• 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • June 20, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Phyllis Rose

    For her new book, The Shelf, Phyllis Rose read an entire shelf of fiction at the New York Society Library (NYSL), by authors whose names begin with LEQ to LES. The enterprise, which Rose refers to as “adventures in extreme reading,” led her to read authors good and bad, well-known and forgotten. The boundaries of the project, in fact, led Rose to unpredictable places: “I would read my way into the unknown—into the pathless wastes, into thin air, with no reviews, no bestseller lists, no college curricula, no National Book Awards or Pulitzer Prizes, no ads, no publicity, not even word of mouth

    Read more
  • June 02, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Richard A. Clarke

    In 1999, Richard A. Clarke, the US Counterterrorism Czar for Clinton and Bush, wanted to attach Hellfire missiles to unarmed Predator drones so that he could kill Osama bin Laden. In the months before September 11, Predators set their cameras upon the al Qaeda leader several times, but Tomahawk cruise missiles—then the only option for unmanned strikes—took hours to reach Afghanistan from the launch submarines off the coast of Pakistan. After the attacks, lethal drones were an easy sell.

    Thirteen years and four-hundred covert drone strikes later, Clarke has written a thriller about the program

    Read more
  • Stacey D'Erasmo
    May 20, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Stacey D'Erasmo

    Brian Eno famously said that everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground album when it came out ended up starting a band. Someday soon, something similar could be said of Stacey D’Erasmo’s music-drenched road novel Wonderland. It’s truly an inspiring work—a master class in structure and character—and it makes you want to be a rocker and a writer. The story follows a former rock star, Anna Brundage, as she attempts a risky comeback and tours across Europe with her new band. I recently spoke with D’Erasmo about artistic ambition, the phenomenon of “dating your own characters,” and the

    Read more
  • May 14, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Jen Percy

    In 2005, seasoned Special Forces machine gunner Caleb Daniels lost eight members of his unit in a Chinook helicopter crash in Afghanistan. As Jennifer Percy describes in her recent book, Demon Camp, Caleb was haunted afterward by images of friends’ charred bodies. When he left Afghanistan, something he called The Black Thing followed him home. Caleb struggled to adjust to civilian life, certain The Black Thing was trying to kill him. Then he met a minister, who persuaded him the apparition was a Destroyer Demon, just one in a pantheon of demons and angels fighting a war between good and evil.

    Read more