familiar with the art world?

A: I lived in France for five years and am married to a French man, so all of the Paris stuff came from my own eyes and heart. As for the art world—the art world functions closely enough to the literary and fashion world for me to parody it. There’s always going to be an “It” artist; a flavor of the month. There are a lot of egos, a lot of mixing of hi-culture and lowbrow. And when I was in high school, I dabbled in art myself—I was really  into oil painting and mixed media collage. I miss it, actually. I find making art very therapeutic.

A lot of the research I put into this book, though, I did as I went along. I’m obsessed with realistic details, so for example, when Richard goes on his “man date”  with Harold, I did a lot of research into the actual cafés that were available in that area, to the layout of the strip mall and such, all the way down to the distance between the strip mall and the park. It’s probably not necessary for me to put that level of realism into the book, after all, it’s a novel, I could just make it up, but it’s comforting to me somehow. I want to believe that these people really exist in the world that we know.

Q: Your main character, Richard, can be pretty unlikable (although I did read an Amazon review where a reader said she kind of wanted to sleep with him). Is it harder to write or relate to an unlikable character?

A: Thanks for calling that review to my attention—I stay away from the cavern of online reviews, but I’m glad that Richard has a willing fan somewhere! Whether or not you like or relate to an unlikable character has to do with voice. I’m able to engage with nearly anything if I like the way a voice is written. For example, I just finished Martin Amis’ “Zone of Interest” which is written from the point of view of Nazis during the Second World War. And not the repentant kind. By making his narrators extra repelling, extra horrifying, by pushing them to the absolute limits of the vileness they already contain, Amis ended up creating an incredibly moving read. The book takes its power from the unlikability of its main characters. Because they’re so heinous, we’re afforded a view into the Holocaust that we’ve never seen.

As a writer, you have to like your narrators. I ended up feeling a lot of compassion for Richard—it makes sense to me, the mistakes that one can make when a marriage starts feeling stale. As for Amis, there is so much word play in “Zone of Interest”, I imagine he was able to keep going because the mechanics of writing that book were fun. The subject matter is horrible, but the writing of it—the over the top buoyancy of the language—must have fueled him along.

Q: Could you tell us a backstory detail about one of the characters that you didn’t include in the book?

A: Sure! In the first version, there was a mysterious architect named “Monsieur de Beaupuy” who ends up being the buyer of “The Blue Bear” painting that Richard did for his wife. The catalyst that got me to start writing “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You” in the first place was that I passed a handwritten note in the Paris gallery district that read, “Mr. Architect, you wanted to buy the Blue Bear and you were wearing an elegant hat. Please get in touch.” So the story started off with me asking, who is this architect? What is this Blue Bear? The entire first draft centered around the relationship between Richard and the architect. But it didn’t make the final cut!

Q: What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to dispel writer’s block? Did it work or fail miserably?

A: I don’t know if it’s creative, it’s more embarrassing than anything else, but I like to put on really cheesy music and dance around the house. I’m talking really cheesy, like One Direction. Sometimes it helps for me to listen to really manufactured music that has had a high level of commercial success. I’ll listen to the chord progressions, the song’s overall length, how quickly the song moves to the chorus, and I’ll get a notion of how my story should progress.

And, of course…

Q: If you were a Dewey Decimal number, what number would you be?

A: Just for the record, I had to look this up! I haven’t had to encounter the Dewey Decimal system since I was like five years old. I have absolutely no head for numbers, so I wouldn’t be one. I’d be the library card. The one with all the “due dates” on it in the back

Thanks Courtney! We can’t wait to discuss and celebrate the book on March 31 at The Filling Station Microbrewery and we look forward to reading more from you!


Cabin Fever Cures

Up here in the north it’s looking a little like the zombie apocalypse. Whiteout conditions are making it difficult to see so we have to rely on our hearing to notice each other coming- the tell-tale sign of a fellow Febru-zombie approaching is the sound of clomping boots and deep, shallow mouth breathing. We’ve all got static-y hat hair and barely any skin left above our lips from blowing our noses too much.

So it makes perfect sense that with the below ZERO temperatures and the blowing snow and our hideous appearances, we have chosen to stay indoors until we run out of either food or sanity. Here is a list of ways the library can help you thwart cabin fever:


Photo credit: Cabin via photopin (license)

Book Fitting: First Date with Poetry

Book Fitting: In Which a Librarian Tries On a Book

You’ve found a match on OkCupid who seems attractive. You really want to like them. They’re obviously smarter than you but claim to be laid back, sometimes even funny. You agree to a date. But every time you’re getting ready to meet them, you bail. Too intense. You’re just not in the mood. You feel embarrassed. You’ve used any number of excuses.

I knew someone named Poet once. She said my aura was dirty. I’m not talking about her. I’m talking about that free verse gribble garble you gave up after freshman English because it didn’t rhyme, or you didn’t “get” it, or somehow two pages felt longer than a Ken Follett novel and you couldn’t bear it any longer. And now when people mention poets, you nod your head as if you’re familiar with them.

You are not familiar.

This Valentine’s Day, how about picking up poetry one more time? Just try it on and see how you like it. Below is a list of poetry that is full of emotion and intellect and the beauty of language but also (and this is key) not boring or stuffy or difficult to understand. These poets are everything their online dating profile would “doth declare”. I’ve also included poem suggestions to give to your loved ones this V-Day because I’m just. that. good.

poems(Look how trim these books stay. You can definitely read a book this size)

Wendell Berry, Entries: Try: “For an Absence” is a bee-you-tiful poem to send to a loved one far away or someone who has lost a loved one.

Nikki Giovanni, Love Poems: Try: Oh gee, all the poems from the I Hope It’s Love section are great to give to your sweetheart, but “I Wrote a Good Omelet” is particularly perfect for those in the infatuation stage.

Conrad Hilberry, Until the Full Moon Has Its Say: Try: Give yourself a valentine and read “Enormous Leaf”.

Galway Kinnell, Selected Poems: Try: “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”, this is a lovely romantic poem to put in the Valentine card of the mother or father of your children and probably not a good poem to give to someone you just started dating with the note, “This will be us!”

Ted Kooser, Delights and Shadows: Try: Please give “After Years” to a unrequited love. This poem is good for a wistful sigh.

Philip Levine, News of the World: Try: “Of Love and Other Disasters” is a poem for the anti-Valentines Day crowd.

Pablo Neruda, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair: Try: Send along “Tonight I Can Write” to an old flame you hope to reunite with. It’s less creepy than just liking all of her selfies on Facebook.

Grace Paley, New and Collected Poems: Try: send along “Note to Grandparents” to Grandma and Grandpa along with the kind of crappy valentines your kids made them in school or give the poem “Love” to your love-r.

Carl Sandburg, Selected Poems: Try Up here in the North country, we need to dream of warmer, happier times like “Village in Late Summer” (originally from Cornhuskers).

If you don’t want to jump all the way into one author, you can speed-date several by browsing through a collection and seeing who you might be interested in. Browsing compilations is like for books. Try:

Bartlett’s Poems for Occasions, edited by Geoffrey O’Brien

Good Poems by Garrison Keillor

If you fall in love with poetry all winter long, come spring you can go to the FREE Poet’s Night Out at the City Opera House on April 26, listen to poems by local poets and vote for your favorite.

Featured photo credit: Sweet disposition,hearts texture,hearts bokeh via photopin (license)

PBF | February

Party Banter Friday: 

In Which A Librarian Provides You With An Interesting Fact to Make You More Popular During Weekend Socializing

Among all the woeful tales of engines not turning over, roads strewn with ditch-swallowed vehicles, and snow-blindness so bad your cousin just pulled over where he was and started a new life, February parties could use some uplifting auto talk around the hot dip table.

Brighten things up with this kickin’ conversation starter:

Removing a snow-booger from the wheel well of your car with a heel kick instead of the more conventional toe kick can not only add to the force of your kick, but prevent injury to your “little piggies”*.

*: The Lake Hubert Conservation Association in Minnesota recommends not kicking off “chunkers” unless the temperature is at least 15 degrees. Be careful out there!

Snow-boogers, also referred to as tire snot, slush puppies, or wheel barf, based on an extensive 30-second Google search, may turn out to be the key to curing seasonal blues. Although you may have thought you were alone in the joy you feel at kicking those suckers off, turns out you’re among friends. There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to it.

If you need more facts (or, er, actual facts) about cars and the things hanging off of them, the library has them. In addition to or large collection of printed repair manuals for cars new and old, we have digital resources for engine repair as well.

For a general guide, check out Essential Car Care for Women (it’s not written in a special language, men can check it out as well).

For a guide on how to handle the teen in your life driving, read Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving.

For a gearhead kind of memoir, looky loo at Auto Biography by Earl Swift.

For a good road trip story, try Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America.

If you want to get over you broke-down car blues or just have good laugh, listen to some of our Car Talk audio from the Magliozzi brothers (Rest in peace, Tom, you sweet hilarious man). You can listen to more Click and Clack here.

Photo Credit: Our featured image for PBF is a picture from our digital history collection. You can view the original image and browse our collection here.

Your Coffee Table Is Talking About You

If I’ve learned anything from browsing the home decor area of our collection, it’s that people named Judith seem to have some sort of leg up on the interior design industry. But if I’ve learned anything else, it’s that beautiful books on a coffee table never go out of style. From Judith’s Guide to Country Chic to Japanese-Inspired with Judith, it’s agreed that a good ol’ book on a table will help make your home homier and say to your houseguests, “Hey, I think about things.”

Except sometimes beautiful coffee table books are really expensive. And so instead, your coffee table is saying, “I fold laundry.” or  “I bought a ceramic dish intending to also buy pretty things to put in it but now it’s where we put the cat toys” or “I watch Game of Thrones and eat macaroni and cheese and then I leave the bowl here so the noodles dry up and stick to it.”

That’s fine. You do you. But, if you ever want your coffee table to say something else, your local library has a collection of beautiful, smart books, in all shapes and sizes, that will start great conversations with your guests. And the best part is that you can switch them out whenever you want. If you’re feeling goofy and bright one day and dark and down and why-aren’t-we-freaking-out-about-climate-change-all-the-time!!!!-ey the next, we’ve got books for that, and for everything in between.

So, what do you want your coffee table to tell your friends? Here are just a few examples:

“I appreciate beauty.”


Though your curtains may be old sheets and your couch covered in Slurpee stains, you can still display something of beauty in your living room:

Sharon Tate: Recollection by Debra Tate: Sharon Tate was, among many other things, actually the most beautiful person that ever lived. Even as a young child, she is stunning. This collection of photographs and personal stories compiled by her sister Debra, with a foreword by Roman Polanski, focuses on her joy and her life, rather than her brutal death by the Manson Family. You and your guests will stare. You’ll gaze. Note: Don’t keep this book on your table if you have hopes of making out with a date. Both of your faces, lovely as they may be, will only look sadly ordinary in comparison. Mood killer.

Other Worlds by James Trefil: These images of the cosmos are almost as breathtaking as Sharon Tate’s face. We have a lot of gorgeous books of space photos, but the nebulae in this collection are particularly stellar.

“I’m socially responsible.”


A smart-looking book haphazardly lying around to make it look like you’ve read it says more than a 24-hour news channel blaring in the background, and it says it quietly:

Posters For The People: Art of the WPA by Ennis Carter: These bright posters were created by the artists sponsored by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and 40s, part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. I particularly like the ones about books and not burning them. It’s too bad some of the illustrators of these posters are anonymous because they deserve big-time credit.

The Innocents by Taryn Simon: Taryn Simon interviewed and photographed 45 men and women who were wrongfully accused and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and then, eventually, freed. The portraits are quiet and thought-provoking. Most of them take place at the scene of the crime.  And the author gave a voice to the accused that they might not have otherwise had.

“I like things you probably haven’t even heard of. I’m hip.”


Everybody wants to be tastemaker or turn their friends on to something they might really love. I find that people are more likely to respond favorably when I leave the new thing I love out for them to find instead of talking incessantly about it and accidentally spoiling the plot:

Acme: Our Annual Report to Shareholders and Rainy Day Saturday Afternoon Fun Book, a Library of Novelty by Chris Ware: Really anything by graphic novelist, Chris Ware is going to be colorful and intricate and attention-grabbing. But Acme‘s size and browsability make it a perfect coffee table book. This collection of comics is complex and inventive and weird and just fun to look at. I might also recommend Hand-Drying in America by Ben Katchor as another good graphic coffee table book…if it were not currently checked out and placed on my own coffee table.

The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover by Kevin Reagan: Alex Steinweiss is the guy who first said, “Let’s illustrate album covers!”. Aren’t you glad he said that? He created quite the art form and music and art lovers will be very impressed with you and these illustrations (more the illustrations than you, it’s really cool looking).

“I am one with nature. Every day is Earth Day up. in. here.”


If the scent of your vinegar-based cleaning products and your vegan cashew-cheese hors d’oeuvres aren’t enough to let people know you’re crunchy, let your table tell them:

The Life and Love of Trees by Lewis Blackwell: Glorious (and I don’t use that word lightly) pictures of trees from every angle, in every season, everywhere on Earth. And awesome tree quotes too like “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” This book is so deep it’s got roots.

Seeds: Time Capsules of Life by Rob Kesseler and Wolfgang Stuppy: Seeds are super crazy looking close up. This should be the only sentence on the book jacket. Just kidding, the book jacket has lots of important facts about seeds that will help you enjoy the book even more. Like, “No matter how small, packed into every seed is the complete genetic code needed to produce a new plant, whether it is a tiny herb or a giant rainforest tree.” The more you know. Cue rainbow.

Earthsong by Bernhard Edmaier: Did you know that the color flourescent rave party green exists in nature? It does. In South Iceland. This book of aerial photographs shows us parts of our planet untouched by humans. Volcanoes, sea floors, and glaciers in all their grandeur.

“I know about art.”


The above phrase is really best said with a coffee table book since it would sound really dumb coming out of your mouth. Please don’t ever say, “I know about art” with your mouth. Say it with your library card:

Magritte by David Sylvester: I feel like even if you’d never heard the word “surreal”, it would appear in your head as soon as you looked at a Magritte painting. This book is a biography as well as an art book, with full color reproductions of his work. A good ice-breaker when entertaining friends and looking at this book would be, “So what is reality?”

Robert Frank: Story Lines by Robert Frank: Frank traveled the world and captured graceful and intimate photos of it. This collection takes us to Paris, Wales, and London in the late 1940s and early 50s, and then back to America where his portraits of regular everyday people come together to tell a story of the time. I really love his pictures of Detroit in 1955.

Check out these books and get that coffee table saying something flattering about you. Maybe it will say such nice things, your guests will forgive you for having to share a seat on one old beanbag. Maybe. As long as one of your guests isn’t Judith.

Featured Photo Credit: Alex Clark via photopin cc

Faves on hoopla

I’ve been listening to some solid music lately. Some new artists, some classic artists, some new stuff by older artists and some Prince (hey, that’s what I’m into right now).

I’m exploring this collection of music through the Traverse Area District Library’s latest and greatest digital offering called hoopla. OMURGERD, you didn’t know TADL has a pretty great and growing collection of free digital books, movies, magazines, and information on anything you could or would ever want to know about, and MUSIC!? It’s true, we do.

TADL started offering hoopla about a month ago and it’s been amazingly popular with library cardholders. Basically, it’s an online service to stream or download music, movies, tv shows, and audiobooks on your device or PC.

Personally, I think it’s the coolest offering next to Zinio digital magazines. And it’s definitely the easiest to use. All you need is a valid TADL card and to live in the taxing district, which is Grand Traverse County, Almira, Inland, and Elmwood Townships.

With this new service, there is never a waiting list, you can borrow up to 10 items per month and begin streaming content immediately.You can also download content to view at a later date (in case you won’t have WiFi in your igloo or ice fishing shanty).  At the end of the lending period the item just “poof” disappears from your device, so don’t even fret about an overdue item or a fine.

I’m definitely feeling the music collection right now but there are some pretty legit movies, tv shows, and audiobooks available through hoopla too. The entire collection seems to get better all the time, with more than 150,000 titles in the system and new ones added weekly, including 11,000 audiobooks, around 40,000 movies and TV shows, and100,000 music titles, The best part is that all of this material is absolutely free.  It’s an excellent supplement to the library’s physical collection with brand new music releases like Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love  and music by the “better than Drake” Childish Gambino. He’s the best rapper living, his words, not mine, although Troy does seem to know how to lay it down.  And then there is Prince, all of him, and of course the guitar shredding of Grammy nominated St. Vincent.

hoopla music favs

1. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love
2. Childish Gambino – Because the Internet
3. Pretty much the entire works of Prince
4. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

So, those are my current hoopla faves, my picks.  Go ahead, grab your TADL card, log in, and start browsing hoopla for yours.

3 to 5 with James Scott

3 to 5 Questions for Authors:

In Which A Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions

One of our many awesome book clubs is Books & Brewskis. We meet monthly at The Filling Station Microbrewery where the staff is suuuuuuuper nice and the pizza is hot and delicious and the beerz is flowin’. And we talk about awesome books (or at least regular books that awesome people have feelings about).

In February, we will be reading the debut novel of James Scott: The Kept. Here is the summary:

In the winter of 1897, Elspeth Howell treks across miles of snow and ice to the isolated farmstead in upstate New York where she and her husband have raised their five children.  But as she crests the final hill, and sees her darkened house, immediately she knows that an unthinkable crime has destroyed the life she so carefully built.

 Her lone comfort is her twelve-year-old son, Caleb, who joins her in mourning the tragedy and planning its reprisal. Their long journey leads them to a rough-hewn lake town. There Caleb is forced into a brutal adulthood, as he slowly discovers truths about his family he never suspected, and Elspeth must confront the terrible urges and unceasing temptations that have haunted her for years. Throughout it all, the love between mother and son serves as the only shield against a merciless world.

 A scorching portrait of guilt and lost innocence, atonement and retribution, resilience and sacrifice, pregnant obsession and primal adolescence, The Kept is told with deep compassion and startling originality, and introduces James Scott as a major new literary voice.

Sounds beautiful and creepy, two of my favorite qualities in a book. And, lucky us, James Scott was nice enough to answer some questions about himself and his new novel, which is receiving excellent praise.

Q: Reviews of The Kept categorize it as a western, a thriller, a historical novel, crime fiction AND literary fiction. How would you describe your book and did authors of a specific genre inspire your work?

A: I like authors that sprinkle some genre into literary work. I love Cormac McCarthy for example, and he often draws from westerns or thrillers. Right now, I’m reading Station Eleven, and that combines a bunch of things. If you had to put it on one shelf, though, it would be literary, simply because it doesn’t adhere to any of those genre conventions fully enough to qualify completely, I don’t think. It’s the platypus of books.

Side note: I don’t read reviews. I read three and a half. That was plenty.

Q: How important are titles to you?

A: Pretty important, but not crucial. I liked The Kept because it spoke to many elements of the book, and in that sense, it shifts in meaning depending on where you are. I have trouble with them until I have a clear idea of what the book’s about in the larger sense.

Q: This novel is set in the turn of the twentieth century. How much research do you do before you began writing?

A: Before I started? Almost none. Once I got going, I had a better sense of what I needed and was able to fill in the holes as I went. I can fall down research holes and never emerge, so I wanted to go to the library/internet/youtube/expert with questions that were as specific as possible.

For the aspiring historical fiction writers out there,  if there was a Sears catalog when your book takes place, find one. It has everything– guns, clothes, perfume, food– you could ever need.

Q: Whatcha working on now?

A: A novel set in Vermont in the 1990s. The main character runs an architectural salvage shop and is a volunteer diver for the police department. I told my agent it would be funny, and it’s funnier, I suppose, but it’s definitely not funny. More death and misery!

Q: Anything unexpected in your reading pile/ #toread stack?

A: Unexpected? Probably not? Lemme see… Find Me by one of my best friends from grad school, Laura van den Berg; Sometimes the Wolf, by my other best friend from grad school and best man, Urban Waite (I read that one, but he made some changes that I’m sort of skimming to find); The Kid (Ted Williams bio that I’m sort of savoring); Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell; Duplex by Kathryn Davis; and All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu.

I keep some short stories close by in case I don’t have the patience/time for a novel: Best American Short Stories (Egan, ed), Man v. Nature by Diane Cook, Karen Bender’s Refund.

Librarian’s note: Ok, I asked more than 5 questions. But it’s my blog post and he’s got great answers so, if you’re a rule stickler, don’t read on.

Q: What’s just about the best thing you’ve ever seen?

A: I don’t have kids yet, which would be the easy answer. Instead, here is a list of finalists:

  • My wife in her wedding dress
  • Walking up to my mom’s house at Christmastime, when it’s all lit up and warm inside
  • My dog swimming
  • Sunsets:
    • reflected on the St. Lawrence River in upstate NY
    • over the land beneath Lookout Mountain, in Georgia, which is one of the places I go to write and also where I got married
    • from the Cross at Sewanee, in Tennessee
    • on the horizon of the Atlantic in Ogunquit, Maine
    • on the mountains in Vermont
  • The moment of blackness before a movie starts
Q: If you were a Dewey Decimal number, what number would you be?

A: Oh, I’m fine being in old 813. 8 is my lucky number and 13 is 13. So it’s nice and even.

Books & Brewskis will be discussing The Kept on Tuesday, February 24 at 7 PM. In the meantime, check out James Scott’s website and his recommendations for wonderful things!