05 October 2012

Super-long sentences and fanboyism: Chabon and Smith at 92Y

Last night I went to see Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith read together at 92Y on the Upper East Side. I should just quit blogging and going to all reading events because it's never going to get any better than this! I'm not actually quitting but the sheer joy of seeing two of your favorite authors onstage and having them praise each other cannot be understated.

Chabon read first and Smith introduced him, praising his work for containing multitudes of voices and never losing the fan's spirit which animates his characters and is so often lost to adulthood. He read Part III of TELEGRAPH AVENUE, "A Bird of Wide Experience," a single sentence 11 pages long that follows one character's beloved parrot through Berkeley overlooking other characters in their daily routines. It was a show-stopper and judging by the laughter from the crowd, enough present had already read TELEGRAPH AVENUE to know what was in store and anticipate it appropriately.

As if planned that way, Chabon's introduction of Smith contained a list of things that bring him joy including a new Zadie Smith book (also the First Amendment, his son's Halloween costume and Wes Anderson movies). Smith read a short passage in which Natalie and her neighbors confront a teenage smoker on the playground, and a longer passage in which a character tries to break up with another, which she infused with a pathos beyond the page. She also switched seamlessly between different characters' voices and compared the London neighborhoods mentioned to places in New York (Bed-Stuy, the Upper East Side, the Bronx).

In Q&A both authors were asked if they mentally cast their own books while writing for possible future adaptation; Chabon said not usually, although he tried to put some of "The Wire"'s Wendell Pierce in TELEGRAPH AVENUE Archy Stallings (Pierce, call your agent); Smith suggested Jessica Chastain for Leah Hanwell of NW. Both authors cringed when asked to grade President Obama's performance in Wednesday's presidential debate until Chabon meekly offered, "You know when you're watching a sporting event and you're yelling at the TV, 'Hit him! Punch him'?" Describing dream projects they have yet to complete, Smith said she'd love to write a novel set in 1930s movie musicals; Chabon quipped that he'd like to rewrite MOBY DICK from the perspective of the whale.

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