Meet the Author: Sarah Selecky

We stumbled across Sarah Selecky's beautiful collection of short stories, This Cake is for the Party, last June, as we were hunting for something new to take along on an upcoming vacation. We have an innate ability to spot anything mentioning cake, and this book jumped right off the table at us. We totally judged it by its cover - What a great title! Cake! Yay! - and bought it right away. It was so amazing that we devoured it before we even left the country. Turns out we have good taste, as This Cake is for the Party wound up being a finalist for the 2010 Giller Prize. If you'd like to meet Sarah in person, she'll be reading at The Holy Oak Book Club this Saturday, April 23rd, at 7pm. We've heard rumours that there might even be cake to eat!

How would you describe This Cake is for the Party to someone who hasn’t read it yet?

I would say that it’s a book of short stories. The stories are about people trying to find true intimacy – and that sometimes (most of the time) this backfires for them. Also that I hope the stories are funny.

Tell us a bit about what you’re reading right now.

I just read about 100+ entries for the Journey Prize anthology and the Toronto Star short story contest! I can’t tell you much about them yet because it’s all very confidential. But I did find a few sparkling stories that I’m excited about.

What was the first book you ever bought? Have you re-read it lately?

Probably Weetzie Bat, by Francesca Lia Block. I remember taking the bus from Sudbury to Toronto and going to the World’s Biggest Bookstore because they were the only ones in the city who carried the book. I’d found it in my high school library and I wanted my own copy. I just re-read it last week, actually - to an audience at the Toronto Public Library. It made me want to cry when I read it out loud, because I remembered how very much I loved it when I read it the first time.

Is there a book that you’ve read that you would really like to go back in time and un-read? Why was it so bad?

I don’t finish books if I don’t love them. The last one I remember really disliking was The Time Traveller’s Wife. I couldn’t get through very much of it. I just remember really disliking the dialogue. I can’t be more specific, though, because I’ve blocked it out.

Did you have a favourite book or story to have read to you as a child? What made it so special?

Sarah’s Room, by Doris Orgel (illustrated by Maurice Sendak).  My godmother gave me this book when I was a little girl, and I loved it more than anything. Sarah is the older sister in this story, and she has a pesky younger sister who goes into her room and wrecks everything. I think the reader is supposed to identify with the younger sister, but I had no time for her. I felt for poor Sarah. Not just because my name is Sarah – but because I was a particularly tidy child, and an only child, and the thought of having some messy kid sister coming into my room and drawing on my wallpaper and disrespecting my things was horrifying to me.

What makes or breaks a live reading for you?

For the love of god, keep it short! Pay attention to the audience! If they’re fading on you, stop reading! Don’t read the whole thing just because it’s there! I hate long, boring readings. Doesn’t everybody?

If we had to drop everything and immerse ourselves in a book right now, what should it be?

I was just talking to Alex McLeod the other day, and he told me that he saw this bumper sticker in Virginia: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” I want that bumper sticker! So: if you had to read something right now, I think you would probably want to be reading Flannery O’Connor too.

You can choose one author to go out drinking with. Who do you pick, and where do you take them?

Flannery O’Connor. But I’d let her pick the place.

What’s your favourite opening to a book?

I love the first paragraph of The Body Artist, by Don DeLillo. It starts like this: “Time seems to pass. The world happens, unrolling into moments…” Oh, then it really gets beautiful. I’d write it all out here, but you can find it online.

If you could re-write the ending to any famous novel, which would it be? And what might you change it to?

I’d cut the epilogue out of Bel Canto. The novel is better (perfect?) without it.

Is there one big, famous book that you feel like you really should have read already, but still haven’t?

Oh, there are so many. But I still feel guilty about not reading Middlemarch for my English/Cultural Studies class years ago. It’s the only time I faked reading something for class. I really should go back to it.

What word do you love the most?
What word do you absolutely despise?

I can’t answer these questions! That’s too hard! I don’t despise any words – it’s context that changes them. Don’t shoot the messenger! It’s not the word’s fault! I love all words. I also love the shape of all letters, especially S and and Z and M and X and O.

Photo: Sarah Selecky (by Ryan Henderson)

Sarah Selecky grew up in Northern Ontario and Southern Indiana. Her stories have been published in The Walrus, Geist, Prairie Fire, The New Quarterly, and The Journey Prize Anthology. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia and has been teaching creative writing in her living room for the past ten years. She currently lives in Toronto.

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