Paul Constant is a former indie bookseller, man of letters, and Books Editor at The Stranger , Seattle's alternative weekly newspaper, where he discourses with equal facility on Jay-Z and J-Leth. He is also the 2009 International District Spring Roll Eating Champion
Please tell everyone a little bit about yourself and what you do.
I'm the Books Editor at The Stranger. I think I'm one of the only books page editors left at an alternative weekly in America. I compile and edit (and usually write) The Stranger's book review page and readings calendar event listings for Seattle. I also blog about books and anything else that catches my eye for Slog, The Stranger's blog.
How do you choose what books to review? Are there books you refuse to read, or some that you seek out in particular?
Basically, I read what I want. I figure, at a page and a half a week and with a very, very small freelance budget, there's no way I'm going to do a comprehensive books page, New York Times-style. So what I think is important is to keep track of my reading life. That way, faithful readers can sort of determine where I am on the reading compass and calibrate their tastes against mine to determine whether they're going to love or hate the books I read.Luckily, I have pretty catholic tastes, so I can get a little bit of everything on my page. I was a bookseller for twelve years, and I remember that every time I asked a customer what book they wanted and they said "Oh, I read everything," that meant they only read crazy cat lady mysteries. But I review blockbusters and locally produced poetry books and everything in between.
There seems to be a pretty vast gulf between books people think are literature and books people actually read in large quantities. Would you identify this as cause for despair? Something that's always been true? A weird thing Americans do?
No, yes and no. I think that's always been the case everywhere around the world. There's nothing wrong with pulp. If literature can't manage to drag a reader away from trashy romance novels, that's certainly not the reader's fault. It's literature's fault.
Do you think that's connected to the declining number of book reviewers?
I think so. But I think you're leaving something important out of that question: I think it's the reason for the rise of book bloggers. I think that mainstream, print-edition book reviewers have crawled so far up their own asses that they think everyone will rejoice at the idea of, say, a new Laird Hunt novel. If they cover genre, it's usually in a condescending roundup column written by an inferior writer. The only people who read all literary fiction all the time are people who work in publishing or MFA students who want to be writers. Movie reviewers review every movie that comes out, and for the most part, a reviewer who writes about, say, Brokeback Mountain will also review Iron Man . Why do books get to be so goddamned snotty?
Just read your AMAZING article about the 2006 BEA Okay, seriously, how do you find the post-expo bookseller secret society rave? Does that only happen in D.C. because they have more to prove? Were you really that close to Pat Buchanan AND G. Gordon Liddy without your head exploding?
Aw, thanks. You just have to ask around about Hellfire, which is the bookseller afterparty. You have to know some independent booksellers. But the Hellfire parties aren't always as fun. The 2008 Los Angeles one was in an awful, crowded hipstery "dive" bar and nothing fun happened at all, and New York BEA parties are generally lame. I think maybe booksellers in D.C. know how to bring the party. Someone from C-Span made his brother wear the bunny suit, and that added a lot to the party, especially the impromptu pagan ritual at the end where they all tried to beat the bunny to death. And, yes, when you're standing next to Pat Buchanan, your head explodes a little bit on the inside. Especially because his head is so enormous that you can't quite take it all in. I don't know. I did a vanity Google search after that piece came out—I ain't ashamed—and I saw a blogger who wrote something like "Paul Constant is a wuss! If that was me, I totally would've marched up to Buchanan and Liddy and given them what-for." It was the worst kind of armchair quarterbacking, which is a hugely unfortuante tendency in bloggers. If you're in a strange city, in an exclusive club that you ordinarily would be too poor to work in, surrounded by ambassadors and media personalities, do you really think you're going to get in a screaming match with Liddy and Buchanan? If you do, you might want to reconsider your self-image, because you're just not that awesome.
Some books you've read recently and found pleasing?
We're in the middle of a great fall for books. I loved Chronic City —fuck a Kakutani—and War Dances, Sherman Alexie's latest. Big Machine by Victor LaValle is a really special book by a really special talent. Two Dollar Radio's Wurlitzer reissues are great. Monsters , which is a graphic novel about having herpes. And the Lydia Davis collection, of course, is the best collection I've come across in a long while. Somehow, when you're touching the book, it feels holy.
Wolverine or Batman?
Batman. Wolverine never had to work for anything. He just suffers like a whiny little emo crybaby.