Justin Taylor Wonders Whether It’s Better to Be Liked or Understood

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02/25/2010 4:00 AM |

Justin Taylor is the author of Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, a collection of short stories just out from Harper Perennial. His website is www.justindtaylor.net He will be reading at McNally Jackson on March 1.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Eryn Loeb [Also a regular L reviewer. -Ed.], reviewing my story collection Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever in Bookforum, wrote: “Taylor’s characters would like for time to both speed up and slow down—an impossible, inevitable wish that makes the moments he captures worth savoring.” This told me something about my own book that I’m not sure I knew—or at least hadn’t thought to express in that particular way—until I read the sentence in Loeb’s review. And it helps, obviously, that the sentence builds toward a high compliment, but what if it had gone another way? Like if it had read: “…an impossible, inevitable wish that is done no justice whatsoever by this disgraceful book.” I like to think that I could have said, “Wow, ouch, but it’s good to be understood at least.” Still, I was very happy to read these words, and very relieved to not have my equanimity tested.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
Last week I went to a group art show in DUMBO, and the standout exhibit was this group of drawings by an artist named Wesley Berg. They’re pictures of bears with images—flags, roads, a saw—mapped onto their bodies. It’s much simpler and more beautiful than I’m probably making it sound. Here, go look at them, and see for yourself. There’s this one in particular, “Bears with I-70 at I-75,” that I think is just magnificent. If I played music, I would want to write the album that that drawing made the perfect cover for.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
I would read a group autobiography by Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Aniston, provided that the ghost-writer was Tao Lin. And he can be credited or not—that part doesn’t matter—but I just think he’d do it right. He would meet them, and not be overwhelmed by their celebrity, and could take in everything they each said, and then write this svelte book that laid out all the essential details, coherently and without judgment. “Brad Pitt checked his gmail. There was an email message from George Clooney. Brad Pitt did not read the email message. Brad Pitt got into bed with Angelina Jolie and started having sex with her. ‘I like having sex with you,’ said Angelina Jolie. ‘So does Jennifer Aniston,’ said Brad Pitt.'”

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I don’t go in for that whole line about poverty equaling “authenticity.” But hungry—for work, for success, for being able to sit down and have a decent meal if you want one instead of living on rail bourbon and bodega sandwiches—yeah, it’ll make you hungry for those things. Poverty is a great teacher. You get really good identifying what’s important to you, because every single choice you make is a hard one with real consequences. I have never literally starved the way Haiti is starving right now, or like the kids in those ads on the subway about how many children in New York City go to bed without enough to eat every night. But to the extent that I have no job security, no health insurance, and no plan other than to keep on doing what I’m doing, I probably still qualify as a “starving artist” in the general sense that you meant it. If this ever makes me brilliant, I’ll let you know.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Readers are, in themselves, the ideal. After having spent their good money and time on my words, they’re free to do as they please without further regard for my feelings. On the other hand, one does not tire easily of hearing nice things about one’s work. I’d love one, thank you. Maker’s on the rocks, please—or whatever you’re having.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Nothing so far today.