Some works of fiction are easier to place in categories than others. For example, we all know that the Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel, what with its swords and goblins and big fire breathing dragons, and we also know that Stephen King’s It is a horror novel because it has that psychotic shape shifting clown that likes to eat little children. Crime dramas are pretty easy to place, too: hard-boiled detective, mysterious murder, maybe a femme fatale. But what about a book that not only has cryogenic prisons and talking kangaroos, but also a crime fighting private eye who must unravel a series of strange occurences? Crime-fi? The next installation in Butler University‘s Visiting Writers Series tackles the tricky issue of genre with a writer whose works consistently defy categorization: Jonathan Lethem.
|An Open Book video interview with Jonathan Lethem about writing tools; Jonathan Lethem will be reading at the Butler University Visiting Writers Series in Indianapolis|
Jonathan Lethem didn’t start out as a writer. At first, he wanted to be an artist. In 1982, his parents enrolled him in Bennington College in Vermont, where he was an art student. Lethem has a somewhat unique history: he grew up in a commune in Brooklyn before heading to the art school. Once there, he realized that his true calling was in the written word, so he dropped out and hitchhiked all the way out to California, an experience that informed his second novel, 1995’s Amnesia Moon. Lethem’s first major success was also his first novel: Gun, with Occasional Music, published in 1994. The novel combined traditional crime narrative with decidedly sci-fi elements (the aforementioned cryogenic prisons) and won Lethem several awards: it was a finalist for a 1994 Nebula Award, won the “Best First Novel” category of Locus Magazine‘s readers poll, and earned a rave review in Newsweek.
|Video of a lecture and question and answer session with Jonathan Lethem; Jonathan Lethem will be reading at the Butler University Visiting Writers Series in Indianapolis|
Probably Jonathan Lethem‘s best known book is Motherless Brooklyn, released in 1999. Lethem had all but abandoned the detective motif in his novels after Gun, with Occasional Music, but Motherless Brooklyn brought a detective with Tourette’s under Lethem’s lens. About the novel, Lethem said it “stands outside myself…It’s the only one that doesn’t need me, never did. It would have found someone to write it, if necessary.” The book was hailed as one of the best books of the year; it earned the Macallan Gold Dagger for crime fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, the Salon Book Award, and it was named Book of the Year by Esquire magazine. Though his other work certainly mixed genres, it was Motherless Brooklyn that earned Lethem’s reputation as a “genre bender.”
|Video of Jonathan Lethem discussing his 2009 novel, Chronic City; Jonathan Lethem will be reading at the Butler University Visiting Writers Series in Indianapolis|
Jonathan Lethem’s latest novel is Chronic City, a novel which, according to Lethem, “concerns a circle of friends including a fading child star actor, a cultural critic, a hack ghost writer of autobiographies, and a city official.” The novel reached the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year list in 2009, the year of the novel’s release.
Jonathan Lethem will be reading in Indianapolis today, Monday, November 15, 2010 at the Atherton Union Reilly Room (the same location the other Visiting Writers Series events) at 7:30 p.m. This Indianapolis event is totally free, and no tickets are required. If you find yourself in need of a little escape, the mind bending, darkly humorous works of Jonathan Lethem should be your perfect excuse to head to downtown Indianapolis on a Monday night.
Butler University’s Visiting Writers Series: Jonathan Lethem
Monday, November 15, 2010 at 7:30