Q&A with Geordie Williamson, author of The Burning Library

Geordie Williamson chats with Jessica Au about his new book, The Burning Library.


Tell us about writing The Burning Library – where did the idea start for you?

The germ of an idea came with 2009’s Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. I thought the project brilliant. It was a physically handsome book, produced by gifted editors and scholars, and filled with masses of unexpected, illuminating and beautiful material from 1788 to the near-present. But there were omissions. My book tries to fill in some of the gaps.

What’s the last book you loved, and why?

Loved as opposed to admired, enjoyed? The American poet Robert Hass’s essay collection, What Light Can Do, has been one of those books that I’ve found myself returning to again and again recently. Hass’s voice is wise and graceful, and his knowledge of literature, ideas, images and the natural world both broad and deep. To read Hass on Wallace Stevens, for example, is to be gloriously instructed in how to read properly, with intelligence and (for lack of a better word) soul bent to the task over the course of a lifetime.

What was your big rites-of-passage book as a teenager?

Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I loved its world-weariness, its humour, and its exoticism. I developed a dangerous affinity with the book and read it dozens of times throughout my teens. I probably couldn’t return to it now but certain chapters, such as the account of Jake Barnes’ and Bill Gorton’s fishing trip on the Irati river in Auritz, in the Basque country, will remain forever stainless in my memory.

What is your most proud book-giving moment? Be it a birthday present, a gift to a friend or a fellow author?

Giving my wife the dedication copy of The Burning Library. I can’t remember who said that of all the ways to come by a book, writing it yourself was the best.

What are you reading now?

As always in my line of work, there’s a large pile. At this very moment it’s J.C. Kannemeyer’s biography of J.M. Coetzee. The man who emerges from the pages of this long work is proving both familiar and strange. I’m continually astonished by the discipline and care with which Coetzee has moved through the world. There are very human flaws here, of course. But the writer who emerges is indisputably great.

The Burning Library is out now in paperback ($32.99) and ebook ($23.09).

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The Burning Library: Our Great Novelists Lost and Found

The Burning Library: Our Great Novelists Lost and Found

Geordie Williamson

$32.99Buy now

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