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Q&A with Adam Haslett
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Jan 27, 2011 04:16PM
Welcome to the Q & A. I'm happy to be here at goodreads taking questions from readers on my books, the writing life, culture, politics, and whatever else comes up. So feel free to jump in.
Feb 06, 2011 07:00PM
I picked up Union Atlantic on a whim after hearing the NPR interview. I remember feeling so disoriented by the financial crisis and felt like the terminology in the media was meaningless. Upon hearing about the book I thought that it would be a great way to humanize the workings of our financial system. I listened through the audio book while rocking my baby to sleep in the evenings, and really enjoyed it.
I read a lot upon ridding our family of the television two years ago. Mostly a healthy mix between literary fiction and sci-fi/fantasy stuff. I like to delve into non-fiction as well. It is exciting to have an author that I've read, be a part of good reads for a Q&A.
Welcome to Goodreads! I hope that this is a positive experience that will attract other authors too.
Feb 06, 2011 09:39PM
I enjoyed your FiveBooks recommendations and was wondering if you could list your favorite books. I'm particularly interested in what classic fictional literature, recent contemporary literature, and nonfiction works you enjoy.
I'm also curious about the political scope of "Union Atlantic." I've read in interviews that you specialize in tax law, and you seem to understand the workings of the institutions you write about very well, but you didn't really address the reverberations of the fictional financial crisis you described beyond the financial world. Is there a specific reason for that? (Dictated by the story? etc.) Could you talk about your reaction to the 2008 financial crisis? Could you also suggest any books or other media (ie. "The Wire") that give portrayals of interlocking political/social/economic life from micro to macro that you find realistic?
Feb 07, 2011 11:29AM
Andre wrote: "I picked up Union Atlantic on a whim after hearing the NPR interview. I remember feeling so disoriented by the financial crisis and felt like the terminology in the media was meaningless. Upon he..."
Thanks for your comments. Glad to be here, and apologies for the late start. I'm in San Francisco this winter and spring and so will be responding on West Coast time all week.
And I'm glad to hear you say that the book help you make some sense of the financial world. I think there was a real hunger for that particularly right after the crash. The book is about a lot more than finance alone, but that is the setting for one major strand of it and my goal was indeed to place the reader as if they were looking over the shoulder of the some of the people who make these obscure, sometimes very technical decisions that end up having such huge impact on all our lives.
Feb 07, 2011 11:59AM
Anjali wrote: "I enjoyed your FiveBooks recommendations and was wondering if you could list your favorite books. I'm particularly interested in what classic fictional literature, recent contemporary literature, a..."
To take up the second part of your question first, I'm not actually an attorney, though I went to law school. The tax policy books are books I've assisted a legal scholar on, but not my own original work.
As to the world of finance, my initial interest (as I mention in my opening comment over in the Union Atlantic thread of this Q & A) was in trying to understand and explore the human dimension of these large, and largely anonymous institutions that make decisions of such consequence for the rest of us. I love "The Wire" and also the British series "Traffik" which is the basis of the later American film "Traffic", which capture what you aptly describe as the "interlocking political/social/economic life from micro to macro." You ask a fair question regarding the political scope of Union Atlantic. It's one I wrestled with in writing it. I wanted to have sections portraying the economic devastation that occurred in Argentina after they defaulted on their bonds; I wanted to dramatize the effects of the Fed's decisions on broad swaths of working Americans. The trouble with these ambitions was how to include such material non-didactically. Novel's aren't speeches. And then there's the issue of length. Such a book has no logical limit as the economy encompasses everyone. I started this book working on characters and it's my exploration of them that guided the composition over the five years of writing. But I hear what you're saying and I understand.
As to other works that do some of what your talking about (giving macro and micro accounts) I'd suggest J. Anthony Lucas's classic "Common Ground" about desegregation in Boston. It's a masterful portrait of three families caught up in the drama of what's happening from three totally difference points of view and it reads like a novel.
Finally, as to favorites, I'm a fan of some of the usual suspects. Middlemarch, George Eliot; the ultimate micro/macro novel, War & Peace; Wharton's House of Mirth and Custom of the Country; Halldor Laxness's Independent People, which is a masterpiece and does for early 20th century Iceland what the Wire did for Baltimore but with prose more sublime. I could go on and on. Ford Maddox Ford, Gaddis, W.G. Sebald, Robert Bolano. Favorite short story writers are Joy Williams, William Trevor, Alice Munro. I'm sure I think of others over the course of the week.
Feb 08, 2011 09:33PM
Thank you for responding! It's great to read such thorough answers. (I didn't mean for my question about the political scope to come off as brash by the way.)
My favorite story of yours is "The Beginnings of Grief." For me especially, I felt like there was a lot of opposing forces you brought together well. It's difficult for me to articulate exactly what they are, perhaps the inertia of grief and the aggression of sexual love or something of the like. Whenever I've read other stories on grief, they tend to focus on the passivity of it and the unfolding of the story often mirrors that. I read your previous response to another Goodreads member, but could you speak more to the writing of that story and what you were trying to explore? Have there been dualities that you consciously aimed to express in either that collection or "Union Atlantic"?
I also really enjoyed your short story in New York Magazine. How did you fashion Obama's interior life? I always remember him referring to others' perceptions of himself as something of a Roscharch test, but you seemed to hone in on such details as "the organizing principle of Michelle" that I've had trouble defining myself.
And I have to ask: do you have a favorite "Wire" character?
Feb 09, 2011 11:07AM
As to "Beginnings of Grief" the only semi-conscious process was taking interior psychic states and dramatizing them in an entirely exterior way. Physical action replaces thought. Rather than trying to speak the unspeakable--death, profound loss, murderous violence--the two boys enact it. Once I began writing the story maintaining the rigor of that inner/outer distinction wasn't hard because it was contained in the voice of the piece.
When it came to Union Atlantic, there wasn't any one dynamic that I maintained with anything like that consistency because there were four main characters all with their own differing worlds, interior and exterior. There are plenty of novels that do keep up a single tension--The Good Solider by Ford Maddox Ford comes to mind--but they're almost always told from one point of view.
For Obama in "Night Walk" my way in was the cigarette (I was interested to see yesterday that Michelle announced he hadn't smoked in a year). The cigarette represented to me the flaw in an otherwise nearly perfect public self; it attached him back to what I called his "counter-lives", all the paths he didn't take in life. Once I had that, I had the tension between past and present that I needed.
As for my favorite character on the "Wire" is there any choice? Omar, Omar, Omar.
Feb 12, 2011 05:19PM
Thanks! Got to say: you were probably my favorite contemporary writer before this online forum, and now you definitely are.
Feb 24, 2011 09:31AM
Just finished You Are Not A Stranger Here. Long story, but this achingly lovely book of stories found me. Some of the funniest lines ever (in "The Volunteer") are when the stoned kid at a party says to the other stoned kid who has fallen into the cat food, "Duude. You gotta get up outta that food over there, man, don't let it waylay you, don't get detained by it." OMG, I almost peed my pants.
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Q&A with Adam Haslett
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