News and Interviews

Joey Comeau on Scholastic Book Fairs, Anne Rice, and the Book He Has Read Again and Again

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Joey Comeau has always excelled in combining the sad and hilarious, whether in his books of collected cover letters, Overqualified and Overqualifieder, or in his cult favourite webcomic, A Softer World. His newest offering, however, shows Comeau's strengths just as solidly on display as always, but with added depth.

In Malagash (ECW Press), Sunday and her father, who is dying, arrive back in their titular hometown on Nova Scotia's north shore. As she copes with the slow loss of her beloved father, Sunday strikes upon a bizarrely brilliant plan to ensure he lives on in some form: She begins compulsively recording her father while writing a complex a computer virus - not a malicious one, but one composed of her father's voice. One that will, if she gets it right, infect millions of computers, thereby preserving her father's words. Original, tender, and tightly-written, Malagash is funny and smart, but also deeply moving. 

We're excited to welcome Joey back to Open Book today to share with us about the books that have shaped his unique and engaging voice. He tell us about first and favourite reads, and what's on his nightstand now, reminds us about the vampire-rabbit children's book star we all loved as kids, and reveals the website where he'd love to see a review of his work published.  

The WAR Series (Writers as Readers) with Joey Comeau

The first book I remember reading on my own:

My first memories as an independent reader are tied to Scholastic Book Fairs at my school. It was the most exciting thing in my life, I think. They would send out a little catalog before they came, so I could plan what books I wanted, a long list to be whittled down on the day, and my mom would give me exactly enough money for two books. Then the day would come and they would set up so many tables in the library and I could just go through and look at everything. I loved Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe. One of the sequels has my favourite book title ever, The Celery Stalks at Midnight.

A book that made me cry:

The collected stories of Morley Callaghan is a book that can make me cry a dozen different ways, but most consistently with “All the years of her life” – a story about a boy seeing his mother as a person for the first time. The simple way it is written. No flowery language, just – that realization. Morley Callaghan was a treasure. His book Such is my Beloved is also very important to me.

The first adult book I read:

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. Which, I don’t know if you’ve read that book, but oh no. Oh NO. I know that this question didn’t mean “adult” as in explicit, but my answer happens to be both. That book is filthy and weird and probably had long term effects on my psychosexual development? God bless Anne Rice.

A book that made me laugh out loud:

Lydia Davis has a chapbook called The Cows, with just photographs, and “a close reading” of the cows that live in a field across from her house. That book made me laugh and warmed my heart in unexpected ways. I think the text is included in her newest story collection, can’t and won’t, although I have to say – I like the room the words are given in the chapbook format, and I like the pictures in the chapbook version. If you can find a copy, you won't regret buying it.

The book I have re-read many times:

Two Serious Ladies, by Jane Bowles. The only novel she wrote, and, more to the point – the only novel ANYONE has ever written like this. I have read this slender book again and again, and it still shocks and delights. It isn’t just the language, it is the way she THINKS, the leaps in logic and emotion that are always startling and yet make a perfect kind of sense. This is one of the greatest books ever written. It is a good book to read when you need reminding that words can do so much more than we are used to. It is a good book to read when you’ve started feeling like everything is just more of the same.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:

The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal. A brilliant and readable chess book, written by Tal himself. He’s my favourite player. Maybe if I had gotten interested in chess at a younger age, I could have gone further! I could have put my more obsessive qualities into that, rather than writing, and I would be doing this interview for Chess Life magazine right now, talking about how different life might have been if I’d become a writer instead.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:

Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith. This was a biography that I was OBSESSED with. I would fall asleep with this on the pillow beside me, and wake up to start reading it in the morning again. I read it through twice right away, which is something I never do. Patricia Highsmith is my favourite writer, and her writing has been a huge influence on me. But I also think it’s worth saying that this biography of her means a lot to me too.

The best book I read in the past six months:

Hera Lindsay Bird, by Hera Lindsay Bird. Also – Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars by Kai Cheng Thom. Very different books, but both are exciting and both play with reality and language in their own fantastic ways!

The book I plan on reading next:

Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba. I picked this one up because of a review (“Remarkable and unsettling”) I read on The Complete Review, which is a site I’ve been obsessed with since probably 2003? I’ve found so many exciting books through that site – things I doubt I ever would have stumbled across. Steve Aylett’s amazing novella Bigot Hall for instance. My secret dream is that one day I’ll go to see what’s new on there and they’ll have reviewed one of my books, Overqualified, or Malagash maybe, and I’ll probably just die happy right then. But in the meantime, I am happy to go and find out about books like this one.

A possible title for my autobiography:

I don’t think I’ll ever write an autobiography. But my friend Maggie has promised to make sure my gravestone reads “Not so funny now.”

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Joey Comeau is the author of four novels and the webcomic A Softer World. His work has been nominated for the ReLit and Shirley Jackson awards, has appeared in the Best American Non-Required Reading and the Guardian, has been profiled in Rolling Stone, and has recently been translated into French, Spanish, Turkish, and German. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Related reading

Malagash

A precisely crafted, darkly humorous portrait of a family in mourning

Sunday’s father is dying of cancer. They’ve come home to Malagash, on the north shore of Nova Scotia, so he can die where he grew up. Her mother and her brother are both devastated. But devastated isn’t good enough. Devastated doesn’t fix anything. Sunday has a plan.

She’s started recording everything her father says. His boring stories. His stupid jokes. Everything. She’s recording every single “I love you” right alongside every “Could we turn the heat up in here?” It’s all important.

Because Sunday is writing a computer virus. A computer virus that will live secretly on the hard drives of millions of people all over the world. A computer virus that will think her father’s thoughts and say her father’s words. She has thousands of lines of code to write. Cryptography to understand. Exploits to test. She doesn’t have time to be sad. Her father is going to live forever.