James Geary is the author of four previous books, including the New York Times bestseller The World in a Phrase, and is the deputy curator at Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. A sought-after speaker and avid juggler, he lives near Boston, Massachusetts.
On November 12th, he will be speaking at House of SpeakEasy’s Seriously Entertaining show, For Good Measure alongside Nina Burleigh, Maggie Paxson, and Monique Truong.
What is your earliest memory involving reading or writing?
Of reading, discovering the Quotable Quotes page in Reader’s Digest when I was 8 and reading my very first aphorism: “The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.” This sparked a lifelong obsession with aphorisms—and two books about them. Of writing, after watching a sci-fi film on television with my eldest brother, also when I was about 8, and thinking, ‘I could write a story like that.’ I immediately went upstairs to my room to do so, writing a story about a desert planet, about which the only thing I remember is that poisonous snakes looked like dry sticks until you reached down to pick them up, when they would unleash themselves and bite you.
What is your favorite line from your current work?
“Just stash your frame on that soft top and lay a light splash of spray on me, and I’ll cool you and school you in some mellow banter guaranteed to carve your knob.” (from the section in Wit’s End written in jive)
What is your favorite first line of a novel?
“riverrun, past Eve and Adams, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth, Castle and Environs.” —first line of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce
What writer past or present do you wish you could eat dinner with?
What writer do you wish you could share with the world?
The poet Alvin Feinman, whose work is collected in the volume Corrupted into Song, who was my poetry teacher in college, and whose poems Harold Bloom says “stand with Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane on the heights.”
What are you reading right now?
Thomas Pynchon’s novels… right now, Bleeding Edge.
Are there any quotes you use to inspire you?
“Writing is thinking.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Life is a maze in which we take the wrong turning before we have learnt to walk.”—Cyril Connolly
“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” —Stanislaw Lec
“Baldness is the gradual transformation of the head into an ass—first in shape, then in content.” —Faina Ranevskaya