A singular interview with Henry Wessells, by Michael Swanwick

Singular Interviews, by Michael Swanwick.  Tenth in an Occasional Series

Henry Wessells is not only a writer of fiction, criticism, and critical fictions but a bookman as well — a professional dealer in rare books and related materials. It is in this latter capacity that this question was posed.

Michael Swanwick: If you could own one essentially unobtainable rare genre book, what would it be?

Henry Wessells: I would like to own Erasmus’ own copy of Utopia (Louvain, 1516); or, failing that, More’s own.
But you know me very well, Michael, to ask such a question, for I (or a character calling himself “I”) have answered your question twenty years ago in the pages of NYRSF, when I summoned into being an imaginary book “I” needed to know in order to write about the work of Don Webb. That book is Irimari, ou, la reine zombie de la Guiane (Brussels: Auguste Poulet-Malassis, 1866) by Gérard de Kernec, and its English translation by Swinburne, Eurydice in Guiana, published anonymously in 1871 by John Camden Hotten. In “Book becoming power” (NYRSF, March 2000), D. owned Lester Dent’s copy of that book, and even now I wouldn’t mind owning a copy of either edition myself.
That was easy; there was no hesitation, for I have been thinking about the literature of the fantastic ever since I was seven years old. Not that I read Utopia at that age. I have seen the copy of Frankenstein which Mary Shelley inscribed to Lord Byron (one genius to another), but I never felt I needed to possess it.
I did, of course, answer your singular question in a concrete sense, by thinking about a book which did once exist, for a key aspect of our mode of literature is the literalization of metaphor.

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First published in the New York Review of Science Fiction 355 (June 2021).
Copyright © 2021 Michael Swanwick. Reprinted by permission of the author.


readers in real time

readers in real time : in the library at Astrea Academy Sheffield 

[photo by Charlie Pogson]

From Charlie Pogson, Head of English at the Astrea Academy Sheffield, last March: “I am writing to request your permission to use your poem, The Private Life of Books, as a permanent display in our school library. We would like to have the poem professionally painted or printed and displayed floor to ceiling on the entrance wall of our library space. The library is the heart of our school; it is the space in which we know we can transform the lives of the young people who we work with by showing them the world/s around them in books. Your poem perfectly encapsulates the gift that we want to give to our young people; a life-long, two-way relationship with books and stories.
“I heard your poem being read as the concluding voiceover on The Booksellers and was very moved by how it distilled the almost-indefinable magic of a book into words.”

And now that the installation is complete: “The children really love the poem – I see them being captured by it daily, and I think they revisit the library shelves having been invigorated by its reminder of how special their relationships with books are. [. . .] You’ll see a close up of your wonderful poem as well as a few of our scholars reading their own texts around it. You might also be able to see some glimpses of Sheffield in through the windows – it’s a city that’s both very green and very dilapidated in parts; a city where great stories are sorely needed.
“On behalf of all of us here at Astrea Academy Sheffield, we would like to thank you for gifting us your poem to accompany our reading experiences.”

[photo by Charlie Pogson]