• May 05, 2015

    Bookforum talks with Dale Peck

    Dale Peck is not known for understatement. His reviews, collected under the title Hatchet Jobs, earned him a reputation as one of the most scathing critics of his generation’s revered literary voices. Peck’s 1993 debut novel, Martin and John, was released as Fucking Martin in the UK. His 2009 YA book, Sprout, went on to earn him the Lambda Award for LGBT Young Adult Literature and was a finalist for the Stonewall Book Award. His forthcoming work of nonfiction, Visions and Revisions: Coming of Age in the Age of AIDS, recently landed on my doorstep as an advance review copy. Interested in the

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  • April 20, 2015

    Bookforum talks with Sarah Manguso

    Sarah Manguso's latest book, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, ostensibly about the eight-hundred-thousand-word journal she kept for twenty-five years, is in essence an act of withholding. On most pages, a few paragraphs or lines of text are surrounded by white space—precise moments suspended in the mass of formless, unrecorded time. Manguso describes how those blank spaces terrified her as a young woman. When a friend offers her a ride home from another city, she declines so she can spend the four-hour bus ride writing in her diary. At that point, she feels that recording an experience is the

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  • March 20, 2015

    Bookforum talks with Jacob Rubin

    Writing fiction about an impersonator is like playing Russian roulette with an allegory gun. Those who survive, whose books don’t lapse into neat parables of the process of writing, tend to be brilliant. Examples include George Saunders (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline), Tom McCarthy (Remainder), and Pynchon (the reenactment of Alpdrucken in Gravity’s Rainbow). The latest is Jacob Rubin, with his new novel, The Poser, about the rise and fall of a gifted impressionist. Unlike Saunders and McCarthy, The Poser doesn’t spring from Pynchon’s nylon paisley overcoat. Rubin’s book is less about the enactment

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  • January 15, 2015

    Bookforum talks with Miranda July

    In Miranda July’s films and short stories, the protagonist is usually shut off from the world: insular, habit-prone, and, to the outside world, a little weird. The beauty of Cheryl Glickman, the narrator of July’s debut novel, The First Bad Man, is that she’s come to see her idiosyncrasies as totally logical. After reading several pages of Cheryl’s chatty internal monologue, the reader will, too.

    Forty-something, single, and childless, Cheryl works at a non-profit organization that makes self-defense videos for women. She has maintained a years-long infatuation with a man at work, conducted

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  • December 03, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Meghan Daum

    Meghan Daum published her first collection of essays, My Misspent Youth (2001), to wide praise. In the title essay, originally written for the New Yorker, Daum described living in Manhattan as a writer in her mid-twenties, and the difficulty of discerning truth from fantasy in a city that lends itself to easy mythologizing. Can't we all have lives like Mia Farrow’s, filled with intelligent conversation and ample gin? To Daum, an oak-floored apartment on Riverside Drive represented an urbane and “authentic” way of living, not financial prosperity. But though a flat on the Upper West Side doesn't

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  • November 14, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Dodie Bellamy

    I first met Dodie Bellamy in a graduate nonfiction workshop at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco; she was my teacher. I remember her as encouraging and honest. Her most recent book, The TV Sutras, is a personal meditation on religious experience, as well as what it means to be a teacher and to be taught. Like Bellamy, I’ve experienced a cult of sorts, in that I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family. Perhaps that is why I’m especially drawn to her work. Few ex-cult members can ever entirely turn their backs on the teachings of a charismatic leader, and the worldviews

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  • November 05, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Jenny Offill

    When I recently tried to describe Jenny Offill's novel Dept. of Speculation to one of my closest friends, I told her it was the kind of book that should be boring but isn't. What I meant is that it's about parenting and adultery and a marriage between sensible-enough middle-class Americans, and that plot-wise nothing shocking or even particularly weird happens, but that reading it kept me up into the night, and at six in the morning, closing its covers, I felt invigorated instead of sleep-deprived. Faced with the task of explaining the book, though—of trying to describe the short paragraphs

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  • September 22, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Eula Biss

    Eula Biss opens her new book, On Immunity: An Inoculation, with a description of a video her husband recorded the day before she gave birth to their son. In the video, she observes, her face looked free of fear. Twenty-four hours later, after a difficult labor and a blood transfusion, this was no longer true. Suddenly she feared many things: lead paint in the walls, toxic plastics in the crib mattress, carcinogenic minerals in the water. It was 2009, the H1N1 vaccination campaign was soon to launch, and a post-recession wariness tinged the air—“not a good season for trust,” as Biss notes. Groups

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  • September 12, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Ben Lerner

    10:04, Ben Lerner’s ingenious new novel, is a Sebaldian book made from starkly American material. As in Sebald, time haunts 10:04’s narrator. But instead of being haunted by an awful, crumbling past, à la Austerlitz, the narrator of 10:04 is swamped by a rising simultaneity; by pasts, presents, and futures happening all at once. Hurricanes, real and fake, interrupt New York. Inequality spreads and mutates. A pigeon hilariously, sadly eats a Viagra pill. As the Lerner-like narrator tries to write and to help his friend conceive a child, the climate warms.

    “In reality, of course, whenever one

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  • August 07, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Yelena Akhtiorskaya

    I met Yelena Akhtiorskaya in the Columbia MFA program, and soon after edited her first published stories, at n+1 magazine. These were portraits of Russian immigrants who failed to fully embrace their new country; they often dreamed about returning, or at least about taking a vacation. Akhtiorskaya's layered first novel, Panic in a Suitcase, out last month from Riverhead, is also about ambivalent newcomers to the United States. The Nasmerstov family tries to persuade its most outsized member, the poet Pasha, to finally relocate from Odessa, as its youngest member, Frida, considers flying the

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  • William T. Vollmann
    July 10, 2014

    Bookforum talks with William T. Vollmann

    In 1994, as William Vollmann traveled by car from Split to Sarajevo with two fellow reporters—one of them a friend he’d known since high school—an explosion or possibly a sniper killed his two companions. Later, while reporting on the Siege of Sarajevo, Vollmann was offered journalistic access to an important Bosnian military leader if he was willing to murder a prisoner of war as a show of loyalty—an opportunity he turned down. Fictional treatments of these real-life horrors open Vollmann’s Last Stories and Other Stories, a collection that veers from realistic to supernatural representations

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  • June 27, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Thomas Beller

    J.D. Salinger spent nearly the last sixty years of his life as a recluse, attempting to outrun the fame brought by his celebrated first novel, The Catcher in the Rye (1951). In Thomas Beller’s new biography, J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist, Salinger’s life appears as a triptych, in which the entire last half of Salinger’s life—but only one story, “Hapworth 16, 1924”—is relegated to the final panel. The first panel includes Salinger’s early stories (1940-1948), and “Slight Rebellion off Madison,” which later formed the basis for Catcher. The second panel describes the height of Salinger’s fame

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