Jennifer Egan Reading

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When I first read A Visit from the Goon Squad two years ago I loved it. So when I had the opportunity to hear Jennifer Egan speak last month I was thrilled! During the evening she read the whole first chapter of that book and then answered audience member’s questions.

One of my favorite aspects of her talk was hearing about the process of creating Goon Squad. It started as a single short story about a woman finding a wallet. This story was inspired by Egan herself being robbed on the day she had to fly from New York City to California. Shortly after that experience she saw a wallet sitting out in a public restroom and the story was born.

After writing it she was curious about the other characters mentioned in the chapter and she quickly realized that she had something more than a single short story. As it grew into a book she set three rules for herself:

1) Each chapter had to be about a new character.

2) Each chapter had to feel different and unique (1st person, interview, PowerPoint, etc.)

3) Each chapter had to stand alone; readers deserved closure with each chapter because they’re being tossed into a completely new situation each time.

She said the book is a bit like a concept album. In the same way that musical artists will occasionally create albums (especially in the 1970s) where each track had a different style, this book is set up in a similar way.

Egan was incredibly kind and engaging. She was also bright and very honest about her work and inspiration. I loved her comments on trying something new. She recently published an entire short story “Black Box” on Twitter via The New Yorker. She talked about trying the new form of media as a sort of modern day serialization like the way Charles Dickens used to publish his books. She was so open to finding new ways to experiment with creative flow.

As soon as I got home I started re-reading the book and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. I remembered bits and pieces from each characters’ life and so seeing the complete picture once more was wonderful! I will definitely be reading more of her work as soon as I can.

Photos by moi.


Laura said...

Ahhh, I am still so jealous of your Jennifer Egan meeting! I read Goon Squad last year and I really loved it- I just bought her first novel and I'm really excited to read that too! YAY EGAN!

Sandy Nawrot said...

That book rocked my world. Only someone so INCREDIBLY TALENTED could have their wallet stolen and convert it to such a work of genius.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Laura - I haven't read any of her other work yet, but I'm so excited to try it. I'm waiting to get "The Keep" from the library.

Sandy - Isn't that incredible!

Anonymous said...

I haven't read much about the book before, I see now why it is popular, Egan's methods sound fresh. It sounds a particularly insightful speech!

The Relentless Reader said...

Those are interesting rules that she set for herself. It makes me want to re-read the book!

Kat @ NoPageLeftBehind said...

Sounds like it was a really interesting event - wish I could've gone with you!!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Charlie - It was unlike anything else I've read!

Jennifer - I thought so too. It made re-reading even more interesting with that in mind.

Kat - Next time!

JoAnn said...

This had to be one of the most creative books I've ever read. What a treat to hear her read!

Nikki Steele @ said...

This one definitely deserves a re-read. I remember being stunned, absolutely stunned, at the end of the Powerpoint chapter because she had managed to infuse so much emotion and growth in a dang Powerpoint! So cool that you were able to hear the process behind the book.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

JoAnn - It really was! One of my favorite author meetings ever.

Nikki - Wasn't that awesome! She talked quite a bit about that chapter and the funny thing is, she'd never heard of PowerPoint before writing the book! When she decided to try and use it for one of the chapters she kept trying to write it in the form of a business person making a PowerPoint for work, but it just wasn't right. The way she ended up doing it was perfect.

Jenners said...

This is so interesting to hear about her process for writing the book. Her experiment worked, and I plan on rereading it one day!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - It was a fantastic re-read. It was like rewatching The Sixth Sense, everything is different once you've seen the big picture.

Reading Rambo said...

"She said the book is a bit like a concept album. In the same way that musical artists will occasionally create albums (especially in the 10970s) where each track had a different style, this book is set up in a similar way."

Yes! And new media! Experimentation! Such a fan. I'm glad she seems like not a horrible person in reality.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Reading Rambo - She was fantastic! I can't wait to read more of her work.

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