Ben’s meanings are never lost. They can be a subtle as a feather, or as overt as a sledgehammer. No matter which, his intent is clear, arriving at a point intended.
Don’t believe me? Read the interview, then tell me you don’t have a new curiosity. A curiosity to see and learn more about this master of the written word.
Pick up a copy of Celebrity Chekhov or What He’s Poised to Do. Give, A Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both a read. Then find a special place in your bookcase for them, because they will have already found places in your heart and mind.
Get the handmade, letter press-printed edition of Correspondences, for its art as well as content. It features the only modern bookcasing that can sneer righteously at the art on the wall.
Ben Greenman was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Miami, Florida. After attending Yale, he worked for the Miami New Times as a film critic. He moved to New York City as a freelance editor and writer. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Time Out New York, The Forward and a plethora of other publications. He joined The New Yorker magazine in 2000, where he is now an Editor.
I’m honored to have Ben Greenman as my guest today on The Novel Road…
Me: To me, Celebrity Chekhov is more a view, than version of Chekhov’s stories with celebrities injected into the mix. By this I mean, due to knowledge of the substitute characters, I had the unique feeling of watching as much as reading. Did you ever worry the celebrity would overshadow the story? How did you find a balance point or did you have to?
Ben: I didn't worry that the stories would be overshadowed by the characters. They are pretty sturdy. I wanted to demonstrate that the way we read is different than the way we see our pop-culture landscape. I don't think I had to find a balance point. The method suggested one. Of course, in certain stories, with certain substitutions, the balance may have been thrown off – certain celebrities mean too much or two little at different points in time.
Ben: I think so. How could it not? So much happens in a rush now, and it's difficult just to keep up with it. Imagine reading all the tweets and blog posts released in any given day. You couldn't. I don't read much new fiction anymore, and I try to limit my receptivity to pop culture, which isn't always easy, because I want to make sure that I understand what I already have in my head. This means, as I get older, that I do more rereading. I see more old movies for the second time or the third time.
Ben: Stanley Elkin, to see how he balanced the spoken and written words in his head -- so much of what he did played like a logorrheic monologue, but then there were these moments of incredible, clearly composed lyricism. Or maybe Emily Dickinson. It would be nice to get her out of the house.
Ben: The story always comes first. Music is important. It can help with rhythm. It can teach you about language. But it's not a matching game. Stories move themselves along.
Ben: As I said, I am probably terrible these days at spotting new authors. I am reading backward through time, and it would seem stupid to mention a few people at the expense of the others. Many writers are always doing many good things. In general, I encourage reading around as widely and as unsystematically as possible.
There's not much reason for a canon, at least among living writers, is there? It'll be changed and changed again several times before it settles, so why pretend that there's any kind of verifiable critical estimation of authors. Authors write. Readers read. Meaning glows, to a greater or lesser degree. Time passes.
Ben: I'd wish for more curiosity, on everyone's part, always.
I’d like to thank Ben for doing this interview.
He says so much, so incredibly, with so few words.
Words that reflect…