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Andrew Sean Greer, author of our June pick for the NewsHour-New York Times book club Now Read This, joins Jeffrey Brown to answer questions from readers, plus Jeff announces July’s book.
And finally tonight, we close out with our monthly segment Now Read This. That's our special book club in partnership with The New York Times that many of you have joined.
Jeffrey Brown talks with this month's author and announces our pick for July.
Arthur Less is a minor novelist about to turn 50 and about to see his younger lover marry someone else. What to do? Well, flee to anyone who will have him at obscure literary events around the world.
It's a vain and very comic attempt to escape everything, told in the new novel called "Less," winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize and our June book club pick.
Arthur Andrew Sean Greer joins me now to answer questions from you, our readers.
And welcome. And also congratulations on the Pulitzer.
Andrew Sean Greer:
Thank you, thank you for having me here.
Must be a nice surprise, huh?
It was quite a surprise.
It's also kind of funny to think about a novel about a novelist who can't really accomplish much of anything wins a Pulitzer Prize.
It's the irony of the whole thing. It's the last thing Arthur would have expected, for sure.
And me, for sure.
All right, we have got questions from readers.
Let's look at the first one.
My name is Randa Breuer. I live in D.C.
One of the many things I admire about this book are all the travels of Arthur Less.
Mr. Greer, could you share with us how you got familiar with all these cultures and languages in order to write about them so convincingly and avoid stereotypes?
So, your character is traveling the world, right?
Did you know these places?
I knew some of them from my time as a travel writer, one of my hustles to make a living as a writer.
Before turning to novels or…
Well, while turning to novels.
Yes, to make ends meet.
And so I had been to a lot of the places, and I began to put them in the book because I took so many notes as a travel writer. And one of my rules for the book was, I could only put in details that I had written down in my notebooks, because I didn't want it to be about stereotypes.
I wanted it to be about what I actually saw, even if it was unexpected.
OK. Let's go to our second question.
This is Mark Pellegrino from Chicago.
And I read somewhere that you had decided to change the tone of the book while swimming. And I'm curious to know, how long did it take to change the tone from serious to comic?
All right, so let's help those who haven't read this.
Was it did originally serious? Because it is very funny now.
It was — the funny thing is that a comedy is usually from a sad story that you just decide to tell a different way.
And that's what happened. I spent about a year on it as a sort of poignant novel. And I…
A poignant novel of aging, of what?
Not about travel.
And it just felt like another middle-aged guy novel. And I just thought it was absurd. And then I realized it was absurd, and I could write about it that way. And while swimming, I decided to change it.
And from there, it happened very fast, because that was the way into the book.
Really? Once you knew that it was a — sort of a funny…
That it was a funny novel about someone in pain.
OK, let's go to our next question.
My name is David Kessler from Oakland, California.
Since you published your first book some 20 years ago, society has seen a sea change in its attitude towards homosexuality and gay marriage. "Less" is written with incredible grace, ease and openness.
Do you think it would have been impossible for you to write a book with those characteristics 20 years ago, when you first started writing?
Well, we didn't say, but he's a gay character.
He is a gay character, yes.
Well, I tried 20 years ago to write a book about a contemporary gay life, and I just couldn't do it, couldn't figure out how to write the story.
And somehow, this time, maybe — maybe it's the society that's changed. It certainly shocks me to see so many people reading this book about a gay man traveling around the world, and they never talk about that. They talk about him as a character, and that really moves me.
It shocks you just that people are reading it about that subject without…
Yes, 20 years ago, I think this would have been in a certain part of the bookstore, and now it's for everybody, and that really — it's touching.
Well, so, I mean, to go to this question, though, a little bit more, he's asking how much you see society having changed.
It's changed in some ways. And, of course, there's a backlash.
So it's — people come to me at every reading in tears, because the book was a sort of vision for them of a way to be happy and be gay or to struggle with your happiness and not struggle with trauma, because being gay isn't a trauma. It's a way of life.
One more question, or last question for our first section here. Let's take a look.
My name is Elizabeth Tull, and I'm from Hopewell, New Jersey.
Your book touches on love in so in guises, from transient passion to long-term comfort. And you seem to believe in the importance of love, but, in the end, most of the relationships seem to lead to heartache.
So I was wondering whether there was a message you wanted to convey about romantic love and the love between friends.
Oh, my gosh.
I have got to say, I write books because I don't have answers to some things. These are the questions that plague me.
And so, in this book, I tried in every chapter to have a different kind of love. I would say in every book, I do that, too. So I'm clearly not the guy with the answers. But I certainly think the relationships, every one of them is worth it, even if they end.
And there's one character in Morocco who asks — who is just asking, what is love? And I'm not sure I answer that, but I try to give one possible answer at the end.
All right, we're going to continue with more questions and post our complete conversation online later.
For now, Andrew Sean Greer, thank you for joining us for this.
Thanks so much.
And, again, congratulations on the Pulitzer.
And, before we go, let me announce our Book Club pick for July.
It's the novel "Pachinko," a family novel perfect for long days at the beach, which we do hope you will have this summer, with ties to current issues, including immigration and Korea.
Author Min Jin Lee will join us right here at the end of the month.
We hope you will read along and join us in coming weeks on our Now Read This Facebook page.
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