Shortly after finishing The Confessions of Max Tivoli, I fired off an e-mail to Andrew Sean Greer to tell him how much I’d enjoyed the book. To my surprise, I found a response waiting for me the next day. An occasional correspondence emerged, in which I offered him the opportunity to guest host TEV during my New York travels. After some serious consideration, he felt obliged to pass, given that he’d just begun his new novel and wanted to focus his energies. But we made an arrangement to meet in person when he came to Los Angeles for his reading at Skylight Books.
We met for about forty-minutes before the reading at a neighborhood bar/restaurant, and over mojitos talked about being beneath the literary spotlight. We also touched on Nabokov, Ford Madox Ford, being gay in American today versus one hundred years ago, and of course, blogs. But mostly, we spoke in great detail about Max.
TEV: So, my first question for you is: Have you tracked down Mrs. Poppy [5th grade teacher mentioned in NYT profile] yet?
ASG: I did. I found her and she’s married. She’s in Maryland and I found her e-mail and I e-mailed her. I never got a response which makes me think it must be a dead e-mail but I did get a phone number and I still haven’t picked up the phone.
TEV: You don’t like the phone. You said that in your e-mail to me.
ASG: Yeah, e-mailing is so much better. You can prepare what you’re going to say. But I do know where she is. And coming tonight [to the Skylight Books reading] is an old friend of mine who I’ve known since kindergarten who’s actually the basis for the character of Alice, named Deborah Lowe and she also had Mrs. Poppy. I guess it was Miss Poppy. Because now she has another name.
TEV: When I published my first short story I tracked down my high school creative writing teacher and I was scared because I thought, “Well, what if she’s dead or something?” I didn’t want to know that. But I found her someplace in Florida. And it was great to reconnect with her.
ASG: Also, I figure Miss Poppy, she’s not very old. I mean, she must have been 22 when she taught me. I was ten. She’s probably just in her 40s.
TEV: And she’s got an e-mail address, so she can’t be that old.
ASG: She’s got an e-mail address, she’s got a 16-year-old daughter.
TEV: Well you’ll have to keep me up to date on the Miss Poppy saga.
ASG: I will.
TEV: I want to talk a little about everything that’s coalesced around the book first, and then we’ll talk about the book itself. I read the Chronicle piece about your agent calling you to read the Updike review – was that the first indication you had that something big was going to happen with this book?
ASG: My editor loved it in a way that no one had responded to anything I’d written before. But when I wrote it I was so convinced no one would ever publish it.
ASG: Because it was not very cool, somehow. I mean, I could see what you said [before the interview] that most fiction is very … makes contemporary references and is very minimal and withdrawn and sort of chilly, and I wasn’t tempted to do that. And also, I guess, I broke some sort of science fiction barrier that you’re not allowed to break. But I was sure that anyone looking for a literary book would have been turned off by the conceit, and anyone who wanted to read a science fiction book would be turned off by the elaborate language, and that it would suit nobody, and that it was too emotionally … present? … or indulgent? … I was convinced of that but my agent and my editor loved it and were sure – my agent especially was sure – that it was going to be a bestseller, which seemed unconvincing to me. You know, I’d published two books before [The short story collection How it Was for Me, and the novel The Path of Minor Planets]. You know. No one really buys books. It’s ridiculous. But the Updike thing was just out of nowhere like an asteroid landing in front of you.
TEV: And did you see immediate results from that, and from the Today show coronation?
ASG: That was very funny. (laughs) Well, it’s very invisible to me. The Updike thing came out a week before it was even published, so it was this strange … that was the coronation. … because it’s like your big brother is two years ahead of you in high school and he tells everyone else “Don’t mess with him, he’s ok, he’s cool.” And so, I think everyone took their review cue from him.
TEV: There’s always a backlash against hugely popular and critical received works. One of the other blogs was a bit dismissive of the book and I felt it did so in a way that suggested merely wanting to be different, or going against the grain. Have you had a lot of that type of thing?
ASG: I think I must have come across it. I try not to read those because I take it very personally.
TEV: That’s why I haven’t mentioned any names.
ASG: Yeah, I come across them. None of the huge reviewers have … also, it’s like Updike seemed to have loved it and I’m kind of OK with everything else after that. It’s OK – I have some armor. It’s in the way that I remember with The Hours – some people hated it and some people loved it, and you can see why. And I think some people, they pick up this book and it clearly isn’t for them – they should put it down. It can clearly not be for someone.
TEV: Absolutely – it speaks to a certain type. But emotionally – not just in terms of its genre or construction or being literary but in the openness of it.
ASG: Some people, I think, think of it as sentimental and romantic. I think it’s not quite that. It’s kind of upsetting romantically.
TEV: You said in one of your interviews that you don’t think it’s sad so much as hopeful, and I agree – I think it’s bittersweet.
ASG: Bittersweet! Yeah! OK. Yeah.
TEV: Because there’s such a pejorative connotation around “sentimental” and I certainly don’t think it’s that.
ASG: Well, I tried to keep the language of it sort of working in the opposite direction of the emotion so that it’s kind of highly decorated and kind of beautiful about a very lonely experience. So that he experiences life in a sensitive way that makes it so that he seems like he’s actually enjoying life in a different way that maybe the other people who are sort of shooting through, paying attention to all the details. That’s what he enjoys.
TEV: I noticed you didn’t have any Jonathan Franzen-like agonies over being selected for a TV show as a recommended read.
TEV: As I’ve been reading up on your success and the doors newfound fame have opened up for you, one of the things that struck me most was reading that Peter Carey introduced you down at the Strand in New York. I think he’s a marvelous novelist, one of my favorites. What was that like for you to share the stage with him and have that kind of connection?
ASG: Well, before I arrived I had understood that I was somehow … that it was some event with a couple of writers to benefit PEN writers in prison or free speech kind of thing, and that I was going to be there with Peter Carey, and I didn’t understand until I arrived that he was going to be introducing me, and that the event was for me, and that Salman Rushdie would show up hear me read. I mean it was really not what I expected. It was like the Updike thing – to be taken that seriously by the greatest writers in the world is …
TEV: The air gets pretty thin up there.
ASG: Well, you’re sure you don’t deserve it, and that they’re making some terrible mistake, and that you’re a fraud.
TEV: (laughs) I know that feeling well …
ASG: You know that feeling!
TEV: I’ll get into this thing I started before the tape was running. You live presently in San Francisco, which is sort of the center of the Eggers universe, ground-zero for hip ironic detachment. Any display of emotion or sincerity is sort of looked down upon. I’m pretty much on the record as not liking that school a whole lot. I find it alienating. Were you conscious of that when you were writing? How do you fit into that jigsaw puzzle having written this very different work.
ASG: I might leave that part to you because I don’t really know. Because you know how it is from writing, I really just wrote it with no sense of the outcome, that anyone was going to read it. I mean, my other two books some people read, and so when I started my next book, I thought, “Well, no one’s really paying attention, so I’ll just do …” I had some vision of a book that I wanted to be on shelves that I kept not finding, and it was like different parts of books I’d loved from being a teenager, something a little supernatural to it but beautiful writing and that’s what the book was to me. It was that thing on the shelf that was missing.
TEV: You referenced that Toni Morrison quote about “filling a gap on the bookshelf.”
ASG: You really are paying attention! I used that before.
TEV: Yeah, we do our homework. But it’s an apt quote. I think, at the risk of armchair quarterbacking, the success of the book speaks very clearly to that opening left by some of the other alienating schools of literature out there.
ASG: I just knew I couldn’t do it. Honestly, I would have loved – McSweeney’s had asked me to write something years ago and I tried to do it, and I couldn’t. I was in the middle of writing this book, and I was supposed to write something that would be as plain as the back of the cereal box but would be a story. And I had other friends who wrote these brilliant, funny things, and I just couldn’t do it. And I think that was – what’s his name, that Australian writer who wrote Being Dead?
TEV: Jim Crace.
ASG: Jim Crace. I read in the New York Review of Books an interview with him where he said, he really wished he could have been a political writer or a strong important writer but it turned out he was this lyrical writer of the interior life, and that his 20-year-old self would hate what he’d become but you kind of have to figure out what you’re good at and just do it. And I think that’s what it was. In some ways it’s good to be a clever writer, it’s exciting but –
TEV: It can be shallow, too –
ASG: (laughs) You’re not going to quote me saying that –
TEV: No, no, no, those are my own prejudices – it doesn’t feel rewarding. Clever is fun on the surface but leaves no footprints.
ASG: Well it certainly doesn’t seem to last. If it’s too specific, it’s immediately dated. And all the books I’ve been reading are from before 1950 and they aren’t clever in that way. They’re written for people who have a lot of time to spend to read a book.
TEV: Did you know that Jim Crace is actually listed in the Birmingham, England phone directory? He made a point of saying so at his Dutton’s reading. And apparently the epigrams that open his book – he makes them all up.
ASG: Oh my God …
TEV: One of the things that resonates in this book is writing about longing. I feel this deep, strong thread of longing that permeates the work. While preparing for this interview, it seemed everything I came across was pertinent but yesterday Maud Newton linked to a story about Richard Yates, and it quoted a line from his novel Young Heart Crying, and it said, “We spend our whole lives yearning; isn’t that the goddamndest thing?” And it just seemed so apropos.
ASG: I love that!
TEV: There is, in this work, sort of this universality of longing, whether young or old, gay or straight, in different phases, and I’m wondering if you might talk about that a little, that richness of longing.
ASG: God, let me think about it … It’s always hard for me, because you’re meeting me in my social persona, and so I’m going to be … and I’m having a great time, it’s great to meet you, and I’m on a book tour in LA. But when you’re sitting there writing and you access some interior life, and you therefore probably go back into some past … You’re alone, writing, you access a sort of different person. My friends are always very surprised at my books – they don’t think of me as being very sad. My parents were very upset.
TEV: And worried about you?
ASG: And worried about me! And it’s some sort of weighing of everything, and looking at all the people around you and remembering, even if you’re happy, remembering all the parts of your life that just seem like there’s all of this yearning. I’m not going to be able to express it very well. I wish I could. Part of it is that I don’t want to undo – everyone in the book, well Alice is the only one who gets a sight on something and achieves it and she’s one of the most unlikable characters in some way because she really has no regrets. And everyone else has something unreachable.
TEV: One of the big themes lying at the center of the book is this idea of “Be what they think you are.” Obviously that extends well beyond Max. Hughie has a secret he’s hiding and he’s trying to be what others expect. Mary is trying to be what she thinks she ought to be –
ASG: Yeah –
TEV: -- and in some ways Alice is the only one who doesn’t do that, who is willing to be herself and does stand out from the canvas of the others. And I noticed that’s something that seems to go through your work prior. I was reading your first big story from Ploughshares, Come Live with Me and Be My Love [From the collection How it Was for Me.] –
ASG: Oh! Yeah!!
TEV: -- and in that idea is present there as well, with this couple trying to help one another be what others expect them to be. That seems like a theme that’s gained some purchase through the years.
ASG: Yeah, I mean I think that story from the collection is the one that I would pull out and draw a line to this book in some way. Because it’s got the same sense of … in the process of longing for some other thing, there’s also these people who surround you when you’re having this experience and if you turn and pay attention to them, they’re the ones who are your true companions in life, even though you’re looking for some other soul. You’re not going to get that. You can look around you, and they’re the ones. Because, you know if they take twenty years from high school to find some marriageable person, and in the meantime you’ve got these friends and if you look back they’re actually the main people in your life, although you kind of miss out on it. In some ways, I also maybe exaggerate it as a cautionary tale for myself. I try to push what would happen, look at people around me, see what their choices are, and sort of push too far to see how sad I could become if I did make certain choices.
TEV: I think that idea also connects to something else you said in one of your interviews where you said, “Any gay man in America redeals the deck at some point” –
ASG: It’s interesting that he quoted that.
TEV: It was interesting, but it was also interesting that he didn’t particularly pursue it in the story. And I was curious to have you talk about that a little more, ideally from the perspective of how your own redealings inform this work. Because there’s a sense of decks being redealt throughout the work.
ASG: Hmmm. You mean decks being redealt, or being a gay man?
TEV: Well, all of it. I find threads tend to be bound together and it’s hard to separate them.
ASG: Yes. That came from a friend of mine recently, he was talking about how he didn’t want to have kids, and how it’s really hard, society pressures you to have kids so he’d probably end up having them, and that I probably wouldn’t understand that. And I said, “You want to talk to me about societal pressures and making a choice??” I mean, every gay man you meet has made some choice not to be what people have decided they should be. You’re forced to have this experience of inventing a new person. Not so much anymore. Because now gay men will come out as teenagers. But it’s kind of lucky thing.
TEV: How so?
ASG: You get to invent a new person at 18 or so. Or you see people who … like, you know in the book, I sort of widow the women. I think that was the experience back then of women who got married, usually not for reasons of love, you know, sort of enjoyed their lives, then were widowed and had money. It was kind of the best way to be. It was the only way to achieve any sort of independence and define themselves. And it’s kind of what I’m interested watching in other people in my life. When they do that, when they get a divorce, when they become this new person. It’s exciting. It’s not always interesting to watch someone just keep going on some trajectory.
TEV: [Here I interjected with a long, rambling story about one of my oldest friends coming out to me and the privilege of being the first person he confided in.]
ASG: I think it’s a really American story, the idea of passing for something. I mean, I sort of felt at this time frame, at the turn of the century, Hughie is passing in a sort of way that is not familiar to me. Being homosexual in 1900 is probably not something I have any idea about. But blacks passed as whites and Jews passed as Italians and it seems like it was a strange, permeable time that you could pretend to be something else. The roles were strict but you were actually allowed to move around, you just had to be in a role.
TEV: And assume an acceptable role, your way of conceding or “being what the expect.”
ASG: Or else you had to join the circus or something.
TEV: Which brings me to Splitnose Jim.
ASG: Oh God! Yeah!
TEV: His death is just heartrending. It seems he’s this rough beast in this world that’s ill-prepared to have him, and that’s his undoing. But even he tries to “be what they expect” to exact his piece of happiness in the form of a peanut, which really parallels –
ASG: Yeah! It’s sort of like here’s this creature who was beloved for his otherness and he would perform and then they shot and ate him in the end anyway. And for Max and Hughie, it’s like, “Oh my God. This is what they do to you. You can’t step out and be unusual because they’ll pretend to love and then they’ll take you down.” And that was an example of research. That was just what happened. I have a photo that they took of Jim before they shot him.
TEV: Did you do the edits on the version that ran in Zoetrope?
ASG: Yes, I did that. Which is – did you read that?
ASG: God, you really worked on this!
TEV: Part of it’s my own obsessive tendencies. When I find an author I enjoy, I want to read everything, so when I saw your name on the cover I grabbed it, but once I saw it was an excerpt I was still interested to see how you handled it within that shorter context, how it was compressed and essentially bypasses the central conceit.
ASG: Which was interesting to me because it made me realize that the conceit of the novel is sort of an opportunity for all these ideas and scenes and moments. And it made it into a story for me because I had to think, well, what is this really about? And it’s about the end of their childhood and the end of Hughie’s idea that he can keep – in that version – living whatever life he wants and enjoying himself. At a certain point he has to tow his parents’ line. Which is not the way it is in the novel.
TEV: Was that a difficult proposition for you to have to go back and do that?
ASG: It was hard. Because I had to treat it as something separate from the novel –
TEV: -- which is already fixed --
ASG: I know! And I didn’t want to make it contradict the novel. That would have been ridiculous. So it’s got little parts from other parts of the book stuck in it.
TEV: It’s been commented a great deal by now about the threads of Proust and Nabokov –
ASG: -- good God! --
TEV: -- and I know you’ve even said a few times that you read Proust repeatedly. And Lolita to me is perhaps the great book of the 20th century, which I came to a bit late.
ASG: How old were you when you read it?
TEV: Probably about the same as you are now. Either 32 or 33. And it took my head off. And it became, for me, the bar. And everything emanates from that literary point.
TEV: But - there’s a question here – to what extent is the appearance in your work homage – the long car journey is reminiscent of the road trip in Lolita, for example - versus merely the absorption over time of powerful literary influences? You’ve said earlier that writers often don’t know what they’re doing but go by gut.
ASG: Well, I think there was a certain point – it was around the time when I was writing, very near to the beginning, when Alice and her mother have moved in downstairs at 90 South Park, and only when I was writing it did I decide he was going to sleep with the mother. And I thought, “That’s a lot like Lolita. I can’t do that. I don’t know.” Because I was looking at Lolita, I read it every day, constantly when I was writing this book. I mean you just look at any sentence. You open it up and there are these entire blocks of … every sentence!
TEV: It’s richly atmospheric the way your book is. I mean, you’re probably tired of the Nabokov comparisons by now …
ASG: No one ever gets tired of it! I can’t believe it!
TEV: But I think of the scene where Humbert Humbert and Quilty meet for the first time at the inn, and there’s a charged atmosphere there, and I feel something very similar in the scene when they’re sitting outside in the garden.
ASG: I remember when I read Lolita I was 16. And I didn’t get it at all. I thought of it as being like a Scarlet Letter. A serious book that was difficult and I got through it and I was like, “All right, I read Lolita.” And then I read it again when I was 26 and I thought “Oh my God, it’s a comedy? A light, frothy comedy?” And then the next time you read it, it’s like a prose poem about America. And then you read it again … But there was that point when I was writing, that I decided – you know, I was thinking no one is ever going to read this book – so I thought, OK go for it.
TEV: And how do you feel as you work on your next book? Do you feel that same level of freedom? You can’t think now that no one’s going to read it.
ASG: It’s tough. Because I know people are reading it and will expect things. And I have to try to step away. And some readers, I guess might be disappointed. Who knows? But you wouldn’t be able to please … it wouldn’t be any good. So in some ways it will be similar, in some ways not, but … I did find another book to be able to read the whole time.
TEV: Oh yeah?
ASG: So we’ll see.
TEV: Can you tell us, or does that reveal too much?
ASG: Oh no. It’s The Good Solider by Ford Madox Ford. Did you ever read that?
ASG: What a great book!
TEV: Yeah. I noticed your interviews said you’d been going back and reading a lot of Ford, James and Wolff.
ASG: Yeah. And there are some writers (of that period) that I just don’t like. Like Thomas Hardy. That’s my boyfriend’s favorite writer, so I read him. But I actually enjoy those writers – I’m glad you do, too. But people always think that I’m really pretentious, and I’m like, “No, I actually like them.”
TEV: It’s also funny who sort of comes in and out of literary acceptability. And I think you do read books differently as a novelist. And that’s how reputations end up coming back around again, the way Jonathan Franzen restored Paula Fox.
ASG: You look at Good Soldier, and the things that he’s doing in that book are wildly inventive and people could still try to get to that level. It’s not like we’ve moved past that. And it’s sort of invisible. It’s not showy.
TEV: Which goes to the heart of one of my complaints, about a showiness that’s really misdirection so you don’t notice the emptiness at the core.
ASG: Yeah. Like John Dos Passos may be a bit showy. Ford Madox Ford is sort of conservative, quieter.
TEV: Well, I’ll be going back and re-reading Good Soldier now in anticipation. You talked about how the reaction to Max was different from your agent and your editor, and comparing the two books, The Path of Minor Planets has a more leisurely, more expansive ensemble whereas Max is necessarily tightly focused through the prism of one point of view.
ASG: Well, before I had my short story collection, I had a novel. I was young, I mean I’d written tons before that –
TEV: Was this the cowboy novel or the lost cities novel?
ASG: Oh God! You know all about this!! There was the cowboy novel, which no one must ever see. My agent keeps it in his beside table to remind us all where we came from. But there was the sunken city novel, which I couldn’t get together, it was too ambitious, I wanted it to be beautiful writing and wildly imaginative and all these references to show off, I was young and wanted to show that I was smart. Never works. And I couldn’t sell it. So for Path of Minor Planets, it was like, I’m going to give myself a simple structure and just play variations within it to see if I can do it. And I did. I took a few characters, built it around the comet, and you know where it’s going. Then with Max, I thought I’m going to be more daring and see if I can get away with 60 years aging backwards and the history of America, and see how far I can go. If I can start to handle the sort of thing I wanted to do in the beginning, when I was too young to write that kind of thing. But my next book will probably be quieter.
TEV: Max is also a vivid, affectionate portrait of San Francisco, and some of the most memorable moments are set against those backdrops of lost San Francisco. But I also imagine part of the decision to set it in the past was to allow that level of gilding and ornamentation to the language that you probably could not have gotten away with in a more modern setting.
ASG: Oh yeah. Yeah, it gave me a lot of freedom. I mean, I didn’t realize until I was partly through how lucky I was that I had picked that time period because I think it would have seemed really … you know, a lot of the reviewers referred to it as a Victorian novel, and I’m like, “OK, good!” Because I actually didn’t write it thinking I was imitating a Victorian novel. I wrote it thinking I can get away with a lot. And I cut out a lot of ornamentation. But it was so fun to realize I could write, “Reader, I married her” or “Reader, I was only seventeen.” It was so much fun. I wanted to write in Max’s voice forever but I had to stop. Obviously. But the ending process was just writing more Max, and I had no problem producing pages. Like the earthquake scene, I produced eighty pages of earthquake. He used to be in the earthquake, and it was cheesy as hell.
TEV: It works much better this way.
ASG: Good. I was glad I find a trap door out of that because I was really worried. But I was so lucky about that. I realized that my favorite stories are all set at least forty years ago.
TEV: As a reader or as a writer?
ASG: Both. I don’t seem to be able to write about the present. I know John Updike in his review talks about something like the “funhouse of the past” and I can’t tell if he was being slightly critical of writers who go back into the past instead of engaging in the present.
TVE: There must have been an inordinate amount of planning to keep track of the cross connection points, of who has to be how old and what moment and what else is happening.
ASG: I had this chart on my computer, and I had it color coded about how old he was and how old he was supposed to look and how old everyone else was, and what historical event happened. Because – well, you read it, most interviewers haven’t read it, so you know – the main problem was that he had to look Sammy’s age and Alice had to be of child-bearing age eleven or twelve years before that. And they had to look the same age in 1906. And it was just like [groan of despair]. It was really a struggle.
TEV: Was there a moment where you finally felt – “OK. I got it.” Or was it more going through whispering, “I think I can make this work, I think I can make this work, I think I can make this work.” You had a great quote elsewhere, by the way, that “the joy starts happening right after you finish something you like.”
ASG: Yeah! Well, the structure would be very workmanlike. I mean, that was not writing to me, that was not part where you sit in your chair, knock yourself out and come up an hour later with something that you’d be proud of. But I had the structure the whole time, although at the last minute I had to change things. I discovered, months before it went to press, that his birthday was in September, so in the beginning of the book he looks like he’s twelve, and I think the whole time I had written that he looked like he was eleven. And then I thought, “Oooo, his birthday.” And then I thought, “Does anyone care? Why do they care when his birthday is? Why did I make it in September? Why didn’t I make it January?”
TEV: But I think readers just need to go with it.
ASG: That’s what it was. I actually went back and blurred a lot of the references to how old he was because I didn’t want people – True story. There used to be a chart in the front about exactly how old he was and how old he appeared to be so you would know. But I took it out because the readers I gave it to were too obsessed about the chart being right on.
TEV: How did you end up your own commencement speaker at Brown?
ASG: Oh! Well, it sounds like I’m fancier than I am. It was actually a contest that you entered, and my best friend and I who was my writing partner at the time – we wrote plays and things – she said why don’t we become commencement speakers? And I thought, why not? And apparently, you just applied and wrote your speech.
TEV: Do you remember the topic?
ASG: It was called “Sonata for Two Bags Packed.” And it was about not – interesting – it was about after college not taking some easy route and ending up disappointed with your life but always having two bags packed in your closet so you can leave that life and make a new one if you’re disappointed.
TEV: The theme was present already.
ASG: I guess so. That was my friend, my co-writer, she always said that she always kept two bags packed in her closet so that she could leave. She is that kind of person. So we won the writing contest.
TEV: I have to ask you, have you done your Bookworm interview?
ASG: Yes, I did it already. It’s not coming out until the 20th.
TEV: Michael Silverblatt is an extraordinary interviewer and reader, and I feel like he’s the closest reader in America. What the experience like for you?
ASG: It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done on this book. For a half hour before he just sat down and wanted me to clear my mind about the way people normally talk about books in America because he was really sick of it, and he thought people talked about it in a very strange way, and he wanted me to do something very unusual and very hard, which was to think about language and reading and pleasure and other books and poetry, and not the stuff that doesn’t matter, like what research I did for the book or how I was sitting when I wrote it.
TEV: It’s like he crawls into the pages of the book itself.
ASG: He’s just way smarter than I was. But he said, you have to keep contact with me the whole interview or you’ll get scared and start saying things you’ve said in other interviews. And most of the interview is, as you know, you listen to him, he says these incredible things, and the writer says, “Oh yeah, yeah, I put that in there.” He’s just smarter than we are and he has a passion for it, a sort of childlike pleasure and he thinks that if people really found good books – not the bestsellers or the book club books … sorry, Today show – but found the good books that bring pleasure, they would love them and they wouldn’t think they were hard and that America would all be readers. It’s a wonderful idea.
TEV: We talked a little bit before the tape was running about blogs and their emergence. I invited you to be a guest host of TEV but you were starting your new novel and were concerned about focus but the offer does remain open – any time you want the keys.
ASG: Oh, I love the idea. I’m intimidated by it!
TEV: Oh, it’s easy. You get drunk, ramble into the site and you go. But what’s your sense of the emerging role of blogs and the acceptance they may or may not be gaining in the publishing world, and what do you think they offer for the future of how serious literature is approached?
ASG: I think the publishing world is just beginning to pay attention. I think they are the future of criticism because they’re what Michael Silverblatt was talking about. They’re completely … people who belong to no school, with no journalistic rules of the paper they work at that they have to apply – it’s just a response and it’s somehow people who are honestly engaged in reading in a way that you don’t always believe the other reviewers are because they’re overworked or they’re given books they don’t like. It seems superior. It seems some sort of reading utopia that, I don’t know if very soon, once publishers figure it out, they’ll be corrupted somehow. There’ll be the Chateau Marmont, there’ll be the blog parties, you know it will happen very quickly like that.
TEV: Were you aware of them before I’d written to you? And do you read them now? To what extent do you check in?
ASG: I was aware of them. Yeah. I’m a little scared of them. I was aware when I was searching for myself. On Google. Which I try not to do because really I shouldn’t do that stuff. It has nothing to do with me. But I was googling myself and I came across the blogs, but I was already very aware of political blogs, which are amazing. It’s like the only way I can find political information. And then I started to find that was true about literary blog, and that they weren’t gossip, and they weren’t really rants or screeds. They were someone’s personal response to a literary world. So it was the writers they were interested in, not necessarily celebrities.
TEV: I’ve learned about wonderful writers from other blogs.
ASG: It seems like every writer who’s listed is obscure in some way. And the bestsellers aren’t touched on that much. And that’s what I love about them. Because like, on your blog, it’s writers who are way at the fringes and very intellectual. It’s a little intimidating. But it’s very cool and I love it.
TEV: Well, we’re all pleased that you’re out there checking us out.
If you find my efforts unsatisfactory, NPR offers up their brief chat between ASG and Susan Stamberg. Come back tomorrow for the usual glut of links with insipid commentary.