With fast-paced storytelling and dry wit, David James Poissant provides that rare combination of voyeuristic fodder and characters plucked from the neighborhood in his debut collection, The Heaven of Animals. A giant alligator, an amputation, an unexpected IQ, a five-round yard fight, and especially death—wishes, beds, aftermaths—frame Poissant’s rendering of everyday people finding transcendence in each other. Fathers, sons, and husbands foreground these compassionate stories that have gathered well-deserved momentum in the literary community. We wanted to keep that momentum going and also share some thoughts from Poissant on his resolutions for the New Year to inspire other writers.
Last year, I made two reading resolutions. The first was that I would read widely. For the past few years, I’ve been working on a novel. As research, I’d been reading mostly novels. But, last year, I found myself desperate for variety, so I resolved to read across all genres. This yielded several great surprises, including the poetry collection Seam, by Tarfia Faizullah; the essay collection Limber, by Angela Pelster; the story collections Fortune Smiles, by Adam Johnson, and Half an Inch of Water, by Percival Everett; and the graphic novel The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of these titles to any lover of great writing.
My second resolution for 2015 was to buy more books. Let me clarify: I buy too many books. I always have. I buy more books each year than I read. But, like most writers, I excavate a number of these titles from used book stores and discount sites online. When my own collection was published in 2014, I quickly realized that the only sales that counted toward my sales tally were the first sales of new copies. I’m not particularly concerned about royalties or extra money coming my way, but it would be nice to sell enough copies of my first book to ensure that another book or two of mine gets published down the road. Also, on book tour, I learned of the degree to which independent bookstores really need our support. Several indies threw their weight behind me, handselling my book and spreading the good word through newsletters and book clubs. I could not have been more grateful. Indeed, writers are indebted to indie booksellers, and it’s high time that we, as book buyers, threw our monetary support behind them. So, I resolved to buy at least two books a month, at full price, from indies, and I’m happy to report that I did just that this year at Parnassus Books in Nashville, at Bookmark It in Orlando, at Joseph-Beth in Cincinnati, and at just about every indie I came across in 2015. If you’re a writer with a book, buying books by the writers you admire, at the bookstores that support you, turns out to be, literally, the least you can do. How else, with a straight face, can you ask other writers and readers to support you? It’s such a little thing, but, if we all did it…Plus, it will make you feel better about yourself as, like, a human being.
And, now, here we are in 2016. I’m going to keep supporting bookstores and writers by buying new books. I’m going to keep reading widely. But, this year, for me, a new resolution: More classics, and more books from authors who came before. As a writer, it’s easy to get caught up in reading the work of your contemporaries. This is not a bad thing, not at all. But it’s great, too, to read the work of those who came before, those to whom we’re all indebted. This week, for example, I finally, finally got my introduction to Joan Didion, a writer whose work I’d too long neglected and whose vicious, startling novel Play It As It Lays has given me some beautiful nightmare fuel for the new year.
So, to readers and writers everywhere, happy New Year, and happy reading!
David James Poissant is the author of The Heaven of Animals: Stories, longlisted for the PEN / Robert W. Bingham Prize, winner of the GLCA New Writers Award and a Florida Book Award, and a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. Poissant’s stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, Glimmer Train, The New York Times, One Story, Playboy, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Follow him at @djpoissant.