3.4 The Work of Inhabiting a Role: Charles Yu speaks to Chris Fan (JP)

Charles Yu won the 2020 National Book Award for Interior Chinatown but some of us became fans a decade earlier, with How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010). He brilliantly uses SF conventions to uncover the kind of self-deceptive infilling that we all do every day, the little stories we tell ourselves to make our world seem predictable and safe when it’s anything but. His other work includes two books of short stories (Third Class Superhero 2006 and Sorry Please Thank You in 2012) and some episodes of Westworld, He speaks with John and with Chris Fan, Assistant Professor at UC Irvine, senior editor and co-founder of  Hyphen magazine, noted SF scholar.

The conversation gets quickly into intimate territory: the pockets of safe space and the “small feelings” that families can and cannot provide, and that science fiction can or cannot recreate. Graph paper and old math books get a star turn. Charlie’s time as a lawyer is scrutinized; so too is “acute impostor syndrome” and the everyday feeling of putting on a costume or a mask, as well as what Du Bois called “double consciousness.”

In conclusion, we followed the old ND custom of asking Charlie about treats that sustain him while writing. Later, we reached out with this season’s question about what new talent he’d love to acquire miraculously. He had a lightning-fast response: “the ability to stop myself from saying a thing I already know I will regret. I would use this on a daily, if not hourly, basis.”

Mentioned in this Episode:

Dale Carnegie How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)
W. E. B. Du Bois on “double consciousness” (and so much more): Souls of Black Folk (1903)

Listen and Read:

Audio: The Work of Inhabiting a Role

Transcript: 3.4 The Work of Inhabiting a Role

3.6 Why are You in Bed? Why are You Drinking? Colm Tóibín and Joseph Rezek in Conversation Novel Dialogue

Colm Tóibín, the new laureate for Irish fiction, talks to Joseph Rezek of Boston University, and guest host Tara K. Menon of Harvard. The conversation begins with Colm’s latest novel The Magician, about the life of Thomas Mann, and whether we can or should think of novelists as magicians and then moves swiftly from one big question to the next. What are the limitations of the novel as a genre? Would Colm ever be interested in a writing a novel about an openly gay novelist? Why and how does death figure in Colm’s fiction? Each of Colm’s revealing, often deeply personal answers illuminates how both novels and novelists work. As Thomas Mann wrote of the “grubby business” of writing novels, Colm reminds us of the “day to day dullness of novel writing.” Insight and inspiration only arrive, he warns, after long, hard days of work. Mentioned in this episode: Robinson Crusoe (1719), Daniel Defoe Pride and Prejudice (1813), Jane Austen The Portrait of a Lady (1881), Henry James The Wings of the Dove(1902), Henry James The Ambassadors (1903), Henry James The Golden Bowl(1904), Henry James The Blackwater Lightship(1999), Colm Tóibín The Master (2004), Colm Tóibín Brooklyn(2009), Colm Tóibín The Testament of Mary(2012), Colm Tóibín Nora Webster(2015), Colm Tóibín The Magician(2021), Colm Tóibín Aarthi Vadde is Associate Professor of English at Duke University. Email: aarthi.vadde@duke.edu. John Plotz is Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative. Email: plotz@brandeis.edu. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
  1. 3.6 Why are You in Bed? Why are You Drinking? Colm Tóibín and Joseph Rezek in Conversation
  2. 3.5 The Romance of Recovery: Ben Bateman talks to Shola von Reinhold (AV)
  3. 3.4 The Work of Inhabiting a Role: Charles Yu speaks to Chris Fan (JP)
  4. 3.3 In the Editing Room with Ruth Ozeki and Rebecca Evans (EH)
  5. 3.2 Promises Unkept: Damon Galgut with Andrew van der Vlies

Photo by Dmitry Dreyer on Unsplash

Published by plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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