If you don’t know Giscombe’s work, we recommend you rectify the situation. He ain’t hard to find, but you have to look. And he’s one of our absolute favorites. If you’re new, start with his most recent, Prairie Style. It’s been a pretty influential book around the PANK offices. In fact, we’re such big fans, we’re giving free copies away to the first five people to comment on this post. After you leave your comment, e-mail your name and address to awesome at pankmagazine dot com. We’ll let you know when all five copies are gone. UPDATE: Books are gone. Winners, you’ll get your books in a few weeks.
PANK: Are you a book nerd?
GISCOMBE: One of the great happy situations of my life is to be stuck with a book (or several) on a slow bus or train or boat.
PANK: Was there a transformative book for you as child?
GISCOMBE: I had a set of Childcraft, a multi-volume token of the 1950s. Â It was a group of ten or twelve books and each one had a topic—science, society, “Children of Many Lands,”Â animals, etc. Â Among the volumes were anthologies of poetry and short fiction and in these I read W. H. Hudson’s “The Spoonbill and the Cloud,”Â Joaquin Miller’s “Columbus”Â (“Behind him lay the gray Azores,/ Behind the gates of Hercules—”Â), poems about Washington and Lincoln, stories about white boys traveling (one on the China Clipper, another overnight on a train on which he encounters “the colored servant,”Â the sleeping car attendant), a story about black boys from Alabama on a subway in New York, and long poems by Longfellow (“Paul Revere’s Ride”Â) and Alfred Noyes (“The Highwayman”Â), both of which still exist in my memory. Â I mean I can recite them.
A “multi-volume token of the 1950s”Â? Â There’s only one topic, Robert Stone said, that being the times. Â My edition of Childcraft reflected the decade’s values—both examined and (vastly) unexamined. Â It was, for me, an important encounter, one I’m still thinking about.
And still thinking about (and now writing about) Ernest Thompson Seton’s Animal Heroes.
PANK: Do you have a favorite book, author, movement, or genre?
GISCOMBE: Favorite books change daily. Â Today (9 March 2009 in Cincinnati) it’s Kenneth Irby’s poetry book To Max Douglas, this based on an after-bar conversation two nights ago in Milwaukee with Chuck Stebelton. Â It’s often Sherley Anne Williams’ Some One Sweet Angel Child; it’s often Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing. Â Occasionally it’s Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. Â It’s often Michael Ondaatje’s Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Â Sometimes it”â„¢s Gilroy’s Black Atlantic. Â Many days it’s Genet’s Deathwatch. Â And that’s just the live and recently dead people.
PANK: What are you currently reading?
GISCOMBE: Tete-Michel Kpomassie’s An African in Greenland, Gillian Conoley’s Profane Halo, Richard Price’s Lush Life.
PANK: Has being a book nerd made you a better cook and/or lover?
See number 3.
PANK: Has being a book nerd ever caused you any harm or distress?
GISCOMBE: Being a book nerd puts one at odds, necessarily, with the culture. Â It’s hard to get by without a decent book.
PANK: If you could make a fifteen-year-old kid sit down and read any book, what would it be?
GISCOMBE: I’ll not be prescriptive though I think everyone should read “Politics and the English Language” once a year.
PANK: Is the book always better than the film adaptation?
GISCOMBE (eluding back to the last question): I’ll resort to experience: I saw the film version of G. B. Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple on TV at about 15. Â It starred Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier (as General Burgoyne) and seeing it made me rush out and buy the text itself. Â Shaw’s play is incredibly smart—the lines float above the action and comment on it. Â But the film—made in 1959!—is, at once, faithful to Shaw and includes wonderfully bizarre clay-mation sequences. Â It’s faithful to the text but smart beyond it. Â That’s the bigger deal. Â I’d like to persuade a 15 year old read and see this.
PANK: Do you have anything to say to all the other book nerds out there, any advice?
Keep reading. Â Circulate the books.