5 Questions with Jim Nisbet, Author of The Syracuse Codex

syrcause-codexWe’re pleased to welcome back Jim Nisbet to City Lights, this time to celebrate the release of his latest book in paperback, The Syracuse Codex, published by Overlook Press. He answered our 5 questions! More about Jim, and his answers, below.

Event: Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 at 7PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About The Syracuse Codex: Over the course of the last decade, the Overlook Press has brought into print, in quality paperback editions, the majority of the literary oeuvre of San Francisco literary great Jim Nisbet. The Syracuse Codex is the latest in the series of books that are essential reading for all lovers of fiction, especially of the “noir” variety.

In The Syracuse Codex, Nisbet returns in a wild tale of skullduggery, mayhem, and history peopled with a rogue’s gallery of the eccentric and unscrupulous. San Francisco frame maker Danny Kestrel regularly rubs elbows with the rich and immoral at art openings and commissions. But he’s never dreamt of entering their lurid world until Renée Knowles―interior decorator, billionaire’s wife, nymphomaniac―asks for a ride.

When Knowles is murdered soon after their one-night stand, Danny finds himself a prime suspect. Renée’s death has stirred up a hornet’s nest of fabulously crooked and wealthy collectors of black market historical artifacts, all seeking the crown jewel: the eponymous Syracuse Codex, a secret account of Empress Theodora’s illegitimate son. Worse, everyone seems to think Danny has it.

About Jim Nisbet: Jim Nisbet is the author of twelve novels and five books of poetry. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, shortlisted for the Hammett Prize, and published in ten languages. Visit his website at: http://noirconeville.com

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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?

Jim Nisbet:  I can’t remember the first time I visited City Lights, but, I assure you, it was a long time ago, probably in 1966.  But perhaps more to the point about how I feel about the place, let me tell you about a night in 1977 or ’78.

A friend and I were drinking in North Beach.  It was about one in the morning, and we were hustling up Columbus to get to Gino and Carlo before closing.  My friend had never been in San Francisco before, and even though he was a musician he was a big reader (just kidding!), so I pointed out City Lights as we passed, with the promise that we’d visit during business hours.  At the corner of Broadway, however, he was no longer with me.  He’d stopped in front of the middle window to browse the titles:  “Come on, Johnny, we got time for one more!” But something had caught his eye, and he insisted I come back to see it. When I got there he pointed out my own book, Poems for a Lady, face out and surrounded by the literature of the world.

There’s nobody reading this who doesn’t recognize what the like of such a serendipity would mean to a fledgling author. And I’d like to suggest that there’s nobody working at City Lights who doesn’t take such a responsibility seriously. Was I surprised? It was my first book, I’d published it myself, it was in the store on consignment, and other than the friendly reception I got from the staff, none of whom I knew, I had no juice with City Lights. You bet I was surprised. I know the place well enough by now to surmise that somebody had simply liked the book well enough to display it, and that was it. (And yes, it had a great cover!) No fooling around: the work speaks. It’s the best kind of acceptance. I’ve always proceeded along those lines. And altogether to the point, the people who work in City Lights know what’s in their store, and they love books.

And now? Well, not to state the obvious, but it’s later, baby! By now I’ve published twenty books and I’ve lost track of the number of events I’ve done with City Lights.  And while I’ve had many a publisher in the intervening years, I put a book in there on consignment just last month. The relationship continues. For me, as a writer, City Lights has always been in my corner, period.  It’s not about sales, and it’s not about who I know, it’s about the facts that I’m out here giving it a try, literature-wise, and City Lights is paying attention — simply the best.

CL: What’s the first book you read & what are you reading right now?

night-flightJN: Can’t remember. But I do recall a big, fat Sherlock Holmes Omnibus my mother gave me–or perhaps it was just around the house, for it was a house full of books–all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories in one volume, which I’d read at least once in its entirety by the time I was 10. At that time, by the way, Faulkner remained banned from the public library in town. But, way out in the seditious pine barrens, Herman Wouk was around the house, and Hemingway and Steinbeck, Irwin Shaw, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight. The Arch of Triumph . . . I even stumbled through Moby-Dick for the first time when I was 15. (Did you ever hear that the hyphen was added later?  Or about the copy editor who drew a red line through “Call me Ishmael”?) At any rate, what’s a 15-year-old doing reading Moby-Dick?  Took me a long time to get back to that one, but I did. One of the most audacious novels ever.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

JN: It’s more like 5,000. But let’s narrow it down to novels, then narrow it down to Lady Mary Loyd’s translation of Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma; the Scott-Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright translation of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; and Lucia Berlin’s collection of stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women.

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

JN:  If my books had a soundtrack, I’d be a musician.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

JN: I would think that one of the main advantages of being on a desert island would be the absence  of WiFi.  Other than that, give me my wife and a good dog, along with a roll of canvas, a stack of lumber and tools adequate to build a boat from scratch, and I’d be very happy.  And hey, you know what?  We might take our sweet time about building that boat.
A certain bookstore on a nearby island would be good, too . . . Maybe that’s where I’d open mine?  I’d call it Lucubrations Unlimited, and, for a while, anyway, I’d put Lucia’s book in the middle window, all by itself.


Join us on Tuesday, December 6th for a special evening celebrating Jim Nisbet’s latest book, The Syracuse Codex. It’s available directly through Overlook Press or at citylights.com. Go to Jim’s site for more about him and his other publications. For a list of upcoming events at City Lights, check out our complete calendar.

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