Jonathan Lethem harvests fresh insights from Dissident Gardens
National Book Critics Circle Award-winning, New York Times bestselling novelist, essayist, short story writer, and, as it happens, one of America's foremost authorities on the Great American Novel, Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Jonathan Lethem and New York Times bestselling author and cultural critic Chuck Klosterman sat down to harvest the themes and characters of Lethem's latest novel, Dissident Gardens recently released in trade paperback (Vintage Reprint; June, 2014). After discussing the amalgam of art and politics in his novels, Lethem reviewed political activism in America, 1950-1970, through the lens of his pacifist father and 'low-impact political activist' mother. From there, Klosterman, whose new book, I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains has just been released in trade paperback (Scribner Reprint; July, 2014) led Lethem into a discussion of the book having been dedicated to his father instead of his mother, who died when he was thirteen. Stepping out of the book, the interview moved on to Lethem's twelve-year 'apprenticeship' working in a San Francisco bookshop and writing until he produced his first published novel, Motherless Brooklyn. Lethem followed with a discussion of the influences of Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch, Patricia Highsmith, and Herman Melville on his prolific career before weighing in on the typewriter vs. computer writing experience and the intellectual vs. emotional values in fiction, as well as the challenges of a mid-life writer with kids and changes in life. Lethem and Klosterman wrapped the interview on a lighter note with a conversation about Lethem's involvement in Matthew Spektor's American Dream Machine, which was based on Lethem, and the perennial question of whether there is a movie based on Motherless Brooklyn in the works before taking questions from the audience on Lethem's self-described 'outdated' advice on getting that first novel published and his opinion on Master of Fine Arts writing programs.
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