Poured Over: John Darnielle on Devil House
“…Try reading it out loud. That’s what I do. I read the whole book out loud, seven or eight times…four or five times… before it ever goes to edit. I believe that writing was made to be heard.” John Darnielle joins us on the show to talk about the structure and the shifting perspectives of his new novel, Devil House, who has standing to tell a story, the difference between touring and performing as an author instead of a musician, the books he loved as a boy, why we should all be reading literature in translation and so much more. Featured Books: Devil House by John Darnielle, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, and No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. Poured Over is produced and hosted by Miwa Messer and engineered by Harry Liang. New episodes land Tuesdays and Thursdays (with occasional bonus episodes on Saturdays) on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and wherever you listen to podcasts.
From this episode:
B&N: Do you have an author you like to return to? I know Didion is a personal favorite.
John Darnielle: This is funny, because I think about this a lot. I know so many people reread, but I’m 54. And I’m acutely conscious that I’m going to die without having read a tenth of what I would like to have read. And I rue bitterly when I haven’t read as much as I could have every day. Well, your days are busy. And I like to play games on the computer. And I love to cook and I have other stuff I got to do. And I’m not the type of bookworm who could just read for 10 hours a day I have to do other stuff. But every day is like, Oh my god, you didn’t even clear 50 pages today. Well, goodbye to to Alexander Dumas who’ve never read ever, or the big volume of Trollope that I have over there. It’s like so as far as returning, I’m still always meeting new people. I can do an evidence-based approach to this and grow the notebook I’ve been keeping track of my reading in since 1999. Or just write down the books as they go–and it won’t even be full by the end of my life because it’s 70 pages. And there’s one book per line. I mean, Robbe-Grillet is the answer. So every time I say Robbe-Grillet, I can feel Sean [John’s book editor. -Ed.] wince, because Robbe-Grillet is not the most communicative of writers, but I dole him out in sparing parts… I’m probably never going to read his last one, which is apparently this sadistic, incredibly violent 120 is something I don’t have to use for that. …But his ideas about how to tell a story are very transgressive and weird. He has one, the first one I read, where it’s got a first-person narrator who never speaks in the first person. You’ll never even figure that out reading that book unless you read some critique of that guy for doing that kind of stuff. You know, who I come back to also sparingly is Louise Erdrich. I think she’s so good. And it also makes me think somebody else I discovered the same year I discovered who who I wish I could come back to but she stopped writing novels is Leslie Marmon Silko, who I wish would would bless us with some more novels for me to return to but I come back to Erdrich…. Louise Erdrich has a great global vision of compassion in her books, and she’s an absolute cracker of a storyteller. I think those are books to read for sheer pleasure. so So those are some what’s next for you? Why don’t know, I always, I’m always anticipating this question. And there’s two things. If I had something I was working on, I would tell you, but I also wouldn’t tell you what it was about doing anything about it. But I do have recently learned this about myself by going
B&N: I know you’re a huge fan of literature and translation, we need to talk about this for a second.
John Darnielle: When I say that I read like ninety percent only literature and translation, this is a big hobby horse of mine. So it has nothing to do with my book at all….every major moment in English Literature happens as the result of something getting translated. We get big seismic shifts when somebody translates a piece of The Decameron, or when somebody translates the Bible right or when somebody translates any number of other things into English….Let’s stipulate that yes, you will miss the natural music that you get as a native speaker. Okay, let’s stipulate that. But the things you get by reading literature and translation in exchange for saying, Okay, well, I’m not going to grok the natural music as the original author, the things you get in exchange are infinite. And we are the only country in the world where people don’t buy literature in translation. Everywhere else in the world it’s not even a question. But Americans have been very resistant to this, for whatever reason (that’s for sociologists to tell me about), but there’s a couple of houses there’s Deep Vellum and there’s Open Letter, and there’s more but oh, there’s Archipelago… And what it has done for me as a reader is what I had always hoped I would become as a reader, to have a just a much more global vision, global poetry. Right? There’s a Sonia Choi, Phone Bells Keep Ringing For Me. I mean, it’s very dark poetry. But the thing I want to passionately as I can say, is, put literature and translation in your diet. Force it. Figure out how many books a year am I going to do in translation to broaden your scope? I mean, I feel this way about everything, whether it’s about reading books by women or books by people of color. Find what your blind spot is, find what you don’t do and broaden it. But my own corner of that is–for the love of God–don’t just read stuff written in English, because you’re literally saying, I’m only gonna see this tiny little corner of the world based on what? Why would you deny yourself the vast banquet of global literature? …there’s the avenues that open for you when you read literary translations. You cannot even imagine what’s waiting out there. It’s so wild if you prioritize this, so that’s my little passionate literature in translation schpiel.