IF A BOOK’S BEEN CALLED POETIC, I PROBABLY WON’T LIKE IT
Our Type Reader for July is Peter Merriman
Peter Merriman is a
fixture of Type Books’ Queen West store, as he is of the Trinity-Bellwoods
neighbourhood in general. The founder of a now-defunct Denis Johnson book club
(“ALL WILL BE SAVED: Two Novels by Denis Johnson”), he can be found slinging hot Americanos
(among other things) at the nearby White Squirrel Coffee Shop, debating the number of
episodes Frasier ran as captain of The
Murphy Group, the most-hated team at Ossington’s Sunday night trivia matches, or
expressing his dismay that George Saunders refused to inscribe his full name (first
and last), as he prefers, in his copy of Pastoralia.
We sat down with local book hound Peter and gave him the Type Reader questionnaire to find out about his love of Calvin and Hobbes, his dislike of baby boomers, and his ambivalence about books while travelling:
PETER ANSWERS THE TYPE QUESTIONNAIRE
What is the first book you remember loving?
If comics count as books, then the first book I remember not only loving, but being excited for the release of, was Calvin and Hobbes (1987). I think I first read the strip while visiting my grandparents, and immediately fell in love with it. The Hamilton Spectator didn’t run it at the time, so my dad (or his co-worker?) would cut out strips from the Burlington newspaper, which I would keep in a photo album. Having an entire nine-month run of the strip in one book was amazing.
What is your favourite virtue in a book?
A lack of florid prose. If a book’s been called ‘poetic,’ I probably won’t like it. A nice cover doesn’t hurt.
What do you appreciate most in a book character?
Bitterness, a sense of humour, dishonesty. A willingness to let situations get out of hand.
What character (real or fictional) do you dislike the most?
The first character that comes to mind is Patricia Lockwood’s father, from her recent memoir Priestdaddy. He really came across as a monster of a man in his selfishness and sense of entitlement. This could be my own predisposition towards hating baby boomers in general, but he really epitomized what I despise most about the (straight, white, American) men of that generation. Thankfully, Lockwood’s one of the funniest writers alive.
Your favourite prose authors?
Joan Didion, Bret Easton Ellis, Paula Fox, John Haskell, Amy Hempel, Sheila Heti, Denis Johnson, Deborah Levy, David Markson, Tom McCarthy, Derek McCormack, Steven Millhauser, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Joseph O’Neill, Christine Schutt, David Foster Wallace, P. G. Wodehouse.
Your favourite poets?
Like my taste in prose, my poetry reading tends to run pretty middle-brow. I’d love to one day graduate to late Ashbery, but in truth I tend to read more conversational verse like Tony Hoagland, David Berman, or David Trinidad.
Your favourite book illustrators?
Edward Gorey and Quentin Blake probably?
Do you read on public transportation?
Yes, pretty regularly. I think a sign of a good book is me missing my stop.
What qualities do you want in a book you’re reading while traveling?
I think the writing has to be especially engrossing to distract me from strange surroundings, so I don’t actually read a lot while travelling. But I do remember really enjoying both William Maxwell’s novel, The Folded Leaf, and Alice Munro’s short story “Too Much Happiness,” (in a Harper’s) while at cottages. I couldn’t tell you what those two works have in common though.
What book have you never read but have always meant to? Do you think you will ever read it?
Staying with the travel theme, I tried to read Blood Meridian in Santa Fe once, but no dice. I’ve made three goes at A Confederacy of Dunces, so I’m not very optimistic about ever finishing it. I read one-and-a-half books into Proust about 15 years ago, and he’s definitely someone I would like to read all the way through at some point. I’m cautiously optimistic I’ll get through In Search of Lost Time one day.
If you were to write a non-fiction book about anything, what would it be about?
I’d love to write a local history of anti-capitalist graffiti found in kitchens.
If you could force a single celebrity to read a specific book in its entirety, who would you chose, and what book would you make them read?
He may have read it already, but I’d love to hear George Saunders’s thoughts on Derek McCormack’s excellent novel, The Well-Dressed Wound. There’s enough overlap in subject matter and themes between The Well-Dressed Wound and Saunders’ own Lincoln in the Bardo that he’d probably have something pretty interesting to say about it.
What book do you pretend to have read, but in fact have not?
Lincoln in the Bardo.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
Fiction: The SOHO Press Book of 80s Short Fiction and Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977–1997. Non-: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer and Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors.
photography of Peter Merriman by Paul Dotey