Kevin Barry's first collection of stories, There Are Little Kingdoms (2007), won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. His novel City of Bohane was published in Europe in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the Irish Novel of the Year. It will be published by Graywolf Press on March 13, 2012. Barry is also a screenwriter, a playwright and an essayist. He lives in the west of Ireland in an old police station.
On your nightstand now:
The usual toppling stack--I tend to read about 86 books at once. Last night, I was enjoying pages from the Irish novelist Dermot Healy's blissful and melancholy Long Time No See and a brilliant new David Gates short story in a recent edition of the Paris Review.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Wuthering Heights, which showed how a book could utterly transport a snot-nosed 10-year-old from his flu-ridden sickbed in a small Irish city in the early 1980s and set him down on a wind-scoured Yorkshire moor in the early 1800s. The transportation was noiseless, complete and magical.
Your top five authors:
Impossible, but if I stick to just the Bs... Emily Brontë, Anthony Burgess, Jorge Luis Borges, Saul Bellow, Samuel Beckett.
Book you've faked reading:
As a pale and interesting goth teenager, I used to take books to the graveyard of a medieval cathedral on the edge of our city, and among the many I faked reading there was Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Though I would say now that it has its moments.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Complete Stories of V.S. Pritchett. An old-style Man of Letters, a belletristic dabbler in many forms, Pritchett could pretty much do it all, because he possessed that rare quality, Voice, and very much with the capital V. But his stories are the best of him; they are manic and strange and tender and hilarious, and they should be read by all.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Probably something by Kafka, or Poe, and probably about 1986, and likely in the hope of attracting pale and interesting goth teenage girls. Sadly the tactic was only intermittently successful.
Book that changed your life:
My own first collection of stories, There Are Little Kingdoms, which came out in 2007, and did well enough to allow me to write full-time without doing anything else. And when you write fiction all the time, every day, in a completely selfish and dedicated way, something odd and wonderful starts to happen--it becomes less the thing you do and more the thing you are.
Favorite line from a book:
Possibly the famed and un-improvable first line from Bellow's novel Herzog: "If I am out of my mind, it's alright with me, thought Moses Herzog."
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
White Noise by Don DeLillo, a wonderful comic novel about the fear of dying. I still think it's his best thing. I read it in my early 20s, when I was attempting to write seriously for the first time, and it showed me that a book could be funny as hell and serious as death, simultaneously. The comic mode is the one you're after--humorlessness is always the giveaway note of mediocrity.