Monday, September 3, 2012

Read This! Interview With Hans Weyandt

Four years ago, a few days before Christmas and still relatively new to the twin cities, I walked into Micawber's Books looking for a copy of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu; a gift. They didn't have the book. But the man in a baseball cap behind the counter told me to come back the next day and he'd track one down. I did. And as I walked up to the counter, with his back facing the entrance, the same hat turned around and handed me a copy of the book, along with one of Gary Shteyngart's (then unpublished) Super Sad True Love Story. "If you like Charles Yu, you might like this," he said. I had no way of knowing if this was a genuine act of kindness or an old bookseller's trick designed to sell more books. But he waved away my wallet with his arms and said, simply, he got excited "when young people shop here."

Needless to say, I've been a supporter of Micawber's ever since and have a great deal of respect for Hans and his opinions. So when I heard about Read This!, not from Hans, mind you, who as you'll gather from this interview would more than likely refuse to talk about himself if he were stranded on a desert island with temporary access to a working two-way radio, I couldn't wait to talk to him in-depth about the book; a compilation of 25 independent bookseller's 50 favorite books, a meditation on the meaning of lists, and an emblem of what bookstores do and why. This interview took place on August 2nd, 2012 outside of Micawber's, in St. Paul. 

Colin: Read This! features lists of books from 25 booksellers across the country. Who did you know before the project started, and how did you decide on who you wanted in?

Hans: Well, there was no concept of a book for me when I started this. One day, a woman came in the store who I don’t know (I tried to find out who she was, but I don’t think she even lives in town) asked me for my top 100 books, and I thought at first she meant the bookstore’s top selling books, so I started pulling stuff down, and she said “No, your books,” and I had never made a list, either mentally or on paper. “What’s your favorite book of all time?” is a really tough question for most people. I mean some people have the book, but it changes all the time with me, so I thought, Well, it would be kind of fun to put together a list. So I sat down one night at the store, 20 minutes before we closed, and cranked out 50 books. It was a fun exercise for me. It was totally free form, you know> I did it in 20 minutes, so obviously it was just kind of jotting stuff down, and if I would have known what all of it was gonna lead to I would have done different things, but I’m glad it happened how it did because it was totally natural and I didn’t edit.

I have a book where I’ve written down everything I’ve read since 1997-98. If I would have sat down with that book I would have come up with other things probably, but it just happened. And then I thought, I’m gonna talk to some other people and I’ll throw it up on our blog, and, you know, whatever. And so, of the people who are in the book, I knew half, I’d say, roughly. And since, I’ve gotten to know a lot more. There are a bunch of people I contacted right away, people that I knew who were too busy or whatever, so a lot of people ask how I came to this group and it just sort of happened.

When you walked in I was just getting off the phone with Paul Ingram at Prairie Lights, in Iowa City. I wanted to talk to him because he’s such a dynamo in the Midwest book world, been in the game for a long time, but right away I thought of like 5-10 people who I thought it would be fun to get lists from and whose lists I knew would be quite a bit different from mine, so I started talking to people and once I got a couple I just kind of came up with the number 20. I thought, Let’s get 20 people, that’ll be 1,000 books. And I told people when I was contacting them that I would put it up on our blog and that after I put up all 20 I’d send out the entire list to the stores that participated. They could print out a list and put it up at the register, help desk or website or blog, whatever. And a couple people early one started asking what I was gonna do with it or what it was for, and I would say, “It’s just for fun.” It really was, and is. Someone sent a link to Robert Gray, who writes for Shelf Awareness, not me, and he was like “Oh, that’s a cool project,” so he wrote about it in Shelf Awareness, and after that the whole thing just exploded. The day after it appeared I came to the bookstore and had received 150 emails about it from different stores. And everything from the really small, owner operated, one employee type stores to the big guys, and it was great. It led to a lot of craziness because in the thing that Grey talked about he mentioned “100” books, so some people had lists of 100. I was getting lists with everything from 10 to 63 to 75, I mean totally scattershot, and so I had to spend a couple days going back and forth, and at a certain point it just sort of spun out of control, but for a long time I was putting up one list every business day. When Chris Fischbach at Coffee House Press approached me about the book I decided to put the first 20 people I’d had down to get to the 1,000. And then, with Coffee House, we came to the remaining five with people who we knew would be really involved working on the project and that we already had relationships with, just for ease. I’ve never added up the total number of lists that I got, but it’s hundreds.

Are a lot of those lists still up on the blog?

Yea, I don’t know exactly how far back it goes. Some people want to change them or take them down after a while. When I got to January 1st, I stopped putting them up. It was a great thing for the blog and got us a lot of traffic, and bounced a lot of traffic to other stores, but then it also sort of became what the blog was, and it was overtaking it, and people in the book world loved it, but at a certain point, other people, regular customers, were like, “Are you gonna write about other stuff again?”

Haha, “So it’s just lists now, is it?”

Exactly, “Just lists?” Which some people love. So when I stopped some people said, “Oh, I loved that.” Whatever you do, some people are gonna like it and some people aren’t.

So Coffee House got involved once most of this was said and done.

Yea, absolutely. I knew Chris from back in my Hungry Mind days and worked with him on different stuff.  He came into the store one night with his wife Kate Dublinski, who works at Graywolf Press, and they joked and said, “Hey we’re gonna have a bidding war for a book for your project,” and I just laughed. I said “Whatever.” And they shopped for a little bit, but before they left they said, “Well, we’re going to Frankfurt,” I think for a book festival, “but when we get back let’s figure it out.” And I said, “Well, whoever brings me back a bag of gummy bears wins.” And you know, two weeks later, Chris rolled in with a bag of gummy bears and was like “I’m serious about this.” I didn’t see the point of it. Like I said, I had never intended it in this way, so it surprised me, but I said “We’ll have coffee.” We got together once to talk about some things and then got together a second time, and he convinced me that we could do a couple different things with it so it’s not just reprinting the list, you know, there’s not a whole lot of point in that, but he said “I think it’s a cool thing for bookstores and can spur a discussion for readers and bookstores, and I think it would be a fun thing for us to do.” So the book aspect of it was really all his idea. 100%. And he convinced me it would be a good idea, and because there were people who’d asked me “What’s this for?” and I had said “It’s not,” right away I told him I couldn’t take any money from this myself, and that’s how we decided that the proceeds would go to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. The group is one that I feel strongly about, and I know several other folks involved do too, and while I suppose it’s a political group, in some sense, because it defends banned books or whatever, I thought it would be hard for anyone to complain. I mean, they help us out, all of us.

Right, and it makes a lot more sense than donating funds to PETA or something.

Right, and we wanted it to be a group that supports what booksellers do. So, then, because all of the lists were done, we kind of worked backwards. Chris wanted to get it out quickly, so there was a pretty short period of time we had to get all of it done and ready for publication. When they sat down the first time with me and had a list of stuff to do I said “Oh, my goodness, I don’t know if we can really do this.” And Chris said “No we can. We can do this.” So last November, I got a list of what needed to be done. And then it was just, “Talk to these booksellers, make sure they’re all on board with it," you know. Everyone had to sign off on their list being printed and be willing to do a little extra work with it, and everyone was. Which also was kind of a nice surprise. Every single person of the first 20 got back to me. And 16 of the 20, if you include me, got back within 90 minutes of me contacting them. And for me that was just another sign that these people are all in these stores, not like owners who check in once a week. All the booksellers, whether they’re a frontline bookseller, a buyer, a manager, or an owner are in these stores, day-to-day basically. And when I got that back I thought, Alright, we can do something about this

And so then it was just coming up with some fun stuff to enhance the lists. The staff at Coffee House and myself bounced around a bunch of things and we sent out a list of questions to people and asked them to choose three to five of the questions to answer and get back to us. Coffee House also came up with the Harper’s Index kind of thing, more miscellany to make the whole thing a more interesting, you know, book. And so all along the way Coffee House came up with ideas that I wouldn’t have on my own. And we were lucky to have people who were into it and followed through.

The categories in the "Breaking Down the Books (And the Bookstores)" section in back were your idea though, right?

Most of that’s from Coffee House. Honestly. I mean there’s a quote that’s in the book from me about wanting to have one of the weirdest bookstores in the country, but that was part of the questionnaire they sent. I mean I answered those questions just like everybody else. So I was a participant and editor.

Oh, I see. Because as I was reading I was thinking that if I were you, asking myself these questions... I would have thrown a pretty easy curveball.

Haha. Yea, no. I helped in the brainstorming sessions for those things, but that all came directly from Coffee House. 

I might have asked myself, for instance, "Colin, where are the bathrooms in your store?" Or, "Colin, can you name the folks you work with?" Another thing I might have done is tried to catch the stores off-guard: 4) "Which Bookstore is the oldest?" 5) "Which book appears on lists the most?" 6) "Who lied about reading Moby Dick, let’s have it?" But you couldn't do anything like that.

No. I did find myself thinking, I can’t answer that, that’s too hard. But that’s why we came up with a group of questions. People had some freedom to choose. 

Oh, okay, cause that's another thing. When I arrived at Stacie Williams of Boswell Book Company's "More About Stacie's List," it looked to me like she had gotten special permission to do whatever she wanted, with that page-length essay on Epictetus of hers. I was going to ask you if her "answers" had just shown up in your mailbox with a smiley face emoticon and invoice for her time or something.

No, we gave everyone a rough word count. So if you just wanted to answer one question, you could. So, some people basically wrote a little essay. I wanted them to reflect the booksellers’ personalities and the personalities of the stores. I think probably a bad idea with independent booksellers is to say “Here’s what you’re going to do.”

Haha. A bunch of restrictions.

Yea, cause three fourths of them would be like, “I don’t wanna do that,” you know? So we gave quite a bit of wiggle room on everything. Do what you want to do with it and if it’s not going to work then we’ll figure something else out. So it was a tremendous amount of fun for me to see the lists as they came in, but it was also a lot of fun to see responses to the lists, because it really shows… I mean the biggest thing for me is, we’re professional readers, but we’re normal readers. And it’s an intellectual thing but it’s also a fun thing. And too often, I think, any independent store gets labeled with the High Fidelity thing, and of course that exists. Most generalizations like that probably exist, but I think the independent bookstores that have survived the last 25 years have learned that’s not a way to make it work. If you have a dozen uber-snobby people working at the store, it’s not gonna go, because there aren’t enough uber-snobby people who want to buy your books. I hear from independent booksellers all the time that someone came in asking for a beach-read or not to give them Moby Dick or whatever, but we can do a lot of different things, and even if a book isn’t something that we necessarily love ourselves, part of our job is knowing all this different stuff. So, for me, one of the fun things was showcasing that range of what all of us do. Not very many people just read in some narrow niche that’s super geeky or intellectual. Some people do, but most of us read, you know, a lot of stuff: poetry, sports, cookbooks, all of it. I said to people, "Do what you want with it, but this is anything. Cookbooks, picture books, whatever." And so it was fun to see all the different stuff that got put in. And there was always a moment on everyone’s list where I sort of had their taste figured out, and then I’d come to one and think, Woh. And that was great. Those were fun surprises for me. And too, with almost every list that came in over email, there were  lot of books I didn’t know about or had forgotten, or had meant to read but never had, so it was great fun just to see that, and for awhile I told myself I was going to read one book from every list I hadn't, but then when it got big I thought, This is gonna take a decade. But I did read at least one from quite a few of the lists, stuff I never would have read on my own. And that’s one of our main purposes, I think, helping people find books they’ll really love that they may not have found on their own.

So I take it your list didn't change from blog to book. And you weren't tempted at all to namedrop books you haven't read but sounded good? Like Moby Dick three times? Or maybe once with a reminder later on in "More About Hans' List," like, "Hey, remember guys when I said I read that crazy difficult book and loved it?" 

No. It was the list we did at a certain time and that was it. So the only chance to add in was in the questions after if they answered the "If you could add one more..." question. But what I enjoyed about it was that I didn’t feel like anyone was putting a list together to try and impress other people. There are lists that are challenging or that are different or eclectic... well, all of them are eclectic, I guess, but there are gonna be lists that most people look at and think, Wow, that’s stuff I just wouldn’t read. But that’s that bookseller’s taste, you know? Paul Yamazaki has been doing this for 45 years; he’s been working at City Lights in an area and in a store that is about as different as it gets in an American bookstore, and his list reflects that. But I guarantee that no one looking at his list is gonna guess that he’s got The Wind in the Willows on there. And every list I looked at had a moment like that where I maybe could have guessed other books on the list, as different things sort of fit together in a sort of book puzzle, but there was always something on there that didn't really make sense.  

"I think probably a bad idea with independent booksellers is to say 'Here’s what you’re going to do!'”

Toby Cox, who owns Three Lives in NYC, said he put his list up on their website and within minutes had a customer email him back and write, “But this book isn’t on there and you love that book!” And he’s like, “Yea, you’re right, it slipped." People have said to me, “Oh, I didn’t know you like this book,” but we’d just never talked about it. And because I told people to give me either their 50 favorite books or 50 books they love to hand sell, each list is different, too. I knew that asking people to sit down and hammer out their 50 favorite books of all time was going to be daunting; it would have been for me, certainly, and so that’s not what my list is. Some of my favorite books aren’t on the list, just because of how I did it and how quickly I did it, and how I was thinking about it at the time. There are a couple of those All Time Greatest lists in here, but that seems more the exception than the rule. And again, I knew that coming up with one hardfast rule for a group of people who think very independently and want to do their own thing would turn some people off. I’m very long-winded, so you’re gonna have to edit.

No, this is great. This one interview is going to take the place of September’s blog.

Ha! In five chunks.

Every day.

“Here’s the fifth excerpt from the rambling, long-winded…”

I’ll start off by asking readers, "Who likes Charles Dickens?" Then remind them he released his novels serially. 

Exactly, there’s no end to this.

You write in the introduction about the ephemeral nature of these lists. How each one represents, in essence, 50 more unlike it. Carla Jimenez (Inkwood Books) writes that "The joy of exposure to so many great books is tempered by sadness over the impossibility of finding enough time to read." And similarly, Stefan Moorehead writes, "one of the pitfalls of being a bookseller [is] being overimbibed on fine books." So there's a kind of joyous melancholy running through this book; a love tempered by sadness. And I mean that in the most complimentary and curious way. I was reminded of my mother's statement as a child that every time she walked into a bookstore she felt suddenly like vomiting, overwhelmed as she was with the reality of never reading everything. But I remember the experience of walking through Micawber's a few years ago and clinging to your shelf-talkers like a fly on a lightbulb at three in the morning. Do you think that, like a fine restaurant, part of the thrill and utility of a book like this, and of bookstores in general, is the bookseller's discernment and ability to narrow down? To not be easily entranced by new or old or hype or just the "everything" of it all?

Yea, and such a huge percentage of people I talk to about this, the discussions mostly went like this. I’d get someone on the phone, especially people who I didn’t know... I talked to Emily Pullen who worked at Skylight Books in L.A., but recently has moved coasts and is working at Word in Brooklyn. She and I had never met in person, but she had run a blog called Corpus Libris that I'd submitted to at one point, so she and I knew each other electronically… that sounds sort of dirty but it’s not.


And so I said to her, "Who should I talk to?” And she said “I would talk to Stephen Moorehead in Chicago.” So I had a woman in LA telling me to talk to a guy in the Midwest who I had never met. So I had talked to him and said Emily had given me his name, and that’s what I would always do, but a lot of times people are busy, they’re doing something else, you know, and I could kind of hear that on the phone. But then there would always be a moment where they’d stop and say “Wait, what do you want me to do?” And I’d say I just want you to put together this list, send it to me, and I’m gonna put it up on the Internets." And they were always like, “Huh... Okay, that’s fun.” It was great for me to see the transformation in the phone calls from “What do you want from me?” to “So I just get to do this and send it to you and that’s it?” And then of course I ended up asking them to do a lot more. But originally there was just such a sense of it being fun and freeing in a way, a sense of I can do this and it doesn’t have to be in order for my store to sell the books. We all love when customers come in and say, “I need three books for vacation or for a gift for my brother-in-law.” It’s like you said, it’s both sort of joyful and sad. Like, Oh, which three am I gonna pick and which three am I not. And so that sort of thing that we do all the time in the store has transferred to the book.

"It was great to see the transformation in the phone calls from 'What do you want from me?' to 'So I just get to do this and that’s it?' Of course I ended up asking them to do a lot more." 

There are probably people who will buy this book or get it from the library and maybe read one book from the whole thing and that’s great. And there are some people who will find a list they love and go through the whole thing. People can get this book and do anything or nothing with it. And over time it sort of transitioned from something that I was doing for our store to this group project. And getting to know people through it was amazing. I know so many more people in the book world having done this. I went to Winter Institute last winter and met a lot of people there who I’d only talked to on the phone. There’s always a connection with people who work in an industry and get together, cause there’s that kinship and you understand that none of us are doing this for the money, and that was just sort of extended with these people. I’ve always stuggled with this because I don’t want it to be any kind of exclusive thing, I mean this whole thing happened by accident, but I have thought it would be a hell of a dinner party to have these 25 people together.

This is a list (takes out a list); a sort of domino of who told me to talk to who that just went on and on. And after the fact, I've dealt with people who've asked how come I didn't call this bookstore and talk to that person, and nine times out of ten, I did. There was one woman whose Point of sale system crashed, and she was just trying to keep her head above water. There was one guy who I probably talked to a dozen times and kept saying "Alright, get it to me in two days." His name’s Sweet Pea Flaherty and he works at bookstore in Washington. I just thought I had to have a dude named Sweet Pea Flaherty involved, but he was busy.

That could have been an alternative title to the book: Sweet Pea’s List, Plus Other Peoples'

I’m sure everyone he meets in his life is like, “Why 'Sweet Pea?'” But I don’t know.  

The limited number of lists speaks, too, I think, to that idea of staying small. As I was reading about City Lights' system for selecting inventory, it just blew my mind; the fact of their working directly with editors...

Right, and their whole staff buys.

They have 14 buyers, right? What an amazing and fluid machine. So my question is, besides book recommendations, what ideas have you walked away with since getting to know these stores, in terms of things you might try at Micawber's?

Oh, man. That’s good.

And I promise I’m not just stealing ideas.

No, no. There aren’t too many, like, trade “secrets” in the indie book business.

Haha! “Keep it tight boys!”

Yea, “This is how we’re making our millions.” Well, I went to a panel discussion at Winter Institute that was run by a guy named Michael Barnard who owns Rakestraw Books in Danville, California on credit card transactions. I never ever would have gone if it wasn't someone that I knew from this project, but I learned a lot of things. It’s a super mundane part of any business, but the credit card processing and transaction world, I’m totally convinced, is mostly run by the mafia. Not like real mafia, but the whole thing is crooked as far as I'm concerned. There’s all these different rates that shift depending on whether you manually enter something or swipe the card. All these things I think a lot of people don’t know about. So he did a 45 minute panel on it and I took away some good stuff. Just things to sort of look into even. Like, I don’t know, if we could charge different rates based on x, y and z. We do, it turns out. One thing I've been trying to figure out is how to come up with better rates for things when we do out of store events. We’re still very old school and use some of the manual credit card swipers, and there are all kind of reasons to do that, but there’s all kinds of things you can do with your iPhone or iPad, too. I just ordered one the other day that you plug in and get a certain rate, and it’s better than what a lot of people are getting in their stores, and it’s all based on volume and… Well, 12 different things is what it’s based on, so it’s really hard to get a grasp on it, but Michael has done the research on this and put it together and presented it. I kind of gravitate towards presentations of reps' picks, probably just because I didn’t want to face the nuts and bolts parts of it, but someone has to do it.

But for the most part it was more general stuff, talking to people and finding out "Oh, this is how you section things." You guys at Common Good Books have a lot of sections that don’t exist probably anywhere else in the country. One of the big advantages I think we do have, if there is an advantage for an independent bookstore, is that we can change quickly. And like everything it’s change or die. So you constantly have to be finding new things, new ways to display stuff, new ways to promote things. And with technology and social media, that stuff is changing a lot more quickly. From what we’re doing now to what I started out doing in 1999 it sounds like dinosaur stuff, but things change radically really quickly now. So people are doing a million different things. There’s a store called Faulkner House Books in New Orleans that doesn’t even have a computer system. They don’t accept credit cards. Or they don’t have a cash register. One of the two. I mean, that guy's operating in a different era. Each bookseller changes the dynamic of every store in really big ways, and that’s a very neat thing. If you talk to any ten bookstores in the country, there might like five things that nine of them all do the same. But being able to talk to this many people at some length was a real gift, personally and professionally. Several years ago I had said to Michael Barnard and Toby that we should do a West Coast/East Coast/Midwest discussion and talk about what we’re doing the same and what we’re doing differently. And that never got off the ground for whatever reason. But this, by extreme luck, is an idea that started and kept going. After a while it had enough momentum that I kind of had to go with it, which is good, cause otherwise, who knows. 

One thing I really enjoyed, and this isn’t even a question really, but I get kind of tired of the “Shop Local” for the sake of shopping local rhetoric you see a lot, and I know you read that article in The Nation about Amazon, which was so empowering, I thought, as an independent bookseller. It really put into perspective that it’s not just "Support your local, independent bookseller," which of course I believe in, but that there's a real connectivity here between booksellers and publishers and authors; it’s a big, supported system.

People always ask us how we compete with Amazon, and it’s just a different thing. No matter what the total sales, which are impossible to calculate, by the way, of independent bookstores, because frequently a bookseller may talk about a book for a book club, say, with 15 people and sell 10 copies, then those people may end up giving it away or talking to their niece who lives five states away who then uses it for her book club... As far as I’m concerned, those sales may come through Barnes & Noble or other independents or Amazon, but those were started by that bookseller. There's a trickle down effect I don’t think is considered enough by people in the book industry when they’re saying, “Well, independent booksellers’ sales totals are only X of the total market. I think it’s misleading in a lot of ways, and I also think there are still a lot of books out there that becomes bestsellers all over the place because of support from independent booksellers. When independent bookstores go, we lost those individual tastes. Barnes & Noble got rid of their regional buyers sometime in the last 18 months. That’s gonna change the nature of those stores. Whatever their reasons were for doing it, I believe its gonna make those stores even more the same, whether you’re in Phoenix or Minneapolis or Dallas or New Jersey. And so it isn’t just enough to say "Support us, we deserve to be here." People say, "In other countries independent bookstores are subsidized by the government." I don’t want to be subsidized by the government. But that article… I felt the same. It was very reaffirming to read something that’s not a pity thing. Anyone who’s doing it as a pity thing of “Woe is me” or “It’s not fair”… that ship has sailed, it’s gone. But at the same time, if we’re gonna have free market stuff, let’s have free market stuff. The Amazon tax issue is a huge one, and it’s gonna shake out eventually, but they’ll build warehouses for states that support them currently and that’s there thing. We’re operating on a different model. But I guess what I’ve come to now, and I’ve said this a couple other times to customers, is that I see us as farmers markets vs. big grocery stores. We’re doing, in theory, the same thing, but we’re doing a totally different thing. There’s some overlap, you could probably buy some of the same fruit, but there’s other things that you can’t get. That provides diversity in a lot of different ways that I think are really important. All of that is self-serving in some ways I suppose, but most of it is what I really believe. Most of it. Haha!

You can get back to me later with the parts that are total bullshit.

Yea, yea, you’ll have to send me this later so I can say, “Actually….”

“That was just me on my soapbox there. Sorry.” Alright, I’ve got one more for you. Oh, by the way, one thing I noticed in that index was that the number of books in a series was relatively non-existent to the number that keep selling. Maybe that’s all based on demographic. YA books, for example. But that was interesting to see. Or not see, rather. I mean, even the number of poetry books beat that.

Yea, someone else brought that up, and this is a guess, but I think because people were going book by book in a list of singular titles. And there were also people who sent me lists featuring “All essays by E. B. White,” so they would sort of fudge a little bit. I think Stacie from Boswell was one of the people who did that in a very creative way. 


(Grabs the book to look at) It's weird for me to look at this in paper form because for so long I’ve been looking at emails or print outs. I haven’t looked at it like this very much. Yea, here we go: “Collected letters by Elizabeth Bishop, Flannery O’Connor, T.S. Elliot, Yeats, Keats, Hemingway, Fitzgerald... pretty much anyone.” I thought that was a brilliant way to widen the gates. But yea that was a little odd.

"I see us as farmers markets vs. big grocery stores. You could probably buy some of the same fruit, but there’s other things that you can’t get."

So here’s my real last question. What else could you name 50 of, excluding state and author names, if pressed to make a list of 50 other things?

Well, I realized after all of this that I'm a list person. Mentally maybe more than anything. I played clarinet very badly for a period in junior-high, and then once I got to high school I was like, Dude, I cannot play clarinet, without getting beat on. Now it would be different. If I could play clarinet now that'd be great, but at the time it wasn’t, so I can’t play clarinet. I don’t have any musical talent. But I love to come up with band names.

You and Joe and Claudette should get together.

Sure. If someone says come up with a thrash-metal band name, I’m like, "Alright, let’s do this." Or I love when I’m driving and you see a bunch of horses in a field. I’ll come up with five names of horses.


I mean it doesn’t make any sense, but just for fun, to pass the time. So I could do nonsensical things like that, but in college at one point I bet a roommate of mine that I could name a thousand baseball players off the top of my head. Sit down and just do it. And he disqualified me because I had one person on there twice. It was a mistake, but I could easily do that. And a lot of other people have told me that they make lists all the time for stuff. Not just to-do lists or grocery lists, but more fun or weird lists.

Your lists sound a bit more fun than most though. I'm not sure a lot of people have horse names on their refrigerator.

Ha! I don’t have any hanging on the refrigerator, but I should. This gets a little more banal, but a friend of mine sent me an email and said “You shouldn’t complain online so much about stuff,” so I responded with a list of seven things the next morning that I really like. And it was like “Freckles,” “Grapefruit,” I don’t know. I guess my brain just sort of operates in that manner, and there are a lot of people out there I’ve learned from this that like lists. Even if the thing isn’t neat or clean or really clear cut, the list sort of makes it that way. I looked at this list for the first time really when I got the book last week. And my list is a list of outlaws, both real, like Jesse James, to fiction about people who are outside the box. And that’s a part of my reading taste in general. I like to read about people who go against the dominant culture. So it was accidental but it was also like something in my head put these books together. They’re books that thematically at first glance probably look really different but that to me make sense. So, for me, I could do 50 of a lot of different things. I have a lot of useless info. And then a lot important things vanish. “Oh man, what is my social security number?” But I can remember 999 individual baseball players.

1 comment:

Robyn said...

Wow you have done alot of work! Thanks for the list. I have a book to add. It is called, "A Country Where All Colors Are Sacred and Alive" by author Geoffrey Oelsner. This a non-fiction memoir and anecdotes about how a person can influence the natural world through "attunement, meditation, prayer, intention, loving presence, mindful ritual, celebration, song, dance, and other expressions of joyful creativity."