5 Questions with Josh Weil

Great Glass SeaWe have the great pleasure to introduce TWO editions of 5 Questions this week on the City Lights Blog.

Today’s installment features the novelist Josh Weil, whose new book The Great Glass Sea is out now from Grove Press. Josh will be at City Lights on Thursday, June 26th to discuss his book with Tom Barbash. If you’re in San Francisco, you should not miss it.

All 5 questions are the same for each installment, so check out Josh’s answers below, some great Russian music, and some more info about the event.

Who: Josh Weil, author of The New Valley (Grove, 2009), a collection of 3 novellas which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and the new The Great Glass Sea (Grove, 2014).

Event: Thursday, June 24th, 7:00pm at City Lights, Josh reads from The Great Glass Sea and discusses the work with Tom Barbash.

About the Book: Twin brothers Yarik and Dima have been inseparable since childhood. Living on their uncle’s farm after the death of their father, their nights spellbound by their uncle’s mythic tales. Years later, the two men labor side by side at the Oranzheria, a sea of glass—the largest greenhouse in the world—that sprawls over acres of cropland. Lit by space mirrors orbiting above, it ensnares the denizens of Petroplavilsk in perpetual daylight and constant productivity, leaving the twins with only work in common.

But an encounter with the Oranzerhia’s billionaire owner changes their lives forever. Dima drifts into a laborless life of bare subsistence while Yarik begins a head-spinning ascent from promotion to promotion until both men become poster boys for opposing ideologies, pawns at the center of conspiracies and deceptions that threaten to destroy not only the lives of those they love but the very love that has bonded the brothers since birth. This is a breathtakingly ambitious novel of love, loss, and light, set amid a bold vision of an alternative present-day Russia.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

josh weilJosh Weil: I read at City Lights five summers ago, when my first book, The New Valley, came out, and it was hands down one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had. Part of that was just browsing around the bookstore beforehand and soaking in the fact that I got to read in such a storied place. But part of it, too, was that the reading was simply packed. [City Lights Events Coordinator] Peter Maravelis and everyone there did such a great job of getting people out, and the reading was linked with Narrative Magazine, where I’d had some stories published.

All in all, it just felt like I was surrounded by folks who cared so much about good writing, and came out to show it. It’s one of the reasons I was looking forward so much to reading there again this time.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

JW: You know, I just put together a detailed and (I hope) kick-ass post about this for Largehearted Boy. It’ll go live here on July 3. But, for now, I’ll just name the bands/musicians that I included (all Russian):

Myllärit, Mooncake, The Russian Druzhina Ensemble, Raznotravie, Rabfak, Louna, The Red Army Choir, Alexander Rozenbaum, and  Sergei Rachmaninoff, of course.

Check the bands out online. It’s pretty cool stuff, all of it, I promise.

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished?

JW: Man, I don’t know that I can remember! There were kids books, of course, that I loved. The Story of Ferdinand was one. I remember reading Ivanhoe when I was quite young and loving it. And the King Arthur Legends. And Tolkien, of course. But also stuff like Steinbeck’s The Red Pony.  That stands out to me as one of the earliest ones.

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

JW: I’d have love to have been an orchardist. Maybe I still will be, someday. Though if I’d been born in a different time, I like to think I might have been an explorer heading off into the blank parts of a map.

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no Wi-Fi).

JW: A dozen National Brand narrow-ruled yellow-papered notebooks. Maybe two dozen. A lot of pens. A good knife would be nice. So would a big ol’ Irish Wolfhound. And are we in the tropics? Can I have sunscreen? And maybe mangosteens (my favorite fruit) hanging from the trees? Though, if I could just have my wife, Jen, and stepdaughter, Sadie, along I wouldn’t need any of the rest. They’d do me just fine.


Check out Josh and Tom Barbash in conversation this Thursday, June 26th at City Lights. For more info on our events, go here. For more about Josh Weil, his official site is located here.

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