Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jonathan Lethem

At the Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Alter interviewed Jonathan Lethem about his new novel, Chronic City. Part of their dialogue:

Most of your books are set in Brooklyn. "Chronic City" is set in the Upper East Side. How did you get to familiar with this particular neighborhood?

I took a semester off [of college] and came back to the city. I was around here a lot then. I think of that period because I formed this very important friendship, that informs the book very strongly, with this kind of legendary semi-reclusive rock critic named Paul Nelson… I was working at Brazen Head books on 84th Street, a little tiny book store. All of the used bookstores I ever worked at eventually became laundry mats. I know of at least three where that's true.

You have described "Chronic City" as your most unprecedented work. What do you mean by that?

I guess it sounds exactly like the kind of word that you should let other people apply to your work and not offer up yourself. But I meant it in regards to how I've come to think about what my job is… After "Motherless Brooklyn," I had the opportunity to write all kinds of things. And some of them were irresistible…. When I stopped being flattered and intrigued, I had to figure out, ok what should I be writing? I thought, the answer is always, I should write the thing that if I don't write it, it wouldn't exist… Maybe I could write a realistic social epic of the Upper East Side; it's possible that I could do that. I feel that I've acquired a lot of those tools and inclinations, but to merge it with the dream-life material, I feel that's my...[read on]
Visit Jonathan Lethem's website.

--Marshal Zeringue