Jane Smiley: 2010 National Book Festival (Poetry)


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington D.C.>>It is such a pleasure
to finally meet Jane Smiley because I’ve been chasing
after her for years. I taught at the prep school
in St. Louis that still brags about her attendance like
all of you who have read and loved “A Thousands Acres”,
her Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Then when I got to the post, I had
the honor of sending her novels to review for us, which is one of
the reasons I admire her so much. She’s one of the few
really successful novelists. She’s willing to stay fully
engaged in the critical conversation and not just by blurbing
her friend’s books, but by taking literally
criticisms seriously. Her 1996 essay for Harper’s
Magazine about Huck Finn and Uncle Tom’s Cabin remains
one of the classics of the genre, and she continues to publish
insightful book reviews for us and other publications. Meanwhile, Smiley’s popular and
critically acclaimed novels take us into the comedy and the tragedy of
the world around us from farming to academics, from real
estate to Hollywood, and young people are discovering
this talent of author for themselves in her young adult novels now. Winner of the PEN USA Lifetime
Achievement Award for Literature in 2006, Jane Smiley is one of the
brightest stars in the constellation of a modern American literature. Please join me in welcoming her. [ Applause ]>>Well, that was a
wonderful introduction. And I should tell you that when
the Huck Finn article came out, it was not greeted as a piece
of great literary criticism. Harper’s tell me that they
received more hate mail than they had in 150 years. I thought that was really an honor. [ Laughter ]>>I have to thank you
all for staying this long. I’m not sure I would have
stayed for even Leo Tolstoy at this point of this day. But it reminds me of a story
that they told me yesterday at the Naval Observatory. This book “Private Life”
contains two characters that were part of my family. And the woman is based on my
great-aunts, and the man, Andrew, is based on her crackpot
scientist husband. And he is still present
on the internet. And when you type in his name, about
half the stuff that comes up says, “He’s right, he was always right.” He will be vindicated. And the machine that
I built in accordance with his principles was taken
away from me at US Customs and is now being used by the
CIA as a surveillance machine. So, yesterday, he worked
at the Naval Observatory. So yesterday I was over there and
they told me the following story. When he was in– my aunt
died in the early ’50s. And sometime in the mid ’50s,
he decided it was time for him to get his Nobel Prize, so he
went to Stockholm to claim it. And the university there was very
kind to him and an astronomer there who did know who he was, set up a
thing where he could talk to a group like this, and he did
give this talk. But unfortunately, he seemed
not to be able to get that– extract that Nobel Prize from them. And so, he decided to go back again. So two years later,
he went back again. And that the astronomer, you know, a man whose kindness is probably
legendary, couldn’t get any of his fellow astronomers to
come and listen to the sky, give the talk anymore,
and so he rounded up all of the janitorial staff
at the university. [ Laughter ]>>And he had them sat,
sit through the talk. And so I hope this is
not the janitorials. [ Laughter ]>>I am gonna read, do something I
haven’t done before with this book which is to read from
toward the end. For me, this is a reasonably
well-plotted book. You may have read “Ten
Days in the Hills,” a third of which is graphic sex
and there is no sex in here. So once you leave out the sex, you have to introduce
the plot or a plot. And so at the beginning of
Part 5, there are five parts, and at the beginning of Part 5,
Margaret feels that she has come to understand her husband and to
be able to manage him, you know, fatal mistake as you
ladies must know. And she’s now– she’s now about 55. He is in his late 60s. He seems to have given up his desire to do mortal combat
with Albert Einstein. He seems to have done that,
and to take up other interests. And so, I am going to read a
little bit about what happens then. This is– you have to imagine this
takes place in December of 1937. One day, Margaret came
home from a morning visit to Mrs. Wareham [phonetic]
to find newspapers laid out on the dining room table,
the examiner and the chronicle, the Vallejo paper and
the Sacramento Bee. Andrew was proceeding around
the table reading every word about an unfortunate
incident outside of Nanking. The incident looked quite
straightforward to Margaret. The Japanese Army had taken Nanking which Chiang Kai-shek
had then had to abandon. In the course of these Japanese
plains, sunken American boat because the pilots
didn’t see American flags. Though lots of men were wounded,
only three were killed and most of the sailors were rescued
by nearby British boats. Roosevelt complained and
some admiral apologized. By the next day, the Japanese had
offered to pay for the sinking of the boat and the foreign
minister himself apologized. Andrew decided to go over to
the island, he hadn’t been there in months, and hear what they
were saying in the officer’s club and anywhere else he
could manage to eavesdrop or to get someone into conversation. He was a light with
investigative purpose. Margaret was glad to get
him out of the house. At the end of the week, he even put
in a call to their friend, Pete. Andrew wasn’t the only
person interested, of course. The ladies in Margaret’s
meeting group had talked about the incident for an hour. When he hung up she reported
what they had all agreed upon. But Andrew, when most governments
make a mistake like that, they covered up for weeks and then
go on for more weeks insisting that there was provocation
and then wait to be sued for years after that. “I think this incidence
speaks well of the Japanese.” “Perhaps it does, but
it’s a mystery. The sailors on the boat said that
the flags were completely visible.” “Well, then anyway, it seems
outside your usual area.” “It is an interesting event
in and off itself,” he paused, “and I have been feeling of late that I have let the
world get away from me.” “What did I come across?” He said, “Oh, yes, my bird
list from so long ago. Remember how we walked
about the island and looked at gulls and hawks? I realized that I haven’t
always been a dull boy.” She thought, “Oh, what harm can come
from his getting out of the house and diverting himself with this?” So she said, “It’s worth
looking into them.” She said reassuring things like this
all the time now while she was going about her own business passing
in and out of the room as he was in on her way to the shop or
to weed or to visit somewhere or to coordinating or to work with the AIDS Society
should collect it for. Though her happiness had taken
a little while to set in, she traced it directly to this
house Andrew had purchased. It was pleasant to wake up and
convenient to all of Vallejo and quite suitable
for hosting her share of meeting circles
and get-togethers. After a few days, she quietly put
the newspapers away, and in fact, forgot the whole thing until she ran
in to Mrs. Kimura around Christmas. They talked about Neoko
[phonetic], Mrs. Kimura’s daughter. Margaret asked after Mr. Kimura and
Mrs. Kimura asked after the captain. When Mrs. Kimura declared that she
had just heard from her son, Joe, that morning, Joe had moved
to Japan as a dentist, thinking there would be
more opportunity there, but in the three years since going,
had never made up his mind whether to stay in Japan or to come home. Lester could not make up his
mind, that was the other son. Is that us? Do you hear that? [ Laughter ]>>Les– is there something
we can do here?>>Okay, Lester– Lester could
not make up his mind whether to join his brother
or to continue working for the Pacific Trading Company. Mrs. Kimura, Neoko, Cassandra,
Mrs. Wareham and Margaret had been over the pros and cons
of all the choices. It was one of their standard
topics of conversation. Now, Mrs. Kimura reported that Joe
and two of his friends are planning to go to the US Embassy
in Tokyo before Christmas to leave off a letter of sympathy and also a monetary contribution
toward the medical and dental needs of those wounded aboard
the boat in China. Margaret exclaimed,
“That’s very kind.” Mrs. Kimura said, “Many have done
same thing, wealthy businessmen down to simple schoolgirls. America Ambassador wife
doesn’t have moment to herself from receiving wives
of high families. I admit Joe, not think of this,
but two friend to ask him.” “Even so, they agree
to donate two-week from their employment to this.” She gave Margaret a happy smile,
“And Joe says he found a bride from good family 26-year-old. She has business sewing
western style dress for wealthy Japanese wives.” “Two weeks pay, though. To me I see because of this that
Japanese people will prevail over the warriors of the army. Emperor is being pulled into. He knows that Japanese people
don’t like war in China, but the army foils
their wishes every time. Two-week pay for this is how
much Japanese people want to live in peace.” Later Margaret wished she had not
mentioned this encounter at supper. Andrew was skeptical and Margaret
was rather sharp when she said, “They have been forthcoming,
very forthcoming.” “Well, my dear, there
is literally always more to everything than meets the eye. The eye is a very poor
instrument for seeing anything. Over on the island, they
are very, very suspicious.” “Of what, though?” Her voice was rising. She inhaled deeply. “What did it matter really?” She adopt a neutral
expression, it helped. “Of some slight of hand,
the orange will be pulled out from behind the ear biggest
life, and how did it get there when the magician was
wearing short sleeves?” She laughed. It wasn’t very often the
Andrew made her laugh, and he gave her a gratifying smile. And then the incident of the boat,
the Panei [phonetic] was resolved, and the papers completely
stopped talking about it. Space, Andrew has been talking about cosmology practically
their entire wedding, I mean their entire marriage, but
he seems to have given that up. So, it goes on. Without the universe, the big
house was too small for him, the steep steps too shallow,
the high ceilings too low, the spacious rooms only
a stridor too long. Whatever she was doing, knitting
or reading or cleaning or cooking, there was the constant drum of
footsteps, boot steps, really. So she was happy when he
went out, dressed nicely, always in a suit and
well-shined shoes. He carried a walking stick and
wore hat to keep off the sun. He walked fast and he was
healthy for a man of his age. He would never be mistaken for a
bum or a ne’er-do-well, she thought. It was Officer Napolitano and
Officer Kelly who stopped by one day and told her that once in a
while he would flag someone down driving a car. Once in a greater while, that
person would stop, no doubt thinking that Andrew was an old
man and distressed. Andrew would open the
passenger door and get in telling the driver almost
always a woman to drive him over the causeway to the island
or perhaps somewhere downtown. One poor girl took
him about for an hour and a half while he
did various errands. The girl thought he was lost
and didn’t want to abandon him. The girl didn’t even
know what the Panei was. She thought he was saying Panama. Margaret said, “I thought he
had forgotten about the Panei, but is he in some sort of danger
or is he a danger to other stepping into the street suddenly,
is that the problem?” “Ma’am, it is that he is relentless
in engaging people in conversation. He won’t let them turn
away or refuse to answer. And when they do answer, he hooks
his finger into their button holes and won’t let them get away. When they complain to us,
then they complain to us. Personally, ma’am, I’m afraid
someone is gonna pop him in the nose one day.” “Are his opinions that
controversial?” He said, “Oh no, ma’am,
it’s not that. Here’s an example. He flagged down Officers
Lugano and Moore who brought him here the other day. You were out, ma’am. He sat in the car with one foot
in the street and the door opened for 45 minutes before they
could get rid of him.” Margaret chuckled and said, “They
should have taken him to jail.” “Would that frightened them, ma’am?” Officer Napolitano looked
very earnest and young. She guessed he was about 25 or 26. She shook her head, her tone
still light, “From what you say, he would just engage everyone in
the station in conversation and ask for rides here and there.” “I don’t doubt that, ma’am.” “But do these young women seem
to feel threatened in anyway?” “Oh no ma’am, not in the usual way. They seem to feel that
it is rather like being with an elderly eccentric relative.” “But Captain Early has
old-fashioned courtly manners.” “All of the young ladies
say that, ma’am. But one young woman had a job to get
to and he made her two hours late.” “Oh dear,” they were
smiling but making it clear that this could not go on. She said, “Officer, I do apologize, but my husband is frustrated
in his work.” “Oh, we know that, ma’am. We know that Albert Einstein
has backed him at every turn and now comes to Vallejo
to spy on him.” Actual alarm displaced the
confusion she had been feeling. “Einstein?” “Oh yes, ma’am. He told Officers Lugarno and Moore that he saw Einstein
on Capital Street. He thought maybe Einstein had
come to Vallejo to see him but he wasn’t able to make
himself known to Einstein on that particular occasion.” They all three side
at the same time. Finally, she said,
“I see what you mean, Officer Kelly, I’ll talk to him.” But first she called on
Mrs. Wareham at the hotel. The Warrington was a good business
and a respected establishment. Over the years with her
multitude of borders and guests, many are most of whom are men, Margaret suspected Mrs. Wareham
had seen a great many things. Andrew, as it turned out, came in there everyday
and had a cup of coffee. Mrs. Wareham said, “Margaret, I thought you knew you
were sending him to me? He’s here promptly at 9:30. He gives me your best greetings
and he drinks the cup of coffee with a lump of sugar
and reads his paper. He stays about an hour
and then says goodbye and goes out, rain
or shine, really.” “But haven’t you heard
about his activities?” “Not at all.” She told her friend what the
police told her then said, “Does he talk all the time and make
people discuss the war in China?” “He never says a word
about anything. He just nurses his cup of
coffee and then pays and goes. He always leaves the
girl a nice tip too.” “But what should I do?” “Well, Margaret, first
you must inform him in no uncertain terms what–
that these girls aren’t sailors and he can’t become
endearing their services as he once did those young men. They all did that. It was part of being a captain.” “Well, that’s true. I should’ve remembered that.” “And you must say that it looks
very strange to the police. That will catch his attention. You and I know Captain Early,
he is the reticent of men, but he is very large also.” The thought made her nervous. Mrs. Wareham leaned
toward her and said, “I see you’re shaking your
head as you always do.” Margaret hadn’t realized that
she was shaking her head. She made herself sit still. “For once in your life,
Margaret, you must take charge at the situation, take
charge of him.” I have to say, despite
of her best efforts, Margaret must have
continued to look dismayed. “I mean this kindly, dear. You are who you are.” “Who is that? Who is that?” Margaret found herself saying. There was a long pause that Mrs.
Wareham looked a little embarrassed. She said, “Everyone knows
you’re a good woman, Margaret. Everyone knows that.” It sounded like an insult but
it had the desired effect. That evening she cooked
Andrew’s favorite supper dish and also made a pie since there was
some nice rhubarb in the market. Not quite sure how to approach
her subject, she hummed and hawed about the weather, but
finally she said, “Andrew, I understand you have met
Officer Lugano and Moore of the Vallejo Police Department.”>>”Indeed I have. They were most interested
in my investigations.” “I didn’t know you were
pursuing investigations, Andrew?” “Well, of course I am
into the Panei incident. Surely you haven’t forgotten that.” His tone was affable. “You mean that boat that was sunk in
China, the reparations were paid.” He took a last bite of
liver, sat down his fork, and carefully wiped his
mustache with his napkin. He shook his said, “Yes,
they were, a clever gambit and cheap in the long run.” “Do you think so? Mrs. Kimura told me how generous
the Japanese people have been?” “Yes, yes, no denying that, but
my dear, I am now free to tell you that I have solved the mystery.” “You have?” “Oh yes I have, and I have informed
the Vallejo police of my views and I have sent letters to
the Common down to the Base to the Secretary of State, and
of course, to the New York Times. I mailed them yesterday. I feel that I can talk
more freely about this even to you having committed
my ideas to paper. And certainly I hope,
although I have no assurance, that the Times will
publish my conclusions. I believe that we would all be safer
in the end if they were to do so.” Then they talked a little
bit about the Panei incident and I’m not gonna tell
you about that. And then she listens to
everything he has to say. She’s a little disturbed. And then she says, “Perhaps in order
to change the subject”, she said, “And the police also told
me you’ve seen Einstein.” “Oh yes, indeed twice now.” He seemed happy to talk about it. “He is surprisingly short. He wears glasses and his suit
was rumpled, but of good twill.” He coughed and went on. “He does wear nice shoes. His feet are small. It looked to me like he has
his shoes made in England and his hair isn’t as wild
as it looks in pictures.” She said, “You noticed his shoes? Were you staring at him?” “I am a naturally observant person.” “I’ve never seen him in
glasses in the newspaper.” “That surprised me too. He looks older than he is.” “He must be 60.” “He looks 70 if a day.” “Maybe it wasn’t Einstein?” “Maybe, indeed.” She ventured, “Why do
you think he’s here?” “I have thought the first time
that he was here to see me. And I was prepared to extend
the aisle of branch, I must say, but I am more suspicious now. I’m glad I did not reveal myself to him the first time
as I had thought to do.” She got up without
saying anything and began to clear the dishes from the table. How to proceed was a mystery to her. He was evidently delusional about
both the Japanese and Einstein, but also she thought harmless. She took the dishes to the kitchen
and set them beside the sink. When she came back into the
dining room, fortifying herself with thoughts of Mrs. Wareham’s very
earnest instructions, she sat down, not across from Andrew,
but beside him, and she put her hand on his knee. She leaned forward
and said, “Andrew, I am sure that those whom you
contacted will read your letters with utmost interest and respect, and I hope that when
you conclude it, what you’ve concluded shows
them what they must do. But at the same time, the
policeman here today told me that you have been waving down
automobiles and then getting in and telling the drivers that they
must take you here and there.” “Young people don’t mind.” “Maybe not, but if these
young people are young girls, I am absolutely certain that their
parents would object to you– what was the phrase here– diverting
them from their regular business. If you want to get around,
you have to use the street car or I will drive you myself.” “My dear, what I need to do is not
always systematic or well-organized, I am led here and there
by my investigations.” “But your investigations
seemed to be over in part.” “The police made it clear to
me,” here she caught his gaze and held it, “You must not
impose yourself upon any women. You must not. Doing so after the
police have asked you to stop could seriously
compromise your reputation in Vallejo and on the island.” He looked genuinely startled, and
said, “I hadn’t thought of that. I was only– ” “Yes, Andrew, I
am sure you were only thinking of the next step in
your investigation. But it looks different to others.” “People know I’m enthusiastic.” “They do, but not everyone knows you in town the way they
did on the island.” This he seemed to accept. [ Applause ]>>Thank you. I like the questions part, so
jump up, run to the microphones. I’ll answer questions about any
book and most anything else. So, most anything else. Yes?>>I wanted to tell you how
very much I enjoyed your book “A Thousand Acres.” I was really inspired
especially by the writing style in the first part scenario
which I really love. And it was because of that
inspiration that I decided to throw my own hand
at writing a novel.>>Oh, really?>>And as because of my research, I
wrote a novel about George Gershwin. I discovered that you
were born on his birthday.>>I was, tomorrow.>>Yes, tomorrow. So, I like to wish you a happy–>>T.S. Eliot has joined us also.>>Oh, okay, okay. Anyway, I was wondering sometimes
it seems as if really people who are well established as writers like you are really wouldn’t
know an answer to this question, but I’m gonna ask it anyway,
what should a person do who believes they have
written a really good novel but they just can’t find an agent
and they’ve tried very hard? >>I don’t know. [ Laughter ]>>One of the problems is that
if you’re starting out and you’re in a school or a program,
then it’s easier to network and get connected to
somebody like that. And so, one of the things I
always advice writers that no of what ever age is don’t hesitate
to join a program, don’t hesitate to join a writing group, don’t
hesitate to join a book group. Networking is really important,
and you know, in the old days, and I mean the real old days before
me, you really had to go somewhere like New York to get connected. But that’s not true anymore. There are– universities
have programs, universities have summer programs,
people teach in those programs. What you really want to do is for
someone to read your manuscript or part of it, and say, “Oh, this
is interesting, I’m gonna show it to my friends so and so,” and to
me that’s probably a better way. But my caveat is, we don’t know
what publishing is gonna be like even in two years. And so, maybe the better way is
to publish it yourself online. I have a friend who has a website
and he started publishing his novel on his website, you know, say a
thousand or 2,000 words at a time, and pretty soon he had
quite a few readers. So, in some ways your question
is less answerable today than it was 10 years ago. And I’m sorry I can’t be more help. Yes?>>I just wanted to thank you
for writing “Duplicate Keys.”>>Oh, thanks.>>I’m a librarian and I have
been reading that book on and off for about 10 years.>>Really?>>So, and I’m just always find–>>That’s one of the obscure ones. I’m glad you like it.>>I just love it. And I had no idea that you are gonna
be here until yesterday when I got to my parent’s house and opened the
program, and I thought, “Oh, my God, I should have brought my
copy of Duplicate Keys.”>>Duplicate Keys is a
murder mystery that I wrote as about my third novel and
takes place in Manhattan. And my boyfriend, for a
while before that time, was an inspiring singer songwriter. And after we broke up, I
split myself into two girls – one of whom was a sap and one of
whom was really mad, and I split him into two guys, one of whom
was pretty nice and one of whom was pretty nasty. And then my mad self
killed both of his selves. [ Laughter ]>>But then he– then he
came back into my life and we’ve got married
and fathered a son. It’s very nice. And so, so we actually got in a
long great mess, so, you never know. You never know. Yes?>>In regard to your
earlier comment, can you put too much
sex in your book?>>It depends on who the reader is. If the reader is a member of
your family, absolutely yes. No member of my family has
admitted to reading that book, has admitted to getting past page 5. And– but, you know, I
wouldn’t have read it either if my relative had written it. So, you know, I did that
for several reasons. And actually “Ten Days in the
Hills” was one of my favorite books. And the official reason is that
it was based in “The Decameron.” Boccaccio had a lot of–
someone calling me– oh Boccaccio had a lot
of sex in “The Decameron” which was written in about 1350. And it was also based in Hollywood. But it was also something
that I as a writer and as a woman wanted to try. And I wanted to try a
new thing with the sex, which was I wanted the reader
reading the book to come to the sex and pause and think the usual
pornographic thought and then think, “No, I wanna see what
happens and turn the page.” So that was my challenge. I wanted the reader to keep reading
no matter how hot the sex got. And it was a lot of fun for me,
but I think it was an iffy aspect of the book for many
readers’ point of view.>>Thank you.>>I’m delighted you’re
in Washington.>>Thank you.>>Whenever your name comes up
with friends who love to read, I mention your initial
book of short stories. I’ve loved your short stories. I love the way you talked about Midwestern weather
and driving through it. I loved Kirby [phonetic] all those–>>Oh, thanks.>>And yeah, and also your
description of children. You have a way of seeing
into their darker side.>>Well, I really– I wrote about
my children very tentatively when I was– when they
were my children. But my favorite thing whenever I
wrote about any of the kids had to do with a sleep over
where some kids came over. And I think they were
all 7or 8 maybe. And one of them woke up and
wanted to be read to sleep. And my husband was up. He was always up late
at night, and he said, “Well, what should I read you?” And she said, “TV Guide.” And so, he sat down next to where
she was sleeping and she laid back and he read aloud from the TV Guide. And I thought, I got
to put this in a story.>>Well, I did not refer–
I’m sorry if it sounded like, to your children, but the
children that you create such in-depth personalities
in those short stories.>>Oh thanks. Thank you.>>I thought they– I
saw a real gift there. Thanks.>>Thank you.>>Hi!>>Hi!>>I was wondering what you
thought about something– I had known you are a book critic which is fantastic ’cause
you’re also such a great–>>Well, I’m a reviewer. I don’t consider myself a critic. I consider myself a reviewer, yeah.>>Cool. Well, recently with the
release of Jonathan Franzen’s novel, “Freedom,” there’s been a–>>Is he around?>>I doubt it. There’s been kind of a
renewed kerfuffle about the way in which women’s literary
fiction is treated differently than men’s literary fiction. And since you’ve been a writer
for so long and a book critic, I wondered if you’ve felt that
that was maybe just an artificial distinction now or if
that was still a challenge for serious female writers.>>It’s not the most
important challenge. So, go for it.>>Oh, I wasn’t worried
about it on a personal level.>>Okay, alright. Here is– the main thing I know
about this is that a few years ago when the New York Times did a
survey of authors critic scholars about the best book of the last
25 years, I was asked along with Michael Cunningham and a couple
of– and a scholar and a critic and maybe one other person
to blog about the results. The results were Tony Morrison
was number one, it was all men until number 11 and that was “Home”,
what’s her name, Marilyn Robinson. Women– very few women. So, I called Greg Cowles,
and I said, “Okay, Greg, tell me about the process
of picking this?” And he said, “Well, we
send out 300 requests to prominent literary types.” And I said, “Okay,
how many came back?” He said, “From the men, almost all of them came back,
from the women, no.” So 70 percent of everything that
came back, 69 percent was from men, 31 percent was from women. I said, “How did they choose? Or how did they vote?” He said, “All the men voted for men. The women voted for
half women, half men.” And I thought that
was really revealing, because to me what
the women were saying by not voting was this is
a meaningless exercise, that there is no such thing in the
world of literature as the greatest. I mean are you gonna
say if you have– I mean I picked three books I
really love, “The Good Soldier”, “Anna Karenina,” “Emma,” and
then a fourth modern one, “The War of the End of the
World” by Mario Vargas Llosa. These books are not comparable. You cannot say one is
greater than the other. You could say one is fuller
or one is more perfect, but thus characteristics
aren’t gonna apply uniformly to these books. So that’s why I thought maybe
the women didn’t participate. But the other thing I
thought was okay, girls, if you want to be considered great,
you have to step up to the plate and play the game ’cause the
game isn’t going away, you know. I sent mine in. I think I’m asked to
pick “Beloved”, you know. But as I said in my blog or my part
of the blog, I’m gonna learn now from Philip Roth, I’m
gonna pick me next time. [ Laughter ] [ Applause ]>>It’s not second grade anymore. You know, you can vote for yourself. So, so anyway, that’s one
of the things I learned. Concerning Jonathan
Franzen’s book, you know, I think this is a glancing blow
that happened to land on him.>>Oh, well, I don’t think
anything to do with him.>>No, I don’t think so. But it’s a good thing to talk about. And plenty of people are
happy to talk about it.>>Thank you.>>Sure.>>Hi, there. So when you’re working on a book,
how do you decide when to start? How do you decide when,
okay, this book is finished?>>It really varies
from book to book. This book went through
a lot of drafts. And I decided that we were in
the last draft when I showed it to my bookkeepers’ book group. And they had maybe 10
extremely specific things that they thought were
missing or needed to be fixed. And I fixed them and I
fixed them in a way actually that they had hoped
I would fix them, and then I decided it was finished. “A Thousand Acres”, I just
went until I was exhausted. I said, “I can’t go no more,” and
I decided it was finished then. But the “Greenlanders”,
I decided it was finished when I got to the last line. You know, there’s something
about books that seemed to be– some books seemed to be given to
you from outside, and they just come in a rush, can you imagine
that book came in a rush? But they come in a rush and they
have a kind of energetic integrity to themselves, and you know, you can
fettle and you know you can fix this and fix that, but it is of a piece, it came to of a piece
and that there you go. So for me, it’s always– it’s
always something different. I don’t like to write too many
drafts ’cause I get really confused about what’s in and what’s
not in various drafts. So, three is optimum
for me, two or three. Anyone else? Here’s one. Here’s one now.>>I’m wondering what contemporary
authors you like read, novelists.>>What contemporary
novelists I like to read? Oh, goodness.>>You know, I have to say that
I’m always either doing research or reviewing. And so the contemporary novelists that I read are generally
ones that I’m reviewing. I reviewed Gary Shteyngart’s
new book and I thought it was
hilarious and I enjoyed it. I reviewed Lydia Davis’ new
translation of Madame Bovary and it’s good enough that it is new. I really, really thought
it was great, and you know, even if you’ve read Madame Bovary in translations seven
times, this is a good one. I really enjoyed “The Slap”
which is an Australian book that won the Commonwealth
Prize and it’s up for the booker, wonderful book. And they sure are different in
Australia than they are here. So, those are three
that come to mind. >>You alluded earlier to the
changing nature of publishing.>>Yeah.>>Do you have a crystal ball?>>Nope.>>What does it mean to– if you’ve
been starting out, at this point, and young authors at this point seem
to be facing incredible pressure to do extremely well
with their first books if they’re gonna have a second book.>>Yeah.>>So where you do think–
where do you think we’re headed and what does it mean
for young authors?>>Well, my daughter
is a young author. And, you know, I think
her choice is to just keep at it and hope for the best. To me, there’ll always be a
market for narrative whether it’s in the shape of a book,
whether it will be published by a publishing company, I
don’t know, but is the appetite for lengthy narrative really
gonna go away, I don’t think so. Janet Evanovich just got 40 million
dollars for her next 10 books or whatever it was, I
don’t know how many it was. So obviously, there’s faith in her. Is their faith in the literary ones? Doesn’t seem to be. Why is that? Don’t know. So, I’ve been thinking
lately about– I love the Icelandic Sagas
which are wonderful narratives. But sometime in the late 15th
century, they stopped writing sagas and they began going to more
poetry song folk-tale type thing. Why was that? Was it a technological thing? Was it just an exhaustion
of taste about the sagas? I don’t know. But, you know, I have faith
that things come and go. And that the novel is of too
much interest to be superseded. You know, Henry James suddenly
done away with Charles Dickens. Virginia Woolf thought she’d
done away with Henry James. You know, so maybe there are those that they are thinking
they’re doing away with me, but only future generations
will be able to say.>>I hope you’re right. Thank you.>>Yeah?>>Can you tell us what the next
Jane Smiley novel will be about?>>Well, I have two books
coming out this month. One is the second volume of
“The Georges and the Jewels”. One is the second volume of this
series of horse– girls horse books. So, the second volume is
called “The Good Horse.” That will be out at
the end of the month. And then I wrote a nonfiction book
about the invention of the computer which is way more interesting
than you ever realized. It is full of characters. It is full of drama. It is full of kind of
amazingly weird stuff happening, amazing coincidences. And it doesn’t seem that it was
inevitable at all that the computer as we know it was going
to be invented. And it’s a really interesting story. So that book is gonna be out in
the next couple of weeks also. And after that, just wait and see. I think that’s all. Thank you for having me. [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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