The Questionnaire: Nancy Barnes

How long can you go without putting paw to keyboard?

Not very long, but I don’t write — at least, not in the sense you seem to apply the term. Actually, I have a horror of fiction, because of the impact its small-town iteration continues to have on my life. And a high WASP upbringing distanced my “heart” from my formerly navy blue sleeve. Over the years, that shade of blue gave way to black, like the color of the sleeves in Gauguin’s depiction of girls dancing in Breton. Other than the go-to novels of an observer as deft as Edith Wharton or a writer as startling as Virginia Woolf, the fiction I return to like a time-honored friend I found on a blisteringly hot day in Charleston, S.C. at a now-defunct bookstore near the Blind Tiger Pub. These socially acceptable stories of loss include “Pastoral Occasion” from Franklin Burrough’s Billy Watson’s Croker Sack and a short novel whose title I wish I could recall or, better yet, find in the haze of rooms where I live. As a reviewer of overwhelmingly nonfiction books on culture (yet, I edit fiction, although, on the shelf or, in my case, under the carapace of a thick glass coffee table, the fiction I like best is edited to the bone), I can see if the expressive power of art has found its extension in prose. Just now, I am requesting reviewer copies for the spring that include more fiction than not. Does that augur an author emerging from a reviewer/journalist? That, like Alice computing Longitude and Latitude as she careened down her hole, I don’t yet know.

What’s the question or questions we should have asked, had we known? What is the answer?

The answer is above. The question is, why do you review books but not write them?