Wednesday, May 30, 2007

from an Interview with Janette Turner Hospital

I have been championing Janette Turner Hospital for years. I finally, after mentioning five-thousand times, got Mario to read Due Preparations for the Plague, which I've also mentioned here on the blog five-thousand times. A person doesn't really get another person to read a novel, though. As Alex said once, "Only a novel can get someone to read it."

Robert Birnbaum's interviews are wonderfully smart and entertaining. He manages to have an actual conversation with the writers, which is certainly refreshing. There's other good ones at the website with Chip Kidd, Dorothy Allison, Amy Bloom, Sarah Vowell and Donna Tartt, among others.

This, from the interview with Janette:

Robert Birnbaum: You have compared terrorism to the Plague?

JTH: It seems to me a very apt metaphor. As was the case with the Black Death, one cannot ultimately protect oneself from attack. No matter what precautions you take, extra airport security, extra visa requirements for people, not letting travelers leave transit lounges, ultimately there is not any way to protect yourself. A determined terrorist or suicide bomber will get around all those things. As with the plague, too, for different reasons. In medieval times people didn't know what caused the plague or how to protect themselves.

RB: There are people who are put off by contemporary American fiction, complaining that it is too writing school, writing for other writers.

JTH: Well, a lot of it is rather tedious and self-indulgent. But there is also some very exciting contemporary writing going on. I do always make my graduate students read non-American fiction. Because I do think the confines of current American fiction are really narrow. I have them read Kenzbro Oe, Alessandro Barricco, the Italian, and also French novelists. Just really to say, the novel is anything that novelists have made it. And this is something I reproach my graduate students with—students in France, even undergraduate students are far more familiar with contemporary American literature and with other European literatures than American students are with anything outside America. It's a consequence of being so huge as a culture and dominating publishing.


parting the seams said...

Due Preparations for the Plague was excellent. Though there are many aspects of the novel that are good, the most interesting thing was that I was reading a thriller - a literary thriller. I wish more "good" writers would take on these type of genres and not relegate them to paperback writers. One can only read Tom Clancy so much before the stories merge together.

Alexander Chee said...


I love that quote. I forgot I said that.

Great post.