Jonathan Lethem Christens Greenlight Bookstore by Reading

Jonathan Lethem
Jonathan Lethem

The unofficial present-day Bard of Brooklyn stopped by Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene last night to christen the borough’s newest independent bookshop. Jonathan Lethem, author of such notable Brooklyn titles as Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude, read a portion of his new Manhattan-based novel, Chronic City, to a packed house as latecomers squeezed through the door like rush-hour riders on the 4 train.

In his fifth of eight readings in which he’s attempting to finish the entire 467-page novel in what he called his “ill-conceived marathon tour” (see the rest of the dates here), Lethem read a selection, then answered questions and signed books before returning to mic to continue reading. You can catch his final three performances in the coming weeks: Friday, November 13 at the Cue Foundation Gallery, Tuesday, November 17 at Spoonbill & Sugartown, and Friday, December 4 at Book Court.

At the break, Lethem fielded questions ranging from his writing process (“pretty boring,” he admitted—he writes for about two hours a day, producing anywhere from a paragraph to two to three pages) to whether he felt the desire to make edits on the fly as he read aloud  to which he confessed to adding speech tags to aid listeners. The author added that reading the entire manuscript aloud to friends in Maine during the editing process helped him adjust the text to sustain “the plateau” of suspense and literary style he was aiming for throughout.

But two of his post-reading answers in particular stood out.

The first referenced the oft-mentioned influence of Bellow on his writing. “There is, for me, a very live relationship to Saul Bellow with this book. I came very, very late to Bellow. I grew up reading Malamud and revering him… So I had my Jew… I always had this impression of Bellow as kind of forbidding and kind of conservative and he’d gone to Chicago to be with, you know, bad people.” And though he was “absolutely breathtaken by the sentences, the crazy amounts of intelligence he rams into every sentence,” he also remained a skeptic. “I don’t find them totally compelling as fictional structures.” Listen here:

The other question brought up the connection made in Gregory Cowles’ Times review between the ominous “grey fog” and the infamous “airborne toxic event” of White Noise. Said Lethem, “I revere DeLillo…but I didn’t consciously reach for a reference to the airborne toxic event.”  What he did have in mind resembled more of a psychological post 9/11 funk. Watch here:

And also: check out the threads! Hey, as long as the prose isn’t what’s purple…

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