Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Questionless Books Interview: Novelist and Bookseller Robert J. Wiersema

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The Questionless Books Interview: Novelist and Bookseller Robert J. Wiersema

Inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, The Questionless Books Interview gets a host of lit-types (authors, editors, publishers, publicists, designers, booksellerss, readers, bloggers, journalists, etc.) to finish a bunch of statements about the state of literature and the "future of books".

Robert J. Wiersema is a writer, reviewer and bookseller. By day, he sells books and curates one of the country's most well-respected reading series at Bolen Books in Victoria. By evening, he reviews and writes on books and authors for the Globe and Mail, National Post, Edmonton Journal, Vancouver Sun and numerous other periodicals. By early morning? He writes fiction. His first novel, Before I Wake, was a national bestseller and a Globe & Mail Best Book in 2006, and has been published in more than a dozen countries. His novella, The World More Full of Weeping, was shortlisted for the Prix Aurora in 2010. His latest novel, Bedtime Story, published earlier this month, is currently riding the Macleans' bestseller list.

Robert's Books:

Bedtime Story
The World More Full of Weeping
Before I Wake

Robert's Links:

Personal Site
Bolen Books

I am Robert J. Wiersema. I’m a worshiper in the church of books.

I am known to write them, review them, sell them, and, more often than I care to admit, sleep with them.

I do this in full awareness that this makes me something of an anachronism. I actually take a certain amount of pride in that. Sometimes, the old ways are the better ways. I write with a fountain pen in notebooks because that’s how my brain works best. I’m not twee about it, though -- I’m writing this on a computer, while listening to a bootleg MP3 of a Hold Steady concert.

I do this because I have no choice. Books saved my life, and I’ve owed it to them ever since.

I do this when I’m awake. Seriously. Some days, especially as we hurtle toward Christmas, it’s pretty much every waking moment in the Tower of Story (apologies to Leonard Cohen). I get up at 4 am, pen in hand. I write till it’s time to leave for the bookstore, where you can find me from 9 to 4. Then it’s home to sleep, and read, and review, and, all going well, spend a little time with my family.

The way I do this is with sheer pigheadedness. You don’t build a life around the written word if you don’t have a stubborn streak. (It helps that I have no other skills whatsoever.)

At its core, a Writer is a creature of habits, some of them very bad indeed.

As opposed to an Author, who is also a creature of habits, but one who pushes down the bad just enough to be both productive and respectable. Or to appear to be both.

A Writer is responsible for debt, heartache, and recycle bins full of bottles.

As opposed to an Author, who is responsible for a modicum of income and a precarious sense of stability.

At its core, Publishing is the necessary middle stage between the writer/author and a potential readership. Yes, I said necessary. No, I’m not going to get into self-publishing and why it’s a terrible thing for most people. I just won’t.

As opposed to Editing, which is the part of the process that self-published writers scorn, not realizing it’s the best bit, really.

A Publisher should always listen to booksellers -- they’re the ones who are on the floor, day in and day out, interacting with Actual! Genuine! Readers!

As opposed to an Editor, who should always ask the hard questions, then sit back and watch as the writer stumbles momentarily, realizing that what he meant to say isn’t actually what he said at all. And then the writer can fix it.

A Manuscript that's ready to be read by others is largely a myth, I think. But it’s a necessary illusion. It’s only through the reading of others that one discovers just how not ready the manuscript really is.

As opposed to a Book that's ready to be read by others, which is the dream, really.

A Manuscript should always be considered utterly amorphous and changeable, and completely severed from the writer’s affection. Once it’s out in the world, it’s time for ruthlessness and cruelty, and the writer is the one whose duty -- DUTY -- it is to treat it with the least mercy.

As opposed to a Book, which should always go into the world free of marks or scars from the ordeal it has undergone, its suffering hidden under a patina of glossy (or matte) covers and rough cut pages.

At its core, Bookselling is a quixotic, doomed, utterly wonderful way to make a life (distinct from ‘making a living’). It’s so wonderfully intimate, the act of passing a book onto another person. That moment a customer returns, and asks for something more? That’s why we do it.

As opposed to Book Marketing, which is a wheel in the machine.

The smallest unit of narrative is the human breath, shaping a word, whispering a name, gasping in pleasure or pain or horror or wonder.

To be a Book a thing must be worthy. I don’t mean to sound elitist, and the bar is set pretty low, but...

The biggest reason to be scared of the future is uncertainty.

The biggest reason to anticipate the future is uncertainty.

In the future we will all be wondering about the future.

At his/her core, a Reader is a member of the world’s largest, least-heralded, most inclusive community. We, as human beings, are children of story. Readers? Have been baptized in the faith.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

George Murray

George Murray’s six books of poetry include The Rush to Here and The Hunter. His most recent books, Whiteout and Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms, are published by ECW Press. He is the editor of the popular literary website

Go to George Murray’s Author Page