• Greil Marcus, by Thierry Arditti
    January 04, 2012

    Bookforum talks with Greil Marcus

    In the introduction to his 1975 book Mystery Train, Greil Marcus set forth a challenge: to start taking rock and roll music seriously, to approach pop music “not as youth culture, or counterculture, but simply as American culture.” For the past forty years, he has done just that, looking at rock music not just as entertainment but as part of American mythology. Reading Marcus is to witness a stray musical note become the spine of an essay, or a growl connect Billboard hits to civil war customs. In his latest book, The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, Marcus explains what he

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  • December 23, 2011

    Bookforum talks to Alexander Theroux

    I first encountered Alexander Theroux’s writing—the style of which is grandiloquently lyrical, dizzyingly erudite, and often acerbic—through his books on colors: taxonomies of the spectrum we think we’ve seen but that Theroux, attentive observer that he is, suggests we haven’t really seen at all. I followed up these readings with savoring every word of three of his novels, beginning with Darconville’s Cat, his second novel, a book that satisfies syntactically, texturally, and structurally, reminding me at once of Henry James (because of the novel’s sentential convolutions and its paragraphic

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  • December 15, 2011

    Bookforum talks to Ha Jin

    Ha Jin’s writing shares something of his biography. Born in 1956 in northeast China, Jin volunteered in the People’s Liberation Army before venturing stateside in 1985 to study American literature at Brandeis University. Spanning four short story collections and six novels, his oeuvre confronts events in China’s recent past—the Korean War, the Cultural Revolution, and Tiananmen Square—head-on, with a bluntness that verges on deadpan. His prose has a similar effect to that of poetry: spare and unadorned, it traces, evokes, but refuses to spell out. This style befits the worlds that Jin renders:

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  • Susan Bernofsky
    November 10, 2011

    Bookforum talks to Susan Bernofsky

    Chances are you’ve read Susan Bernofsky. If, like John Ashbery, Benjamin Kunkel, J.M. Coetzee, or a number of other writers and readers, you’ve been delighted by the renaissance of Robert Walser’s writing in English, then you’ve most certainly read Susan Bernofsky. Bernofsky's celebrated translations of the elusive Swiss writer have, like Peter Constantine’s comprehensive translations of Isaac Babel, revived and boosted the reputation of one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant and original writers. Bernofsky has brought The Robber (2000), The Assistant (2007), The Tanners (2009) and

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  • Colson Whitehead
    October 17, 2011

    Bookforum talks with Colson Whitehead

    Colson Whitehead is not a difficult writer in the way that a Thomas Pynchon is. His syntax is standard, and his sentences make sense on first inspection. Nonetheless, beginning with his brilliant first book, The Intuitionist, which followed the travails of an elevator repairwoman, Whitehead has consistently invoked complex alternative realities, infusing his settings with a subtle, Buñuel-like surrealism.

    The main character of his latest novel, Zone One, is named Mark Spitz, a mediocre young man who has always pulled a B at best. In the book, Spitz is assigned to a cleanup detail in lower

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  • Grant Gee, director of Patience (After Sebald)
    October 03, 2011

    Grant Gee on Sebald and Cinema

    In Patience (After Sebald), a former publisher of the late author W.G. Sebald shares an anecdote about the difficulty he had assigning a genre to The Rings of Saturn. Is it fiction, non-fiction, travel, or history? The work, ultimately, is unclassifiable. The same can be said of the film, a meditation on Sebald’s walking tour of the Suffolk coast. Directed by Grant Gee, best known for his documentary Joy Division, the film explores Sebald’s work through landscape, image, and atmosphere.

    A few days before Patience's premiere at the New York Film Festival, Gee took some time to speak to Bookforum

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  • Helen DeWitt
    September 22, 2011

    Bookforum talks to Helen DeWitt

    One of the most exciting literary events this fall is the publication of Helen DeWitt’s long-anticipated second novel, Lightning Rods. DeWitt, a Maryland-born polymath, is best known as the author of The Last Samurai, the story of a boy genius who sets off in search of his missing father. Sam Anderson called that book “the most exciting debut novel of the decade." Lightning Rods promises to generate even more emphatic responses: It is, among other things, a satire in which a businessman develops a service that will end sexual harassment.

    BOOKFORUM: Lightning Rods, your new novel, is not actually

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  • Ben Lerner
    September 15, 2011

    Bookforum talks with Ben Lerner

    Two pages into Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, his protagonist, a choleric young poet on a year-long fellowship to Madrid, confesses, “I had long worried that I was incapable of having a profound experience of art and I had trouble believing that anyone had, at least anyone I knew.” This concern animates Lerner's debut novel, a wry take on the challenges of producing art in the age of technological mediation. Set shortly before the 2004 terror attacks, Leaving the Atocha Station—named after a John Ashbery poem—follows Adam Gordon as he obsesses over feelings of fraudulence, indulges

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  • September 08, 2011

    Bookforum interviews Amy Waldman

    Four years ago, Amy Waldman decided to take a break from her life as a reporter. She had just returned from a stint as the New York Times’s South Asia bureau chief and, along with her luggage, schlepped an idea home from abroad. This idea grew into her novel, The Submission, which was just published. The book follows a competition to choose a memorial for the site of a 9/11-style attack in New York City. When a committee of artists, politicians, and family members choose “The Garden,” a design by Muslim-American architect Mohammad Khan, the media latches onto the story, heightening tensions in

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  • Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, photo by Lee Towndrow.
    June 28, 2011

    Sheila Heti and Misha Glouberman

    Misha and I have been good friends for ten years. At the beginning of our friendship, we ran a barroom lecture series together called Trampoline Hall. Now, we are publishing a book called The Chairs Are Where the People Go. Initially I wanted to write a novel called The Moral Development of Misha, but after writing sixty pages, I threw it out. I had hoped to capture Misha’s way of being in the world and his opinions and point of view, but it wasn’t working as fiction. I realized that I preferred Misha’s words when they came from him, rather than when they were filtered through my imagination.

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  • Matthew Stadler
    June 15, 2011

    Bookforum talks with Matthew Stadler

    The future of publishing has been the subject of many debates and panels for the past five or so years, but until recently, not a lot was being done about it. That's beginning to change, thanks to newcomers such as OR Books and Cursor, Inc. Perhaps the most innovative and philosophical new independent press is Publication Studio, the brainchild of Portland-based publishers Matthew Stadler and Patricia No. In 2009, Stadler purchased a printer and an unusual perfect binder (christened “Ol Gluey”) and launched Publication Studio as a print-on-demand publisher. Since then, the independent press

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  • Patrick Dewitt, photo by Danny Palmerlee.
    June 11, 2011

    Bookforum talks with Patrick DeWitt

    In 2009, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel introduced author Patrick DeWitt as a master of corrosive comedy. That book follows a barback at an L.A. watering hole who, with alarming (and somehow hilarious) alacrity, ruins his marriage, robs his employers, and calls in a bomb threat during a shift. For all of its chaotic scenes and drunken antics, DeWitt’s debut proceeded with a raconteur’s wit and surprising control, qualities that also distinguish his follow-up, The Sisters Brothers, released this week. The new book is a Western, but it, too, is about a job of sorts: Siblings Eli and Charlie Sisters

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