THE BELIEVER: From what I understand, you’re a writer who writes exclusively in front of the screen.
JONATHAN LETHEM: I don’t have a lot of paper in my immediate work environment, except when I’m doing things like checking these godforsaken proofs. Yet I’m making a book and I’m going to care immensely about what words get bound in the pages, and I want the object to look good. I won’t believe in it and it won’t be real to me until there’s a finished book I can hold. The computer is the way I’m making it. I think of the books I write on a sculptural level.
I was an art student. That’s what I did before I realized I was going to write, and I still think about the physical properties. I visualize the length of a book, the proportions of a book, in material terms. For better or worse, I’m attached to talismanic things.
BLVR: Near the end of Chronic City, Perkus Tooth ends up with an excerpted passage stuck to his cheek. Am I going to find that your books are missing pages from where you literally excerpted certain passages?
JL: I don’t cut up books. I’m really anxious about this. I hate underlining—even in pencil. I’m like: just remember what was important to you. This is where I’m like a bookseller in that way. Don’t fuck up the book.
I hate libraries for the way they put stickers on things. I don’t approve of folding over pages, or of writing in books. God, forget scissors—that’s beyond the pale.
—from Peter Andrey Smith’s interview with Jonathan Lethem, in the May Issue! To read the rest—and to see who one this year’s Believer Book and Poetry Awards—pick it up right here.