I got a text from an endocrinologist I know who happens to be a member of a book club in the Bronx and she asked me to come up there one night and talk to her book club. I’m going. I don’t know what’s gotten into me but with this book, I feel ready to read in every living room in the tristate area and beyond. About a hundred and twenty or more people came to the auditorium at the Boston Public Library last night to hear a conversation between me and Doris Kearns Goodwin. I couldn’t believe there were so many people there–thanks to Doris largely. I read a lot, passages that we had discussed. There were a lot of laughs and I just felt so amazed that people still care about books so much. It’s gotten me thinking about what reading actually is. It’s passive, in a sense, yet essentially active. It is an action of opening the mind. Without the reader’s participation, the words lie dead on the page. The reader turns the words into images and ideas. Anyway, I am just thinking about it. When you perform a book (whether the writer admits it to herself or not, reading aloud is performance) you go back to the more elemental form of writing and reading, like Homer traipsing from one village to another, singing his stories…
I’m on my way back from a week of readings and signings on the West Coast. Book peddling. It’s a release to perform the book now after years of being locked away with it. It’s easier to read outloud than my other books, maybe because I enjoy being Jacob so much. His joyful amorality, his wickedness, feel liberating. I really like connecting with the readers in person, but I still worry about going on too long and boring people. Yet I think in this time, when actual objects and face to face encounters are rarer, when our ideas are transmitted electronically much of the time, and our books are read off of tablets, the presence of an actual author turning paper pages is more valuable; it reminds people of the connection to the writer as they read, the cord that binds the two minds.
I am nervous. It seems so strange to have this story, which has been twisting around inside me for years, belonging to strangers now. That’s the beauty of it I suppose. Publishing is a balm to the loneliness of the writer.
One of you has expressed disbelief about the moment in the subway. I promise, it happened. People do kind things every day, and I actually think in the balance people do more kind things than evil things, but the evil eclipses the good. The most surprising thing about humans, to me, is our goodness, not our selfishness or destructiveness. The struggle is endless for us. I use a quote by the Ba’al Shem Tov, the great 18th century Jewish tzaddik, or holy man, in the front of my new book:
“Evil is the chair of the good”.
Something to think about.
I was in the subway going uptown two days ago and a young woman stood up and raised her voice. “This is the first time I have spoken on the subway,” she said. I assumed she would be asking for money, but then I noticed that she had two large shopping bags with her, filled with toys. She continued: “I just went to Toys Are Us to pay for my layaway toys for my childrens’ Christmas presents, and I was told that my layaway had been payed for. And I was given this card.” She read out the card. A stranger had payed for her layaway in memory of Dylan, one of the children killed in the Sandyhook massacre. “I just had to tell someone about this,” the woman said. Many people on the subway wept. I wept. I told a friend who lives near Newtown about this, and she said people are committing random acts of kindness all over the country. It’s the goodness of people that astonishes me.
I saw “Beasts of the Southern Wild” yesterday and I thought it was thoroughly brilliant. It’s one of those films that succeed so completely and so originally that talking about them only sullies them. So I can simply say, see this film. I read the screenplay early on, and, though I understood it was original and visionary, the execution is far more human and tender than the it read on the page.
Well Therese has hit the nail on the head with her comment to my last blog. I kind of wish she would do this panel instead of me. I am not a greatly articulate person when I am not ‘the writer’. That is, when I write I am able to process ideas into story but when ideas are naked I find myself quite mute and rather stupid in their presence.
I agree that Dostoesvsky is the greatest of all writers–of those that I have read. And also I agree that everything we write–even the most alien, like science fiction–is born in some way of the preoccupations and wounds and yearnings of the writer. But there are grave risks involved. I have seen the dead eyes of writers who spent themselves utterly, used their inner lives until their psyches were as dry as old coal, or they had gone mad. Writing can drive you mad.
I will try to blog more now that I don’t have the book to protect me.
and again, it’s www.readrussia2012.com
There are two hundred and twenty Russian writers coming to New York City for the book expo, sent by their government, to try to promote contemporary Russian literature in the US. I will be on a panel at the public Library on Sunday the 3rd at 3.30 but far more interesting people will be reading from the 2nd to the 6th I believe. If anyone is reading this, miraculously, check out www.readrussia2012.com for a full schedule. My panel is on whether truth is stranger than fiction. I am really blocked about how to discuss this. I said yes to the panel because my old friend Peter Kaufman asked me to. He is very dedicated to the cause of Russian literature. I hate the idea of two hundred and twenty russians wandering around New York feeling unloved, so I said I would do the panel, even though I really don’t know how to articulate how I feel about this issue or in fact if it is possible to do so. Sometimes just showing up is enough, but I’m worried this is not one of those times.
I spent so many years reading Tolstoy Dostoyevsky Gogol especially and more recently I reread The Master and Marguerita by Bulgakov. I think my favorite book of all time is Crime and Punishment because of the mix of violence and religion, a yearning for goodness, and the way he gets into his protagonist’s head so beautifully. The crime, how he comes to commit the crime, is made so understandable, nearly inevitable, and then the exquisite paranoia of the punishment…
Erland Josephson has died. He was a great Swedish actor of Jewish extraction. He was in Fanny and Alexander and Hour of the Wolf by Ingmar Bergman, among many other films (I think 40 collaborations, including theater). Also he was in Andre Tarkovski’s The Sacrifice. He was a great actor.
I met him when I was cast as Anya in Peter Brook’s production of The Cherry Orchard, in 1986, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We became really close friends. He was already in his sixties. He was witty and a little bit sad and very bawdy. We went on tour with The Cherry Orchard. We went to Russia and Japan. I remember walking with Erland under a red umbrella in a Japanese garden. I remember eating sturgeon with him in Moscow, after a performance. I remember sitting on a wide purple cloth, eating a picnic with the rest of the company, in the countryside near Tibilisi, which was then in Soviet Georgia. The resident actors of the theater we were playing in, the Rustaveli (sp?) theater, invited us on the picnic. We drank wine from ceramic bowls with gold rims. The rims were stamped with little golden crosses. When we looked up we could see cliffs, and in the cliffs were little caves, and in the caves, hermits had lived. In Tokyo, people had simultaneous translators they could hold to their ears. We used to joke that every time we heard one of them clatter to the floor, an audience member had dropped off to sleep. One night, during Erland’s speech to the book case, we heard so many simultaneous translating devices clatter to the floor– Erland later said he counted nine–that I simply lost it. Luckily I was just sitting upstage, because I actually peed in my pants a little, but I hid the laughing pretty well. He was a wonderful friend.