Interview with Mark Thwaite from ReadySteadyBook

Mark Thwaite is the founder and editor of the celebrated literary website ReadySteadyBook. His writing has appeared in, amongst other places, the TLS, Context, Ink and Crime Time and, of course, on ReadySteadyBook. He also writes regularly for the poetry journal PN Review. A librarian by profession, Mark has been working on the internet for about ten years.

Simon Owens: In what ways had your work at Amazon prepared you for starting up Ready Steady Book? Do you think the site would have been as successful without your Amazon experience?

Mark Thwaite: Well, my work at Amazon didn’t prepare me directly in any way, but it did furnish me with certain skills. Because of my work there I knew html (the code in which you write webpages), I knew the internet fairly well and I knew how to go about writing a short review. Those skills certainly helped get RSB off the ground. And, moreover, I probably wouldn’t have thought about setting up a website of my own if I hadn’t worked on such a big, successful, commercial website for so long.

Simon Owens: You’ve said in a previous interview that you’re falling away from modern literary fiction. What is it about the genre that turns you off?

Mark Thwaite: Its lack of perspicacity, skill, wisdom, depth, relevance and artistry. I keep my eyes peeled for good, modern fiction (I’m always desperate to read a new, relevant voice), but, sad to say, there is very little new good stuff out there. Certainly, few British writers are up to much (there are some, of course: Tom McCarthy has started well; Gabriel Josipovici is a vital, ongoing presence; Dai Vaughan is vastly under-read), but mediocrity rules. I do see some fine modern works in translation, however. But British writers? Who are our most vaunted? Monica Ali and the war-apologist Ian McEwan? Please …

Simon Owens: What upcoming book publications are you looking forward to the most?

Mark Thwaite: I’m looking forward to reading Franco Moretti’s “The Novel” (just out from Princeton University Press; “A translated selection from the epic five-volume Italian “Il Romanzo” (2001-2003), “The Novel”‘s two volumes are a unified multiauthored reference work, containing more than one hundred specially commissioned essays by leading contemporary critics from around the world. Providing the first international comparative reassessment of the novel …”)

“Everything Passes” by Gabriel Josipovici (Carcanet; September 2006), one of the finest writers around, looks set to be the book of the Autumn.

I’m eagerly awaiting Charlotte Mandell’s translation of Maurice Blanchot “A Voice from Elsewhere” (SUNY Press, February 2007)

Simon Owens: Which do you prefer more: Books that are published by small niche presses, are those published by the major houses?

Mark Thwaite: I don’t make that distinction. I look for good books, and I don’t mind from where they hail. I do champion small houses on RSB (Dalkey Archive Press, Carcanet and Twisted Spoon Press are favourites) because they can have a lot to offer and their books are easily overlooked, but many big publishers and small, rich publishers, like the American University Presses, publish great books too. Small houses can publish rubbish just as easily as the bigger ones!

Simon Owens: As a librarian, how do you view Google’s attempts at archiving millions of library books for Google Books?

Mark Thwaite: I have very mixed feelings. I do not like the fact that any one company can dominate the free commons that the internet should be, but I’m keen on getting as much information as freely available as it can be to as many folk who want it.

Simon Owens: What are the five blogs you’d recommend to supplement the reading of your own?

Mark Thwaite: Well, this is a mixture of blogs and websites, and you’ll recognise them as my fellow BritLitBloggers!: This-Space; Book World; Spike magazine; 3:AM and Scarecrow.

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