Editor’s Note: This is the second interview of several we’ll be publishing this month, all with our section editors. They’re an eclectic bunch, each with their own projects and day jobs. Like the rest of the LARB ecosystem, they rely on the donations of our readership, and we hope you’ll consider giving this month. This one is with Lisa Levy, our Mystery and Noir Editor.
Give us some background – how did you end up working at LARB? What do you do for LARB? What do you do when you’re not working for LARB?
I have been writing for LARB for a couple of years. I just liked what LARB was doing, and cold pitched Arne (our Philosophy and Critical Theory Editor) and that was that. My first piece was for Arne and Evan on Susan Sontag’s journals, and I enjoyed working with them so much I wrote two or three more pieces for them. After my piece on Alain de Botton, which got some attention, Tom emailed me a very gracious note and basically said I could write whatever I wanted for LARB, which was a really lovely gesture.
Though I mainly write about intellectual and critical books, I decided I wanted to write about some mysteries (which have been a passion of mine since grad school) and decided I’d take Tom up on his offer. It turned out there was no mystery editor anymore, and he offered me the job. That was in May, and I threw myself into learning more about the genre and making connections in the community. It’s been a lot of work but a lot of fun, too.
When I’m not LARBing I’m still freelancing for lots of other publications–I have pieces forthcoming in the Hairpin, the Believer, Hazlitt, and Pacific Standard, and an essay in a book about Pauline Kael which is coming out next year. And I’m working on my own book, too.
Could you talk about one or two of the pieces you submitted for the 2014 LARB Digital Anthology? What was it, what was the editing process, and why did you submit it? (The 2014 LARB Digital Anthology is available as a thank-you to donors of $50 or above during our fund drive.)
When I first talked to Tom about taking over the section I was very serious about broadening the scope of what a noir/mystery/crime piece could be about. I love the genre, and feel like because it’s genre rather than literary (a false distinction, in my view) I think most of what’s written about it is just not as smart or sophisticated as it could be. So I have tried to bring a lot of rigor to what we do in the section, in both essays and reviews.
I’ve also been very conscious of trying to attract more women writers to the noir section, which had been pretty macho. I think Julia Ingalls’ essay on noir and work is terrific, and is really something we developed together. Julia pitched me the idea of writing on corporate noir, and had the works she wanted to write about in mind, but we really collaborated in the writing process. I feel like I was able to really push her to develop her argument (and she was very receptive to editing and worked super hard), and the result is one of the most popular pieces we’ve run.
One of the most fun things about become the editor of the section is I got to approach some of my favorite noir writers and ask them to become contributors. I think Stav Sherez is a fantastic novelist, and he has turned out to be one of my best critics as well. I think his first piece for LARB, on Richard House’s The Kills, is brilliant, and demonstrates Stav’s shrewdness as a reader: he really understands how books are put together and why they work or don’t work, genre be damned.
Talk about a book you read this year you’d recommend – could be recent or old, well-known or unknown. As long as you read it this year and you think it’s worth reading.
I’m always reading a few months ahead — it’s the curse of the reviewer — so a lot of what comes to mind are next year’s releases (and I don’t want to give anything away!). I wrote a piece on John Berryman and his first wife, Eileen Simpson, in the fall which gave me an excuse to reread Simpson’s glorious memoir, Poets in Their Youth. As far as new books go, I loved Eula Biss’ On Immunity. Megan Abbott is always sensational, and The Fever is no exception.
I’ll end by saying I think next year is going to be fantastic, particularly for crime fiction, based on the books coming in (and we are going to be doing even more challenging and innovative pieces in the section). I’m proud and excited to be a writer, an editor, and (always, always) a reader.