Interview: Carey Wallace

I love asking writers about what they are reading, because it gives me awesome suggestions that I then put on my own “to be read” list. To that end, you are going to love the list of books Carey Wallace is reading currently. You’ll also love her new book, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, which has been making the rounds on “favorite books of 2010” lists everywhere.

Enjoy this interview.

Your book, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, was just listed by More magazine as one of the “books they loved” this year. Congrats! Tell us a bit about it.

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is a novel loosely based on the true story of the invention of the typewriter, which was created in 1808 by an Italian count for a blind woman, so that she could write him letters. During their correspondence, they were both married to other people. On the surface, the book imagines a story of their romance, but it is also about the rich life that Carolina, the contessa, creates in her dreams as she loses her sight.

You’re a talent photographer as well as writer. Have you always been a creative type? When you were a kid, what was your favorite way to spend time?

I spent more time reading than doing anything else as a kid, but I do also love the visual arts. I’m an amateur photographer, and I also collect real photo postcards, which are photographs of real events that were printed directly onto postcards at the turn of the last century. Some of these cards find their way into “feather boxes” — small assemblages I make that are really just a way to entice people to read scraps of poetry.

Tell us about The Hillbilly Underground. Why is this project so close to your heart?

It may be simple selfishness. My brother and I are both great lovers of all art, from music to film to painting to books. And one of the great heartbreaks of our life is knowing artists who for a host of reasons aren’t using their talent to the fullest — because, selfishly, we want to hear their songs, see their paintings, go to their movies. The Hillbilly Underground is a small way that we can encourage artists to make their work more deeply a part of their lives — and it also gives us a week of perfect freedom to do our own work.

Please share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

My next project is about a 12 year old girl who falls in love with a ghost who can’t remember who he was before he died. She’s on the cusp of womanhood, and not sure if she wants to step into the grown-up world. He died when he was 15, and so he never got to live the life she’s afraid to live. It’s set in a seaside resort in the 1920s.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

Hopscotch, by Julio Cortazar. Pablo Neruda famously said “Anyone who does not read Cortazar is doomed,” and I might agree. He’s an Argentinian writer, only being translated into English in the past few decades, but I think he’ll eventually emerge as one of the greats of the past century. Hopscotch is over a hundred chapters long. The first eighty or so comprise a single novel, but then there are directions in the front for reading it again, with all the extra chapters woven in. This changes the whole book, including the ending. And it’s not just a gimmick — it’s also mind-crushingly beautiful writing and breath-takingly idiosyncratic thought throughout.

Book you’re currently reading?

My most exciting new find is Pictorial Webster’s, by John M. Carrera, which is a collection of alphabetized woodcut illustrations from Webster’s Dictionary over the years. But I’m also reading Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson; Last Call, a history of prohibition by Daniel Okrent; Griftopia by Matt Taibbi; the American Library edition of Hawthorne’s stories; Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre; and Story by Robert McKee.

Where can we learn more about you?

At my website,

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