Adam Mansbach 2008

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From: Adam Mansbach
To: Arnon Grunberg
Re: Buy You A Drink?


Striking up a conversation with a writer you've never met is a little like approaching a stranger in a bar, so I've been drinking heavily and wondering what the best vector of approach might be.  There's a lot in your novel that has stayed with me, but the words 'grotesque farce' keep asserting themselves in my mind.  They don't appear in The Jewish Messiah, but on it -- as a jacket-flap description of the book.  I wonder about both these words: the literary trajectories behind them, their implications, and ultimately, whether you'd consider either one applicable.  

If The Jewish Messiah is grotesque, is it because people suffer degradations of the flesh, carry their amputated testicles around in jars, pleasure themselves with kitchen knives, victimize each other in ways that blur the line between violence and salvation, suffering and ecstasy?  Is it the detail with which some of these scenes are rendered that makes them grotesque?  Their relentless frequency?  Or is it the authorial intention behind them -- the act of creating a world in which lives always seems to turn on such acts, a world in which individual bodies are the symbolic battlegrounds on which all wars are fought?

'Grotesque' and 'farce' are often pejorative terms, and both, I think, share the implication that things have been taken too far, that precision and wit have given way to broad strokes and fart jokes.  A failed satire often gets labeled a farce, for instance -- the worst review I got of my last novel, which was a satire, called it a farce.  (I ended up killing that reviewer in a fairly grotesque manner, but that's another story).  The notion of satire versus farce interests me because we're living in a world so absurd in its own right that the job of the satirist has become difficult -- there's very little space left on the margins to veer toward, so perhaps farce becomes inevitable.  Satire also requires a certain kind of interpretive impulse on the audience's part, and maybe it's not there a lot of the time in this country.

Let me know what you think about any of this.  Or feel free to just throw a drink in my face.




From: Arnon Grunberg
To: Adam Mansbach
Re: Grotesqueries


Let me reassure you: I can be approached without heavy drinking.  Actually I can be approached without drinking at all.

The nice thing about the text on a jacket-flap is that the text wasn't written by the author of the book. At least in most cases.  In the Netherlands I have written the text on the jacket-flap a few times myself. Mostly to avoid misunderstandings about my own novel.
So I don't think The Jewish Messiah is a grotesque farce. But had my novel been called a highly realistic drama I would have had problems subscribing to that theory as well.  In general I would say it's hard and probably unpleasant for a writer to categorize his own work or to agree with other people's categorizations.

The word 'grotesque' implies that part of reality has been distorted. In the context of a novel, or, to be more precise, in the context of the jacket, or a review, it's probably meant to comfort the reader, to reassure him that it might look grim in the novel but don't worry, it's a distortion.  I would say that most of reality is worse than any novel, when it comes to degradations of the flesh for example, but probably for pragmatic reasons I didn't have many problems with reassuring the reader on the jacket. After having read your email I realized that I should have been more careful.

The thin line between ecstasy and suffering is widespread, at least since Christianity. But I guess this does exist in other cultures as well. And even in Judaism you can find a tendency to blur this line.  It's telling that in the context of a novel blurring this line leads to the descriptions "grotesque" and "farce" whereas the same thing in a religious context might lead to a thing called epiphany.

I wonder why you prefer satire to farce.  A satire seems to me heavily dependent on an audience that is very much aware of specific reality, and laugh about your attempts to poke fun at certain people or institutions.

A novelist strives to reveal certain truths with all means possible. In an attempt to disguise the unpleasant truth he or she is revealing, society might react by calling it a farce, a satire, slapstick (nothing wrong with good slapstick by the way), or a grotesque farce.

Or do you think this is too much honor for the novelist? Or is it little bit heavy-handed? That's the risk you face while speaking about farces and satire.

I haven't read any of your books yet, but why do you insist in calling your last novel a satire?

Throwing a drink in my face might be a good idea, but we can continue without. What do you prefer?

I'll be back in NYC this Monday.



From: Adam
To: Arnon
Re:  Lazy Motherfuckers


    Too much honor for the novelist?  Impossible, man.  What we sacrifice in job security and health insurance, we've gotta recoup somehow.  

    Certainly the only thing more frustrating than being asked to categorize your work is watching someone else miscategorize it.  And of course, categories and neat descriptive phrases are hopelessly reductive, as any great novel is probably many contradictory things at once:  satirical and earnest, sweeping and intimate, realistic and wildly imaginative.  I've always been pretty proactive in the crafting of my jacket copy and press materials and whatnot, because my experience has been that you end up having to answer for whatever the book is described as: lazy motherfuckers invite you onto their radio shows and while you're sitting there with the headphones on, they flip the book over and scan it for the first time and say "our guest, Arnon Grunberg, is the author of a grotesque farce..."

    I found your definition of 'grotesque' as a distortion of reality interesting. Maybe I'm reading too much into the word as it pertains to novels; I think of books like Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan or John Kennedy O'Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces as being grotesques -- books in which the characterization of the protagonist is heavily dependent on extreme bodily distress.  Shteyngart's character, like yours, is a victim of a botched circumcision, and his obesity and general discomfort with himself are central to the book and the comedy it attempts.  O'Toole's protagonist, also a big fat disgusting guy, is blinded by a self-importance almost as offensive as his constant, epic flatulence.  So I guess I was wondering whether you saw The Jewish Messiah as engaging with some kind of tradition of the grotesque, if there is one. 

    As far as why I call my last novel, Angry Black White Boy, a satire -- well, I had specific intentions in writing it, and they line up with what I think of as the rules or parameters of satire.  To me, the cast of a satire is divided into two groups: the primary characters, who have to be fully-realized, imbued with as vibrant a humanity as possible, and the secondary characters, who can be representative stereotypes, as absurd as they need to be.  These can be deployed and dispensed with as necessary, and a lot of the fun comes in allowing the primary characters to romp through a world that is recognizably our own, yet populated by figures a shade more extreme, more amusing, more horrifying, than we're used to.  A lot of satires, I think, also involve an unlikely, meteoric rise to prominence, a character whose sphere of influence expands exponentially throughout the course of the story as the world rises to meet his or her outsized-ness.  Certainly your book does that -- very quickly, toward the end, when time speeds up dramatically and Xavier becomes Prime Minister of Israel.  I also think a satire often has other texts in mind, books (and people and ideas) it's playing off, remixing, riffing on. For me, that was primarily the American 'race novel' from The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man to Native Son to Black No More to Invisible Man to Flight To Canada

    There are actually a lot of parallels between The Jewish Messiah and Angry Black White Boy: Your protagonist, Xavier Radek, is a middle-class Swiss kid whose grandfather was an SS soldier; he decides he is going to become the 'comforter of the Jews' and, with the son a of a Rabbi at his side, he begins a long, weird journey toward infamy, with an interlude at an art school in Amsterdam, a prolonged attempt to translate Mein Kampf into Yiddish, and the moral support of his own amputated testicle, King David, who the people of Israel largely accept as The Messiah.  My protagonist, Macon Detornay, is a middle-class American white kid whose great-grandfather was Cap Anson, a famously racist (real-life) baseball player, responsible in part for the segregation of the game. Politicized by hip hop culture, Macon develops a seething anger toward white people, begins committing racially-motivated crimes against the white passengers who step into his taxi, becomes a celebrity, and uses his fame to call for a (disastrous) National Day of Apology, on which whites are supposed to make amends for 400 years of slavery -- all this with the aid of his college roommate, a black kid whose great-grandfather Anson drove out of baseball and almost got killed. 

    So obviously, among other things, we both seem to be interested in generational carry-over, sins-of-the-father, personal familial guilt that provides motivation for the perhaps absurd crusades of our characters.  I'm curious about why you decided to build that in.  I also want to ask you about the level of self-awareness you allow your characters, or deny them.  I think one of the most important decisions a writer makes when creating as freewheeling and wild a story as yours is how much you permit your characters to be in on the jokes.  The characters in Angry White Black Boy are these media-savvy hip hop kids who derive great pleasure from their ability to see themselves as characters in a kind of post-modern race novel; they're conversant with a lot of the music and fiction that relates to their predicaments, and they play off of it.  I see Xavier as much less in on a lot of the jokes -- things like translating Mein Kampf and attending art school as a painter are played pretty straight, it seems. 

    There's a lot more I want to ask you about -- some of it practical, like how the experience of publishing and the literary landscape differ from country to country, and what your feelings are about the process of translation.

    As for the whole throwing of drinks thing, I'll settle for buying you one next time I'm in New York.


From: Arnon
To: Adam
Re:  Knuckle Sandwich


Now that I'm back in New York behind my desk, on which your novel is firmly placed (I'll start reading this weekend), I realize that you don't live in New York but in Berkeley. At least that's what it says in the section About the Author.  While I was living in Amsterdam I thought that there is no other place to live in the Netherlands besides Amsterdam. To be honest I still think this way, but I'm aware of the arrogance of this thought. And of course after having moved to New York I'm further humbled.

I had to smile when you were describing the reasons for crafting your own jacket copy. Back in 2001, when my novel Silent Extras was published in the US, my agent advised me to hire an outside publicist. A decent piece of advice. The outside publicist sent me to a media trainer to get me prepared for exactly the kind of radio interview you were speaking about. The media trainer was great, as a source of inspiration, and besides that likeable enough for a media trainer.  I didn't end up doing much radio, alas.  Only a few years later a different publisher for a different book organized for me this thing that fifteen different radio stations would call me within ten days. I'm not eager to describe something as a nightmare.  But this experience came close to it.  Angry men would shout at me at 6:30 AM (for some reasons these radio stations love to call authors at 6 AM or 6:30 AM): "I called you two minutes ago, you were not there. Now I don't have time for you."  Others hung op on me mid-sentence. One interrupted me with the words: "You have to stop, I can no longer torment my listeners with your accent."

I think as an author you should get ready to be humiliated any time of the day. I don't say this filled with self-pity. It's a small sacrifice for which authors get many things back. Therefore I can live very well with a "lazy motherfucker" who introduces me as the author of a grotesque farce. You cannot control what other people make out of you; as long as they get my name right I'm happy.  It's questionable if going to these radio shows is not a waste of time, but that's another discussion.

Your definition of satire is interesting, and broad also.  Based on what you wrote I would say that even Madame Bovary, to name a famous example, could be called a satire. I haven't read Absurdistan (the title is telling) nor A Confederacy of Dunces. I'll put them on my list.  That's not to say that I would deny that The Jewish Messiah is part of a tradition.  I think this tradition goes back to Rabelais, but also to Don Quixote. And of course a novel can be part of a tradition, and "speak" with books the author has not read. If we agree with the notion that there is an ongoing conversation between most if not all novels.

Which bring me to your question about the self-consciousness of characters in a novel.  I would argue that too much self-consciousness is bad for the character and this extends to the world outside fiction as well. Have you ever eaten lunch in front of somebody who is completely self-conscious?  The fact that the author knows more and sees more than his characters does not mean that he is standing above them, or belittles them.  The distance allows you to see more than your characters. As in reality (if you don't object to this word) it's easier to give advice to a stranger than to yourself.  Of course, when I'm listening to a host of a radio show shouting at me, I'm at least partly in on the joke.
But as soon as I get a knuckle sandwich or my character gets a knuckle sandwich the joke is over.

Even if you look at Chaplin the violence can be part of the joke, is often part of the joke, but the impact of violence is never really denied. And for this reason -- at least for one person involved -- it's the end of the joke, temporarily.  It's very well possible to laugh afterwards about a knuckle sandwich, but it takes time to recover and certain people never recover completely from certain wounds. Parents often pass their wounds to their children. What children do with these wounds differs from case to case. As you've already pointed out.  And one more word about the self-consciousness of characters. Blindness or partial blindness is a survival technique. And as most survival techniques, this one can be counterproductive.

The idea that you are a character in a novel is a luxury, it's tempting to think this way but at the end it is a misunderstanding. Sometimes I hear people talk, in an airport or on a plane or in a restaurant and I think: These people talk as if they are on a television show. Of course this observation is hardly new. But whenever I see real people behaving and talking like bad actors I wonder if this is the result of too much or too little self-consciousness.

The process of translation is utterly dependent on the translator.

Mein Kampf did by the way get translated into Yiddish. You raised the question earlier: How can you show the farce that reality often is?



From: Adam
To: Arnon
Re: Obligatory Jew(ish) Reflections


I did live in New York for about ten years, and I never thought I'd leave; I moved there from Boston because NYC was obviously the center of the universe, the only place worth living, etc. After four years in the Bay, it's hard to imagine moving back; it would entail sacrificing so much physical and psychic space.  I've got a whole room to write in now, whereas in Harlem I had to write in a corner of my living room to a soundtrack of furniture-rattling merengue (I spend a year banging on the ceiling before figuring out that it was coming from next door, not above) and in Fort Greene I had write in my bedroom while Pac and Karma, my downstairs neighbor's pit bulls, paced the postage-stamp sized yard to which they were confined, and loudly bemoaned their atrophying muscles.

One of the things I realized when I published a book while living out here is that everywhere but in NYC you get to be a 'local' author. You can live in New York for twenty, thirty years and never achieve that designation; the attitude is: "You ain't local, you came here for the same reason everybody else did, so don't expect us to be grateful." Everywhere else, it's like, "Hey, welcome to town, come be a guest of honor at our annual library dinner." 

I'd love to hear your impressions of the city, and why you moved there.  How is literary life -- whatever that means -- different, or not, from in Amsterdam?  I'm on a bit of an ah-the-wonderful-writing-life vibe today, because I went to an excellent party last night, thrown in honor of my friend Colm Tobin.  The host was Andrew Sean Greer, and there were a bunch of writers there, some of whom I knew, some of whom I didn't.  It was a thoroughly fun and friendly event, and sometime over the course of the evening I had the minor revelation that very seldom do I meet a writer I don't like, or can't talk to.  I guess there's a natural and multi-faceted sense of kinship -- not least because, as you so eloquently put it, as an author you should 'get ready to be humiliated any time of the day.'   I think it's actually remarkable that a group of people doing such inherently solitary and egotistical work seem to get along so well, overall.  Not that there isn't a decent amount of literary beef out there, but still.

On an entirely different note: I haven't read your previous books (yet), so I don't know whether it's standard or unusual for you to write about Jewishness (I've been using 'Jewishness' instead of 'Judaism' lately; while it might not be a word, it seems broader to me somehow, more "cultural" and less "religious").  In any case, I wonder what your relationship to Jewishness is like -- in any context you feel like discussing it, whether cultural, religious, or literary.  The End of the Jews is my first novel dealing with the topic in any significant way, and for me the process of writing it meant engaging with a lot of ideas and histories that I hadn't really confronted before.    I got kicked out of the So You Think You Might Be Jewish Sunday School and Grill when I was twelve -- the short version of the story is that I had a racist teacher, so I acted out; the longer version involves an all-school assembly and the Bon Jovi song "Livin' On A Prayer" -- and it wasn't until much later that my interest in Jewishness asserted itself, largely because I needed a way to understand my grandfather and write this book.  Among other things, I started thinking about Jewish literature, Jewish humor, Jewish artistic sensibilites -- wondering what they were, and how to talk about them.

Now I'm preparing to discuss some of this stuff publically, in the context of having a book come out, and already I find myself in all kinds of new-to-me "Jewish" spaces.  I'm becoming aware of issues and agendas I never knew existed; some of it is fascinating and some of it I find deeply disturbing, problematic.  I wonder what your experience has been with any of this.


From: Arnon
To:  Adam
Re:  What's a Jew?


For once I strongly disagree with you.  In my experience authors don't manage to get along very well with each other. Sometimes they are able to pretend they get along, but in general I would say authors are slightly worse than the average human being.  Please don't take this personally. There are exceptions.  And it helps if you avoid discussing each other's work.

I assume you have been to a few festivals. Festivals have their advantages; you get to travel to a city where you probably would not go otherwise, you meet some authors you respect (at least before you met them), and often you get paid a small amount of money. But at the same time what's going on between the authors, and to a certain degree also between the significant others of the authors, is just a fight for the pecking order, which can be compared to what biologists see when they observe certain monkeys.

To give an example. This summer I traveled to Prague for a festival.  It was a small festival, so most authors went to each other's events.  One older, fairly well-known American author ignored me all week. Which is fine. But the last evening he walked up to me -- I'm not sure if he pinched me in the cheek or just patted me on the shoulder -- and he said: "Don't get discouraged, young man."  Now maybe I should have taken this as a sign of affection. But at the moment it felt fairly condescending. And I think it was meant to be condescending.

Of course I had other experiences as well. I fondly remember playing pinball with Ray Monk in Adelaide. And I remember now meeting Colm Tolbin at a festival as well. I'm not sure if it was Toronto or Adelaide.

I grew up quite observant. We ate kosher. Every Saturday I had to go to synagogue. Walking, mind you; Reform Judaism in the Netherlands is still frowned upon, at least among the more observant Jews.  When my first novel came out some critics tried to put me in the corner of the second generation (of holocaust survivors).  Which I hated.

One pleasant thing about living in New York is that Jews are not exotic here. Last winter I traveled to Paraguay to write something about the Mennonites there. After a few days my guide, a Mennonite himself (basically everybody in that part of Paraguay is Mennonite), asked: "With what religion were you brought up?" I thought about lying but then I decided to say: "Well, I'm Jewish."  He was stunned.  He grabbed my arm. He said: "You are the first Jew I meet. Jews are the chosen people you know that." Then he asked, without any sense of irony: "What are God's plans with the Jews?"  Now Jews are not that exotic in Europe, but to a certain degree, still exotic. I would say that it means that you need to explain yourself.  A fellow Jewish Dutch author remarked: "Being Jewish means being ashamed."  I can relate to that. The feeling that you are carrying a hidden disease.

Do you agree that most Jews in the US are less infected with many people would describe as "ghetto mentality"?  And what agendas do you find disturbing?  And would you say that in your case there is more to being Jewish than having gone to the Sunday's school?
I wonder if there is a meaning to being Jewish when you are not religious. Except that some people might hate you for obscure reasons, and some other people might think you are more intelligent than others for obscure reasons.  Or do you think you can be a cultural Jew?


From:  Adam
To:  Arnon
Re:  Let's Get Some Babies Out of This


I'm trying to figure out how it is that I both totally agree with you on the authors-as-shit-throwing-primacy-seeking-monkeys point (I added the shit-throwing myself, but somehow I can't see you objecting) and also continue to believe my own previous, somewhat rosier statement about writerly community, camaraderie, etc.  When I read your last email, it certainly resonated.  I've generally had a blast at festivals, but some of the people I've most wanted to punch in the mouth have definitely been other writers, and I do concur that a certain tension can pervade festivals, panels, even conversations.  There's often -- and I've found myself doing this occasionally, to my own chagrin -- an attempt to casually mention markers of your own success within the first five minutes.  Listening to people drop hints about their upcoming readings and recent foreign rights sales is utterly insufferable, but it seems that very little worthwhile communication can take place until all the appropriate corners have been pissed in.

Upon further consideration, I hate writers.

No! Wait! Many of my best friends are writers!  The godfather to my soon-to-be-born child will be a writer.  My grandmother was a writer.  As is my girlfriend; I met her in the lowest pit of hell, an MFA program, and together we were able to escape.  Some high-ish percentage of my friends do this for a living, which is why I'm consistently able to find people to drink coffee with at 3 pm on a weekday.  Perhaps what I'm stumbling toward is the notion that when we put aside all the pettiness and competition (and I have to imagine that other people suffer from similar compulsions; when lawyers or biologists meet at conventions, they must drop hints about their good fortune and snub each other, too, right?  Right?), we begin to recognize people whose lives look much like ours, whose minds are cluttered with the same preoccupations -- preoccupations to which non-writers really can't relate, because most work problems don't revolve around imaginary people refusing to behave the way you want them to. 

Also unlike most people, we work in solitude, and must actively seek out the companionship of those who do what we do for a living, rather than running into them at the water cooler or in the cafeteria.  I find myself seeking that community constantly.  Just a few hours ago, I sent the following email to a novelist friend:  "I'm not writing a goddamn fucking thing, son. Not a goddamn fucking thing. Those two sentences are greater than my output for the last two days."  In a telling sign that he wasn't getting anything done either, he wrote back, reminding me that a) I shouldn't be online, and b) six weeks before your book comes out is no time to get anything substantial done.  I felt understood, and calmed, which allowed me to get back to the business of not writing a goddamn fucking thing.

You'll forgive my language.

I've been well-mentored by writers for much of my life, and I try to do the same for younger cats who are trying to get into it. (I'd like to think that at least different generations of writers, presumably not in direct competition, could get along -- but your slap-on-the-cheek story would seem to imply otherwise... maybe you're just more threatening than I am).  Part of my solidarity-impulse may owe to the belief that the publishing industry is constantly trying to fuck us all over, and thus we must support each other as best we can -- share information and horror stories, read each other's work, nominate each other for awards, pretend to be happy for the undeserving schmucks who win them when clearly it should have been us.

Okay, enough with the confusing, contradictory impulses toward a community that both invites and alienates.  Let's talk Judiasm.

I would agree -- based on limited exposure to European Jewry -- that American Jews do have less of a ghetto mentality.  The vast majority of Jewish people I know do not define themselves primarily through Judaism, do not hang out primarily with co-religionists, and though we tend to congregate in New York, Chicago, Boston, SF, Los Angeles, this is simply common sense.  I didn't grow up with the feeling that the Cossacks might ride down the hill at any moment, and neither, for that matter, did my parents.  To be perfectly honest, I don't think my grandparents -- all of whom grew up in the U.S. -- did, either.  Nobody has been religious in my family for several generations, and yet everybody would classify themselves as Jewish, perhaps even if they only had five words with which to define themselves.  At the same time, the first child born of my generation, my cousin Ben, was named after our grandfather, who was (and is) alive.  My grandmother couldn't stand religion; my father can barely bear to walk into a synagogue (or a church).  I grew up around a vast network of writers, academics, and intellectuals; that was the crowd my grandparents on my mother's side ran with.  Not until much later did it occur to me that they were predominantly Jewish (and, like my grandfather, had traveled the well-worn path from the Bronx and LES to City College).  Not until even later did it occur to me to wonder and examine how being Jewish might have impacted their work, their sensibilities, and even the (secular) environment in which I grew up.  But when I did begin to think about those things, I started to find answers.  My own interests -- literary, cultural, academic, legal -- in Judaism come as a big surprise to my family, and may be accompanied by a touch of perplexity. 

As far as what I find problematic... lately, as I said, I've been attending some Jewish conferences, retreats, etc.  The dominant concern among the generation in power seems to be that young people aren't participating enough in Jewish life, and through apathy, intermarriage, nonobservance, the Jews are going to wither and disappear.  It creeps me out to be in a room full of Jews in which racial purity seems to be an agreed-upon goal, and intermarriage a disaster, though I certainly understand where that comes from.   What bothers me most, though, is the mix of naivete and cynicism with which the young demographic is being courted; the underlying goal seems to be Jewish marriage/procreation/participation, but it's couched in all these other terms, disguised inside all these clumsy maneuvers.  It's like, 'What do young Jews like these days? Pancakes? Okay, we'll have a pancake breakfast, and hopefully Isaac's hand will brush against Rachel's while they're both reaching for the maple syrup, and we'll get some babies out of this.'

Or, to give a less spurious example: I've attended a bunch of panels on "forging Jewish community through community service" and "through the arts."  And every time, I can't help feeling offended -- feeling that things like community service and the arts should be ends in and of themselves, not ploys to get Jews involved or married, which is how they're being treated.  The whole gambit reminds me of a panel I spoke on at the Chicago Mayor's Interfaith Conference (interfaith = Baptists and Baptists from a different church) called "Meeting the Needs of the Hip Hop Generation."   It was me, a 'hip hop minster,' a Christian rapper, and some kind of police officer (I still haven't figured out why she was up there).  And it was the same kind of Pied Piper thing: "our kids won't come to church, because the church bores and alienates and offends them, but maybe if we play some hip hop really loud and call it a 'hip hop service,' they'll stagger in, zombie-style, unable to resist... and then we got 'em!"  Same mix of naivete and cynicism.  Same attempt to co-opt whatever's handy, without really understanding it, as a way of solving a 'problem' with much deeper, and largely unexamined, origins.   You know what I mean?  Does any of this make any sense?


From: Arnon
To: Adam
Re: Virginity

My remark was not meant as a scientific proof; we had different experiences and of course we will interpret certain remarks and gestures differently.  I remember standing with a glass of white wine at of those cocktail parties and having a conversation with a lady, just because having a conversation is sometimes better than being silent.

After ten minutes she said: "We just don't click."

I was surprised because I was not trying to hit on her, just trying to have a polite conversation.  And then she added: "Don't take it personally. I've seen worse than you."

Now this is a kind of aggression I can appreciate. To a certain degree.  It's out there in the open and it is, I would say, refreshing. It makes you realize that you yourself can be an unpleasant human being in the eyes of others.

The lady was not even an author,  I believe she was working on an anthology of poetry.
I'm still convinced that authors tend to be slightly more autistic than other human beings. When I was in Afghanistan embedded with Dutch troops I found it easier to connect to soldiers and officers than to fellow authors at your average festival.  Sometimes it really helps to be surrounded by people who do different things.

But to avoid the suggestion that I oppose autistic behavior; once I met a Russian author who answered 99% of the question he was asked with: "I don't like to speak."  He had a beautiful and heavy Russian accent. And for seven days he rarely spoke. I admire this. His dislike of speaking seemed to be genuine, and authors and other human beings are entitled to remain silent even if they go to a festival. Don't you think?

I would never write to a fellow author: "I have not been able to write for more 72 hours." I would not even tell my girlfriend or my mother or a neighbor.  I'm not very good at sharing my own problems with others, I have to admit.  I'm the kind of person who, after stumbling upon a problem would be silent about that it for two weeks and then while having dinner would tell his girlfriend: "By the way, the doctor told me I have one more year to live."

Maybe this is exaggerated. But last summer I had a fairly unpleasant and violent experience. After returning home -- it somehow surprised me that I was alive -- I went to bed and started reading the newspaper. Only after 24 hours did I call my girlfriend and say: "You know, something funny happened and I almost died."

I'm not implying that my reaction is better than other possible reactions, just that I like to solve things first myself. Probably it has to do with not being able or not wanting to trust other people right away. I can do that but I'm afraid it is not my strongest point.

You have to explain to me how you survive a relationship in which your significant other is a writer as well.  Do you read each other's stuff?  Do you comment?  Do you compare sales? Do you share an agent? A publisher? It seems to me a nightmare. But I'm curious to hear how it can be done.

I think it is very interesting and telling (and probably -- for many of the Jews afraid that Jews and Judaism are on the verge of disappearing -- comforting) that you clearly define yourself as a Jew, even though your background is rather secular.

I remember growing up with the clear message that the outside world is a hostile place and hostile force. My father never went to synagogue, and we were for many other reasons outsiders in the Jewish community.  My parents, German Jews, hated Dutch Jews.  So even the other Jews were a hostile force to them.  After a while I discovered that my own family was a hostile force to me. So I figured that life is going to be a fight between me and the rest of the world.  It occurred to me that the odds were not necessarily in my favor.

Your disgust, if I may use that word, for events that are organized to link a Jewish male to a Jewish female is totally understandable.  Once I spoke to a rabbi in Israel who explained to me that the Holocaust was a gift from God to avoid further assimilation.
You have probably heard the theory.

I almost don't dare to ask this question: is your girlfriend Jewish?  And I'm reading your book.  What's your relation with hip-hop?  I'm a total virgin when it comes to hip-hop.
Please, deflower me.


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