This panel had Paul Auster, John Kinsella (my PEAC teacher’s cousin!), Margo Lanagan and Matt Rubenstein.
None of the writers particularly liked the question, and it was amusing to see them deconstruct it. Lanagan and Kinsella were both amusingly opinionated. I liked Kinsella’s rabble-rousing excitability and his earnest ideology – ‘I am a vegan pacifist anarchist’ – but it didn’t go down well with the older book-club set sitting near me.
Auster was brilliant. He said there was only one truly subversive thing – clarity. And I agree with him entirely. I love clarity too, a transparent book where the words aren’t calling attention to themselves but you’ve just found yourself immersed in the narrative world. It’s what’s similar about Auster and my second favourite writer, Ian McEwan.
Auster said at one point ‘I live in such a solitary world. I’m just trying to do my work. I don’t have an awareness of the literary world.’ He talked of his indifference to critics and fame and I thought of his years living ‘hand to mouth’ working on translations and starving. For him, writing is about one person talking to another, two strangers meeting in intimacy. Well, I’m a stranger to him, but he’s not a stranger to me.
Auster’s only rule : ‘swift and lean’. He said profound things on the spur of the moment in answering questions and he was private yet generous. He didn’t want to be there, but he was making the most of it and delighting me.