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What's Jesse Goolsby reading?

Author and active duty Air Force officer Jesse Goolsby, who’s working on his Ph.D. in creative writing, will be a featured author at this year’s Times Festival of Reading.

Author and active duty Air Force officer Jesse Goolsby, who’s working on his Ph.D. in creative writing, will be a featured author at this year’s Times Festival of Reading.


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Jesse Goolsby

In Goolsby's novel, I'd Walk With My Friends if I Could Find Them, the reader meets Wintric, Dax and Torres, all soldiers in Afghanistan. It's less a story about the battlefield and more a story about life before, during and after, away from it. Goolsby, 37, is an active duty Air Force officer and has worked at the Pentagon in the Office of Personnel and Readiness, advocating for wounded warrior care, sexual assault prevention and mental health care. The author lives in Tallahassee with his wife and three children and is currently working on his Ph.D. in creative writing at Florida State University. He will be a featured author at this year's Times Festival of Reading on Oct. 24 at USF St. Petersburg.

What's on your nightstand?

I just finished one that I loved called The Animals by Christian Kiefer. I met Christian this summer and heard good things about his book through author Richard Ford. It's about trauma and how we try to create new lives after our past. It's set at an animal sanctuary in northern Idaho. The main character is trying to create a new life for himself, and he does so by seeking a life of devotion to these animals. It's enlightenment and it's penance simultaneously.

I assume he's kind to the animals in the sanctuary but maybe not so nice to people in his past?

Absolutely. There's great imaginative risk in this book. Largely because we have not only alternating points of view but we have the former life catching up with our protagonist, but in really unexpected and surprising ways, only that momentum and intensity starts at page one and goes to the end. It's rare to find such a book. It really can capture you at the first word and hold you to the end.

You mentioned risk, but what is it exactly that he does that made you love it?

It's largely because of the imaginative risk, and it manifests itself through the various points of view and the epic prose. When you read Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian or even Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, you can see how the prose signals that it's an epic journey. It's extremely difficult to make that successful.

And speaking of Flamethrowers, I'm halfway through that book. What Kushner is doing here, at least for the first half of the book, is the finest use of realism that I've read in the past five years. What I mean is she has effectively created whole worlds down to the microdetails and historical underpinnings that we would take as fact. It's almost all made up. There's this incredible scene early on in the book about a man trying to set a land speed record out on the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the way it's written is so beautiful and encyclopedic in its knowledge that as a reader you believe this is a real occurrence even though you know you are reading a novel. It's incredible how somebody can think up the clarity and details.

Your novel includes a sexual assault. How did your work at the Pentagon lead you to the conclusion that you wanted to include it?

I'd answer that in two parts. The first part is that my goal is always, in any work, to do justice to the characters yearning for connection, so that's the starting point for everything. Specifically related to the sexual assault appearing is that one, it met that standard for that particular character of wanting to exist in the world and find a life of repose in the world that doesn't guarantee any moments of repose.

And two, I worked in the Pentagon for some time and with many people, trying to think about ways we could eradicate sexual assault in the military. That experience certainly colored my decision to write about sexual assault in the novel.

Contact Piper Castillo at pcastillo@tampabay.com. Follow @Florida_PBJC.

What's Jesse Goolsby reading? 10/07/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 10:54am]
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