5 Questions with Jim Shepard, Author of The World to Come

City Lights is proud to partner with Zoetrope Magazine in hosting Jim Shepard at Zoetrope Cafe on Friday, March 24th! Jim will be reading from his new book, The World to Come: Stories (published by Knopf). Michael Ray, the managing editor of Zoetrope Magazine, will be introducing him. We asked Jim our five questions – more info on him, and his answers, below!

The Event: March 24th, 2017, 3pm. Zoetrope Cafe, 916 Kearney St. San Francisco CA, 94133. Admission Free.

About The World to Come: These ten stories ring with voices belonging to–among others–English Arctic explorers in one of history’s most nightmarish expeditions, a young contemporary American negotiating the shockingly underreported hazards of our crude-oil trains, eighteenth-century French balloonists inventing manned flight, and two mid-nineteenth-century housewives trying to forge a connection despite their isolation on the frontier of settlement. In each case the personal is the political as these characters face everything from the emotional pitfalls of everyday life to historic catastrophes on a global scale. In his fifth collection, Shepard makes each of these wildly various worlds his own, and never before has he delineated anything like them so powerfully.

Jim Shepard is the author of seven novels and four previous story collections. He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with his wife, three children, and three beagles. He teaches at Williams College.


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 Shepard: I remember being amazed to finally be there, after having read and heard so much about it. The first time I visited, I came for someone else’s reading, though I don’t remember whose.

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

JS: There weren’t a lot of children’s books around my house when I was small, so the first books I read were almost certainly my father’s; he had a bookcase of oversized books on various subjects in our front hall, and I remember looking through books on World War II, and the natural world, at a very early age. When I got old enough to have my own books, I remember loving picture books of dinosaurs, and books about the science of disaster like “All About Volcanoes.” And by first or second grade I was way into Peanuts.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

JS: I suppose that depends whether you mean which books have meant the most to me or which I would find the most irreplaceable, since the three that might have meant to most to me—let’s say, choosing off the top of my head, Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian—are all instantly replaceable.

As for those books I own and cherish that I would find the most irreplaceable, I’d list things that are quite a bit weirder and more esoteric: Luciano Berriatúa’s Los Proverbios Chinos de F.W. Murnau, for example, or my first edition of Siegfried Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler, or maybe the copy of John Gardner’s Grendel that he signed to me.

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

JS: The new book? I’m not sure it would have one soundtrack, since the stories are all so varied. But if it did, maybe Popul Vuh’s soundtrack for Aguirre, the Wrath of God.  Or Ennio Morricone’s for The Mission. Or Nino Rota’s for 8 1/2.

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

JS: Boy, good question. Micronesia? Tahiti? New Zealand? Maybe it’d be called A Yank in Exile. And if we’re talking fantasies here, my bestsellers would be all those books I admire from my friends and loved ones —


See Jim Shepard discussing his work in conjunction with Michael Ray on Friday, March 24th! This event is happening at Zoetrope Cafe. Be sure to check out Jim’s website, as well as Zoetrope Magazine‘s site to learn more. For a full list of our spring events, visit the full event calendar here.

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