Friday, May 13, 2011

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

Because I was too chicken to ask for a picture with him, here's a pic of
how Jess Walter signed my book. Note the soul-affirming library love.
I guess his sister-in-law is a librarian in WA (home of Nancy Pearl).

***Just read a great interview with Jess Walter by Sara Coffman at "Wordy Evidence of the Fact" Check it out here! (-Phaedosia 6/9/11)***

This is how much my husband loves me.  I told him that I wanted to go hear the Jess Walter reading at OTIS in Los Angeles and when he found out that my parents couldn't watch the girls--he actually found a babysitter.  Not only did he find the babysitter, but he had the kids fed and bathed. We even got to the reading early.

To backtrack for a minute, the OTIS college of art and design in Los Angeles (rival to the Fashion Insitute of Design and Merchandising FIDM--which was featured on Project Runway) has a visiting writer series that is open to the public.  The events are free and parking is free, although with gas at $4.19 a gallon the evening still has some cost associated.

When I heard Jess Walter was going to be there, I had to go.  I absolutely loved The Financial Lives of the Poets. So much so, that after reading the library's copy, I promptly ordered one of my own.

Brief synopsis: Matthew Prior thought it would be a good idea to quit his newspaper job to become a financial poet blogger.  Perhaps not the best decision, even in ordinary times, but then the "Great Recession" of 2008 hit.  Now he is struggling to keep his home, his car and his family together. 

Sounds depressing, I know. But this book is hilarious. Complete with bad poetry.

 I have to admit I was nervous. When my husband and I arrived, we comprised half of the audience, so I was worried that it would be awkward.  But, then a whole creative writing class of about twenty college students trailed in behind Jess Walter.  They must have gone out to dinner or something.  I was relieved.

Jess Walter was great, too. He read almost the entire first chapter and then talked about his writing process and answered questions. Apparently, he is from Spokane, Washington and is friends with Sherman Alexie.  At this point, it takes all my self-restraint not to squeal with glee.  I love it when authors I admire are buddies.  I can just picture them up there in Washington playing basketball and e-mailing each other (perhaps their correspondence will land in a public archive somewhere someday--I hope I'm alive to read it). Then, he tells us that he and Alexie are working on a project together!  I can barely stay in my seat at this point. I am giddy.  They are writing about a basketball team and trading off chapters--each author taking one team's viewpoint.  It's going to be great.

Other interesting tidbits from Jess ('cause we're totally on a first name basis now):

1. He works on several projects at once, which keeps him from falling prey to writer's block. Also, he'll often write a story backwards if he has a particular ending in mind.

2. He thinks of his books and short stories as oil paintings.  As long as there is some plasticity and malleability to them, he is excited and keep working on them. But, once they are set and he can't manipulate them any more, he feels like it's time to abandon them.

3. He would love to invent the bleacher couch for brothers or men who are slightly homophobic.  I guess he lived with his brother for a while and the TV was best viewed while laying on the couch. And there was only one couch. And they didn't want to lay on it together. So, he thought it would be great if it could fold up and out--like bleacher seating. Problem solved.  In fact, he wrote a story involving this bleacher couch for ESPN.

4. (And in answer to my question) He's currently reading 2666 by Roberto Bolano and recently finished Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (which has been on my radar thanks to The New Dork Review of Books). He also recommends the poetry of Robert Wrigley, specifically Beautiful Country.

Great evening. Can't wait to hear Jaimy Gordon speak there in the fall.

<I checked this book out of my library. Then I bought it.>


  1. I thought I'd already put this one on my list, but I didn't see it. It's there now. I always feel like such a dork at these kind of events. The dork factor increases exponentially when I find myself gushing shamelessly about the author on my blog (sigh).

  2. I hear you. I was the only person that brought a book to be signed, so I felt silly enough asking for an autograph. There was no way I had the nerve to ask for a picture (even though I had my camera in my purse). He'd totally think I was a stalker. Did Neil Gaiman sign at the Chicago reading you went to? Or was the crowd too massive?

  3. This sounds like a great book. So nice to be able to hear the author speak. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Yes, I have read Clyde Edgerton. In fact, I took a fiction class from him in college. I love Raney. Love Algonquin Books. Have you read Lewis Nordan, also published originally by Algonquin, also a Southern writer, a little weirder than Edgerton. Glad to find you!

  4. There was no signing, but they had copies of books that he'd signed before hand for sale. Sometimes I feel like I may be crossing the line from admiration to obsession. Like how many times can I gush about Colson Whitehead without seeming like I'm crazy?

  5. @Robyn--How cool that you took a class from Clyde Edgerton!! I had an English professor who was from the South who boasted that he drank iced coffee with Flannery O'Connor. I haven't heard of Lewis Nordan. Just checked, my library has Lightning Song, The Sharpshooter Blues, and Wolf Whistle. Where would you start?

    @Juanita--Has Colson Whitehead done a reading anywhere near you? (I'd be terrified to go to one of his book signings. He is so gorgeous that I would be tongue-tied, or worse yet say something really dumb when it was my turn to get my book signed.)

  6. Colson Whitehead was at Chicago's big lit fest last year. Fortunately, I hadn't read any of his stuff yet and could not possibly embarrass myself with some lame comment or question. My gushing ramblings can be found here