Saturday, August 19, 2006

requisite david mitchell post for David Mitchell is well-documented, and his inclusion in the Booker longlist is a perfect opportunity to link to some of his recent activities. You can listen to audio interviews here and in two parts at the Bat Segundo Show here.

Part I:

Subjects Discussed: The similarities between Jason Taylor and David Mitchell, idiosynchratic vernacular, first-person vs. third-person voice, index cards, how Granta unexpectedly kicked off Black Swan Green, the correct pronounciation of Nabokov, the difference between sandwiches in the US and the UK, the use of 1980s technology in writing, the Falkland Islands, on selecting cultural references from 1982, Friendster, the regulation of UK schools over the past thirty years, the use of visual elements in BSG, authenticity, money and Thatcher’s England, MacGuffins in novels and life, being nice to horrid people, the Julia principle, the politics of language, hip-hop culture, the threat of conformity vs. Jason Taylor’s resilience, shaking off the Murakami yoke, the Ed Park review, on using characters from other books, and naming the headmaster Nixon, and character names that “stick on the eyeball.”

Part II:

Subjects Discussed: The Simpsons, the ambiguity of Norman Bates, transcontinental reception, the unexpected reception of Black Swan Green, the Stranger review, Haruki Murakami, finding auctorial voice, the “fourth book” breakthrough, avoiding the pitfalls of commercial writing, laziness, stylistic restraints and imagination, politicians, flexible opinions, compartmentalizing narrative components, conclusions of novels, the perfect songs, the Beatles, information on the fifth novel and the kind of book Mitchell is shooting for.

Mitchell also appeared on KRCW's Bookworm last month. Counterbalance provides extensive four-part coverage of the reading I attended in April. The Telegraph and The New Republic have reviews, the latter of which also covers the challenge of reviewing a book you like:

Bad reviews are motivated by anger, but good reviews are motivated by love; and it is easier to become angry than to fall in love. Every reader had a first love, most likely in childhood: a book that we could not get enough of, and guarded selfishly for fear that someone else might come to think of it as their own; a book with which we identified completely; a book to which we probably would not want to return as adults for fear that it might not live up to our memories. Perhaps we were serial monogamists, who exhausted the entire work of one author only to move on to another the next month or year. Perhaps we were polygamists, who could not be satisfied by one book at a time, but had to have many all at once, from different genres and different time periods. But whatever our inclinations, over the years our capacity to love books becomes dulled by repeated frustration. Every time we pick up a book, we expect to fall in love; but after a certain number of disappointments, our expectation turns to mere hope; and eventually we give up even that.

But no true reader ever gives up entirely. We still want to be moved deeply; we are still looking for books that, as Orwell put it, will burst the thermometer. But for the critic, finding such a book brings its own set of problems. Falling in love, even with a book, makes you vulnerable, and most of us are not inclined to parade our vulnerabilities in public. Even worse, falling in love makes you blind to faults; and so you find yourself overcompensating, looking for flaws where none exist. Also, as a reader it is wonderful to be alone with your love, but the reviewer has a professional obligation to sing a good book's praises from the mountaintops. But how do you convince anyone that you have found "a novel of real merit" when the simplest phrases ("I liked it") are boring and the elaborate ones ("superbly matchless") have lost their meaning?