Immersed in worn, dog-eared papyrus, Jonathan Lethem worked in a used bookstore for10 years. As a writer, he considered his workplace to be the ground level in the world of publishing.
“I know a lot about the real life of books,” he said in a phone interview from his Manhattan home. “What it means to be remaindered, and how people use them and reuse them.”
Lethem, 37, is now an author of five novels, a collection of novellas, and a short story collection. His most recent novel, Motherless Brooklyn (Doubleday), was winner of the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award.
He will give a reading at “Words & Images: The Event,” at 7:30 p.m., April 27. His father, artist and USM art lecturer Richard Lethem, will also present his own work and lead a discussion at 4 p.m. The event takes place in the Steego Building.
The elder Lethem has lived in Maine since retiring, and his painting is nationally acclaimed. Clearly, creativity runs in the Lethem family.
In high school, Lethem figured he would follow in his father’s footsteps as a painter. But by the time he got to college, his “love of reading won out.”
He was so interested in writing that he dropped out of college, and spent three years working on his first novel. Although it was never published, Lethem said that first work was important in developing his writing.
These days, he spends about eight or nine hours working on his current project each day. “It isn’t really all composition,” he said. “I spend a lot of time fluffing around the edges, doing emails and contracts. I’m happy if I have two or three really solid hours of writing a day.”
Lethem said he is a lucky writer and does not suffer from traditional writer’s block. He advises aspiring writers “not to mystify the process. It’s really a work process.”
At the Words & Images event, he will be reading selections from his current work in progress, which he calls “a big baggy monster of a book.” Lethem has been working on it for the past year and a half, and he looks forward to reading parts of it aloud. Since he doesn’t choose titles for his books until he’s done writing them, the work is still unnamed.
Like his last novel, the story is based in Brooklyn, but Lethem describes it as “a bit of a saga,” and it’s set in the 1970s. “It’s about loving New York City,” he said.
A native of the Big Apple, the younger Lethem participated in last summer’s Stone Coast Writing Conference. While he has no plans to leave New York, he looks forward to visiting Maine again. “It gives me a chance to see my Dad,” he said.
Following Jonathan Lethem’s presentation, Marcia Wilsin Carner will discuss her nationally exhibited artwork on April 27 as part of “Words & Images: The Event.” All activities take place in the Steego Building