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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Fine Books Interview

Folio Fellow

FB: The spring 2010 issue will be published next month. What are some of the highlights?

RP: The lead piece is a long, brilliant story by Romy Ashby, set in Japan, called “In a Mountain Garden I Dreamed Myself Sleeping.” It dates from many years ago, but this is a newly corrected text, which I am hugely excited about presenting. The story is a longtime favorite of mine and it has some of the most vivid, memorable scenes I’ve ever encountered, particularly near the end. Then there are short stories by me and by Mark Saba—Mark’s is a strong, lovely thing that follows his main character from the U.S. to Budapest; mine is about a young woman’s unconventional spiritual life and a concept called “free-floating faith” (which is also the title of the story). Onsmith has a quartet of provocative drawings thematically linked as a sequence called “Pray/Prey,” and there’s also a little nonfiction piece of mine called “A Day in New York” about Andy Warhol, a kind of memoir-meditation that takes me back to the 1980s.

FB: And what will be on the cover?

RP: Because the first cover got such a great reaction, I asked Onsmith to do a couple more, and continue the bibliophile theme. When it came time to think about ideas, he had just returned from a trip to Japan, and I was in the midst of Romy’s story set in Japan, and I thought this was too good a coincidence to pass up. Also, the first cover had depicted an older man, indoors. So why not reverse it? A younger woman, or women, outdoors, but somehow still surrounded by lots and lots of books… Perhaps two friends, one American and one Japanese, as with the friendship in Romy’s story? And this is the spring issue, so it could be a picnic. And so on. I love what he came up with. It isn’t in any way an illustration of Romy’s story, but it winks at it, so to speak, while being an utterly separate work, delightful in its own right.

FB: Who are your favorite writers?

RP: My shortlist of absolute favorites, if limited to a small handful, has to include Proust, Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Truman Capote, and Elizabeth Bishop. On my blog for The Folio Club I’ve been writing about these authors, along with other influences and inspirations.

FB: Do you collect any of these? What does your home library look like?

RP: I don’t often think of myself as a collector, but I suppose I really am one, in a slow, unusual way. As an apartment dweller and a person who leans toward minimalism in my lifestyle choices, my temperament tends to be the opposite of an accumulator: I constantly winnow. So for many years I restricted my home library to a single floor-to-ceiling bookcase, occasionally purging it of all but my most cherished volumes. This wasn’t difficult for me, because I like the process of intellectual and material distillation. As a result, without having really planned it, over time I created an incredibly concentrated manifestation of my most significant literary influences, represented in editions I particularly like. That doesn’t usually mean the first edition or the most valuable; I simply want the one that I personally like best, in terms of text, design, production values, and so on. I care about condition, too; I’m pretty fussy about that. In any case, that single floor-to-ceiling bookcase, a beautiful light-pine one, built for me by my father and oldest brother many years ago, is still in many ways the centerpiece of my apartment, and when people visit me for the first time they are inevitably drawn to it, almost entranced. Without me saying anything, it’s as if they can sense the extent to which it is, in a way, the essence of me. Now I’ll also confess that in the past few years I have finally confronted the inevitable: I can no longer winnow my favorites to a degree that will fit in that one bookcase. But it’s still pretty close. Oh, did I mention that for the past couple of decades I’ve been within a short stroll of one of the best university libraries on the planet, with easy access to ten thousand volumes whenever I want them? Perhaps my remarkable self-discipline in regard to my home library will seem less difficult to understand, in that context.

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Rebecca Rego Barry is the editor of this magazine.