Jonathan Galassi cuts a formidable figure on the page. He is a man of many literary talents: the publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a translator of Italian poetry (including that of Nobel prize-winner Eugenio Montale), a poet in his own right, and most recently, a novelist.
So he and Fergus Barrowman (publisher at Victoria University Press) had plenty to discuss, when they sat at the microphones at Unity Books Wellington on Tuesday 8 September. Tilly Lloyd of Unity Books introduced the pair, talking about the similarities in ‘attitudes, awards and risk’ between both publishers – individuals and companies both. ‘We are indebted to FSG and VUP for all the good reads over the years.’
‘Fergus and I have known each other for a long time,’ Jonathan began, before describing Unity as having ‘a welcoming and seductive atmosphere’ (we’re terribly glad he thought so) and told us ‘we don’t have many bookshops that are as good in New York City.’
Jonathan and Fergus discussed all manner of topics, from the nitty-gritty details of Muse (Jonathan’s debut novel) to the ins and outs of the book trade. One of the first topics to come up was the effect of the internet – both on sales and marketing and connectivity. Jonathan described bookshops as having a sense of community, of being places you discover things – ‘I don’t think discoverability is something the internet offers at all.’ Fergus said he felt that the internet has a sort of megaphone effect – which Jonathan agreed with, to a point. ‘Big things get bigger, but small things get smaller.’
The topic of whether or not the book should be read as a roman à clef came up, but Jonathan said ‘I don’t think you need to know who the people are to get the point of the book.’ They agreed that Muse (which is set in a publishing house and in which the titular ‘muse’ is Ida Perkins, a poet of rock star-level fame) is a romantic dream of ‘how we wish publishing was’. ‘This book is a poet’s revenge,’ Jonathan said.
The differences in cover design across the world was an interesting point of discussion and included contemplation of the covers of Muse as well as those of the works of Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard. ‘The Cape cover [UK edition] has the sexiness of Ida, but the Text [NZ/Australia edition] has the romance.’ Jonathan also pointed out that British and US covers are usually diametrically opposed, something that is certainly illustrated with his novel.
Jonathan’s poetry was one of the final topics of discussion, with influences ranging from William Carlos Williams to limitations of a Blackberry screen. He described some of his poems as having ‘conventional rhythms written in an unconventional manner’. They also talked about the excess of reading material in the world now – ‘The one thing the internet can’t give you is the time for all the stuff.’
But we’re glad that among all these things you had the time to read this.
Muse (Text Publishing) is $37 and available in store now or from our online shop HERE.
Photos by Matt Bialostocki, words by Briar Lawry