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Andrew Sean Greer: 2018 National Book Festival

Andrew Sean Greer: 2018 National Book Festival


>>Peter Vankevich:
Welcome this afternoon. This has been a wonderful day
for the fiction stage here. I just do want to
introduce Roswell Encina, who’s Communications Officer
at the Library of Congress. That sound like one of the best
jobs in the district here, so. And welcome and we’ll go
ahead and let you two proceed. Thank you.>>Roswell Encina:
Thank you, Peter. Let’s give Peter a
round of applause. He’s been the longest volunteer
for all book festivals, so we’re proud to have him. And I want to welcome everyone
to the National Book Festival on behalf of the Librarian
of Congress, Carla Hayden. She welcomes everyone. It’s been exciting day. I know many of you have
been falling inline outside. We appreciate your patience. But this is one of our
biggest events that we do here at the library not only
here in Washington, but to all the people who
are watching online as well. If you’re tweeting
or instagramming, please use our hashtag at, you
know, #natbookfest and we hope, you know, we’ll follow
you around as well. So, I’m not going to go on and
on about this introduction. The first time I heard
about Andrew was about maybe like 14 years ago, when
the today show picked “The Confessions of Max Tivoli”. I still have my copy
here actually, as their book selection
for that month. I don’t think they even
do the book club anymore. But I think I remember reading
this entire book in one weekend and going like who is
this Andrew Sean Greer, like he’s definitely
going to make a mark. Fast forward to 2018,
earlier this year when he wins the Pulitzer
for fiction for his book, “Less” that everybody
has been raving about. [ Cheering and Applause ] Which clearly leads us to today. So please welcome to the National Book Festival
Pulitzer Prize Winner, Andrew Sean Greer. [ Applause ] And I’m not sure if you guys
can see it, I think we have like matching shoes on too,
some to think about it.>>Andrew Sean Greer: And
pants further right down.>>Roswell Encina: We
didn’t plan it, so. Now, people don’t know
here that you’re kind of like a Washingtonian. You used to work at
Politics and Prose.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Yeah, I did. Yeah. [ Applause ] Back when they were on the
other side of the street, if anyone remembers that. Someone must. Where they box up the books, all the customers helped
them moved to the other side. Yeah.>>Roswell Encina: So make
sure you go and buy a book from Politics and Prose and
get it signed up afterward, so.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah.>>Roswell Encina: Let’s
talk about the book. The reviews for it have been
like ridiculously amazing. So, because I work for
the Library of Congress, I feel like I need
to quote a librarian. During Nancy Pearl’s interview
with you, she says, it’s funny, tender, meaningful and he
hits all the right notes. And in the interview,
your jaw dropped, how were you thinking all
these excellent reviews?>>Andrew Sean Greer: Well,
I’ve given instructions to my publisher and
my husband only to show me the good reviewers. So, I– for me, it always just– it feels like I miss America
every day and I don’t see– I’m not aware of any
other ones though.>>Roswell Encina:
Well, here’s– just a couple weeks ago,
I think you retweeted this and it made me chuckle
a little bit. I don’t know who this woman is, but her tweet is
at Marieke Hardy. “I just finished a Greer’s
exquisite masterpiece less. And if I ever meet him,
I fear I may just fall into his arms and weep.”>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Is she here?>>Roswell Encina: This
is your chance, Marieke. I mean, this is crazy. Most people like when
you win the Pulitzer, it’s always some
tragic or, you know, a book that’s this thick
but this is a comedy.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
I think somehow– and it made people giddy
online, you know, that that– and also other writers
who I talked to got– there were sort of like a
wicked chuckle about it because, of course, we enjoy
writing all kinds of work and then somehow I think a
lot of writers are afraid that they’re going
to get smashed if they do something
funny or satirical about the same material that they’re not taking
it seriously enough.>>Roswell Encina: Wow.>>Andrew Sean Greer: But–>>Roswell Encina: Now,
let’s get to the book. I should say I’m a man heading
certain age, I’m not proud of it but it’s happening.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Be proud of it.>>Roswell Encina: But I can
relate to a lot of the stuff that was happening in the book. There’s this one line,
I’ve got to read it. So I’m sorry. Yes, I don’t over prepare.>>Andrew Sean Greer: I told
him not to over prepare. The rainbow flag
of tags on this.>>Roswell Encina: There’s this
one line in the book, it says, “Strange to be almost 50. No. I feel like I just
understood how to be young. Yes, it’s like the last
day in a foreign country. He finally figured out where
to get coffee and drinks and a good steak and
then you have to leave and you won’t ever be back.” Is that how it is?>>Andrew Sean Greer: A
little poignant too, right? It says that– Well, I’m
only 47 so I have no idea. But most of my friends are
older than me up into their 60s and things and so I’ve
watched everyone– or 90s in crossover a
different thresholds of age and they’ve consistently
given me the advice of like what the hell
are you worrying about, enjoy yourself right now. You’ve got five good years left. But then they say that they’ve
been saying that a whole time as they got 50 and
60 and then older and then I get the impression like you always have
five good years left until you suddenly don’t. But it is on my mind. And, in fact, when I was writing
“The Confessions of Max Tivoli”, which is about a man aging
backwards and where– well, as mind goes
forward, I was turning 30 and I was worried about. It’s adorable now. It was about a body getting old,
you know, that kind of thing. So this is me in
preparation for the end.>>Roswell Encina: Now
despite– I’m hitting there too. So, despite the book
being very funny, I think it’s still very sad. Was this meant to be a
comedy or was it ever– did you go through a journey
for it to be a comedy?>>Andrew Sean Greer: Well, I
bet you know the answer to this, which is that it was– I
actually work on it for year as a wistful poignant novel
about a man approaching 50 and it has the same
characters in it. And it has about four pages
left of the original draft. And I really struggled
with it the whole time. I wasn’t happy. And I didn’t know what
I was going to do. And– because I couldn’t
feel sorry for him, you know. It just didn’t– It’s
too much like me. And also in the present day in
age, like maybe in 15 years ago, I could have written a book about like a middle age
white man fairly well to do and been like, oh
what a hard life. But right now, just
doesn’t feeling that way. So I couldn’t feel like his
problems were that solid. So it occurred to me one
day that while swimming in the San Francisco
Bay, that, yeah, I should just make
it a comedy instead. And I threw everything
away except three pages. And I made it the same
problems but made fun of them as being not really
worth worrying about. And I had such a good time
ridiculing someone like myself but not entirely like myself,
so that I could use a lot of things finally
in my life and– and you know what also help me
every day because I would try to think of like– I
would sit in my chair and I think what is the
most humiliating thing that is ever happen
to you, Andy. And how could you make it funny. And it was a great
way to get over it. And every– the minor
humiliations of the day where you trip over something
in the sidewalk and you try to pretend you were doing a
wild dance in the sidewalk kind of thing, I would take
notes on all of those and it would make
the day a lot easier. I wouldn’t immediately
think it was funny, but a few hours later, when you
meet your friends for drinks and they say how is your day, then I would tell
them this funny story. And I realized I have
friends, so I think, why do funny things
happen to them all the time and I realize they don’t,
they’ve just figured out through I think sadness
that they can’t bear to tell it as a sad story and they’re
always making it a funny story and those people are usually the
professional comedians I know, are pretty sensitive
to sad things and they just turn around.>>Roswell Encina: You mentioned
a middle age white man. There’s a part in a book
that talks about the other, the book– within
the book, swift.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah.>>Roswell Encina: That a middle
age white man is not really sympathetic and I feel the
same way towards Arthur and like am I suppose to like
him or am I suppose to hate him because I’m a little
jealous of him that everything kind
of came easy for him. He may be– you know,
he dated someone who was clearly very
successful and was well-known, then everything just kind of
went very nicely from there. Is that supposed how
it’s supposed to be? I mean, are we supposed
to like him or hate him?>>Andrew Sean Greer: I
think you’re supposed to– in fact, when I come
across reviews on Twitter that say something like I didn’t
think I was going to like, oh, Roxane Gay is on– review
on Goodreads was great. She said, “I didn’t want to like
this book at all for all kinds of ridiculous reasons but I
just couldn’t help myself.” And I was like that’s
exactly what I wanted in a way I wanted you
to understand like– to like enjoy his
minor suffering and then eventually
come around and be like, well I hope it turns out OK.>>Roswell Encina: I think
I’ve got another passage that’s connected to this,
which I think is kind of describes my feelings
about Arthur. And I guess everybody
else was too about if we should hate
him or dislike him. Here it is, it says, “What
if it isn’t even sad? For a moment, his entire
novel reveals to himself like those shimmering
castles that appear to men crawling through
the desert.” And that’s when he realizes that
Swift is not really a person that you want him to be.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah, that
you could– and because, I mean, you spend a lot of time in
his head and when you do that as a writer it means
that characters going to seem self-centered
and neurotic and– if you like spending time with
the character, you never thinks about anything but just
thinks action, right? And like Hamlet, you’re like, oh
my god, just kill him or move. Yes, so I was– that
was my game.>>Roswell Encina: Arthur was
accused of being a bad gay, too. I mean, maybe some of us
could relate to that but was that from any personal
experience as– have you been accused of being
a bad gay, have you seen people that you think are bad gay men?>>Andrew Sean Greer: I would
never– maybe some politicians. But it’s not for me to say, because what the hell
would that even mean. No one has said that to me. But except the person in my head
who tells me that I’m a bad gay for not writing books that are about the gay experience
completely. Like before this book, there
was always been a gay character on this as a side character
and that I would be– I think I told myself
I was a bad gay for not making like
a big gay book. And I– and maybe I am,
but I couldn’t do it like I couldn’t figure it out without being the wistful
point itself [inaudible] book that I was almost going
to write for this one until I turned it around. And, you know, I tell
my students I don’t– I teach sometimes and I think
the first day I tell them and that’s usually a
diverse crowd of people, which is wonderful and
I say I know there’s like a middle age white guy
up here again teaching you about writing and I know
what you’re thinking. And I say, I think all of
us come from a community that we want to speak
for, and that we’re going to have a conflict in
our writing that we want to celebrate and tell the
stories of that community and then we also want to
tell the truth about it which will sometimes be at
odds with that community and the myth it has for itself
and wanting to celebrate it but also make it real and human,
you’re going to have to figure out some middle ground
and you’re going to let somebody down somewhere. And you’re going to each have to
make your own choice about that and I tell them the kind
of choices that I’ve made. So, I’m sure I let
somebody down to this book but I hope they’re
not in this audience.>>Roswell Encina: You
brought up a good point though, because many books that have a
central character who is gay, it’s either– there’s always
something tragic that’s going to happen like– I mean,
from “A Little Life” to “Brokeback Mountain” to that
new book, “The Immortalists”, always something awful
happens to these people. But there’s this– including
last but like “Call Me By Your Name” and the
“Love, Simon” book, they’re all just cheerful happy
books that I think no matter if you’re gay or
straight, you can relate to because the central
theme is love. Is that how you look at it?>>Andrew Sean Greer: I have
nothing else to say to that. That seems wonderful. But here’s something else
I have to say about it, which is that when after
I won the Pulitzer Prize– [ Laughter ] [ Applause ] — I was– I tried to
start every sentence like. I think I have one more
month of getting to do that. And I was– I had a
job, I was working at– I was the director of “A
Writers Retreat” in Tuscany. I have a very hard life. It was stranger than you think. And there was a great writer
there, Terry Tempest Williams, who’s a wonderful nonfiction
writer and naturalist and wise person and strategist
at Harvard Divinity School and I asked her why I should
wear to this ceremony. And I was looking online
at things I was going to get on the reelreal.com. And she’s– And I was like I think I should wear
something very sober and serious because it’s such
a grand occasion. And she said, oh no, no. When people in the
world– I’m trying to say, when people tell you that you
don’t count as a human being and that your celebrations
aren’t real and aren’t valid, sometimes the greatest
protest you can do is a defiant expression of joy
by the red suit. [ Laughter ] And I thought, well, I think
she was– I think in the book, that was me being a good gay was to have the book be a
defiant expression of joy. And I wore a red suit. You can see on Instagram.>>Roswell Encina: I
remember the tweets.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
It’s really bright. Vulgar.>>Roswell Encina: Now,
after reading this book, I guess the central
theme is, you know, Arthur accepts all
these invitations that go around the world. When was the last time we did
something absurd or last minute or spontaneous or
as crazy as that?>>Andrew Sean Greer: A few
months ago, or in March. I– Departures magazine
asked me if I could go– it’s like dinosaur
attack, right? Jurassic Park 7. Book festival, something, oh
my gosh, it’s really dramatic. I’m going to try to talk over
it or work it into my story. It was something else, super
glamorous, it was like, we want someone to
go to the Swiss Alps and write about spas there. And I said I have a job. Like, I mean, I’m in
Italy but I can’t leave. I mean, I can go away for
three days and they said, OK, three days, can you
force bus in three days? And I’m like, well,
who couldn’t? Well, I couldn’t because it
involved driving a four-wheel drive car over the
alps like over glaciers where people were
skiing and I would like leave a place
in the morning. I was like, I’m sorry
I have to get a massage on the mountain like, two, I
would go as like I can’t talk to you, I have to
get the massage. I get the massage, I would sit
in the sauna for long enough to be able to write about,
I mean like I have to drive to the next massage and– which
is four hours away and I did that for three days
and it was ridiculous. But also, of course,
like luxurious.>>Roswell Encina: Aha.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
So you can’t complain but you can make fun of yourself
for thinking that was relaxing.>>Roswell Encina: How fun was
it doing research on this book? Did you have to go to
each of those countries to experience everything so
you could cram it all in there?>>Andrew Sean Greer:
I mean, I did. It was– half of– I was
trying to make money, and so I was pitching ideas to travel magazines
and food magazines. And I was the guy who didn’t
have like children or a job so like I was available
to go to Japan for– I was there for four days. And, you know, I was a couple
trips in before I realize that I wanted to put all
of these into my book because I’m an anxious
person, I would take notes. If you’re alone by yourself,
you just sort of take– I just sit and take
notes in a restaurant. You’re there for two hours. So, you know, I’m not on
my phone taking notes. And I made– and then
I realized I was going to use all these stuff and then
I had to start pitching ideas where I wanted to go, you know. Japan was when I had pitched,
because I’d thought I mean if you go there and I needed
to go India which is hard to get to, and I forget
where I was going with this. It was great. I needed the dinosaur. Oh, I made– I have two rules
for myself in writing the book. One was that I could not
put in any physical detail that I had not written
down in my notes. So, I– so, none of the
characters are true in the book and those things didn’t
happen, but every little rock and like tree and
everything was real. I took down in my– it’s
because I didn’t want to write like a fantasy over foreign
country and get caught up in any cliches
or stereotypes. I wanted to write down only
what was actually there. And the second one was that the
joke always had to be on Arthur. I couldn’t make fun of
the country he’s visiting because I discovered, of
course, going to these places that every one there, everything
was running perfectly fine. I was the thing that
was wrong, you know. If I couldn’t catch the bus, it was because I hadn’t
figured it out the system. That because the
system was crazy. And that’s easy to do.>>Roswell Encina: It’s
such a good point here. How much of your personal
life are in your books? I mean, are you more
like Arthur? Are you more like Carlos? I think everybody has a Carlos
in their life, you know. Or more of a Freddie
or [inaudible], so.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Oh my word? Well, I think most writers
would say, no, all part of me. But this, book, I am a lot
like Arthur because I have to really admit even I have
a bright blue suit myself.>>Roswell Encina: And you wore
that in your PBS interview.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah, I
wore it to my PBS interview. I would have brought it
here but it’s really warm. It was supposed to be
a summer white suit but it’s really,
really warm, so.>>Roswell Encina:
Any inspiration from the other people, the
other characters in your books from any other people?>>Andrew Sean Greer: Some are
real and some are not at all. And I hope you can’t
tell the difference. My husband can’t. He got very jealous of Javier. And I’m like, it’s not a
real person, it’s not real, like it’s a complete invention, and like he didn’t notice the
real people in the book at all. But like some people did because
I will borrow like a dress from a friend of mine and put
it in on the character, Zora. She’s dressed just
like a friend of mine. But she’s not like
her any other way, but my friend recognized
the dress and she said– thank me for putting
her in the book. But it’s not her, I know–
my mom always thinks it’s her if there’s a mom in the book.>>Roswell Encina: There is
a conundrum here in the book that I guess faces a
lot of generation X game that is the first time we
don’t know what the future is because I guess the
generation before us it’s when the AIDS epidemic
hit, so we don’t know what to do when we get old. And you confronted this and I
haven’t even thought about it until I read it on the book. Where did that come from? I mean, I feel like it is very
true and it’s very relatable. But what do we do? How do we get old?>>Andrew Sean Greer: I
don’t know where it came. I was something I had
been thinking about. When the serious
version of the book, that’s what I really
thought about of– I certainly have older
male friends with HIV who sort of survived that. They’re doing great,
young friends with HIV. But, you know, we
live through a time where we watch a generation
died tens of thousands of men. And those men were the first
men who were out and proud in the world and making art
and, of course, that’s all, that’s all lost, so we never
got to see tons of men get old. And I guess dignified is
what we’re supposed to get. I’m not sure, because it’s– I
guess we should get dignified.>>Roswell Encina: Yeah.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
I started to try to buy clothes that
aren’t as tight. [ Laughter ] These pants aren’t
a very good example.>>Roswell Encina: Yeah. There’s a line here that says, Arthur Less is the first
ever homosexual to grow old.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
See, it’s overstated. Humor, yeah.>>Roswell Encina: He’s never
seen any gay man age past 50, none except Robert. He met them all at 40 or so but never saw them
make it much beyond. They died of AIDS,
that generation, lest, this generation almost
often feels like the first to explore the land beyond 50. How are they meant to do it? I think we’re all trying
to answer that question.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Well, what do you think? What your plan?>>Roswell Encina:
I don’t know either. Actually, I may have to go
on a trip around the world.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Trip around the world.>>Roswell Encina:
And discover myself.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah. I mean it’s– one good thing about being our generation is
I think we came out at a time where we were– had
to like make sac– real sacrifices to come out and
the sacrifice would be like, I guess I’m just
going to be myself. And so that seems
like a good pattern to go forward is to–
I mean watch out. I would be more and more
myself as I get older. Not to become conservative in
some way and fade in because that was never what
we were ever doing. But I don’t know what
that would look like. I mean it’s– it was– I
think it was a political plan to be defiantly joyous,
you know, in the face of– I remember marching on
Washington in the AIDS epidemic, and our signs were–
everyone was like, like people wearing dragon, you
would have signs that would say, you know, high heels not
tank wheels, you know, stop the Gulf War kind of thing like we were funnier
than everyone else. And that’s still my plan like
I don’t know if that’s going to work but it’s all I’ve got. You know, that’s what I
learned in those battles was to like dress brightly and
like kiss openly and be funny and unapologetic, but
be kind and empathetic. That’s my plan.>>Roswell Encina: I may
have to acknowledge it.>>Andrew Sean Greer: See? Look at the shirt. Look, this is how
it’s going, right? [ Applause ]>>Roswell Encina:
Should be more opposite in my white t-shirt. I heard somebody say this
like the past couple months that this is like a
man’s “Eat, Pray, Love”. Do you agree with
that assessment?>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Oh, eat, gay, love.>>Roswell Encina: I
don’t agree, right? But I want to see if
you’d think about it.>>Andrew Sean Greer: I
haven’t read “Eat, Pray, Love”, so I don’t know. But I specifically
like he goes to India but he does not have a spiritual
experience of any kind. And I spec– in fact, I
specifically– he gets himself, he thinks he’s going
to have this amazing like spiritual Indian
experience, but he books himself into a loser and retreat scent. [ Laughter ] So he doesn’t– but, you
know, come across the– his sort of stereotype
of what it’s going to be. He has a different experience. You know, I did that
specifically so that he wouldn’t
have a spiritual moment. It’s just him facing
himself, so. But I guess there must be
like an emotional resolution at the end and I guess, love. There’s no eating to speak of.>>Roswell Encina: Well,
he ate in Japan a lot.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Yeah, but that’s the end.>>Roswell Encina: Yeah.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
That’s like love–>>Roswell Encina: Yeah.>>Andrew Sean Greer: — love-eat, love-eat,
love-eat, love-eat. [ Laughter ]>>Roswell Encina:
Time has a lot to do with a lot of your books. This one’s aging. I guess Max Tivoli is aging-ish. Is that a conscious decision?>>Andrew Sean Greer: I remember
sitting next to him on a plane like 10 years ago or something
and she asked me what– you know, you have
that conversation of like what do you do? I’m a writer. What kind of writer? I’m a novelist. What kind of novels? Fiction. There’s no
other kind of novel. I see how this is going to go. And she’s– And then she said,
well what do you write about? And I said love in
the passage of time. And damn if I wasn’t right, the whole like it’s
been pretty consistent, but I don’t know why. I don’t know. I wish I didn’t think
about that all the time.>>Roswell Encina:
Before we take questions from the audience,
has this been– have you been approached to
turn this book into a movie or like HBO miniseries? It could be like big little lies
like each country is an episode. And have you, do you–>>Andrew Sean Greer: All right,
do you want to produce it–>>Roswell Encina: Well–>>Andrew Sean Greer:
— Roswell?>>Roswell Encina: Produced by
the Library of Congress, yes.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Oh
produced by Library of Congress. I don’t know if I’m allowed
to talk about it right now.>>Roswell Encina: Oh boy. That’s a little hint, right?>>Andrew Sean Greer:
This could be exciting.>>Roswell Encina: Yes.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
If it happens. That’s the thing
about Hollywood like–>>Roswell Encina: Who do yo
picture of playing the roles, like who do you picture
as Arthur?>>Andrew Sean Greer: I’m
not very good at that. I was trying to– like
cast it in my head but just I’m not very
good because you’re like Neil Patrick Harris, right?>>Roswell Encina: Yes.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Seems obvious.>>Roswell Encina: A good friend of mine says, maybe
Jude Law too. Do you agree?>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Oh Jude Law? Sure. But also in my
mind, it was like– why couldn’t Daniel Craig
give it a shot, you know, like cast against type.>>Roswell Encina: I
think Robert could also be like a Richard Chamberlain
from the ’80s too.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Oh that sounds great. I mean I think Robert
is exciting –>>Roswell Encina: “Thorn Birds”
like Richard Chamberlain, so.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
— Thorn Bird, yeah. I haven’t cast it in my head.>>Roswell Encina:
I think I’m over–>>Andrew Sean Greer: Do you have more
casting ideas from you?>>Roswell Encina:
Let me think about it.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
And Fred is like 35 year olds
dark curly hair.>>Roswell Encina: Maybe
the guy from “Entourage”. What’s his name? Adrian– what’s his name?>>Andrew Sean Greer: Great.>>Roswell Encina:
Yes, anyway though. Let’s keep going on. OK. Now have to do questions.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Yeah, any ideas.>>Roswell Encina: We have
two microphones right here to the side. Oh then we’ll keep on
chatting while people are–>>Andrew Sean Greer: Like
come up to the microphones as slowly as you need to.>>Roswell Encina: While
we’re waiting, there– there’s been a lot of
debate about the gay novel. Should it be– should we keep
on calling them a gay novel? Considering I feel like literature we’ve come more
mainstream compared to movies and TV shows that the main
character in books have like for– I’d say for years, there’s always been
a gay character. Should we stop calling them
gay novels or gay books?>>Andrew Sean Greer:
There’s a reader who set main Instagram photo
of her book from the library, “Less” and on the side of it had
a big sticker that said, gay. [ Laughter ] It’s like– like
it needs a sticker. But– and I was– I found myself
really upset because I was like am I in some other
part of the book store? Because in her take
she was like, look at my progressive
book story that labeled the gay
book the way it is. And I wrote back and I said,
just ask them if I’m next to the other Pulitzer
Prize winners. And whatever section there is, I’m assuming they have multiple
copies, you know [applause]. That’s all, because I
think those labels are for librarians to decide. And that– we’re going to– because look some of the
greatest stories are– Andre Aciman is not a gay
man, but he wrote an amazing, I guess gay novel, you know? But what do you call
it at that point? Or like Annie Proulx, we
celebrated here has one of the great gay love stories–>>Roswell Encina: And Albertalli’s
[assumed spelling]– she’s a young woman who
wrote about teenage gay.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah.>>Roswell Encina: OK.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
It’s so– it’s, it’s um– then you don’t really know who
gets to be in that category and I think as long
as– during Prague Week, they get brought out, have
a nice display, MO for that. Then anything could go in
that display that celebrates. And I also– the gay
novel feels old fashion because it focuses
so much on men. And that certainly– I don’t
need to see literally myself in a book to feel moved and
like my experiences being– is being celebrated. So you would want
it to be a book of– that reaches out to people who
feel hidden and not understood and like the story
hasn’t been told. And there’s lots of those, so.>>Roswell Encina:
There’s plenty. Well, speaking of plenty,
we’ve got some questions here.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Oh yeah.>>So spoiler alert, I
want to talk a little bit about the end of the book.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Oh dear, oh no. [ Laughter ] Everyone has read it. Can we do it vaguely? Can we be abstract?>>I will do my best.>>Andrew Sean Greer: OK. Be very–>>I’m gone, I’m done.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Wait, comment? Oh no. Do you want to
whisper it in my ear and I’ll be abstractly
answer it?>>Roswell Encina:
Well, let me– well–>>Andrew Sean Greer: Do you want to know whether I
planned it from the beginning? [Inaudible]. All right.>>Roswell Encina: Let’s
move without giving it away. The narrator here
is the big mystery. Was that a conscious
decision to keep that little mystery going
throughout the book?>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Yeah, it’s actually– I have to give credit to
Vladimir Nabokov for his book “Pnin” which has a
similar device in it. And there’s– it’s–
and other books do that. And I also like that there’s an
old fashion narrator who says I like the first time that
I met the character, which is something like books
a hundred years ago used to do. So there’s this play of this,
there are first person narrator or third person narrator
throughout the book which I think I irritated
some readers initially, but I think they got over it. They’re fine now. Here’s one here. Did that answer your quest–
look, anyway, talk to me later. We should have not booed her. No. Celebrate her,
that was excellent.>>Oh, hi. Oh my god, so I finished “Less” about two weeks ago
and I loved it. And I know that this question
is probably kind of cliché but if I was going to ask
anyone I want to ask you. What advice would you
give to aspiring authors?>>Andrew Sean Greer:
You’re an aspiring author. Oh my gosh, I mean, enjoy
the hell out of it, I think, and trying new things. And I know this sounds
like weird advice, but I don’t think you should
be afraid to mimic things or write fan fiction if that
finds you like in the way that like art students go and they copy Rembrandt
or something. I don’t think you should be
nervous about that as long as you openly say what
you’re sort of learning from. You don’t have to
appear suddenly with your own brand
new voice talking about things no ones
ever talked about before. The way you get there is by
reading a lot is the main thing and a variety of things. And finding the ones
that really respond– you respond to and not the
ones that people tell you to respond to, but the ones
that you really do like I like to take my students,
I give them each a $5 bill, someone like 15 students
but still. And we go to used
bookstore and I tell them to buy a book they solely– that they’ve never heard of
before based on the cover and what they read
and see on the back, something that just calls
to them in some way. And if you do that,
you’ll build some sort of special library,
all your own. And then you’ll end up
sounding like yourself because your influences
would be the ones that you chose for yourself. But mostly, just try
do things all the time. Enjoy yourself, yeah.>>Thank you so much.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah. [ Applause ] Was that too like
dreamy, an answer? I was, no, that’s the answer.>>Your friends at Green
Acres want to say hi.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Sorry?>>Your friends at Green
Acres, do you remember?>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah, of
course, I remember Green Acres.>>So hi.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Well, hi. Oh wait, is it Susan? You’re back. Oh this is, oh my
god, Susan, hi. Wait come up, let
me give you a hug. Oop, uh-oh. She’s my English teacher
from middle school. [ Applause and Cheering ] And she’s talking to my English
teacher from high school, Allison right in the
front row, oh my god. [ Applause ] We’ll get a picture
altogether afterwards. How amazing, I just saw
Allison in New Hampshire and it’s– it was delightful.>>Roswell Encina: Tom Weld
said you can’t go home.>>Just–>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Do I also know you? What’s happening?>>I’m too old. I recently finish reading
“Less” and just before that, I had read a book about the
love life of Gore Vidal. And it was late– there’s
several books I’ve read about Gore Vidal
and by Gore Vidal. And after listening to you, I
have to say, thank goodness, you are not going to
wind up my Gore Vidal.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Because he was so bitter.>>So bitter and sad. And Gore Vidal went though
his life saying he was not gay and then he was infuriated if
he was called a gay novelist. You know, don’t– it
seems like you don’t care if you’re called a gay
novelist, you’re just going to write what you think
is right for you to write. And all I’ve got to say is
that’s the best approach. You won’t wind up old and bitter
and alone like Gore Vidal.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Thank you [applause]. But there’s still time for
me to do that, but I give– for me, I feel like
there was a generation of the great male
writers that were all in competition with each other. And Norman Mailer and
like they all were– they didn’t seem to have
ended up very happy from it.>>No.>>Andrew Sean Greer: And
when I moved to San Francisco, there was a community there
of writers who were open and generous and
didn’t care about rank and it was Amy Tan who’s here
right now, and Armistead Maupin and Michael Chabon and Dave
Eggers and Daniel Handler and Khaled Hosseini who were
all supporting each other. They were not in
competition at all. And that taught me how
writers are supposed to be with one another. And it is how writers– I see
them right now like Min Jin Lee and I have never met but we
talked on Twitter and we were so excited to meet each other
right now because we’re fans of each other, we’re
not in competition because she sells way more
books anyway but like– I would prefer to be in that
world and there must be another, well, but writers
are bitter and angry and I don’t want
to participate in. It doesn’t seem like
it mix with books.>>Thank you.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
They’re better old age. [ Applause ] And someone’s like such a
Pollyanna today, I don’t know, but I’m just– I’m in
a very good mood ever since April, yeah.>>I’m thinking less– about “Less”, but this question
more I think about a story of a marriage and a few
of your other books. But, when you’re writing
from the perspective of a character who’s not
very much like yourself, how do you get into
that mindset? And is that a challenge for you or how do you go
about doing that?>>Andrew Sean Greer: Well,
to me, I feel like it’s my job to write about people
not like myself. It feels like that that fiction
is to try to have empathy for people especially
people you disagree with. But also to represent
other people in the world that you see with diligence. And that means a lot of thought. And one thing you’re touching on is something that’s a touchy
topic right now among novelist which is about representation
of people who are different
racial ethnic groups that like how do we
dare represent them. And I think it’s a conversation
that is not over yet. But, certainly, it calls upon
us to be basically decent people and good writers like you’re
supposed to write real people who come alive on the page and
that the reader connects with and sees their flaws and their
good points like a person. That’s the job as a writer. And so, anyone who just dashes
off like I’m going to put in a sassy drag queen waiter, like you haven’t thought
about long enough. But that’s just your job anyway,
like you should be thinking about the characters
more than the metaphors. But I think it’s sloppy to–
but– so I think really hard. Like this book I really lost
a lot of sleep putting my– sending my character to other
countries, like a lot of sleep. And so I just try to
be really diligent and not making any
character like a throwaway because I wouldn’t want to
have throwaway human being, so I just– anxiety and doubt
helps you make characters maybe. Does that answer it?>>Yeah, yeah.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah.>>Thank you.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Thank you for asking that.>>Alex: Hi. My name is Alex and I also
went to college in Montana and that’s when I was–>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Yeah, where did you go?>>Alex: Montana State.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Awesome.>>Alex: So– yeah, but I spend
a lot of time in Missoula. And it’s not always the
place, we have like a lot of drag branches
or rainbow flags. So I’m wondering if any
of your experiences going to school there made it
into this book, and if not, how living in Montana
kind of impacted you as a developing writer?>>Andrew Sean Greer: This is– No one’s ever asked
me this before. I went to graduate school at
the University of Montana, in Missoula, Montana
for a few years. And it was a great experience. But it was strange. I remember people
would say to me, I’ve never met a
gay person before. What’s it like? [ Laughter ] And I had just move from
the West Village which was at that point, the gay part
of New York and I’m going to be like, what’s it like? I don’t know, it’s great
and terrible and what’s it like for you, and I’m just– yeah, I get different
experience. Or I did– I mean this will
sound familiar that like, you know, like one morning,
I had to word fags keyed in to the front of my car. And more upset than me
were my straight friends who had never seen this before
and like sanded it off all day for me and they were to get
back and I’m like, it’s like, it’s not OK but like
it’s a shitty car anyway. So thank you for
sanding it down. But I had to learn in Montana. You’re not going to believe it
how to butch it up a little bit in like a bar like [inaudible]
bar which was a tough one. And which was funny
to see that I could if I bought the right
clothes, I can totally pass and like play pool and things. And it was interesting to
see that I didn’t have to be in like a bubble of a ghetto
like the West Village was to find people– actually, I was
with other writers and I felt like I had more in
common with them than I did the man I was meeting
in the bars in the West Village. And in Montana, people who were
willing to take me out camping and who were adventurous and
open minded and explorative, and I felt like I
found my people there. Weirdly, even though it
wasn’t easy to be openly gay, it was easy to be yourself
in a different way. So, I loved it. Do you like DC better?>>There’s a lot more men
here, so that’s great.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah.>>Thank you so much.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah,
the food was terrible though, I always hear that, you know. [ Laughter ]>>Roswell Encina: We have
one question on this side.>>Yes, I’m a middle age woman, if I plan to live
to be over a 120.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah!>>So I just want to say that as
an older-than-middle-age black woman, I absolutely
love that book. I loved every moment of it and
there’s a certain universality to it that was wonderful. I read it and I spoke to my
husband who also would have to live to be 140 to
be middle age now. And he was so happy for me. So when I was getting
ready to come today, he was so excited for me. And I just wanted to kind
of share that with you. So that’s my little gift.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Thank you so much. [ Applause ]>>Roswell Encina: Andrew, do you think you could
have read this book like maybe 10 years
ago, 20 years ago or do you think the tone
of the country helps?>>Andrew Sean Greer: Well now, I finished the book
before 2016 but as–>>Roswell Encina: Not
today’s country, yeah.>>Andrew Sean Greer: But that
doesn’t mean I didn’t feel the tone of the country
and I think what– I didn’t know then that
people have told me was that they needed to read
a book that was, I guess, uplifting without lying to
them about the way things are. And I deserve that for myself. And I can’t tell you what it
means to have written something like that and to have
people write me and say, people tell me how humane it is. And I– that’s the best
complement to me when they say that they’ve sort of felt
good about other people. And I don’t really know how
that happens from that book, but I feel like I can
take credit for it. I think people are in such a
bad way right now and what– you pick up the news everyday
and you say, God damn it. That, you could go to
something that feels like maybe reminds you of what
you would really like to be. I don’t know how
to talk about that.>>Roswell Encina: You’ve
got a little life shirt on.>>I sure do.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Oh yeah you do.>>Is that OK?>>Roswell Encina: Oh yes.>>It don’t make
“Less” shirts though.>>Roswell Encina: OK,
we’ll take your question.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
I should do that.>>So I’ve really love
the way the last– the book end especially the
last word of bucket, so smart–>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Don’t give it away though.>>So, I’m not giving– I
didn’t say the word but I wanted to know when in the writing
process you knew how you wanted to end it and how you wanted– the specific words
choices you’ve used for the ending to be used.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Now, this
is a kind of question readers– writers really like and
readers are very bored by which is a technical
question about language because we spent a lot of time
on it and then we spend a lot of time trying for you not to notice we spent
all the time on it. But I will say that
I wanted it to– now it’s going to give
away that I wanted– it won’t give away to
the audience but you– I wanted to joke on the
ending of Joyce’s Ulysses, and the way Molly
Bloom’s speech ends there. And that’s kind of– I based
the rhythm of it all on that. And I thought is
this just too much? Can I really do this? But my editor didn’t stop me
and I’m like, I’m just going to publish it that way. Because I just thought it would
over the top but like knowing that it’s a little
absurd and– why not? Yeah.>>Thank you.>>Rowell Encina: Yeah,
we’ll take this side.>>Hi, I’m a public
librarian locally and I’ve always wanted to– [ Applause and Cheering ] — hope my mother
will be so pleased with this applause right now. I’ve always wanted to
share with an author, you see how your book
sales and everything. But I was lucky enough to pick
up your book right when it came in because I can see
clearly just kind of take it home before
it gets processed.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
You can’t do that.>>But you see your book sales
but I have not seen your book on our shelf and it has over
200 holds on it countywide. We own about a hundred
copies and we keep having to buy more and more and more. We just got our large
type print in– of your book and I don’t
know that you see those–>>Andrew Sean Greer: I haven’t
seen the large type– oh my god.>>It looks the same but bigger.>>Andrew Sean Greer: OK.>>So I don’t know that authors
ever learn that, but it’s you, people who are not
purchasing your book. That is how there still over
200 people on hold for it. So thank you.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Thank you.>>I felt– after reading
your book, it was lovely. But I felt lovely after
finishing your book. So thank you.>>Rowell Encina: Thank you.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Wow, a
librarian, ladies and gentlemen.>>Roswell Encina: We’ll
take one last question.>>Hi, just another
word nerd question. Why did you choose the word– the name “Less” and were there
any other names or adjectives that you had considered
for naming a character?>>Andrew Sean Greer: I never
considered another name for– It was mostly– now it seems
like it’s maybe a little too on the nose but at that
time, it was to remind myself that I was trying to torture the
character and produce his ego and his stature so
I could get him. Because I thought– it’s very
hard to write a funny book about someone except
if you sort of– you have to take everything
away to give it back to them. Because the other thing about a
funny book is, you have to kind of know from the beginning that
it’s going to turn out all right because otherwise it’s
sort of a cruel book. So– And then I just–
the name stuck with me and no one stopped
me so, again, yeah.>>Roswell Encina: We’ll
squeeze in one quick question?>>Hi.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Hi.>>So “Less” was
really enjoyable to read and like many people in the
audience, we want to read more. So are there titles that you
can recommend the same vain as “Less” that are
near and dear to you?>>Andrew Sean Greer: Oh
well, that’s a good question. The same vain gives you the
same kind of feeling like–>>Yes.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Because
there’s other comic novels recently like Paul
Beatty’s the “Sellout”. I think Lorrie Moore who was
here somewhere is the funniest writer I know. Also there are sad funny stories
but she’s a master of them. And I was reading, I think
“Pnin” is funny but it’s cruel. [Inaudible] books
are very funny. Weirdly, I’ve been reading
Graham Greene books recently because on my next
book I’m hoping to make also a comic novel. “Travels with my Aunt”,
I find to be a book that makes me feel really
wonderful about life. And we don’t think of
Graham Greene doing that but I think he did
it in that book.>>Thank you.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Yeah.>>Roswell Encima: I’ll
ask the last question. So, you said you’re 47, any
big plans when you turn 50? A friend of mine gave me
an idea to have a party at different country
or different city for each decade of my life, so.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Oh I thought your friend
had an idea for my party.>>Roswell Encima: Oh yeah. Well, there’s that.>>Andrew Sean Greer: Oh we
could, when do you turn 50?>>Roswell Encima: I don’t want to share it with
like 500 people. Like in two years
when I turn 50.>>Andrew Sean Greer: So close.>>Roswell Encima: Yes.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
Were– it’s very close. I’ve got– don’t know. I’ve been to a lot of
50th birthday parties, and the first friend who’ve–
turns 50, you like flight it to loom and you’re in
an island and you’re– get drunk and, you
know, there’s costumes. And then eventually, people
like meet me at the bar at 6. [ Laughter ] So I think I’m like
the last one. So it’ll be more
like that maybe.>>Roswell Encima: Oh.>>Andrew Sean Greer:
No it won’t–>>Roswell Encima: No,
it’s going to be fun. Well, thank you everyone. I hope you go see
Andrew downstairs.>>Andrew Sean Greer: And thank
you to Roswell for doing this. [ Applause ]

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