Week 4 reading response: Jenny Egan talk

Thanks to technology glitches, the Week 4 reading response comes to you late, and with an extended deadline. It’s a three-part assignment:

STEP 1: Listen to our conversation with Jenny Egan:

STEP 2: Choose one of the ten sections listed below to write about and email me with your pick and a second choice. If you’ve got a good idea of how to approach the material, let me know. Don’t start writing until I email back – someone might have beat you to it, or might have a particularly good and personal angle on a section.

STEP 3: Once you have your section confirmed, write a (nonfiction) account of it. You should summarize part of her remarks, but also quote verbatim (she’s often quotable for whole paragraphs). If appropriate, discuss relevant passages from Goon Squad and quote from them as well.

This should be part reportage and part personal essay. Let us know how Jenny’s fiction and our encounter with her resonated with your own experience as a fiction writer. What was inspiring or perhaps discouraging about the Q&A? How did it affect your thinking or your practice? This is also a chance to revisit Goon Squad and write about its impact on you as reader and writer.

The sooner you take care of Steps 1 & 2, the likelier you will be to get your first choice of assignment. Deadline is Tuesday before class. Step 3 is due midnight Friday 18 March, eve of Spring Break.

  1. INTRO: The basics: who is Jenny Egan? What is Goon Squad? (Your critical assessment is welcome.) What is LT212? What broad themes did the conversation cover? What scoops did we get (Goon Squad sequel!) or other good teasers for the reader? Probably work in the funny concluding Skype glitch.
  2. 0:00 – 5:32: JE’s new book – time & Proust – 1930s/40s NYC waterfront – research and historical fiction.
  3. 5:33 – 9:42: How do you know you’re done? Research and drafts and revisions.
  4. 9:43 – 14:29: Can research trip you up? Editing is about removing inert material. Little darlings. All fiction is an action thriller. Writer’s group – reading aloud to expose inert material.
  5. 14:30 – 17:59: Little darlings: the things you’ve worked the hardest on: built-in flaws – the “Pieces” document.
  6. 18:00 – 23:59: Goon Squad genre: the concept album – Goon Squad film adaptation – would she write the screenplay? Planned Goon Squad fiction: younger generation.
  7. 24:00 – 28:39: Moral considerations – curiosity vs. judgment – moral readings of Goon Squad.
  8. 28:40 – 34:49: Sasha and kleptomania – disorders, character background – preconceptions, predictability, choice limitation.
  9. 34:50 – 40:59: 2nd-person and free-indirect narration
  10. 41:00 – end: Inspiration for the PowerPoint chapter – graphic novels – advice to the young.
Week 4 reading response: Jenny Egan talk

9 thoughts on “Week 4 reading response: Jenny Egan talk

  1. Lindsay says:

    Remaining curious

    I have always struggled to accept the dictum that writer’s ought to have a “sliver of ice” in their heart in order to create characters, because so much of fiction seems to address moral elevation or destitution. We become interested in the world of the characters we read because their lives involve us, they capture us, by living in a way that is both familiar enough to follow and strange enough to pique our interest. Throughout this process of narration, if the story is good enough, we are changed parallel to the transformations the characters undergo, because at the end of the story we are brought back to our own lives with the added trace of this other perspective. We know they will ultimately remain unknown to us. This distance that fiction introduces between the self-importance of our own ego and the foreign liveliness of the characters that become believable to us is where the moral dimension of storytelling comes from.

    Why, then, did Graham Greene say that writers must have a “sliver of ice” in their heart, in order to steal from and shape the reality that is all around them, in order to betray the love or trust that has given birth to the stories they have borrowed, or the real-life correspondence of the characters they have formed? Isn’t such a theft immoral, because it fundamentally disrespects the integrity of the person (or character born of impressions of people) it is taken from? This is the question I struggle with as I write, because I try to create characters that stand alone, that are convincing, that inhabit their own moral world, and that undergo transformations that are believable and risk-taking. But because I am the one creating them, I cannot help, in my selection of their attributes, to make tiny judgements here and there, to impose my own opinions on the otherwise free-flowing drive of the story before me. I would like these selective judgements to be as sympathetic as possible to my characters, to embolden and not inhibit or flatten them.

    Jennifer Egan’s Welcome to the Goon Squad is a great book through which to explore these questions, because each of her characters is believable as a stand-alone person. Because of the interlinked nature of the stories in Goon Squad, each character has both a secondary and primary perspective. We see the characters as they see each other, as well as they see themselves and as the narrator would like us to see them. There are characters in Jennifer Egan’s Goon Squad that make morally ambiguous choices, and one character (Lou) who consistently lets the people around him down. How hard was it to write Lou as a convincing character, I wondered, as he acts like a predator and seduces school-age girls, and as he generally treats women as disposable objects for his consumption? This is the question that I wanted to put to Jennifer Egan in our Sype with her.

    Her answer was that curiosity was a great antidote to moralising. With curiosity, she said, we can stay interested in what motivates the characters we create and not judge them: “If someone is so repellent to me that all I want to do is condemn them, then I have not rendered that person properly as a character.” This sympathy to her characters runs through Goon Squad like the concrete frame to a building. Invisible, it is nevertheless the support on which all of the action, interaction, triumphs and disappointments of her characters rests. We care about them because she does, and we withhold judgement about them long enough to keep reading because of the curiosity the author has invested in investigating and laying bare what makes these characters tick.

    Interestingly, Jennifer Egan mentioned that some people on the Christian Right had mis-interpreted Goon Squad as a cautionary tale about the dangers of excess. It is surely possible to read the book in this way, just as it would be possible to read it as an exciting romp through the attractive decadence of the music industry, or of the change in values from the punk 80s to the neo-liberal 00s, or of a social history of individual lives in New York and San Francisco. Even though this is not what she meant for her creation, each reader or group is free to take what they like from the book, because it has achieved life as an autonomous art-work. To have created characters that can be interpreted in multifarious ways is to have succeeded in introducing something both strange and familiar to us, to have created a moral order without moralising. And Jennifer Egan, at least for one, seems to have managed this without utilising the cold “sliver of ice” in her heart when she borrows from reality, but rather by remaining endlessly curious about who her characters are.

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  2. Joel says:

    A Visit from the Goon Squad is one of those books that provides more questions than answer -but precisely because of that quality does it stand out as a valuable contemporary read. Almost four-hundred pages in length, Jennifer Egan’s work portrays the lives of various characters as they separately unfold yet seem to be faintly related.
    After reading the first three chapters I had the impression that it was a collection of short stories, characters and places where not consistent and they all seemed detached from each other. Further in, I notices that some of the characters softly reappeared, not necessarily playing an important role but their presence hinted at something. Plus the title wasn’t really helping, what the hell is a goon squad? A group of mercenaries, according to Wikipedia. Was this going to be a criminal fiction dealing with pro-violence characters? Well, kind of. But the mercenaries in this book are not characters, its time, and time is a bitch. Furthermore, Proust’s fascinating quote that Egan decides to start us of with, informs us that “memory” will also play a vital role.
    Luckily enough, LT212 had the opportunity to talk via Skype with Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad which won her the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award. As you might recall, this book raised in me more questions than answer, primordially the reason why I liked it so much, but I do admit I wanted some of those questioned answered. Not all, but most.
    Everyone seemed more quiet than usual that day. Not everyone managed to get through the whole book, but I was so captivated by it that I had to read it from beginning to end, I needed to find a closure to all the characters that she’d introduced to me. After Paul’s introduction it was finally my turn, I was going to have my one-on-one Q&A with the author. I had so many questions about Sasha, Bennie, Lou, Jules, Alex, Jocelyn, even Bosco. I wanted to know more about Sasha’s and Ted’s relationship, about the strong emphasis on Orpheus and Eurydice, my head was spinning with question. I was nervous, I admit it, and the most intelligent answer that I was able to formulate was regarding the genre of the novel. Really? Was that my first choice? No. Nonetheless this question opened a fascinating discussion about the relationship about this book and music.
    Egan answered, “When it was published I didn’t want it to be called a novel or a story collection. Calling it a novel I worried it would disappoint people because they would have certain expectations based on that that the book would not meet, so I insisted in not calling it a novel. The publisher insisted on not calling it a story collection because they don’t tend to sell very well. So the result was that we called it nothing.”
    Not being a novel or a short story collection, the book was a commercial failure when it first came out in hardback. But this failure made Egan discover what the book really was. “I feel I discovered later what genre it really was. Its really kind of a concept album -it’s a musical genre. Its a big story that takes place in small parts, that sound very different from each other. I wanted it to be composed of pieces that felt like they where parts of different books. Thats not something you see very much in the realm of writing but thats something you see very much in the realm of record albums.” I personally felt that music was the glue that held all the characters together.
    Although there have been some offers to adapt it in to film, Egan stated that she wouldn’t be interested in working on the screenplay. Although she did express her desire to write a companion volume to Goon Squad, “One that would involve some of the same characters, although all peripheral. I’m very interested in the younger generations and trying to follow them into their lives, which inevitably means into the future.” According to a piece on The New Yorker, Loulou would be the central character.
    To me, the novel seemed to come from a very personal level. All the different characters, their struggles and the places felt to me to come deep within Egan’s memory. But the interview revealed how she approached these with curiosity and not so much of moral judgement. This is something I personally struggle with when it comes to writing, mainly how much of your view in transmitted to the characters and their actions. To what degree can one be detached with the characters of one’s own imagination? Are these fictional characters borne in our minds but then develop a life of their own on paper? For now, I’d also like these questions to remain unanswered.

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  3. Wilma says:

    “A wardrobe of little darlings”

    A little darling, by Jennifer Egan’s definition is “A Beloved passage… that does not push your book forward… Some “stuff” ends up in your story just cause you know it”, she furthers. Writing more than what is good, or necessary is a very natural thing to do. Egan explains that writing additional material is like “Bringing four outfits, when you know you only need two”; a nice choice to have in hindsight, although it becomes ultimately redundant as the better options become apparent.
    But becoming too fond of a passage or word can be dangerous, as our readers will not be willing to see things as good, readable, or insightful simply because we as writers have grown attached to them. It is a redundancy at least at/in the time and place of its creation, and something that all writers must learn to harden their hearts against and work over.
    In fact, Egan tells us that all of fiction “should be an action thriller”- there should be movement and life at all times. Not in the hyper-literal sense of course, but every passage should add something unique, good, invaluable to the plot. Every word is taken to court – Even just a good metaphor, Egan tells us, may approach little darling territory, simply because the way in which we like it overwhelms its other merits. Cleaning your work in that sense is like cleaning out a wardrobe – why keep sweaters that one has simply for sentimental value, that add nothing to our style?
    Still, style, in both the fashion and writing sense, is a journey, and one Egan has good advice to give on. The author explains that oftentimes, these “little darlings” are words, sentences, metaphors that we have slaved over the most: “They are the things you’ve worked the hardest on”, she says of the phrases “However, the reason you have had to work so hard for them is because they do not work”.
    In fact, it seems that we find ways to make little darlings work, they simply have to! The passages have a built-in flaw; a sort of confirmation bias of importance and value. Either way, the love found for the passages is forced.
    One way Jennifer Egan presents to identify if something doesn’t fit right is to make a habit of reading out loud anything you have written. Mostly, little darlings can be found to just “hang there lifelessly” and are easily identified.
    Then follows the process of elimination. However, Instead of getting read of the above-mentioned passages and words instantly, Egan constructs what she calls her “pieces document”: A copy-past file for any oh-so minute thing that she wishes to delete or move to another space for the moment. Instead of ridding her text of a ‘little darling’ forever, these words, phrases, sentences are dropped in there and can be used later in some other instance. In fact, Egan tells us, this document has improved her writing elsewhere, when she was stuck for such a word or phrases at another point in time. Much like people, a word may not necessarily be all bad, rather just bad in connection with another. Breaking these sentences up for later use is easier than to fully give them up – this way you are not “losing” anything, objectively or subjectively.
    In a final addition, Egan cautions us not to see the ‘pieces file, which our professor and fellow writer Paul Festa refers to as his “junkyard”, as something negative – It is important to never see editing, especially in the instance of removing material as something negative. Much like refining a fashion style, removing pieces is never a loss – it’s a process of refining and improving.

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  4. Loulou Oudshoorn

    Jennifer Egan blogpost

    At forty-one minutes in the skype-call with Jennifer Egan, I asked her where her inspiration for using

    the program Power point in her novel had come from. Some background information: A Visit from

    the Goon Squad, Egan’s novel, consists of divided chapters, each in the perspective of another

    character. At first it is hard to really understand what is going on in the book, and who knows who,

    but later we realize that all the characters’ lives are woven together. They all somehow have to do

    something with each other. Near the end of the book, the content changes. We get a chapter that

    consists of Power Point slides. I was curious why Jennifer had chosen Power Point in her novel, as I

    had never seen it before. Her response: “I came much to it the same way as the second-person. As I

    just described, I was looking around for other ways to write, because I felt like I had run out of tricks,

    you know, I had done pretty much everything I knew how to do. I had failed at certain things, and

    didn’t think I would succeed. So I was giving up on epic poetry.” What I liked about this response is

    that we are used to hearing all the stories about ‘the writer with writers block’, but that an actual

    published author, who suffered from one, had succeeded in overcoming it, and was talking to us

    about it. It brings it much closer, and makes the writer more human. With the Power Point, Egan

    came up with a solution to her writer’s block. What I think I can learn from this response is to try to

    make my writing less conventional, experiment a bit. And also the greatest cliché ever: think outside

    the box. Egan used Power Point out of curiosity, she didn’t know it beforehand, as it was still quite

    new. And I think that is very admirable, and possibly also a fun solution to having no inspiration. I

    greatly believe in staying curious and wanting to learn. If you take the opportunity to keep learning

    new things, you can be surprised with what you find. “I struggled a long time on how to use it” and

    “My first efforts were kind of a bust,” show again that writing, and any form of creative work isn’t

    easy, and that struggling with your content is a big part of it as well. Along the way you will

    encounter failures.

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  5. IRINA: 9:43 – 14:29: Can research trip you up? Editing is about removing inert material.

    Little darlings. All fiction is an action thriller. Writer’s group – reading aloud to expose

    inert material.

    Every story was once a thought in the writer’s mind that was recognized as worth

    developing. Some of them needed nothing but a piece of paper to become reality. Other

    needed an extensive research. Non-fiction or fiction? A question that every writer has to

    have an answer to. Once that question has been answered, the writing begins. But what

    comes after that?

    Our LT212 class talked to Jennifer Egan, the writer of a novel A Visit from the Good

    Squad. Since she wrote fiction and is currently working on a new non-fictional work, she

    was the person to turn to with our questions.

    If you decide to write a non-fictional work, you have to be prepared to embark on a

    very long and tiring journey of collecting information you need through different means.

    Yet, this seems easy in comparison to what comes afterwards. Once you’ve wrote your

    story including the research material you’ve collected you can come across a problem of

    inert material. These are the sentences or paragraphs that look dead on the page.

    How do we notice them and get rid of them?

    Every writer who has done research know how attached you can get to something

    you’ve committed your time and energy to. However, the danger lies in this attachment.

    A writer becomes unable to detect the extra parts. Again, Egan has shared her personal

    experience in dealing with inert material with the help of her writing group.

    “Inner material is never in higher relief than when it’s read aloud” stated Egan

    Over the course of the last twenty years, Egan has meet with her writing group where she

    would read parts of her short stories and novels. Every time she would read something

    aloud, she would mark down the parts that sounded off, or cross out the one that had no

    purpose. A writer has to make himself aware of the unnecessary parts (words, sentences,

    sometimes whole paragraphs!) that can do more harm than good. This leads to the very

    last, yet crucial step in writing- editing. This is a long and demanding process that every

    serious writer has to go through. During editing a writer not only loses but also gains a lot

    of material. To put it in Egan’s words “It’s like bringing four outfits when you know you

    only have to wear two.” The editing process gives a writer many options, allowing him to

    choose the most exceptional one. It allows him to take a step back, detach himself and

    really see what “outfits” work the best. The parts that have been sentenced to the trashcan

    within a particular story, could be useful in an another one. Save your thoughts and use

    them somewhere else. or something else. Eventually, you’ll find a perfect place for them.

    Now ,the writer should be critical not only towards the context and the way it flows, but

    also towards the word choice, the sentence structure, and it can even go as far a

    formatting.If you want to be a good writer, as Franzine Prose says: “put every word on a

    trial for its life.”

    Furthermore, after hearing Egan’s thoughts on the approach to research and editing,

    we wanted to address something we’ve become very familiar with. Having spent so much

    time on fiction, we wanted to hear Egan’s explanation of the genre.

    “All fiction is an action thriller,” Jennifer Egan said.

    Egan’s definition of fiction stirred some doubts in me. So I turned to the great works of

    writers that we’ve read in LT212 so far (McInerney, Flaubert, St.Aubyn, Updike) and

    tried to put Egan’s definition in question. Soon enough I realized that they all have at

    least one thing in common. They all have a story line that keeps developing, including a

    new plot or detail in every chapter. The reader is captivated and lured into holding on to

    the book until the very last page. Even when there is not much action(in the basic

    meaning of the word), there are some inner thoughts or memories that occupy the

    character as much as the occupy us.

    All great stories were once thoughts in the writer’s mind, yet only a great writer can

    hold both a pen and a sword in the battle with the reality of writing.

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  6. Jenny Egan Interview: Intro

    Ronni Shalev

    How Do You Learn How To Write? is a question that some would answer by tracing

    letters on dotted paper and others by talking about grammar and sentence structure. In a course

    called LT212 Reading into Writing: A Fiction Workshop, we are as occupied with thinking about

    this question as we are with attempting to produce fiction of our own. The class is taught by Paul

    Festa, who we often hear declaring that “good writers borrow; great writers steal!”, and this is the

    unique approach that we take to the process of educating ourselves as writers. We’ve taken leaves

    out of different authors’ books: descriptive detail from Flaubert, dialogue from Jane Bowles,

    conflict between characters from Jonathan Franzen, and many more. Each author’s unique style

    snakes its way into our individual work, giving the class an additional dimension to relate to.

    Of all the books we’ve read, A Visit from the Goon Squad stands out. It seems that its

    author, Jenny Egan, wrote it with exactly the approach that we have in mind, reconciling different

    styles and techniques to create one book (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011). Each chapter in

    her book stands out as an entity within itself, harnessing different narration mediums and

    characters to skillfully portray a cohesive portrait of the world as she constructs it.

    It was to our enormous advantage, then, that Paul managed to get hold of none other than

    Jenny Egan for a lengthy Skype session with the class. This was a chance to be influenced from

    someone who had successfully mastered the art of being influenced herself. In the course of an

    hour, topics ranged from writing tips and techniques to researching material for a work of fiction

    and even a sneak peek at a possible sequel to A Visit from the Goon Squad – all while

    maneuvering our communication through Skype in a true post-modern, twenty-first century

    fashion.

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  7. Lola Jalbert
    Reading into Fiction
    Paul Festa
    Jennifer Egan Essay
    18 March 2016

    There is a small pause in the interview. Festa begins again by asking, “this is something that’s endlessly interesting to me, as someone who can’t finish, but how do you know when you’re reaching the end. What are the signs that it’s starting to really gel?” Twelve young writers lean in closer so as not to miss a single word coming from the laptop perched at the end of a conference style table. This is a very personal question for everybody in the room, who are each required to produce a short fiction story of at least fifteen hundred words every two weeks. Knowing when to be done is a chronic issue, and many feel as though they are never, and will never, be done.
    Egan seems pleased as well. “That is such a good question. You know, the answer is, it’s sort of instinctive.” Luckily, she elaborates, before I have the opportunity to look around the room in a panic to see if anybody else also finds revision as difficult as I do. She uses the context of her current project, a historical fiction novel, to help to explain her process a little better.
    [My] first draft, which I finished in April 2014, was eight hundred pages long. And, you know, basically unreadable because of the way I write, which is that I write by hand. So I just spew out a first draft and you can only imagine what kind of shape it is in when I finally type it up and read it. And what compounded the horror of confronting eight hundred bad pages was that the research felt so thin and undigested and really incomplete. Like there were all kinds of things I needed to know about that I knew nothing about. And so the rewrite of that draft took me seventeen months. (Laughs)

    She then informs us about sixteen of the seventeen months of this intensive editing process were spent honestly believing that the book was a terrible idea and would never even be worth reading. Her deadline for the book was June 2014, and the second draft was completed in November of 2015. Her next move was to read through it and plan revisions for the next, and hopefully, final draft.
    Luckily, the seventeen months spent slaving over this project and hating every word of it had not been useless. She tells us that,
    …it had solved a lot of the problems. I mean it really was better. I can’t say that I think it’s great, at all, because it needs another rewrite and it just may not be the good, period, but I felt like it was not a monstrosity. And so, that to me-so when I made my revision outline, the things I needed to do were you know, big, I mean it’s a fifty page revision outline but nothing really massively structural, no really sort of take it apart and put it back together and maybe it still won’t work out kinds of changes. And that to me was a sign that I was getting through it. I mean really it was just about how much do I need to do this time versus last time.

    Something in the hours and hours of revision must have clicked. And to me, the key tools for this process were time and diligence. She refused to give up on her project, devoting months of her life to its improvement.
    By the end of her answer, I don’t know if I feel more comforted or completely panicked. She makes the process of writing seem so intense. She has given us an honest portrait of being a career writer. I can’t decide whether I should drop out of university and become a full time creative writing, because it will take a lot of time, or if should get out now, while I still can. The amount of work and passion that goes into her work is astounding. There aren’t that many people willing to devote that kind of time and energy into an art form, whatever it may be. I have to admit, it was a terrifying realisation to make, how much work it would be to be a writer.
    At the same time, her response was nice, even comforting to hear. If even Jenny Egan’s first drafts aren’t good, then I guess it’s fine that mine are also bad. Maybe if I also spent seventeen months writing my second draft, instead of a few hours, it might be half as good as A Visit From the Goon Squad. It’s easy to forget that writing many things take years and what we have at the end of our deadlines is only the very beginning, an idea more than an actual, completed piece of writing. In this way, talking to Egan made me realise that writing is quite a bit of work. On the other hand, it made me realise what I could accomplish if I put in the time.
    Egan is so relatable. Well, as relatable as a Pulitzer Prize winning author who also writes occasionally for the New York Times Magazine can be to a nineteen year old amateur writer, anyways. Despite her degree, her qualifications, and her career experience, I have also experienced that feeling that what I am writing will never be good, or that the entire idea was pointless from the beginning. The fact that her first draft is written by hand, her research isn’t always solid the first time, and that her plots can need massive revision are all elements that make her so human, despite her illustrious career.
    Overall, I’m so glad to have been able to talk with a writer who is both talented and has experience building such an impressive career with her craft. It was a lovely and terrifying experience. Lovely in that I learned quite a bit, terrifying in that I don’t know if I have what it takes to truly write. The most important thing that Egan said seems to be that writing does not come easily. It is just as much work as creating a painting, animation, or sculpture would be. In the future, I will be more patient with my writing, as well as more accepting of writing something that isn’t initially good. And if I invest seventeen or eighteen months, maybe I could write something that could even become almost readable.

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  8. Alona

    Time spent with Jennifer Egan.

    A lot of things could be said about Berlin in the winter, most of them not favorable,

    but you have to give credit where credit is due: nothing will get you reading like a European

    city in January. This winter break I found myself alone in the city, as all my friends departed

    back to their warm homes (either in temperature or family gatherings), so when I got my

    reading list for my upcoming reading into writing course I couldn’t log into my Amazon

    account fast enough. By the time the semester started I already had a few of the books under

    my belt. One book was “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, which is now

    defiantly part of my top five must reads. Like with most things that you fall in love with

    effortlessly I didn’t quiet know what captivated me about this book. Was it the characters’

    never ending search for meaning in music? Was it my identification with all these far-from-

    perfect people? Or was it Egan’s true to life description of what it means to be young and live

    in a truly great city? It wasn’t until I heard her speak about it to our class that I realized why

    this book struck a chord with me, and how, if I had read it at any other moment in my life, my

    feelings for it could have been very different.

    When Paul told us we would be speaking with ‘Jenny’ (as he calls her), I couldn’t

    believe lucky we are, that she is to be in Berlin just when we are dealing with her book.

    Despite being a millennial through and through the option of Skype call just escaped my

    mind, so I must admit that when I entered the class and it was Paul’s Mac book sitting at the

    head of the table, and not Jennifer Egan herself, I was slightly disappointed. Were I to meet

    her in person it would have been my first meeting with an author whose work truly inspired

    me. Maybe subconsciously I was hoping that some of her magic would rub off on me. I took

    a sit as close to the computer as I could (I’m not above writing magic rubbing off in person,

    why would I be above it rubbing off through the World Wide Web?). I wanted to see her

    properly, see if her hands have some unique features that allowed her to do something that I

    never managed to do: finish a story. As luck would have it Paul took the computer to the

    other side of the table, and the video failed to carry itself all the way from New York to

    Berlin, so I never really got to see Egan. I did however hear her cat, which encourages my

    theory that authors need cats (I’m thinking Hemingway mostly).

    After a brief interdiction, Paul delegated the conversation to Egan, prompting her to

    tell us about the new book she has been working on. For any ‘Gone Squad’ readers out there,

    I can tell you right now, it’s not a sequel. In fact, it seems Egan is going in a completely

    different direction, saying: “I seem to have an urge to write something that is nothing like the

    last thing I’ve done.” However, her process is not so different, when it comes to finding her

    subject through her life. “Gone Squad” for example, started with a six years long reading of

    Proust in a reading group. Throughout those six years, between Egan and her reading group

    five children saw the light of day, which made her wonder: how could she capture the

    passage of time in a contemporary context? It was when she posed this question that the ball

    dropped for me. I realized that she had captured exactly what she wanted with “Goon Squad”.

    Using first and second narration, music interpretation, city backdrop, texting lingo and even

    power point presentations Egan presents the reluctant maturing that the modern world forces

    on all of us. The more the technology advances the less her characters want to grow up and

    forgo of the past. Technology makes time move faster. It makes the world bigger, and it

    makes the possibility of losing people far too common. I believe this is why I didn’t think

    about a Skype conversation to begin with, and why I find her book so appealing. Like Egan’s

    characters I usually feel the world is moving too fast, except for when I read. While it took

    me only two and a half weeks to read “Goon Squad”, I spend over twenty years with its

    characters. Books are the closest thing we have to time machines in that sense. They morph

    time, and dictate the rhythm of its passing. A thoughtful reader allows himself to fall into a

    book’s time trap, and gets to live life again and again in endless different ways. Egan’s next

    book will allow its reader to do just that, as she will be dealing with a time period completely

    different to our own. Living in New York, Egan got interested in the idea of looking at the

    city as a port town, which lead her to write about a turbulent period in the world’s history: the

    1930’s and 40’s. Focused on the Brooklyn navy yard, the heroes of Egan new book are the

    women who worked there during the Second World War. Not taking the matter of writing a

    historic novel lightly, Egan began an oral history project in 2006, interviewing the women

    who worked at the docks as young ladies. Thought the research process took nearly ten years,

    Egan is very happy she started it when she did, as some of the women she had the privilege of

    talking with had since passed away. The writing process was a difficult one, as Egan

    struggled to document the events in a historically accurate way while keeping the story alive.

    Today she is in the final stages of finishing her new book. I can’t help but imagine the

    printers of this book as time machines of themselves; with every turn of their many clogs they

    will take people back in time, to a period that will now live forever on our book shelves.

    Like

  9. Alona Cohen says:

    Time spent with Jennifer Egan.
    A lot of things could be said about Berlin in the winter, most of them not favorable, but you have to give credit where credit is due: nothing will get you reading like a European city in January. This winter break I found myself alone in the city, facing the cold with a copy of “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan in my hands. Like with most things that you fall in love with effortlessly I didn’t quite know what captivated me about this book. Was it the characters’ never ending search for meaning in music? Was it my identification with all these far-from-perfect people? Or was it Egan’s true to life description of what it means to be young and live in a truly great city? It wasn’t until I heard her speak about it to our class that I realized why this book struck a chord with me.
    When Paul told us we would be speaking with ‘Jenny’ (as he calls her), I couldn’t believe our luck, that she is to be in Berlin just when we are dealing with her book. Despite being a millennial through and through the option of Skype call just escaped my mind, so I must admit that when I entered the class and it was Paul’s Mac book sitting at the head of the table, and not Jennifer Egan herself, I was slightly disappointed. Maybe subconsciously I was hoping that some of her magic would rub off on me. I took a sit as close to the computer as I could (I’m not above writing magic rubbing off in person, why would I be above it rubbing off through the World Wide Web?). I wanted to see her properly, see if her hands have some unique features that allowed her to do something that I never managed to do: finish a story.
    After a brief interdiction, Paul delegated the conversation to Egan, prompting her to tell us about the new book she has been working on. For any ‘Goon Squad’ readers out there, I can tell you right now, it’s not a sequel. In fact, it seems Egan is going in a completely different direction, saying: “I seem to have an urge to write something that is nothing like the last thing I’ve done.” However, her process is not so different, when it comes to finding her subject through her life. “Goon Squad” for example, originated as a reflection on a certain aspect of life: “I was inundated in thought about… what the true lines of contemporary life are, especially with regards to time and our perception of its passage” Egan says. It was six years of reading of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” in a reading group that helped her process this idea into a novel:
    “As we were reading it, I was thinking… this book is about so many things, I mean, it’s a massive complex book. But it really is a book that’s explicitly about time. How could you do that in a contemporary context, but do it differently than the almost real time way that Proust does it?”
    It was when she posed this question that the ball dropped for me. I realized that she had captured exactly what she wanted with “Goon Squad”. Using first and second narration, music interpretation, city backdrop, texting lingo and even power point presentations Egan presents the reluctant maturing that the modern world forces on all of us. The more the technology advances the less her characters want to grow up and forgo of the past. Technology makes time move faster. It makes the world bigger, and it makes the possibility of losing people far too common. I believe this is why I didn’t think about a Skype conversation to begin with, and why I find her book so appealing. Like Egan’s characters I usually feel the world is moving too fast, except for when I read. While it took me only two and a half weeks to read “Goon Squad”, I spend over twenty years with its characters. Books are the closest thing we have to time machines in that sense. They morph time, and dictate the rhythm of its passing. A thoughtful reader allows himself to fall into a book’s time trap, and gets to live life again and again in endless different ways. Egan’s next book will allow its reader to do just that, as she will be dealing with a time period completely different to our own. Living in New York, Egan got inspired by her surrounding, saying:
    “My real entry point to fiction, and I think the reason why my books have end up being quite different from each other is time… what seems to really inspire me is a sense of atmosphere.”
    She started looking at the city as a port town, which lead her to write about a turbulent period in the world’s history: the 1930’s and 40’s. Focused on the Brooklyn navy yard, which was the biggest manufacturer and repairer of allied ships during WWII, the heroes of Egan new book are the women who worked there during the Second World War. Not taking the matter of writing a historic novel lightly, Egan got involved in an oral history project in 2006, interviewing the women who worked at the docks as young ladies. Thought the research process took nearly ten years, Egan is very happy she started it when she did, as some of the women she had the privilege of talking with had since passed away. The writing process was a difficult one, as Egan struggled to document the events in a historically accurate way while keeping the story alive. Today she is in the final stages of finishing her new book. I can’t help but imagine the printers of this book as time machines in and of themselves; with every turn of their many clogs they will take people back in time, to a period that will now live forever on our book shelves.

    Like

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