This is one of my favorite events of the year–a chance to meet authors and hear about forthcoming books, even take some home. The best. Today was the opening day, a half day really, starting at 12:30 with Laura Miller of salon.com interviewing Jonathan Franzen. A big crowd as you can imagine. Franzen had just come back from a birdwatching trip in east Africa and acknowledged that he was having a hard time inserting himself back into talking about the book, Purity, due out Sept. 1. He was, I’m going to say it, more than just a little inarticulate. I took notes as best I could and some interesting tidbits are below.
He talked about how each novel gets harder to write, because the early novels mine the easily accessible material, the stuff that’s most present. With each novel, he digs deeper, ultimately into areas that are difficult to write about. He talked about process–how he starts with an outline but once he starts writing he always realizes that the book as outlined will never work. In fact, he wrote the first chapter of Purity quickly, based on the outline and was stuck; he didn’t go back to it until a year later.
Miller asked questions about the relationship between plot and character and Franzen spent some time discussing the conundrum of getting the reader to turn the pages in a novel where character takes precedence over plot.
An interesting note: the German edition of the book can’t be called Purity–the word carries too much baggage there.
From that interview I went up to the exhibit floor and waited on line to get a signed poster from Maira Kalman from her new book Beloved Dog. I told her that I had seen the small collection she curated at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum this winter and how interesting it was. She asked if I remembered seeing Toscanini’s pants and she told me that they belonged to her. She loaned them to the museum for the exhibit. (She also has the suit jacket.) I’d love to know what else she’s collected over the years. Of course I told her how much I loved the New Yorker “stans” cover.
Late in the afternoon, laden down with advance copies of books and some nifty canvas bags, I made my way back home. I’ll be back to the Javits at 9 tomorrow.