First

Javier Zamora’s Un­ac­com­pa­nied and Erika L. Sánchez’s Lessons on Ex­pul­sion.

Poets and Writers - - Departments - By rigob­erto gonzález

marches for­ward, and even the most re­luc­tant fig­ures have no choice but to be dragged along. I hope that in the next five or ten years, lit­er­ary events will be­come spa­ces that are less op­pres­sively white. I think we can get there. You’ve had an in­ter­est­ing ca­reer path in the lit­er­ary in­dus­try, with a no­table stretch at the edi­to­rial side of Ama­zon, where you ran the Best Books of the Month fea­ture. What was it like be­hind the scenes there? Did you and your team have full edi­to­rial con­trol over which books you picked each month? Ama­zon is bizarre, man! But the edi­to­rial team was—and still is—great. Real readers, with full edi­to­rial free­dom. There was never any pres­sure to in­clude or ex­clude any­thing, at least not in my time there. Re­mem­ber that sum­mer when Ama­zon was re­fus­ing to stock books from Ha­chette? It was one of the rea­sons I left the com­pany. But one of the last Best of the Month lists I put to­gether in­cluded Edan Lepucki’s Cal­i­for­nia, a Ha­chette ti­tle we couldn’t even sell. No­body at Ama­zon gave us a hard time about that, even when Stephen Col­bert made that book a sym­bol against Ama­zon’s vi­cious busi­ness tac­tics. I don’t think Ama­zon is good for the world, but that edi­to­rial team is a bright spot in a bleak ma­chine. Af­ter Ama­zon you worked for two years at Oys­ter, an e-book stream­ing ser­vice billed as the “Net­flix of books,” which was bought and later closed by Google Play. At Oys­ter you launched the Oys­ter Re­view, a re­mark­able on­line lit­er­ary mag­a­zine that in­cluded re­views, in­ter­views, es­says, and book lists and fea­tured an im­pres­sive ros­ter of writ­ers and crit­ics. What went into cre­at­ing and run­ning that mag­a­zine? A lot! Oh, man, but what a fun time. Ba­si­cally, Oys­ter at­tempted to cap­ture the in­die book­store feel and taste and per­son­al­ity in the dig­i­tal space, as op­posed to the big-box re­tail ap­proach of Ama­zon. We hoped both could co­ex­ist, just like they do in brick-and-mor­tar.

The Oys­ter Re­view was the place where we’d es­tab­lish our lit­er­ary iden­tity. Every great in­die book­store has one. And on­line, what you do in­stead of shelves and au­thor events is pub­lish re­views and es­says and comics. I edited and art-di­rected the whole thing. And most peo­ple didn’t see this be­cause it was in the Oys­ter app, but there was a whole mo­bile ex­pe­ri­ence that had to be de­signed for too. So from con­cep­tion to con­struc­tion to day-to-day edit­ing and pro­duc­tion, I had a hand in all of it. And I loved do­ing it.

Ob­vi­ously, it didn’t to­tally work out. But Google ac­quired the com­pany, and one of the big sell­ing points to them out­side the en­gi­neer­ing was the Oys­ter Re­view and all the fine edi­to­rial work we’d done. I’m very proud of that. I mean, has a tech com­pany ever ac­quired a lit­er­ary mag­a­zine be­fore? It might be the first and last time that ever hap­pens. In ad­di­tion to re­view­ing books and writ­ing about lit­er­ary cul­ture, you’ve writ­ten widely about TV, movies, and gam­ing. Have your in­ter­ests in fields out­side of lit­er­a­ture in­flu­enced and in­formed your lit­er­ary crit­i­cism and vice versa? Oh, def­i­nitely. You can tell the re­view­ers who do only books. There’s a strange stilted my­opia there. I think the best writ­ers have broader in­ter­ests and can talk in­tel­li­gently about other medi­ums. Name three books you’ve read in the past year that re­ally knocked your socks off. White Tears by Hari Kun­zru by a mile. What a tremen­dous, smart, weird book. I tore through The Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann in a cou­ple of days. And Ottessa Mosh­fegh’s short sto­ries in Home­sick for An­other World have stayed with me in strange and sur­pris­ing ways.

PW.ORG Read the ex­panded in­ter­view as well as pre­vi­ous in­stall­ments of the Re­view­ers & Crit­ics se­ries.

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