Depression-era New York, through the art of children
‘Less’ author Andrew Sean Greer answers your questions
Amna Nawaz: 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.
Jeffrey Brown: 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.
Jeffrey Brown: Must be a nice surprise, huh?
Andrew Sean Greer: It was quite a surprise.
Jeffrey Brown: 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.
Andrew Sean Greer: It's the irony of the whole thing. It's the last thing Arthur would have expected, for sure.
Jeffrey Brown: And Andrew?
Andrew Sean Greer: And me, for sure.
Jeffrey Brown: All right, we have got questions from readers.
Let's look at the first one.
Randa Breuer: 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?
Jeffrey Brown: So, your character is traveling the world, right?
Andrew Sean Greer: Yes.
Jeffrey Brown: Did you know these places?
Andrew Sean Greer: I knew some of them from my time as a travel writer, one of my hustles to make a living as a writer.
Jeffrey Brown: Oh, really?
Andrew Sean Greer: Yes.
Jeffrey Brown: Before turning to novels or...
Andrew Sean Greer: Well, while turning to novels.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes?
Andrew Sean Greer: 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.
Jeffrey Brown: OK. Let's go to our second question.
Mark Pellegrino: 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?
Jeffrey Brown: All right, so let's help those who haven't read this.
Was it did originally serious? Because it is very funny now.
Andrew Sean Greer: 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...
Jeffrey Brown: A poignant novel of aging, of what?
Andrew Sean Greer: 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.
Jeffrey Brown: Really? Once you knew that it was a -- sort of a funny...
Andrew Sean Greer: That it was a funny novel about someone in pain.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
OK, let's go to our next question.
David Kessler: 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?
Jeffrey Brown: Well, we didn't say, but he's a gay character.
Andrew Sean Greer: He is a gay character, yes.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
Andrew Sean Greer: 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.
Jeffrey Brown: It shocks you just that people are reading it about that subject without...
Andrew Sean Greer: 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.
Jeffrey Brown: Well, so, I mean, to go to this question, though, a little bit more, he's asking how much you see society having changed.
Andrew Sean Greer: 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.
Jeffrey Brown: OK.
One more question, or last question for our first section here. Let's take a look.
Elizabeth Tull: 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.
Andrew Sean Greer: Oh, my gosh.
Jeffrey Brown: That's a...
Andrew Sean Greer: 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.
Jeffrey Brown: 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.
Andrew Sean Greer: Thanks so much.
Jeffrey Brown: 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.