It’s telling when two new translations of Eurpides share coveted New Fiction table space at McNally Jackson, arguably New York City’s hippest independent bookstore.
That’s why I hate it when people say, “I don’t have time for reading or writing.” Some people say, “I love writing, but I don’t have the time.” They don’t know that by reading and writing, you earn time. Because you’re living twice. So the more you read, the more time you have. You have layers of existences. When I don’t write or read, I can clearly sense that I am wasting a part of my day.
The ability to think about and imagine other people’s lives and minds, to enter into their heads, is the beginning of empathy, of the moral imagination and sense. That is exactly what fiction does, too. I wanted to have that not only as the invisible and silent dynamo powering my book, but also to make The Lives of Others wear the morality of the novel form on its sleeve.
But that’s all it took—the place had its hooks in me, and for many years after that second trip I had an intense longing to return, but I wanted to go only if I could stay for a year or more—I wanted to settle down, see old friends and make new friends, get into a rhythm, hang out at night with the old guys playing chess in the alley, watch the seasons change.
The guards were ordinary women and there were some nice ones, who of course were tougher on the criminals, so life in prison was not made easy through the cowed condition of keeping our heads down and following the rules. I and others broke a lot of non political rules such as smuggling in books, smuggling out letters, stealing pen and paper from the office and we were very good at it.
There is no business plan, except the belief that in the truly long run it will all even out if you persist. Here the word persist is not simply about romantic grit. It means you use all the means that are possible to make the “business of books” work. How? By juggling. Borrowing. Seeking like-minded people the world over and persuading them to your cause.
In writing previous books I was a little more anxious about the craft police and in this book I just really didn’t care. I wanted it to be in fragments and I wanted it to be lyrical and have a lot of emotion in it and I wanted to roam around between the scenes and have these digressive, meditative moments.
I’m drawn most to writing that reminds me of the dazzling wonders of the world. That said, of course, I feel cynicism about many things. It’s hard to reach 40 in a tehcno-capitalist society and not become cynical about humanity’s attitude toward resources, or about the way capitalism rewards the profit motive above all else.