For the first time in what seems like forever but is more like six or seven years, I didn't join the thousands discussing and demonstrating the death and life of books at BookExpo America this week. I don't miss the stress of preparing, but I do miss the camaraderie and the city and especially the last few years of interviewing as many fascinating people as I could fit into my schedule. One interview I would have loved to take this year: Jeffrey Eugenides, for The Marriage Plot (coming in October), although based on his statement at the big author breakfast--that there are no galleys yet because he was still tweaking the book until the day before--I'm not sure I would have had anything to read beforehand. But The Millions does have an "exclusive" look at the opening paragraph of the novel, which is of course catnip to any book nerd, like me, currently in the middle of a thoroughly thought-out home-shelf reorganization:
There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Bronte sisters.
I'm afraid the best I can do, 3,000 miles from the Javits Center, is shamelessly mine the archives again, to bring you one of my favorite BEA interviews, last year's talk with William Gibson on Zero History, the final entry in his loose recent trilogy set in the more or less now (which he called, at least to me, the "Bigend Books"). Gibson, you won't be surprised to hear, is just a treat to talk to: in his Virginia-to-Vancouver drawl he thoughtfully takes your questions in places you didn't expect. (And, as I mentioned in my BEA roundup last year, he also shared, off-camera, his admiration for the pantsuit tailoring of my previous interviewee that morning, Condoleezza Rice.)
We talked long enough that I split the interview up into four pieces for posting on Amazon. Listen as you like below, but here are a few choice quotes, all of which are already in my commonplace book. From section one, in response to a question about whether he seems himself as an author as more like the passive Milgrim or the string-pulling Hubertus Bigend (two of the characters from the trilogy):
Hubertus's mode of operating actually in many ways resembles my authorial mode, in that he advances his business through allowing more or less random individuals to pursue their own courses. If he sees someone interesting, even passingly interesting, he'll hire them and set them some almost random task. He keeps doing this, and every tenth one produces something of value.
And here, from the third section, on why he loves Twitter (he's very active at @GreatDismal):
I used to be a really voracious consumer of foreign magazines. When I was really working hard on a book I would go to the best magazine shop in town and buy a hundred dollars worth of the most esoteric stuff I could find. And I was buying it for novelty aggregation, and that really is what magazines do: they aggregate novelty--at least the sort of magazines I like--and they sell novelty. But Twitter, when you set it up right--and it's an infinitely customizable business platform thing--you can build yourself a novelty aggregator that's phenomenally efficient. But you have to pay it forward by retweeting the bits of novelty you've discovered, because that will encourage the people who found them, who you follow, to find more. It's like it's exponential and feeds on itself. For the first time in my life it's giving me more novelty than I can really use. The hopper is backing up a bit.
And lastly, about my comment about the almost menacing level of description and observation in his recent fiction:
It may just be the fundamentally creepy way in which I perceive things. The longer I do this, I suspect the more transparent I become with the nature of the authorial lens. I'm someone who seems to retain a lot of that information. I do recall that in my earliest experiments at trying to produce tiny fragments of prose, I was kind of stuck until I started describing objects, and immediately the description of an object would become a very complex thing, and narrative would start to emerge from it.
The interview itself: