Tim Small is a brilliant, fast-talking, smiley guy with thick glasses who works as the editor in chief of Vice Italy, and Vice’s global fiction editor. He’s also a good pal of mine, and once carried me out of a bar after I drank way too much whiskey and took a Klonopin and attempted to pee under a table rather than walk to the bathroom. #TrueFriendship
The fashionable new book that I’m sporting in the above pic is The Milan Review of the Universe, and was published by Mr. Small through his independent publishing house, The Milan Review. The book is full of wonderful and funny short stories and handmade artworks, and includes a short story by my new love, Clancy Martin. Upcoming publications from The Milan Review include a novella by Clancy Martin, an Italian translation of Johnny Ryan’s comic masterpiece Prison Pit and of CF’s Powr Mastrs, as well as art books, fiction, non-fiction, and lots of other fun stuff. I recently nerded-out with Tim about books, Donald Barthelme, intolerable musicians, peeing, and a bunch of other nonsense. Read away!
Karley: Do you read a lot of modern fiction?
Tim: I try to. I read a bit of everything. I feel the same way about writing as I do about women, or food, ya know? I like burgers as much as I like risotto with artichokes; there are extremely sexy larger women with beautiful curves, and there are extremely sexy waifs. I’m not the kind of guy who has “a type”. I like variety. I get bored quickly.
The main issue I have with new fiction is, I’m always worried it will be a waste of my time. Because there are so many great books that I haven’t read yet, so I think to myself, Why waste time with, say, The Flame Alphabet–some trendy novel written by a guy who looks like an asshole in his dust jacket photo–when I could be reading a classic?
Everyone looks like an asshole in their dust jacket photo.
Well, I guess that’s true.
But yes, that’s the constant struggle for anyone who is into reading: why read this when I could be reading something else? At times I’m paralyzed because I don’t know what to read. Literally paralyzed. But since starting The Milan Review a year ago I can no longer read for pleasure, because reading has become my job. The problem is that once I start reading a book I’m immediately analyzing it, and then once I feel like I’ve “gotten it” and know what the writer is doing, I feel like I should move on. So now I have all these book that I’ve read halfway through.
Life is hard.
It’s horrible. See, I have a system in my house: I have one bookshelf where I put the books that I’ve read, and another for the to-reads. But now I don’t know where to put all these half-read books, and it drives me crazy.
Do you ever re-read books?
Sometimes. Short stories more often. There are stories by Donald Barthelme that I’ve read like forty times. I love that feeling you get when you finish a story–like a punch to the back of your head. If you read the same story again and that still happens, then you know it’s a great story.
What are some of your favorite Barthelme stories?
The classics, like “The School”, “The Balloon”, “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby”, “I Bought a Little City”, “The Indian Uprising”. The legend goes that “The Balloon” is the story that turned David Foster Wallace on to writing.
I love his story “The First Thing The Baby Did Wrong”, about the baby who tears pages out of books.
Right, and the dad locks her in her bedroom as punishment–the more pages torn the more hours inside–but it doesn’t work. And so the dad gives up and turns around completely. And it ends with this amazing line where he says, “The baby and I sit happily on the floor, side by side, tearing pages out of books, and sometimes, just for fun, we go out on the street and smash a windshield together”. I’m a big last line person.
First lines are important too. If I’m not instantly intrigued, I’ll often give up.
That’s true. There’s a story by Robert Lopez in The Milan Review of the Universe called “This Morning I Played Guitar Until I Bled”, and it has a great first line. It opens with: “The one thing I know about people is they don’t want you to bleed all over their things.”
Followed by, “I learned this from my mother.”
I was surprised to see that The Milan Review of the Universe has a lot of art in it. I thought it would be mainly fiction.
Yeah. Something I want The Milan Review to signify–if I’m not being too arrogant–is that if you’re interested in culture, then you shouldn’t just be interested in one ghetto of culture and exclude everything else. Trying to specialize and really understand one thing is great, but why close doors? And I think that’s a problem within the fiction world: it doesn’t communicate with other worlds as well as it should, or as well as it did in the past. In the pre-war and post-war eras, experimental fiction–or underground fiction or whatever you want to call it–went hand in hand with art. Writers, painters, poets and musicians all hung out. Now there’s these cliques–musicians hang with musicians, writers hang with writers, illustrators hang with illustrates–and they end up smelling their own farts.
Writers don’t hang with musicians because 90% of musicians are intolerable.
Well of course, no one would want to hang out with musicians. I don’t.
If I have to listen one more musician tell me about what model synth they own I’m going to puke. Sorry… I’m being a bitch, some of my best friends are musicians. I just think I’m jaded from years of interviewing bands.
I know, I’ve done a some music journalism of my own and it’s very tiring. Liam Gallagher wanted to punch me.
It’s just that in my experience musicians often don’t have many interesting things to say. Whereas when you talk to writers, actors or artists they can at least–
Actors, not so much.
See, actors and musicians lie, because often the reasons they do what they do is because they want to be the center of attention, which is fair enough, but I’d rather someone tell me, “Hey, check out this thing I wrote! It’s good!” rather than, “Hey, I made this movie because I’m really interested in the Sudan.” It’s like, no, actually, that’s a lie.
Is there someone you are the most proud to have in the Milan Review?
Well, Clancy Martin is one of my favorite writers in the world, and he’s written for both issues and I’m extremely proud of that. Actually the next issue is going to be a novella by him, which is out in December. I’m super excited about that.
I just read his novel How to Sell on your recommendation. It kind of changed my life. What do you love about him?
He’s a great writer, almost transparent, bright and funny, and he’s lived an interesting life. He’s had more than one wife, a few kids, a few careers, addiction problems, he’s a philosophy professor, he’s a big Nietzsche guy, he was a jeweler in Texas in the 80s. And, you know, that kind of stuff really helps if you’re a writer. But at the same time there are people like Leopardi, who’s this poet from a few centuries ago in Italy, and he was a hunchback who never left his apartment, who died a virgin in the same house he was born in, and he was an amazing writer. So there are always examples to disprove any theory.
My dad was always adamant that I couldn’t be a writer unless I went to college to learn how to write first. He was like, “How will you know how to form a sentence unless you study writing?” and I was always making the “Experience is more valuable than education” argument. Really I just wanted to live in a squat, take drugs and have sex with underage boys.
What does your dad do?
He works at IBM. It’s this computer–
Duh, I know what IBM is. We have computers in Italy too, you know.
Yes way. I have a MacBook that I bought in Milan. We also have BMWs and running water. It’s crazy as fuck.
Yeah, but sometimes you have to pee into those holes in the floor.
Yes but those are called Turkish Toilets. They are supposed to be more sanitary because you don’t sit in someone else’s piss.
Yeah, but let’s be honest, a seat is better.
Says the girl with the dirty toilet.
Is my toilet dirty?
Well, I don’t clean very often. My sheets have period stains on them from four months ago.
My sheets have periods stains on them from dozens of different girls over the past four months.
I’m kidding! So wait, how is this interview going? Is it too boring? Too cerebral?
No, I think it’s good. I’m going to put a long, unrated version on my blog.
Wow! Unrated? Does that mean I have to send you nude pictures of me?
Or maybe you could take nude pictures of yourself holding the book.
Sounds good.Twitter = @TheMilanReview