Derek McCormack’s Haunted Library

Shelf Esteem is a weekly measure of the books on the shelves of writers, editors, and other word lovers, as told to Emily M. Keeler. This week’s shelf belongs to Derek McCormack, the artist and beloved writer of nine weird and wonderfully dark books, including Dark Rides and The Show That Smells. His books are in his home in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood. The day I went he served lemon tea for us to sip while we sat on the floor and poured over his Halloween collectibles.

My friend Al made this for me. He's an old carny and ... I shouldn’t say old, he's just been doing it a long time. He’s built a miniature carnival in his basement, and he thinks of this as a block of a Coney Island location that's all dedicated to me. There’s my Dark Ride. It’s all things I love, or that he thinks I love. So there’s the alley, and on this side there’s a sex shop—he made all the little dildos and things. I don’t leave this side out when my parents are here. Isn’t that incredible? I wrote a piece about him in Nest magazine years ago. In his basement, he’s been constructing a miniature carnival for years. He has an incredible amount of circus and carnival stuff, in part from being a circus owner years ago, and a carny as a teenager. He also writes for ECW. He’s the only actual carny I know. He loves carnivals, but he’s the only one who’s actually with it. Everyone else, like me, is just a voyeur. He’s the real deal.

I have so much stuff by the new narrative writers, Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy, Lynne Tillman. That’s where I cut my teeth. I love all these books from Publication Studio. All of Genet’s books were big for me, but Edmund White’s biography was really big for me. I think I stalked him to get it signed.

I used to borrow books from the store, but I’m too much of a slob and I’d get pizza sauce on them or something. So I give them away, or I give them to the library to sell. I keep my fiction and poetry collection really really small. I don’t know why that is. I guess part of it is that other books I collect, including art books, when they go out of print they’re so expensive to get again. I think with fiction, unless I’m going to have a problem finding it again I won’t hold onto it. If you find a book on Charles James’ Fashion, it’s going to have a little window of availability. So I hold onto that stuff. I guess I hold onto rare and coffee-table books more. But I should say that I do have some books in storage. Especially from when I was starting out as a writer, I’d go to every launch and buy every book.

Shelf Esteem runs every Tuesday.

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