Nathan Englander: 2019 National Book Festival

>>Jessica Flynn: Good evening. It’s wonderful to
see you all here. My name is Jessica Flynn and
I am a Literary Art Specialist at the National Endowment
for the Arts, which sponsors the Poetry
and Pros Stage here, at the National Book Festival. I could not be more thrilled to be introducing Nathan
Englander to you today. And Nathan Englander’s
hard to put down new novel, “” a son grieves the
death of his religious father. Knowing he bears
the responsibility for reciting the Jewish
prayer for the dead for the next eleven months,
he stumbles upon the website, and realizes
that, well, there’s a way to outsource that obligation. In his characteristic
way, Nathan dives into his subject matter with
writing that is inventive and darkly funny and
allows you to see straight through to the heart
of its characters. Though the book explores big
themes, identity, faith, guilt, redemption, there were times
reading the book that was I was so immersed in the story and the
writing seemed so effortless, that I nearly forgot I was
reading as I turned the pages. Nathan Englander grew
up in Long Island in observant Jewish family, though he now describes
himself as secular. He said that is the
book he’s been waiting his whole life to write, one that brought
him back to where he started. He’s also the author
of four other books, including the novel, “Dinner
at the Center of the Earth” which came out just a
little over a year ago, very impressive, and the short
story collection, “What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne
Frank” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He was named one of the Twenty
Writers for the 21 Century by the New Yorker and his
work has been translated into twenty languages. Nathan is also a
translator himself most, recently of the New
American Haggadah, created in collaboration
with Jonathan Safran Foer. He teaches Creative Writing at
New York University and lives with his wife and
young daughter and son, where since becoming a parent,
he says he’s lost his on we time and does a lot of night time
writing to get his work in. In conversation with Nathan
today, is the very funny and smart Glen Weldon. He is a regular panelist on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy
Hour podcast and reviews books, movies, comics and more
for the NPR’s Arts Desk. He is the author of
two books, “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography”
and “The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd
Culture” and he is the recipient of a National Endowment
for the Arts, Arts Journalism Fellowship
among other honors. I am very much looking
forward to this conversation, please welcome Nathan
Englander and Glen Weldon. [Applauding]>>Glen Weldon: So Nathan.>>Nathan Englander: Hi Glen.>>Glen Weldon: Hi.>>Nathan Englander:
Hi everyone. Thanks for coming there’s
— yeah, so much to do here. So much to do and
so little time. So the Jews.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: Good
opening, right?>>Nathan Englander: Yes. The anti sematic hour.>>Glen Weldon: So
these Jewish traditions, I’m going to joist plan
to you for a minute.>>Nathan Englander: Yes. Exactly.>>Glen Weldon: In the
Jewish tradition there is — there are the rules and there
is the immediate reflective intrinsic questioning
of those rules, intellectual interrogation
of those rules.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: Which
is how you end up with something
like the Shabbos goy.>>Nathan Englander: Yeah.>>Glen Weldon: The Shabbos
goy, if you don’t know, is if the rule says
you can’t light a stove or push an elevator
button on a Saturday, you hire or you befriend.>>Nathan Englander: You hint.>>Glen Weldon: You hint to
get somebody to do it for you.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: It is
the original workaround.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: And
you’ve written a book about a workaround,
about a man who tries to find a workaround for grieve.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah. Where did that come from?>>Nathan Englander: I
know, Glen, for the so long, young as we look, he goes that’s
right to the core of my psyche, that question, of
where that came from. And by the way, thank you for
that instruction, Jessica.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: And I
thought it was totally unfair for her to ask you guys to
be on point your questions because my answers are totally
like rambling and confused.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: I was like,
oh, if you bring your A game, I will bring my A game.>>Glen Weldon: You see, all I have to do is
press play and sit back.>>Nathan Englander: Yes. Yes. And thank you for signing. All interpreters that I
have end up hating me, mostly they just
have to sign or say in many languages did not finish
sentence [laughter] makes things really hard, but anyway.>>Glen Weldon: You didn’t
actually outsource grief.>>Nathan Englander: Yeah.>>Glen Weldon: He outsourced
the manifestation of grief.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: The
observance of the rule.>>Nathan Englander: So I guess,
I you know, as I got said, I grew up in this super
religious world or, you know, again, if you’re more
religious, then you’ll be like you’re not even Jewish
because that’s how I — there was a Rabbi
who tortured us all, people either have beards to the
floor or are radically secular from him, but he is to
stay anyone more religious than me is a fanatic,
which I liked as a line. We didn’t think we
were so religious, it looked really
religious to me now. I am obsessed with rules, I am
not made for current day America or the planet, like, if
there was a broken light in the desert, like
it was on red and I could see one thousand
miles in both directions and there was a little bridged
for turtles and salamanders, I know there wasn’t, you would
find me dead at the wheel, like, I can’t break a rule. And I guess, what I both
like tortures me as an adult but I find also really beautiful about like super traditional
Judaism is they just — there are solutions. So first you ask the most
and then you go from there, and that’s the Shabbos goy
is the perfect example, but we just — you
make things work. So first, you say, okay if
you want to get married, you have to do this, this,
and this, and you have to go to the [inaudible] and you
have to do — and you’re like, okay I’m not doing any
of that and they’re like, okay jump over a
broom, we’ll go Pagan.>>Glen Weldon: Right. Right. Right. Right. Right.>>Nathan Englander: You know,
we’re go to get you there.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: So
I guess, I was thinking if you write fiction, if it bends we don’t
quote Woody Allen anymore.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah, we
don’t quote Woody Allen.>>Nathan Englander: But,
you know, fiction is — for me, it’s where I
make sense of the world and it’s a place to, I guess,
explore extremes and to look about — it just the modern
world seeps into your brain, this isn’t a political
book, it’s outside that, but my obsession with truth and
your word counting and loyalty, you look for the most extreme
forms that a story could handle. And I couldn’t think of
any larger than the prayer of the dead and what
that means in a family if one person is religious
and the other isn’t.>>Glen Weldon: Right. In the very first chapter,
on page two, you do a thing which I call, “cheating out”
and we talked about last time — cheating out is a performance
term, which means we’re talking, but if there’s an audience,
we kind of angle our bodies or our chairs out slightly
so that you guys can see. And you are in the you’re
writing about a community that is relatively small,
that has its own ways. That ways to the outside
world might seem arcane, so what you have to do as a
writer, is cheat and what you do in — and people do this
terribly in films when they say, “Well, you forget, we went
to high school together”>>Nathan Englander: Yeah. That’s what I was holding
in my head, I was just going to use the example of
like, since I know you from grad school, Glen.>>Glen Weldon: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. I’m your sister, remember?>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: Like
that kind of thing. So what you do is you had him
go outside and sit in a chair.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: And then
his sister comes back and says you sat
in the wrong chair, you sat the wrong
way in a chair. How conscious are you, as you’re
writing, of the need to speak about such specific
things to an audience that is not familiar
with the bylaws?>>Nathan Englander: Of joy. Literally, even the
word “cheating” like, there’s I write plays now,
I’ve got another one that I’m about to work on and like I
almost fainted the first day of rehearsal because I’m
like, wait, four people have to have dinner, but they
all have to face this way?>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: Like,
it has to be organic. I teach at NYU, as was said,
my whole job I just scream at the student’s
introduction of information. I cannot stand an inorganic word that seems unnatural
or meant to did work. That is so, so, so,
upsetting to me. So I think, yes, it’s
— I mean, that’s — I’m alone in a room all
day with me pup, you know, and the Internet there’s
anyway, but I guess — yeah, am I obsessed
with that idea of telling the story
organically, of it being natural,
but it’s your job, have you failed your readers
if they can’t enter a world. Like, I see it as
dual obligation. This book, you know,
I actually had to take to my fainting couch,
I was like, this is my most Jewish book yet, but if they’re all the most
Jewish like, how could this — that was like a philosophical
question to me.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: But I
think work, when you’re writing about a specific subject, like,
it has to seem to the people who know it as if no one who doesn’t know it could
possible understand it and then it also has to
be absolutely universal.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: So I
also say Cormac McCarthy, I love Cormac McCarthy. Horses to me are big dogs
that you ride, you know? I’m sure if you know
something about a dapple that I don’t know what,
I’m sure there’s something that makes sense to you as they
walk across the sage brush, you know what I’m saying? Like I read for one thing,
and then for a horse person or a Southwest it’s
going to mean –>>Glen Weldon: Sure.>>Nathan Englander:
something else. I always say watch, “The Crown”>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: You know? It’s so good, like, that’s
something — I love The Crown, but I’m watching, like, who’s
going to win World War II?>>Glen Weldon: Yeah,
like, you know? If you know British stuff,
I was like, you know, Prince Harry, was
it Prince Harry? His Nazi –>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: is
a whole different costume after you watch The Crown.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: Anyway,
but to that point, I am hyper, you have to have a bifurcated
brain when you write fiction. Your obligation is
only the story, it has to be super
insidery and true They can’t be like, as you
said, talking at each other, and then it also has
to let in or you fail. And I think, I learn
that because, you know, back to when I started writing
fiction, there’s wanting to apologize and you see
what you need to fight for. You know, when an editor,
like, different countries, my books come with glossaries
I’m like if that that’s what you to want do, you know, awesome.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: But I’m
saying, somebody eats matzah, I’m like, did their — did
blood shoot out their mouth? Like, did foam come out? Okay. It’s not Drano.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: You know, it’s dry it’s probably a
cracked, like, you can tell if they eat it and fine,
it’s probably food. They’re not that happy, it’s
probably not the best food. You know? You can follow
story because I feel like this only happens
with like Jewish stuff, like African American
literature, LGBTQ stuff, it’s only nobody picks
up like Candide and says, “Can I give this to my non
French friend who’s not disemboweled, like
Cunégonde’s been dead for two hundred years?” You know? Like, it’s really back
to as I teach at the university so now I’m learning
about micro regressions.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander:
It’s a really sweet and beautiful thing, but it’s
only like, everything we read, we don’t understand —
like that’s the point, if you read Si-Fi, like I’ve
been screaming this whole book about Game of Thrones,
like do you have a dragon?>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: Are
you the mother of dragons? Like I followed just fine.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah. Sure. Sure. I mean, so Larry starts this
book, he’s 30 years old, he has left the Orthodox
community and then a marvelous
thing happens where he goes back to it. Spoiler it’s like, you know.>>Nathan Englander: Spoiler. It’s not a spoiler.>>Glen Weldon: One fifth
of the way in the book.>>Nathan Englander: Yeah.>>Glen Weldon: And thing that I
noticed reading it over again is that Larry is miserable
and Shuli, until something happens,
is happy.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: Is home. Now, the Nathan Englander
that I knew when we were in our twenties.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: Could
he have written a book that is this generous
hearted to this community that you had just left?>>Nathan Englander: No.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander:
I definitely couldn’t, and thank you and it’s
because of like he was, you know, like my guide. He’s like this is what good
food tastes like, you know, you helped me with
a lot of things. But, you know, I could
bring my shrink up here — but like there’s like
things you work on. If you’re still upset about
like not now it’s funny to me that I sat on the bunch. When I got put in the
basketball game and I started to pull my sweatpants off, and I
was like I’m not wearing shorts. I still never left the bench, I
didn’t even have a uniform on, look at that, but I’m saying, if that doesn’t become
funny to you.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: Over time,
like that’s the way you’re — I guess part of what — I’m in D.C. part of what’s
tearing this country apart, I — part of what drove the —
the book before this one, I can’t believe I have back
to back books, it’s unheard of to me it’s just I saw Joyce
Carol Oates downstairs she has like thirty one novels?>>Glen Weldon: It’s more.>>Nathan Englander:
But I’m say seventy?>>Glen Weldon: Seventy.>>Nathan Englander:
Seventy novels, that’s right. So but I also say to — I was
like, if I just typed them over, I don’t think in my
lifetime I could retype them.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah. Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: Even
if you gave me the books. But back to back
books is crazy for me, but I wrote an Israel Palestine
book and I feel like this is like a weird companion to
me in a very different way, but I’m obsessed with
the loss of empathy. The world doesn’t function —
we have societies for a reason, you know what I’m saying? Where it’s like did
[inaudible] call 911 when they have a
Chainsaw accident? Like, that’s why —
I love to pay taxes. I know that’s not popular
in this town, but like, I want someone I lived in
Malawi for a year — I want — when you dial 911 someone,
should answer the fucking phone, you know what I’m saying? So anyway, but yeah, but I think
— I’m glad if I have more — you can be different you can
— I’m so far from this world.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: I guess
this gets back to my family. We are so my family my sister
wears a wig, like, you know, like our — we don’t ever
talk politics, our worlds are so radically different,
but I can’t stand it, tolerance is so insulting to me.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander:
Like, it’s about respect, I can play both sides in my
brain and I think it’s, again, we have dual realities
now, we’re not giving over the whole event to
this, but I’m very interested in finding space to
understand and, you know, have feelings for both sides.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander:
So thank you. I think that’s really at
the core, is me getting to the place where like.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: Shuli
really loves being religious and I use to love
being religious.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the
jump that he makes, the transformation
back to Orthodoxy.>>Nathan Englander: Yeah.>>Glen Weldon: Is
handled in two pages.>>Nathan Englander: Yeah.>>Glen Weldon: Now,
this box book a kind of leaning propulsive energy
behind it of a short story. There is a central mystery,
there’s an investigating.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: There’s
a reveal. Did it start out as a short
story that got longer? Was it a longer — because
there was in essential — there’s no chap here,
anything that doesn’t really — don’t feed into Shuli’s
grief journey is gone. So what was that process like?>>Nathan Englander: Oh, every
book feels like the first book. I always say like if I’m in a
gymnast, like, I have a new baby at home, so I can’t say
I’m tired after this trip because my wife’s going to be
like you slept in a hotel room, but anyway, but I was like,
as I limped to get the baby with plantar fasciitis, I’m
just saying if you’re a gymnast, your career, like you know
I have a ballerina friend in New York, she’s been retired
since she was like 24, you know, it’s like, oh, that was a
great career, I’m done now.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: Point is,
what I love about writing is like it’s just this
gigantical starting again and every book feels
like the first book. And I was so thank you for
saying, you’re so generous, I hope the book meets
Glen’s description. But I guess you think about
things on the road you spend like ten — my Argentina novel
took me a decade it wasn’t — I didn’t even brush — I had
like gingivitis at the end, I was just writing
that’s it, you know?>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: And then
it’s like, then somebody’s like I had a great
afternoon with that book. And I was like, actually
that’s a joyous thing. I wanted this book
for people to be like, I sat down and I read it.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander:
You know, like, I wanted that ark
of its strip down. Yeah, it had a different worth, I had just finished this crazy
mad, like, seven timeline, you know, five continent, like, Israel Palestine multi
reality book and I was like, I just want to write
something extraordinary lean that is a journey. Like that’s the point, the
Jewish stuff gets laid on it, it’s like a mystery
in a weird way. And, yes, it did start out
as a short story I’m pausing because I’m trying to
be vulnerable here, but it’s so extremely
vulnerable. This was the most out of body — it’s the first novel
that I wrote — I never thought about how
short stories come to me, they come to me like in
a dream, they just are. And is novels you can’t — you can’t sit down and read your
whole novel, you’re not going to get much of a work day if you’re writing a seven
hundred page novel, you’re like, let me start polishing
from word one.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: You know,
you have to like build an ark and it has to be
an unbroken dream. Point being, this is the
first novel that came to me in that same weird different
kind of dream state and I wanted to explore that and back to
this there’s a twenty year jump about, you know, twenty pages
in like that I’m obsessed with negative space because
what makes this an event — like it’s a miracle like the —
all of us in the room together, there’s someone I haven’t seen
in twenty years that’s here in [inaudible] you know, like, that’s the last time
we saw the infinity of putting us all together. Like, what makes — I
hope you like this event, but what makes it a joy
for me is you don’t see like twenty five years
of friendship with us, we’re just two people talking
the absence of all the stories and all the things
and adventures, that’s what makes it this real. And I think I can’t be —
I’m not religious anymore, I’m religious about fiction.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander:
It patterns the brain. It literally — if a
story is functioning, your brain changes,
it becomes memory. I have the next play that
I’m writing is on my story, “What We Talk About When
We Talk About Anne Frank” and how I wrote that story,
why I married that idea to the Carver story, “What
We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is because I was
writing about these two couples and then I just had this memory and I saw a different two
couples at a table, like, I saw the changing light of day,
a bottle of gin between them, and I thought, oh, my
God, that’s what story — I couldn’t tell you
anything about that story. I didn’t remember, there
was a doctor or where it is. I didn’t see words, I had
a memory and I was like, that’s what fiction needs to do,
is it needs — so yeah, for me, it’s about that’s the
only thing to deliver as like a complete universe.>>Glen Weldon: Right. Now you have written
about, very movingly, in your two previous novels
about mothers and sons. This book is essentially
about fathers and sons and you’ve written about that
before, you’ve touched on it in many places, this
is a full deep dive into that specific
kind of relationship. You have just become, months
ago, you just became the father to a son, how — what parts of your brain are functioning
one way when you were dealing with father and son relationship versus the mother
and son relationship?>>Nathan Englander: Is it
rude from I start nursing? [Laughter] no, let’s
go full [inaudible]>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: Anyway, but
the my milk’s coming in anyway, but oh, God it’s so gigantically
and vastly different. And again, yes as a
parent but your job as a writer is to
write everything. You don’t have to —
you don’t — that’s — there’s always writers
in the room, there’s always people
dreaming of being writers, so I want to give you advice
I wish someone had told me. I was so sad when I was
dreaming of being a writer because I had grew
up in Suburbia, I did have actual
parents but I was mostly – this is what brought
Glen and I together when we understood
we were related because we had the same family,
which was a sitcom repeats.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: You know.>>Glen Weldon: Exactly.>>Nathan Englander:
Not even basic cable. So I was like if you watch, you
know, Good Time, enough times, like, these are your relatives. Anyway, but but that idea, I was
like, oh, I can’t be a writer because all my memories are
from the mall or someone else’s as made into sitcoms, you know? So yes, there’s I’m
not going to do any — because it’s just not
true, you know what saying? If you can imagine it, you
just have to have feelings, you have to have real feelings. By the way, I also free you
up, many writer friends, you can even be a sociopath, you
just have to have real feelings when you’re writing,
nonetheless. Honestly, some of those
people you’re like, man, you’re good on the
page, but wow. Anyway As to this point, the father
son relationship is complicated for many sons. I think it was about,
yes, my daughter was born, I was thinking of the
parent relationship and that I’ve become I
have definitely not — so [inaudible] but in the ten
years since my father died. I’ve become so much
closer with him. Like your relationships change
sometimes after people are gone, you know like, you can
understand different choices, different things in life and
I think that was the big thing to explore in this book. The same question that Glen
is asking about the way I like bumped up against religion,
I think it’s also the same way of how you reexplore
relationships over time.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: And I
was ready to explore that.>>Glen Weldon: Right. I have not read you
writing about — I mean, this is an
autobiographical novel, except in the sense
that it very much is.>>Nathan Englander:
Except for the fish tank.>>Glen Weldon: Yes. Yes. Except for the
fish tank scene. I’ve not read you writing
about fathers and sons in the way that I have here. There’s a series of dreams
sequences which work. They work because they’re
coming at this topic and from a surprising place. What I wanted to ask you though
is about the character of Shuli; who when he’s Larry, he is
miserable, when he’s Shuli, up until a certain point, he’s happy because
the reason Larry seems to about be miserable
is A: The grief, but B: He is not where he should be. He is a person who knows the
rules and is ignoring them and that misery doesn’t come
from not knowing the rules.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: That
misery doesn’t come from not being ignorant
of what’s expected of you, it’s comes from knowing
exactly what’s expected of you and not doing it.>>Nathan Englander: So
I think — and this is — you start to learn over time,
like, I learn when you get to talk to someone brilliant and
I learned so much from readers, someone’s going to ask
the question that I take to the next city and
I’ll be like, well, I wrote that because of this. But as to Glen’s question, like,
over time I start to see certain like I never trust
writers and do this, that’s how stories get — it’s
got to be three dimensional, but I guess there’s a
certain — I like — I like giving mass to a joke. Like. It took me a
long time to see that. Which is like I use to have
long, like picture shared on Moonstruck, I had these
long curls, you know, I’d go to my religious
sisters house and like the nice married
women who’d wear wigs, would say like I can make
such a wig out of that hair. And then I felt like,
oh, that’s a funny joke and then I was like, oh, but
that how does that become story.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander:
And I thought about like a Hasidic woman
seeing a man in Manhattan with like gorgeous hair
that she just has to have — like Red Kringle, you know. I thought about a Hasidic man
with a big belly and white beard who can’t afford to pay for
a synagogue to he has to work at Macy’s as a Jewish
Santa Clause. The nicest things about
going on the road, everything I’ve ever
dreamed, if anyone reads it, I have met every Jewish Santa
in American, they are legion.>>Glen Weldon: Yup.>>Nathan Englander: But
in the last twenty years. So in this one, I guess, there’s
a great fear in my household about what my true
inner self is. And I was — like, I my wife
is just so afraid she’s going to come home and I’ll be
nailing like up twenty mezuzah’s and burning the kitchen down and
like Pin the Tail the Donkey, I’ll have nailed [inaudible]
I’ll get extension [inaudible] like, I’m so I call myself back
to the Haggadah got mentioned with Jonathan Safran Foer like
our [inaudible] road show. He’d have me read
from my translation, I’d introduce myself as an
atheist and radically secular and then he’d have me
read it and he’d just say to the audience, “Have you
ever seen a more religious man in your life?” You know. So I know it’s in me, and I was thinking we’d
all get one switch, that’s what I was thinking
about, you know what I’m saying? You get to come out
of the closet, but you’re not supposed
to go back in. Do you know what I’m saying? You’re can switch
political parties once, we’re going the listen to
you once, we’re not going to hear your story — you
know, like, choose a side. A sports team, you
can stop drinking, we won’t help you start again.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: You
know what I’m saying? Like, I left religion,
that’s my narrative.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: But
I thought I like it so — I was just at my nephews — man, do I like that
screaming deafening, ecstatic dancing,
it’s really fun. So I felt like, what
about that switch? What about once who’s left but
who knows — who finds their — I guess, that’s the
religious part of my brain. I feel like people
do have natures.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: You
know, you can change a lot about yourself, but your nature,
I feel like Larry was being — I thought about what rebellion
is, and that gets back to Glen’s question of like —
of this book being like kinder or more connected to the
religiosity, which is — I guess, I was exploring
rebellion. And rebellion is not
caring it’s really — not to care is bad ass. Do you know what I’m saying? If you — like I remember
a friend got divorced and I was like, oh,
didn’t know what to say. I saw your wife with
her new boyfriend and he was like,
“Isn’t he great?” And I was like, “You needed
to get divorced” you know? Like, that’s not caring. And for me, that was the notion
of seeing how much is rebellion at the front of the
book is him — it’s an own kind of engagement.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: Do
you know what I’m saying?>>Glen Weldon: Yeah. We’re close to — we’re
at the fifty minute mark. I have one last question and
then we’ll throw it to you. So let me tell me about the
scene where Shuli and Gabriel, the student, are looking
for the, the place where it came from. And obviously, Shuli is not
a technique rat, he’s not big on the web, and he
— the very notion of Google street view
seems to him like spying.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: Seems
to him like an invasion. Because he’s gone from being,
Larry who thinks poorly of everyone, to a man who thinks
that even the best people — even the people who
are performing in bad faith have
the best intentions.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: So he
feels that’s an invasion.>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: Talk a
little bit about that.>>Nathan Englander: Yes. And you’ve spoken to me
before on and off stage. Back to Glen, nicely
mention the dream thing.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: I
did want to say, hey, my dreams are central to
this book and ideas of heaven that I was, you know,
raised with, I did want to take
a second for that. Like, that’s really central
to this, I was raised with these terrifying ideas
of heaven, which you know, connects to this internet thing. They’ll be like, oh, when you
die, you just watch a movie of your life with
God on one side and your mother on the other. They would like for torture us,
a 14 year old boy doesn’t want to hear that, but why dreams
which are not justified in book are — I thought they
were so justified, so thank you. If they were — because for
Jews, and a religious Jew, and a Jew in Israel dreams are
poor sense of its own reality. So I’m very delicate — I’m
very careful when a novel — like when someone leans
on dreams in a book, it has to earn its place, but
I thought, yes, Jews and Israel and Egypt and stuff
like that, you dream, it’s for real, that’s one thing. But back to the Internet,
I guess, I was the kid — I wish I was naughtier,
you know what I’m saying? I had a very low bedroom,
I could have climbed out the window, down the garage. I wish I smoked weed and I
wish someone had told me, like all kinds of
things, you know, like, I just didn’t know
to do anything. I was always in trouble
for theological questions, which is so embarrassing
[laughter] but that’s so to be like Englander, get out, I
won’t tell the principal, just go, get lost, whatever. But just questions, and one of
them I was going to say, like, I’m sure these Rabbis are long
dead, except when you look at a picture of your, like, first grade teacher you
felt was 90 and you’re like I think she’s 30. Anyway, this Rabbi
may be like 50 now, but I thought he’s
probably dead.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander:
Anyway, but to that notion, I would say like — but
this idea of omission, it’s like that God could
know, just this room alone, what every single person
in this room has done, what they’re doing now, and
what they’re going to do next. Like that to me, was too much
more me to ask for the global and I think I sort of had to sit
back and when I was rethinking for this book and say, oh,
my God, like, we’ve built and it’s old school,
it’s a Jewish, it’s not a New Testament,
the internet is mean, but we’ve built a veta God. Like it’s not — do you
know what I’m saying? Like, it’s not that I open
my Instagram and it knows that the house needs groceries. It’s that like my daughter has
said to my wife, who had said to me, like, if you’re
running out, we need green Tortellini
it’s not like I get an ad for Tortellini, I get an ad
for the green Tortellini. You know what I’m saying? That’s terrifying and it
happens — I have so many — I was noting them when I
was writing this book, like, hyper specific things. You know, I think I
knew from Instagram that my wife was pregnant
with our son before she did. It’d be like get a diaper
ad and I was like, oh, we’d better go get a
test [laughter] you know, like, it’s so crazy. But, yes, I just want to
think of what we’ve built and what we’ve brought in
and what it’s doing to us as a society because —
there’s a pornography moment in this book, you know, that
like echoes where he wants to Shuli wants to
put everything right, that’s the journey in the book. Fix it with his father, with
his student, with his wife, with his friends, with his
sister and one thing is, you know, at this, you know, at
this porn clip that he’s look — with the woman in the thing because I felt that’s the
most pressurized form, which is I just — like on late
night TV, you’ll turn on one of these, you know, shows
like whatever, Conan, and they’ll be making —
someone will have like looked at their phone and
then you know, fallen into like a
cesspool and that’ll be like everyone will mock it,
it’ll be on every channel. That this — unless the
person jumped into it and filmed themselves jumping
into the cesspool, like, this could be the most
famous thing they have done for infinity generations — like that idea of this
unforgiving nature, this recording, this knowing. I just wanted to
look at it and just because it’s there
doesn’t — or we can do it, doesn’t mean it deserves — like, doesn’t deserve
further exploring. So, yes, just because I
can look at house or — like, I think you know, you
have to — like I read — like you have not
Google every — like just, you know,
this notion. Even now that it’s being like,
like, aerosolized politically.>>Glen Weldon: Yeah.>>Nathan Englander: This
idea that they’re looking for someone’s old tweet that
you can tear people down. Like, that the idea that you
don’t get to be human anymore and that we have — just
because we have all this data and we make terms that are
friendly cookie and mining and whatever mining,
not so friendly.>>Glen Weldon: Not so friendly.>>Nathan Englander: Anyway, but
I just think we have to think about how we’re using
in a nondidactic way, it’s one paragraph in the book, which is also what
literature does, it’s not — a book fails unless
you’re Orwell, and that’s his true nature,
it can’t lecture, it can’t — it just has to ask questions. And you know what
I thought about it? This, I did this, I was
going to do this project and everyone got fired and fell Apart, I had this whole
meta computerized thing, I wanted to do some weird
fiction thing I like doing — anyone wants some
work on something? I’ll come paint your barn. I’ve been enjoying back to
the plays, I like working with people, but this like,
super smart MIT guy had told me that when the phone
doesn’t know — this is probably totally
wrong, you can correct me, but that’s the best
part of writing fiction, it just has to spark ideas. But when the phone doesn’t
know exactly where you are, that’s the big part in this
book, is the X, Y, and Z axis, it’s not because the phone
doesn’t know where you are, I think he said it
was under Clinton, but they don’t want those
missiles that can find you, hitting this chair,
and not Glen’s chair, they want to make
it a little fuzzy that you maybe don’t
get the right one of us. I think that he said that
a little fuzziness is put into the data in our phone,
that that’s like mandated, there’s like a forefoot
or whatever it is. That it’s meant to
be a little fuzzy. So my point is, I guess that
state in my brain, which is just because you can do something
and have access to something, doesn’t mean it’s okay
and I just want to think about how we treat each other,
how we talk to each other, not to be all preachy and
whatever, I just wanted to look — back to someone
who thinks this is a — we’re in a reality, stage
reality, novel reality. I guess, I just want it to look like the Internet
is its own reality. Like, the idea that
you’re a mean person there, it means you’re mean.>>Glen Weldon: Right.>>Nathan Englander: You know? I just wanted to look at that.>>Glen Weldon: Thank you man. Okay. Let’s — thank you. [ Applauding ] All right. I want to give some of you the
opportunity to get him started. So step up to the mic if you
have any questions at all. Nothing.>>Nathan Englander: The
pregnant pause is my favorite.>>Glen Weldon: The
pregnant pause. Is there walking? There’s walking. There’s no walking. Okay.>>Nathan Englander:
Oh, here comes someone.>>Glen Weldon: Okay.>>Guest: I was going
to but no one else is.>>Glen Weldon: Sure.>>Nathan Englander: Oh, yeah. Thanks. No one else is going.>>Glen Weldon: There we go. There we go. There we go. Okay.>>Guest: Do you
want to go first?>>Guest: Sure.>>Glen Weldon: Please.>>Guest: I’m curious,
now having heard you speak and you write short stories, what’s your editing
process like [laughter]>>Nathan Englander:
That’s funny. That is — yes, I always — the whole point of me
giving talks is called, this is why I don’t
have a radio show, this is why Glen doesn’t
have me on the podcast. You know what, that’s
why I think you — back to finding forms and
true forms I think in circles, I talk in circles, everything is
just untethered and, you know, I have a memory from high school
of telling like five stories at once at a party to new
people, and I’m looking panic and a friend being like,
just stay with it, you know? Don’t panic. Keep listening. All the punch lines will
come, it’s just a five, it’s a five part simal joke. Anyway, so yes, I — that
is a true compulsive, in case this book doesn’t make
it, clear or Glen’s question, like wheel kind of where
religion and OCD and all that stuff mixed together. I love cleaning a
sentence that is my chance. Everything I write is at
least twice as long, if not, longer, I draft compulsively. The reason I’m sitting up here
is because the story I wrote, “The Twenty Seventh Man”
that I started when I was 19 and I drafted until I was 28,
it’s all of like, you know, fifteen pages but I
must have like six or seven feet of drafts. Yes, that is your chance. Like, this is our — supposed
to be our interaction, like the novel, it’s just — it’s not about everyone’s really
busy and I respect all that, but I just believe if there’s
I think of a book like Jenga, do you know what I’m saying? Like you can’t like set up
Jenga and be like, I win. You didn’t win. And you also, if you pull it and
it falls down, you also lost. Like, you just — I think — I guess back to that
religious self I feel like books have their true form, and if you love them they
become perfect to you, you know? And there’s a whole thing,
every culture has it, there’s like Navajo blankets,
the Jews have it, Islam has it, but I also believe back
to their perfection, they should have a flaws because
they’re made by human beings. So after first edition we’re
like, there’s a missing comma, I’m like, [kiss] now we’re done. Thank you. Yes. Yes. Brave, sir.>>Guest: Thank you.>>Nathan Englander:
Who he is in bible? Yup. Who jumped into
[inaudible] who jumped into the>>Guest: My question is about,
What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank and I love that for it’s a very
humanistic short story. But it really, the end
scene with the pantry, it jolted me a little bit,
it kind of shook me up and I thought about
it for a while. I think it jolted me
because it brought me back to particular memory. I promise I won’t turn you
into my therapist right now, there’s a point to this.>>Nathan Englander: I
take COBRA [laughter]>>Guest: It brought me
back to a memory when I was in Judaism during Shavuot and I
was short of trying on the hat of being maybe a
little more Jewish, and it was the message I got
from some Orthodox Jews short of lecturing during that time,
was that maybe I wasn’t Jewish or not that it doesn’t have
Jewish, but maybe not Jewish at all, in their terms. And I was thinking, and this
might be oversimplifying it, but what do you think this idea
that maybe when the issue is with Mark and some
Orthodox Jews, not all, but that maybe there’s a
lack of empathy for people who are less Jewish or
defined as not the same –>>Nathan Englander: Oh, you’re
talking about [inaudible] is that where we’re headed?>>Guest: Sure.>>Nathan Englander:
Or things like that?>>Guest: Or the issue
of empathy between Jew.>>Nathan Englander:
Yes, this is — I mean — this is, you know. This is what obsesses
me, which is like, yes, how we treat our — like,
I guess it’s more — I remember friends, you know,
just wanting to be accepted for different things that
weren’t going to be accepted. There’s different fights to
have and different people, like, I’m filling in a home narrative and I don’t know the
conversation and I’m making it about one thing or the other,
but, like, that’s the idea. Like, I really work on
it, I so fear authority, like it’s just extraordinary, I
need confirmation of everything, I’m almost 50 years old,
which I can only say it for a little bit longer so. Like one thing is like, who
cares what that guy thinks. Do you know what I’m saying? Like that’s the main
freaking thing. Like, and I work
so hard on that. I guess, again, this is what
just if we take it out of Jews and take it to Israel
Palestine where I said, like, I’m in Jerusalem and
my Palestine neighbor’s in [inaudible] like not
a difference of opinion that Martin [inaudible]
could fix that we could have, but like, I mean, like
two different realities, like inhabiting the same city. Like, we brought it to
America now, like if I put up those things, like,
okay two pictures, like, let’s break this room down, which inauguration
has more people? That’s a difference of opinion,
that’s two running realities. So I think the hardest what
I see about the world like, you know, my brain,
it’s so extreme now, it’s literally ripping this
country apart and the planet. Do you know what I’m saying? We need to save ourselves. But yes, you have — we have,
you don’t — you know what? Like, if it’s your issue,
don’t bend, don’t give up, fight for it, obviously, but
there has to be some empathy for different realities but
you can also reject that, do you know what I’m saying? Like that’s the point. If you’re like racist,
like, fuck off. Do you know what I’m saying? That’s not something
I’m interested in. You know, like, that you don’t
have a valid like, we could — there’s things we have to not bend do you know
what — this whole thing. Well, your whole
question is we tried — the question is empathy,
everything’s getting bent, there still is right and wrong,
do you know what I’m saying? Like there’s two sides
to everything except for things that are just wrong. Do you know what I’m saying? Except for climate denial. Do you know what I’m saying? I watch people’s you
know starving in Malawi because of the — I
lived there for a year, I watched people dying,
like kids starving to death because there’s no rain
and then there’s a flood. Like, so you could deny it
here, but there’s people dying. You know what I’m saying? And we’re like — so my
point is, yes to empathy. Yes to bending. Yes to communication, but
if someone’s just wrong, who cares what they think and,
you know fight the good fight.>>Glen Weldon: Thank you. [ Applauding ] Have members of the Orthodox
community come to any signings and or talks like this?>>Nathan Englander: Yes.>>Glen Weldon: So
how does that go?>>Nathan Englander: There’s so
many people like there’s just — I really — oh, Glen, so much. Like I can think of
different, you know, people along the way have been
so central to me being here. But this editor who just
I — again, like I’m — you know, when we talk about
our Meritocracy, I wish I knew to like that’s the thing. It’s not what’s — maybe
grad school matters, but really what matters
is telling kids and people you can do
something, you know? I just thought I can’t be a
writer until this woman told me, like why don’t you try? Like, I just thought it’s
not — I’m not allowed. I’m not — you know,
like of this world. And she was a religious
woman and she use to tell me like you’re getting
off way too easy. What I find so beautiful about
different communities and maybe that — thank you, that’s such
a good allude to your question, is people willing to be come
out of the their comfort zone, I have so much — like
it’s really moving to me. Yes, I’ve had like people from
all streams, but like, you know, Hasidic people like really. I find it so beautiful
that’s what literature does. I remember, I don’t think
Rabih Alameddine is here today, but like when I was living in
Judaism he wrote this book, “Koolaids” that I love,
which is about like Lebanon and Lebanese war and AIDS
and, you know, homosexuality and whole billion different
things, but it was about Beirut. And it’s like, we were at
war, I was living in Judaism, and we’re at war with Lebanon
and, like, I read this book in Judaism and it just
makes me think, oh, my God, Beirut is exactly like here. And I give it to a French friend
I watched that one copy back to physical books
and my love for them, why I love physical books
I watched that copy move until this super religious
Scholar got it and like loved it and I felt like,
yeah, that’s you know, the question you were asking,
is what books should do? Is not taking action. It is like this — it is
a shared consciousness, there is no crime in reading,
no reading should be forbidden, you know what I’m saying? Like, no book should be banned,
you know like I just I have to think about it if I can think
of a book [inaudible] anyway, but nonetheless, like, yes, I
found support from the community so beautiful and moving to
me and really meaningful to me because, again,
it’s about judging a soul. Like today, my agent taught
me before I started — like going on tour twenty
years ago, but she’s like, if you go great on stage, you’ll
sell a copy, if you, like, hurt someone’s feelings,
they will tell their children and their children’s children
what a terrible person you are [laughter] but anyway,
but I feel like, you know What it is with writing,
it’s about, like you — I remember a friend
being shocked when a stranger was really like
intimate with me and she’s, like, “The person, he didn’t
even know you” and I was like, “But he did, we shared a brain.” Like I put my brain in here, if
you read it, like if it works, we are sharing a conscious
and I find it really beautiful when people from worlds where literature is maybe a
little more dangerous to them, take that leap, it’s
unbelievably rewarding.>>Glen Weldon: It really is. I want to thank the
NEA for allowing me to have this conversation
with my oldest friend and for you coming here so
that you can see a glimpse of why I love him so much. Thank you all and
have a good night.>>Nathan Englander:
Thank you, Glen. And thank you for signing

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