Revisiting Baldwin vs. Buckley
Hello Paul McCartney here. My new picture bouquet ground dude is out now and it's raided by me it's about a grandfather granddad. Grand Dude who uses this is margie compass to whisk his grandchildren away on adventures around the world. A lot of fun writing in the raising it on. I hope you enjoy too. You can download it. Start listening today. Hey Grandma how James Baldwin and William F Buckley end up on a stage together in one thousand nine hundred sixty five at Cambridge University to debate one another on Race Nicholas Koby here to talk about his book. The fire is upon us. What's it like growing up black and gay and the south poet and now L. Memoir Ist Sii Jones will be here to talk about his book? How we fight for our lives Concepcion de Leon will give us an update from the literary world last? We'll talk about what we the and the wider world are reading this book view. PODCAST from the New York Times. I'm Pamela Paul. Nicholas Cola is here in the studio to talk about his new book. The fire is upon us. James Baldwin William F. Buckley junior and the debate over race in America. His two previous books were the essential Douglas and Abraham Lincoln and Liberal Democracy Nicholas. Thanks for being here. Thanks thanks for having me. I'm honored to be here all right. This is a change of subject for you why this book. This book emerged through Baldwin. I was invited to write essay about Baldwin and I devoted voted the few months just reading everything could get my hands on. And then I dug into the Youtube Archives of all these video Baldwin and I found the debate with Buckley and I became transfixed was just such a dramatic moment of these two men who embodied movements in a way and they have them on the international stage clashing. I was just sort of became mildly obsessed with it and so I wrote that essay Using the debate as a framing device in is I worked on the ESA I kept thinking. There's there's a book in here and then that book kind of grew and grew and grew to a joint intellectual biography. They're born about a year apart from each other and so I thought I could sort of weave their intellectual biographies against the backdrop of the the rise of the civil rights and conservative movements. I have to say you know word favor of Youtube. All of these things are on there and you can go online and Google Baldwin Buckley debate and it comes right up up. I just want to play a quick clip from that to be. This is a bit. We have a civil rights bill. Now we had an amendment the Fifteenth Amendment nearly one hundred years ago I hate to see them again like an Old Testament prophets whether the amendment was not honor. Then I don't have any reason to believe in the Civil Rights Bill. We'll we'll be on it now and after all one's been there since before you know. A lot of people got their if one has got to proved once title to the land isn't four hundred years enough one hundred years at least three worlds later on will play play another clip from Buckley. But let's start with something you just mentioned Nicholas. which is that? These two men were born. Only fifteen months. Apart in New York City could not have had more different circumstances in terms of their births and upbringing. Let's start with James Baldwin Baldwin born in August nineteen twenty four in Harlem and he's the oldest of nine children and Baldwin describes his childhood as being one the Chili marked by domination His experience is is one in which he has. There's all sorts of individual people in his life police officers landladies landlords that he's seizes is enforcing kind of boundaries Andres on his his growth as a as a human being and he sees his parents victimized by racial oppression by economic anxiety by a lack of economic opportunity and so Baldwin I'm describes growing up in Harlem and is auto biographical writings and a really powerful way of of really a set of circumstances in which he feels so limited as a human being. I mean he has to try to figure out way to find some modicum of power to fight back against the suppression so Baldwin is somebody who eventually finds his lover. He calls it in language words. He's obsessed with books you know from a very young age reading everything and get his hands on trying to find ways in which to make sense of his experience through books and then he begins writing at a very young age and actually actually devote himself to writing often. He can in the ends up becoming a young minister. His father was a lay pentecostal preacher in Haarlem storefront churches and so Baldwin becomes the young minister at the age of fourteen and has really taken by the power of language to connect him to his congregation and although he leaves the church by seventeen he remains a preacher's entire life including the ninety debates. Buckley it really is sermon. Tell us what was his formal education like so Baldwin. was somebody who you know. He says that he was not the best of students students. But that he you know because he had a hard time staying interested in a lot of the things he was learning in school so within a lot of ways he was not died act but he had the opportunity a couple of really really important teachers in his life and those teachers encouraged him to apply for a program at dewitt Clinton high school and he he went to Clinton which of course is this story. Place it's produced to all sorts of important intellectual and political figures and so that experience was important because Baldwin at dewitt Clinton was able to work for the. The High School Literary magazine had some outlets outlet for his creative abilities but he was somebody who did not have an opportunity to go to college so in many ways. You know you sort of you. All people familiar Baldwin's writings assume that he has some sort of you. You know lead education. But but in fact he didn't he was somebody who was largely self educated and was really just a a student you know from a very early age. You know that that he died all right. That's it's a good moment to just pivot quickly to Buckley because we associate him so much with the institutions that he attended of course God and man at Yale but let's start start with his birth in New York City. Buckley is you know as I say at the beginning of the book He May as well been born in on a different planet. You know the same city but my as miserable been a different planet. Buckley really is somebody who was born into immense wealth so Buckley's father is somebody who made in lost and regained fortunes in the real estate and oil businesses. His mother is a comes from old money proud daughter of the confederacy. So I say that you know that his father had new money. His mother had old money. The keyword there's money and they. I used that money to provide their children with a very rich upbringing in a lot of ways and especially educationally ten children yet there were ten. Attendance goes both came from very large families. They did say one thing they have in common. The Buckley's had an estate in Sharon Connecticut known as Great Elm Forty seven Acre estate and they had a a elaborate homeschooling for their children so every subject under the Sun. They had live in tutors. That were there fulltime. They brought in part time tutors to cover. Every other subject to the Buckley's really devoted voted in and they were especially devoted to teaching their children in particular world view and so the Buckley's were taught a kind of they. Call it individualism. But it was really a kind of elitism. They were taught hot to be very suspicious of any form of collectivism socialism communism and the new deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But they're also taught to be very suspicious of democracy. I'm they were taught taught that some people are fit to rule others are fit to be ruled and they were among those who were to rule of course and so Buckley really he'd ever really desires to become his father he he doesn't want to follow him into business but he really wants to devote his life to defending the world view that his father taught him on his mother taught him and so in that hierarchy household whether they're todd these values of hierarchy those values thoroughly racial is is one of the key themes the book and so- Buckley's racial politics in many ways you know emerged at a very young age and he sustains those throughout his life so it's interesting that both Buckley and Baldwin for very different reasons are suspicious of certain aspects of American democracy. That's true that's true. And it's it's these moments you know now in the in the book when I say there is kind of surprising there's some surprising overlaps where you know Baldwin and Buckley Ha of crowd the suspicion of liberalism. They have some suspicion of democracy mcreavy they have some suspicion of the capacity of law needs to bring about social change but those moments were there the the there's overlaps very different reasons why they take those positions and so oh I think but in that overlap we can we can learn something about our politics and also in the the reasoning that they you know both of them used to arrive at those conclusions can really help us make sense of our political moment I mean is it in those moments of auto alignment that the tension is greatest in terms of their differences. I think that's true. I mean I think maybe not. There's definitely a lot of tensions just running through The the story but I think that those moments are you know really fascinated me one example. Is that Baldwin and Buckley are both great critics northern hypocrisy on race. You know they they they will often say you know the one line that's uses the Jim Crow has the north simply more sophisticated Baldwin. Say that sort of thing and Buckley would see that sort of thing. Of course Buckley's point point. Was He would say that to get northerners to lay off of the south and Balden would say that to get all of us delay into the north right and so those moments I think are are especially powerful to think about. Okay why is it the Baldwin is looking at somebody you know particular politician that he really does not trust and Buckley's looking at saint politician. It does not trust that person. They have these radically different different reasons for that distrust and I think that's that's really informative for us all right. Let's come from their childhood circumstances right to nineteen sixty five the year in which this debate the subject have your book. The fire is upon US takes place. Where is James Baldwin at this point in his life and career? Nineteen sixty five Baldwin's really at the height of his fame name so Baldwin had published his first novel in Nineteen fifty three and he he'd published by then three novels go tell in the Mountain Giovanni in another country so you establish himself as a fiction writer but also then published several essay collections and in one thousand nine hundred sixty three the next time is published. And that's that's really a book that I mean Baldwin Star was already ascending but that that book sort of sent Baldwin to the height of literary fame I mean so. He's among the most famous writers in the world at that time in Baldwin's connection connection to the civil rights movement was was always a complicated one. I mean he describes himself as a witness in his first interactions with the Jim crow south or as a journalist he goes down to the south to cover. What's happening the black liberation struggle for particular magazines and publications and so Baldwin says my job is to write it all down but he of course feels in this sense of obligation to be go beyond writing it all down of course journalism always has kind of normative dimension to it but he he says you know? He spends a lot of his life if it's what he calls a transatlantic commuter living in Europe and living in the US but he feels a sense of obligation to to engage in the struggle and so by sixty three he's kind of identified as a kind of spokesman when he didn't like that label at all didn't like most labels but he really wants to eat engaged in this that both through his fiction and nonfiction writing. What he's really trying to do is provide his readers years with the sense of what the world looks like through the eyes of of a variety of people in the south and also elsewhere in the country who are in the midst of this struggle to change the country such really I Baldwin? It's up to them so at that moment. Sixty five Cambridge Baldwin's internationally famous. So those students that are packed into that union debating hall. They're really there to see Baldwin. Because Buckley hadn't quite achieved international fame yet all right. Let's talk about William F.. Buckley where is he. Nineteen sixty five in terms of his career. So Buckley by sixty five is second only only to Barry Goldwater in terms of a sort of face of the American conservative movement and Buckley had played really this outsized role in shaping what we now call the conservative movement. So Buckley in Nineteen fifty-five starts at National Review magazine which the idea the magazine was to try to do what progressive magazines had done in the first half of the twentieth century Maksim like the nation and the republic had done so much to shape. The American left and so- Buckley has idea that there's not really anything that we could call it an conservative movement a coherent conservative conservative movement. Fifty five so he has this idea to use a magazine to bring folks together a coalition Together and so he founds national review and very right at the same aim moment. He's founding national review. The civil rights movement the latest phase in the civil rights struggle is occurring the lynching of Emmett till the reaction to that the rest of Rosa parks the Montgomery Montgomery bus boycott. So Buckley is very consciously trying to shape conservative movement and he has to make a lot of decisions about how the conservative movement should react to the black liberation struggle. How influential Angela is the national review in nineteen sixty five? What's circulation like an WHO's reading in the national review is is a really powerful magazine in in by by sixty five? I mean it's a magazine like a lot of magazines at struggles over the years. You know that first decade but really the the role of national review plays I think is is Buckley kind of establishes himself as sort of gatekeeper for the the movement. He's trying to sort of as as one of my colleagues puts it edit conservatism. figure out who should be part of the coalition who should be left out and so he writes certain folks out of the movement like in Rand and eventually you know Robert Welsh and the John Birch Society. So Buckley is is really playing this role. People know that the magazine has. This is sort of outsized. Role in shaping the movement and figuring out who's allowed to participant. WHO's not and so the influence at national review by sixty five? There's no question it is the most. I recognized conservative Oregon. The country and definitely although Buckley did not get to play the role that he hoped to play in the goldwater campaign. You hope to be kind of liaison between the conservative of intellectual community in the in the campaign but he he still is playing kind of informal role as as a sort of somebody's promoted. He's a promoter of ideas as a popularizer of of conservative. Conservative ideas is one of his biographers. The Saint Paul of the conservative movement. He's really an evangelist right. He's not an originator of ideas but he's he's very good at spreading the idea. He's not even originate. Peter in this particular debate. We'll get to that. Let's just here quickly a clip of Buckley from this debate in America where the Negro community is concerned is. He's a very complicated. I urge those of you who have a WHO have An actual rather than purely ideologized interest in the problem them to read the book beyond the Melting Pot by professor laser. Also Co author of the lonely proud it problem when a Jewish intellectual who points the fact that the situation in America where the Negroes are concerned is extremely complex as a result result of an unfortunate conjunction of two factors one is the dreadful athletes to eventuate this nation by many individual American citizens results of their lack of that final and ultimate concern which some people are truly find agitate the other or is as a result of the failure of the Negro community itself. Do make certain issues which were made by other minority groups. During the American experience interesting you mentioned Barry Goldwater earlier because Barry Goldwater Strom Thurmond. Both of them were original. Choices says to be the person to debate Baldwin. What happened with with them? And and how did it end up. Being William F.. Buckley that was one of the first puzzles to solve was. How did this happen in the first place and there were? There really wasn't any detailed account that I was able to find the existing literature of like. How did these two guys end up there that night? So really and it kind of happened by accident. A lot of ways. The union was contacted. By Baldwin's publicist for this is. This is Cambridge Union. The Students Union at Cambridge University in England right so so Cambridge Union the oldest debating society in the world. They had just marked the one hundred fiftieth anniversary just weeks prior to the Buckley Baldwin Debate the union's contacted by a publicist for according books. Who is promoting the paperback release a Baldwin's third novel? It's look exactly all right. So the President of union was undergraduate. Student Peter Fullerton says as well. I can't host a book that this is a debating society. So what I can do is host a debate related to the themes of Mr Baldwin's writings. And so the they. I agree to that. And it's sort of an interesting sort of back story that I was able to uncover in the Baldwin Archives of Schaumburg in Harlem was really interesting the kind of back and forth between the agents and the publicist and so on they sort of agreed in principle that Baldwin common than the first idea that Fullerton had was to say you know. Invite somebody like Strom Thurmond. Somebody who's a devoted segregationists to debate Baldwin in fourteen. Doesn't remember exactly what the response was. But he knows he knows it was negative and invited Barry Goldwater who of course of course voted against the civil rights. Act was a different kind of skeptic of of the civil bright's revolution and so at some point there was a another student at Cambridge named Michael Toobin. Hot who had met Buckley nineteen sixty three and knew enough about him to know that he it was the perfect person. For this this role. He was a skilled debater. He was a critic of the Civil Rights Movement so they contacted Buckley who is on his annual ski vacation in Switzerland. And and asked if you'd come debate and he was not WanNa turn down any opportunity to debate and he had established imprinted he thought Baldwin was as he called him an eloquent menace and he was eager to take him on a it. Cambridge headed Baldwin about Buckley and going up against him. So there isn't as much evidence of Baldwin's kind of reflections on Buckley prior to the debate that I was able to discover ever. There's no question that the Buckley was on Baldwin's radar and Buckley was a sort of figure that Baldwin was eager to challenge in one of the things I talk about in the in the book is in nineteen sixty two Baldwin was invited onto the open. Mind television program to debate James Jackson Kilpatrick who is one of the country's leading salesman for segregation nation of very close friend and colleague. Buckley Buckley's Goto guys on race. And it was the kind of thing. Where a lot about Baldwin's friends handlers? Didn't want him to do it right. You should not sit across the table from segregationists you're gonNA dignify his views by your presence but Baldwin really felt an obligation to engage with people like Kilpatrick and he actually thought that people can Patrick and Buckley. They had a great deal of responsibility to bear in the racial violence. The racial nightmare is that something that people can watch on Youtube as well or somewhere in line. Is that still out there. It's a strange thing. The open mind has an incredible archive. You can actually watch shows going back to the fifties but they don't seem to have this one and so I I hope they're Recording of it. So what what's interesting is. In at the Schaumburg. They Baldwin kept a complete transcript of that encounter. It's another thing that hadn't really been written about very much and it's I mean it's an amazing mazing just reading. It is so powerful because it's right after the battle Miss Right after. James Meredith is attempting to register for classes at the University of Mississippi. And all hell breaks loose as you know there's violence and Baldwin begins the show. They're welcome to the show and Baldwin looks at Kilpatrick and says you think there's a difference between men like you write these sophisticated books and articles defending segregation and the people in those spree streets committed committing acts of violence and he says I hold usurp far more responsible than those people in the streets because they are caught in a web of delusion this delusion of white supremacy and you are weaving that web for purposes that have nothing to do with them and he says I accuse you betraying those white people in the south you are pursuing your on a gender for your own purposes and so Baldwin starts out the the composition and then proceeds to kind of play the role of cross examining Kilpatrick for the you the duration of the show and just kind of interrogate him about his white supremacist views. It's extraordinarily powerful encounter. Yes hopefully I'm hoping what the book coming out. Maybe something things will be uncovered covered in some archive. Somebody has a recording audio or video recording of that all right until then. Let's talk about this night in its February. Eighteenth nineteen sixty five set. Set the stage for us. Who is there? How is it structured? Who could see it? How public was this? So the debate although the it came together very last minute so the sort of wheels wheels began turning on putting this night together in January sixty five in the actual night of the debate is February two nine hundred sixty five and so you have a you know. Packed the union debating hall all was filled them. If you watch the video you can see people not only sitting in every every spot on the benches and in the galleries. But they're also sitting on the floor and buckling Baldwin after like walkover. Students is. They're going they have mostly students. You also have guest to the unions. The students were many students that were there are what they call. Members of the Union have voting. They're able to vote and ask questions during the debates but the way this debate was structured was there were two Student debaters one on each side of the motion before the house was the American dream is the expense of the American Negro. And there's there's two student debaters one gives a speech on each side of that motion and then Baldwin gets up to speak and he speaks for about twenty four minutes and Buckley gets up to speak and he speaks for about twenty nine minutes. And there's no exchange between the two of them which is one of the things that is you know in some ways unfortunate about structured and that may have been due to some of the back the backroom croom negotiations about. What what they were willing? Baldwin's people especially willing to allow to happen that night but there there is one thing that's left out of the BBC recording that was really fascinating discovers dead right the one that you can see online rights when you can see online that the students speeches are edited down and then Buckley speeches edited by about a third and one of the things. That's that's edited out of the Buckley speech. Each the questions that the students asked him so at the union like in the House of Commons students could stand up and the speaker had they could call on the student to you know for point of information for a question and so there's only one of those what they called interruptions in the in the speech that you see on on Youtube and there's actually about four or five more. They're really interesting. I mean both for the questions that are asked a really good questions but also Buckley is a master of responding to those questions kind of clever way that Oh you know almost always brings elicits laughter. And he's able to kind of diffuse the situation but yeah so the the Cambridge itself kept audio recordings these debates but they did not have the audio recording of this particular debate they thought it was lost or destroyed so is able to find one of the students from that era. who had an old reel to reel copy of the full Buckley In Baldwin speeches and he sent it to me for England and I got it digitized and so that's available for folks on the Audio Book and then the full transcription the is it appendix to the book itself. What an interesting things about Buckley's speeches that he based it on a piece that was written by Gary Wills and the National Review so this wasn't something he came with organically? I think that might surprise people who are more familiar with wills leader work but most people know that he was early. John Per Day of Buckley at the National Review. What was this piece what does it say? Why did Buckley choose to base his talk on that? Buckley says that wills is is one of the national news. Great discoveries will send him you know sample of his writing. When he's very young and Buckley sees that wills has an incredible talent and brings him on and just sort of do a lot of like like reviews for National Review and then also to begin writing essays about religion and so when the fire next time of course it emerges initially the bulk of emerges in November nineteen sixty two long piece? He's for the New Yorker magazine called letter from a region of my mind and when that piece comes out and lead sixty two the reaction is you know it's literary sensation. You know people are all sorts of of Literary folks are responding to it when the book itself the fire next time which collects that piece together with a short piece Baldwin Road for the Progressive Magazine in late sixty two. That book you know is is is just the immediate bestseller and everyone. There's very few critics have across word to say about it. So Buckley sees an opportunity for National Review. He's already identified. Baldwin is dangerous threat and so he says you know what I need to do is get somebody to write a sophisticated critique of Baldwin for the magazine and he he identifies wills as the right person to do that wills as somebody who's your Baldwin and and the fire next time in that that that book is dealing with such huge issues philosophical issues religious issues and he knows Buckley recognizes that wills is the writer in his orbit. WHO has the kind of skills to take Baldwin on so you know wills you know sits down and reads every bit of Baldwin? He can get his hands on and he writes this piece. What color is God and the piece itself is much more sophisticated than what Buckley produces at Cambridge? But it is. I mean there's ways in which Buckley was faithful to the wheels piece wills Red Baldwin an as somebody who is calling for an overthrow of Western civilization. You know in will says things like You know Baldwin wants us to you know raid the libraries and Burn Plato and Aristotle Roland the Bibles and so on and that to me is a really flawed. Reading of what Baldwin's too in that in that text and the rest of his writing but Buckley takes that and runs with it. It's one of the great mysteries. The book is whether or not Buckley really ever read Baldwin. I don't I don't really know. I think he may have just read other people reading Baldwin and then taken that taken what he liked and run with all right. Let's just put another clip here of Baldwin from the debate before we talk about it. Let me put it this way. From very little point of view the hall and the ports and the railroads other country the economy economy especially of the southern states could not conceivably be what it has become come if they had not had an do not still have indeed enforced so long so many generations cheap labor I am sitting very seriously and this is not an overstatement. I think the coffee and I asked to market and I railroad under someone else's with for nothing or nothing so Baldwin even doesn't think very different with his portion of this debate. How would you characterize the talk that he gives although the union had existed for one hundred and fifty years prior to this night? I'm pretty sure that there was never a speech quite like that speech that Baldwin deliver that night because he you know a lot of you know. Formal debate is combination of intellectual exercise as an performance. Art You know a lot of humor injected and that sort of thing but Baldwin arrives that I need delivers a sermon. He Delivers Jeremiah. Wright he is there to say things that people don't want to hear the Jeremiah supremacy really and so Baldwin speech. I think there's like three really really important. Things to keep in mind with with baldness. Which one is that? He wants to talk about the ways. In in which the doctrine of white supremacy the impact it has on what he calls the subjugated so he talks about the millions of details of every day that communicate to people of color that they are lives do not it matter and so Baldwin devotes a great deal of speech to that but he also wants to talk about the ways in which white supremacy undermines the moral lives of its would be beneficiaries series of the example he gives is among the most powerful. You can imagine at that very moment the same night at the debate. We're in the thick of the Selma campaign. So Sheriff Jim Clark some out Alabama's it must be you know he's being you know you're seeing TV everywhere. Semen newspapers brandishing his cattle prod and and using it against men women and children the streets of Alabama in Baldwin says when Jim Clark mark uses that cattle prod. What's happening to victims ghastly but in some ways what's happening inside of him as much much worse than what Baldwin is saying there is? Jim Clark is somebody who is caught up in collusion of white supremacy and he every all of his sense of a value of his sense of meaning in the world is is just caught up in this myth his his his whiteness is what gives him value and so Baldwin says that's pathetic this person. This person's life is pathetic. This is what he's clinging to for his sense of meaning Baldwin objected to thinking about this in terms of like a black liberation might object to my using that term because this is a liberation struggle. That's about all of us right. Somebody like Jim Clark needs to be liberated from from this delusion and so Baldwin those are two major pieces than the other major pieces expense. There's a very powerful very powerful language. He uses when he says you know. I picked the cotton. I built the railroads and so that is a huge theme of his speech. And just trying to draw attention to the ways in which you know our history. Our history of of racial injustice is not you know history is present everything we do Baldwin says right so that the legacy where past meets present is something he really wants to draw his all those students in the international audience he wants to reflect on legacy and think about the ways in which our history of racial injustices in president everything we do all right. There's so much in there and I'm going to do something terrible. which is I'm going to jump right to the and at least at the debate who on Baldwin once a Baldwin side wins? The vote is five hundred and forty-four in favor of bald side one hundred and forty four against so Baldwin when is victorious that night and in terms of the vote. Alright victory in that debate and in many other ways but also obviously a subject that continues to resonate nate. It's amazing how contemporary so much of what they talk about in that debate still is Nicholas. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you pleasure Nicholas Cola. uh-huh is the author of the fire is upon US James. Baldwin William F. Buckley Junior and the debate over race in America it. It's the time of year when everyone is traveling or running around getting thoughtful gifts for the people you care about. Think about giving yourself the gift of audible membership. Now is the best time to do it with a special offer of fifty three percent off your first three months. Access and unbeatable selection of audiobooks including bestsellers motivation mysteries thrillers. Memoirs and more you can choose three titles every month one audiobook and two exclusive audible originals tells. You can't hear anywhere else. Listen on any device anytime anywhere with the audible APP. It's great while commuting at the gym or during your holiday travels with audible you'll also enjoy easy audiobook exchanges and your own audiobook library you keep forever even if you cancel right now for a limited time you can can get three months of audible for just six dollars ninety five cents a month. That's more than half off the regular price. Give yourself a gift of listening for more go to audible. Dot Com uh-huh slash book reveal last year. We did something really fun on the podcast around the same time of of year and we are doing it again. Please join us on Friday November twenty second at the time center in New York City for a special live podcast announcing the ten best books of the year. I will be there. Of course as will many of the editors at the Book Review and some surprise guests we will reveal live at the podcast. Our ten best books. We'll also talk about some. That almost made the cut but didn't quite some of our personal favorites and a lot more. If you're interested in coming to the event live you can visit times events dot ny times dot com for tickets and details. And of course you can hear it here on the podcast concepcion. DILLION joins us now with some news from the literary world concepcion. Hi What's new in Florida. In Key West there is a literary nonprofit called Key West Literary Seminar and the news is that they just purchase Elizabeth Bishop's former House the poet Elizabeth Bishop and they bought it for one point two million and they plan on making it. Its headquarters one interesting thing. Is that Elizabeth Bishop spent about a decade in her life in Key West and she wrote her first poetry collection there north-and-south within south and so it really had a huge influence on her work. So it's pretty significant that they're purchasing her house key west kind of has a literary thing going on right. There's a festival all that regularly takes place down there. Yeah absolutely and also I think what it's most known for or the literary personality that it's most known for is Ernest. Hemingway who had a house. There it's now a museum and one of the big things that it's known for is the many many cats that that live on the property. Some of which derived from a cat that Ernest Hemingway owned. So so that's pretty interesting. But yes and also judy blume still lives there and beady so there is quite illiterate community. That's really rich and deep there. So what are the plans for Elizabeth. Bishop's former former home they commissioned something called a historic structures report. It's composed of teams like historians architects engineers and people that are going to look into the history of the house focusing focusing on the decade. That bishop live there and they're going to restore the house to the way that it looked when she was alive and part of what. They're drawing from our her letters. She wrote very Very detailed descriptions of the how she talked about the color of the shutters. She talked about the screened in porch that she built and so there are a lot of detailed descriptions and so they're sort of lucky in away because they have a lot to go from but they're also like I said commissioning this report to get a lot of information a lot more detailed information about the layout sort of what it looks like so that they can maintain the historical integrity of the property. I've never been to key west have you. I haven't all right. Let's go down there. Yeah we have to visit a little officious. All right concepcion. Thank you so much. Yeah thanks for having me. Jones joins us now from Boston where he is on tour for his new book. It's called how we fight for our lives memoir. It's reviewed this week in the Book Review It also also recently won the carcass prize. Say thanks for being here all right. Thanks for having me so what. Most people are familiar with you. As a poet perhaps as a former buzzfeed editor added are former Co host of the twitter show 'em to DM. Did you put all that aside to write this book. Where were you working on it while you were doing all that I was I was working on it while I was doing all of it and I think you know I? I learned a lot in unexpected ways. You know I think you know being in the newsroom for six years and and watching like reporters and editors you know you know navigate the ethics of telling other people's stories and writing about often really difficult experiences impacting other the people for example that impacted. How I wrote about my mother and my grandmother or obviously watching the conversations that I often participate in myself on twitter? You know I don't talk about trump directly. I certainly gesture toward kind of the big picture as I kind of see it. In retrospect I'm kind of in awe that I was able right while doing all of it but I think the book in some ways benefited from them. Yeah I mean I was GonNa ask you that because I think people are always interested in how writers work especially when they have other jobs. And you had three other jobs and you you're on twitter as the ferocity and very active there. I mean what was your routine like how did you did you wake up at four. Am and work on this. How did you know you know I? It changed throughout the process. I mean one when I sold the book. I've been working on it for several years before I sold and before I got to buzzfeed right so I had I had written like what I call it kind of like the tin. Pull chapters of the book. The First Chapter Memphis nineteen ninety nine and we see where my grandmother Phoenix Arizona. I had that material and that was important and then when I sold the book I went on book leave for four months and twenty fifteen so that was hugely important and then yeah I mean and then it was just kind of you do your best when you can my editor in chief it Buzzfeed News Been Smith was really supportive so you know at one point my book editor. We decided to expand the books time line by like five or six years and I was like. Oh my God. You know 'cause then what I had been able to do in terms of scrambling in writing sessions. It was like no longer possible. I was like I can't I don't know what to do. And then we changed my work schedule. I'm doing the same amount of work but for about six six months in I think Twenty Sixteen Early Twentieth Sixteen. I was working three or four day weeks and I was using those long weekends to to go to coffee shops and I was miserable. That's how I was able to write what essentially became the last act of the book. Why did you decide to do this? Did you always want to write a memoir more. I think I knew I wanted to write about my past. I think a lot of poets have a a a special relationship with the personal essay as a form and so I knew that I would share essays and talk about those experiences in some way. It took me a while before I felt comfortable calling the book a memoir before and after after I told you WANNA call it. You know. It's so funny. Writers like we always try to like talk around. What's going on because we're so nervous? I think I was like linked essays days girls. Just call it a memoir. My agent Kinda had to level with me that I was scared and I was anxious and that their the reasons for that but she was just kind of like listen. You can't be scared like you you're going to have to be confident. What scared you know you know? It's it's deeply narcissistic to write a memoir. It just is it's self centered and I've been an editor and you certainly are as well and you know you see books that bat are just all they are narcissism and and often thereby straight white men right and so I was very aware of that as a reader and I I was nervous. I wanted to make sure that I was earning readers time if I was going to call it a memoir because that I just think it's it's important and I love the form so much so just it took me a little bit of encouragement and time to feel like okay now I I see the story and then I got certainly. I became more confident in about that as I started writing it. Well you you were scared. Obviously about writing about yourself where you also frightened about writing about other people and in particular your mother and your grandmother you write about a lot in the book actually. I wasn't scared about writing. I was scared about like being a jerk. You know and and and being egotistical I I think sometimes you can read people's writing and you can see the delusion right or aware of what I was nervous about but always willing to go there in terms of up sex and anxiety and depression always willing to like Kinda late all out. I was worried about writing about my family that that was the huge. Like I mentioned like working in a newsroom and the ethics of telling other people's stories. Yes Oh my gosh that was it requires just tremendous judiciousness and and I hope I got it right. Yeah that was an ongoing challenge and that that was different in every part of the book. How did you approach that? Did you have people whose lives touched. You know in your family family and extended family look at it and make sure they were OK. Or how'd you deal with that. No I studied. I read a lot about other memoir writers so I paid in Mary car. Her work is just really important. I read a lot about and it's great right because you know those like the Liars Club love and Cherry have been out for years so it was helpful to kind of see over the course of her career. How Mary car feels about her decisions? And I kind of lined up pretty closely with her. You know the book is a product of memory and memory is a part of identity and it isn't unreliable narrator right and that's part of the story so I decided that I didn't didn't want to interview people but you know. I talked to my grandmother a couple of times mostly to lay her concerns and she just trusted me and people knew the book was coming MHM though I would every once or twice a year working on the book I would like mention it while on the phone and just be like you know. I'm working on it but I as I told my grandmother that was like listen. I've got to go there but you've changed a lot and so if I am going to really work to show that I if I was her I don't know how I would handle so having such a difficult moment. Be written about by someone else but she never told me not to write it. She never even expressing Zayed's she would it always listening to go okay. It was kind of incredible so I really tried to honor that in the writing. And that's why like for example. I think example in the last act of the book when my mom has that's a heart attack and is in a coma and certainly the funeral. If you reread it you will know. Does I tried to be very intentional. And terms of descriptive details. And so I was. I was very deliberate in terms of being like should the reader see saieed. React to this. Instant of bad news is necessary for them to see my grandmother or my uncle. All right like you. You see my grandmother at the funeral and that was like I was like. That's it you know I was very protective. I remember my edit. My editor kind of asking for a few more moments and I pushed back. You know so that that was an example of just trying to be candid and truthful but also thoughtful right. It's a very candid memoir. Let's cut right to that moment that you you mentioned. I think a couple of times with your grandmother. Tell us that story. My mom raised me as a single parent in Lewisville Texas which is a suburb of Dallas. And and she practiced Buddhism. She chanted Nam you who rang Geico if he watched the Tina Turner Bio pic. I watched countless times as a kid. That's the faith I grew up with and the rest of our family is very Christian. Different denominations and very passionate about et is a central aspect of their daily lives. And so you know it was just incredibly deeply divisive for my family. When I was growing up that my mom was raising me in this way and I was in different about all of it I should say about you know I? I was like all organized. Religion seems irritating to me but my mom would send me to Memphis to stay with my grandmother and this summer's almost a lot of single parents. Do and the summer that I was like thirteen or fourteen. It was kind of the kind of the last stand and my grandmother saw it and I was used to going to church with her once a week when I go home. That was just kind of the expectation. Then I didn't mind it. And then that summer she started going to a new church in the suburbs it was mostly white as opposed to the Black Baptist Church. I'd grown up with. So that was a culture shot. And then they were very very evangelical and and so. The summer culminates with us. Going to church. I swear. We're going like four days a week. It it in some ways. It feels like it was all it was like all I did. Was I read. Tony Morrison person that summer and I went to church for like all that happened and towards the end of the summer I think the tensions were building. I was frustrated and making my frustrations known and she was frustrated. That I was pushing back. We were at one of those evening church meetings and she took me to the front of the room and went up to the pastor and said this is my grandsons Saieed Zay. His mother is Buddhist as she'd been introducing to literally everyone at this church all summer long. That's the only way she would introduce me and he just like nodded and I thought that he was going to start praying that I would see the light and all of this kind of stuff whatever and right when I start to roll my eyes I realize that instead he was saying the things about my mother and he was like you know make her suffer. God and I remember that's when I kinda snapped back to focus because I was the moment I was just like a teenager embarrassed to be at the front of the room. That's really what I was thinking about. I realized he was saying God. Put All your plagues and your your ailments and illnesses on her. Make her suffer so that I guess us she will realize she's gone down the wrong path and bring her son back to the church with her. Teenagers aren't right about everything. But how I felt then is exactly how I feel now. What a distorted disturbing really messed up? Perception of faith. Yes this man. I'd never spoken to him that whole summer somewhere. And he's certainly hadn't met my mother so there was no knowledge or certainly no compassion. And what makes it such A. I think a central part of the book and such a sad part of the book is that my grandmother was doing it out of love. There's a Lotta silences we kinda talk about it without using nouns or verbs if if you can believe it but you know. She's expressed regret and I think she believed she was doing the right thing. And I am really interested. ACID- as a writer in those moments when you can have two people in the space and no one is the antagonise right like what does it mean. When everyone is doing their best and being proactively loving I believe my grandmother was trying to be and it's still results in tremendous hurt and the events of that night eight change the course of both of our lives as you see in the book right? I mean you then see basically an entire decade of how that moment creates this rift and this tremendous silence among all the other ongoing silences. I mean I never told my mother about it. She might have found out in another way. I don't know but I never spoke to her about got it and when my mom then has a heart attack the night before mother's Day and I show up in Memphis and she's in the ICU. And I'm looking at my grandmother and she's looking let me we didn't say it but of course all of us were thinking about. Was that night in one thousand nine hundred nine. You write about a number of really difficult things and on moments in the book from Homophobia that you experienced growing up black gay Buddhist on top of it in Texas To Oh really terrible. Physical Assault with a lover in college. Was it difficult for you to kind of relive those moments or did you tap into that easily. How how is it writing thing about this? Interestingly I wasn't difficult actually to write about those moments part of it is you know my career at this point so by the time I sold the before I was working as an lgbt editor at buzzfeed news right and then a culture editor which is to say I was just seeing from the perspective of a newsroom. The pervasiveness of this violence. And so I just I think seeing all of that and then like you know certainly talking to people reading about epidemic of Violence Against Black Trans Women for example. I don't know I think when I sat down to write about those moments in the book I was like. I'm not so special and I need to figure out how to write this in a way to connect next to the context time witnessing because I didn't want readers to say Oh this is this is so unique. This is so isolated. I want readers to go. Oh Wow does that explain the title the we in how our lives yes. Yeah that is that was. That was the intention part of it is. It's a nod to my mother and my grandmother that they're we're fighting for their lives but yeah I wanted from the very beginning to make it clear that this book isn't a vacation. You know what I mean. I don't think I really don't. I think my story is special. I I was tweeting this morning. That when I'm done with this tour in about a week I will have onto. I think it's not like nineteen stops and everywhere I've done. People are suffering gene so tremendously. Oh my gosh. I'm so like my twitter. DMC My instagram DMZ and the note. Sometimes it's overwhelming but I also just feel like think that's why I wrote the book the way I did and tried to frame it the way I did it because I think I just intuited that. What's more useful now instead of memoirs? That are just all about me. What was me is like what was us? You talk about suffering Buddhist concept also compassion. There's a lot of compassion and in the book even in these moments with the physical assault for example with your grandmother. Were it seems like you're constantly making an effort not to demonize but but to kind of look at what's going on with your antagonists at any moment and try to understand them. Do you attribute that to your Buddhist upbringing. or where does that come comes from. I think it is part of my upbringing. One concept for example. That was really important to me. Even though I don't practice nature of now I think the philosophy of it changed me in a Lotta. There's this idea as Sho Funaki which means oneness of self and environment and and that can be the self in the natural environment that could be the self in your. You're kind of human environment whether it's like your workplace or your community and then the third level of that is like the kind of national environment. My relationship to empathy comes from trying to understand. Certainly how I feel you know what I know about myself but also how. How am I living in concert with these other people and that's not about letting people off the hook but I think it's just a little bit more useful as a writer to you? Push the reader to go. Yeah this was awful okay. Let's think about why it happened. Then think about the systems that we're all living in right that At-bat can create these situations because that is the moment where a reader can go. Oh whether or not they look or live like me. They are living in the same system. Right there's living in the same America as I am and so that allows I think the reader then to have. Hopefully some tools calls to help them with their own fight. And I think that's why I mean as I've been out meeting with readers audience for the book is really diverse because I tried to make space for for our similarities and differences. You've written all this out a lot of pain in here now toward through nineteen cities. I think three more to go have how does it feel. Oh now that it's all out. It's on the page. The book is there with readers and done all that hard work one is just a tremendous relief. I mean every single book feels it's like it's a make or break situation when you're writing your like am I going to survive this. And that's regardless of subject matter but yes certainly I mean you know there was a moment and I think in two thousand sixteen. I was writing about my mom in the hospital and I was crying so hard. I had to have a friend. Come get me and I was like. I don't know if I'M GONNA survive this book and S. Five to right and and so that is I'm really proud of that accomplishment and of course it's wonderful that readers are identifying with it and connecting with it and and and the critical praise. It's wonderful the entire thrust of the book is is my fight to feel that my whole self will ever be welcomed in America America right like. That's the entire kind of journey of the book. Rely be able to be myself here and to have the story welcomed and embraced by readers. I think is a pretty yes and wonderful feeling now we will end their congratulations so much on the book. All the critical praise the feed Vancouver readers. So you thank you so much for being here. Thank you for this conversation. Say Jones's new book is. Are we fight for our lives. A memoir Joining us now to talk about what we're reading my colleagues Tina Jordan Greg. Kohl's and John Williams. Hi Guys Emma. Alright Tina let's start with you all right so I'm reading something unusual this week for me. Anyway I'm reading a book called Mrs Delany a life by Clarisa Campbell. Or and it's a biography of an eighteenth century. Collage artist told largely through the letters that she wrote she. She was from a very well connected family in Wiltshire. She endured an early terrible marriage to this to an overweight alcoholic who finally died in his sleep. At which point she wrote finding myself free for many vexations Zun brought me to a state of tranquility. I had not known for years. The widow per second marriage was very happy. Her letters are full of gossip about family friends. News politics the royals books. She was an avid reader. But when she was in her seventies she was sitting in her drawing room one day she noticed a similarity between the pedal L. A. Geranium at a scrap of paper next to her and so she had some sort of I don't know just an idea and she picked up her sewing scissors and started to cut up the paper and she became a collage artist. She used flour and water and snippets of colored lowered paper which she pasted on black paper. She first came to my attention about ten years ago when Yale had an exhibition of some of our work so all her work is collected acted in something called the Flora Dylan Co which is at the British Museum. It's so fragile. It's not on display. You have to ask to see it and I suppose you have to like have some reason to see it but when I tell you there collages that really doesn't do justice to them. A single flower ca can have hundreds and hundreds hundreds of pieces of paper layered on their astonished batter and seeing them in person. Yale had a few of them. They didn't have the whole thing. They're ten notebooks so Yale had a few of them ten years ago. And that's what I saw. She wrote. She wrote to release. I've invented a new way of imitating flowers which I just love but I'm also I'm a sucker for anything letters related to I love a pistol hobbles. This is basically a biography told through her letters. She sounds like she was fascinating. I I would love to have one of these collages you know hanging on a wall on my house however someday someday Tanya reading something also not new not new. Oh and something that I've been meaning to read pretty much since it was published in two thousand and three won the Pulitzer Prize in two thousand and four. It's a novel called the known world by Edward P Jones novel. I've been wanting to read to you. Know One of those things where you go through phases and sometimes I've been wanting more to read it than other times but I finally picked it up and said now is the time and I was at Harpercollins Collins. The publisher was working there when it was published by them an imprint. There and I remember just being a lot of love in the House for this book and a lot of admiration for it and for good the reason the book has a very easy elevator pitch. Unfortunately but it's much richer than that. The elevator pitch is that it's a novel by an African American author about slavery in the Nineteenth Eighteenth Century and it is about a slave owner. Who himself is black? He grew up on a plantation and his owner really liked him and sort of thought of him as a protege of sorts sorts. And when this slaves name is Henry Townsend the main character when he bought out of slavery by his parents he eventually starts buying slaves of his own and he has eventually. I think maybe thirty or more and the book opens with his death. It then is very fluid in terms of how it goes back and forth and time. There are a lot of secondary secondary and tertiary characters. It's not an easy to put down and immediately get back into if you if you let it go for too long so I think you need to kind of get into its flow. It's beautifully flee written. It's very humane. There's a weird sort of lack of anger in the book and it is obviously about things that are horrific but the people in it remain really really really complicated. The people on all sides of Henry's parents especially his father about halfway through the book now and his father has just and it's very dramatic scene kind of kicked him out of his house. He said I never thought that. The first person I kicked out of my house for owning other people would be my own son but get out. I think he's strikes them and knocks him to the floor. I read this morning. Actually this this kind of incredible and fascinating profile that Rachel sworn of the Times wrote in two thousand three when the book had just been a finalist for the National Book Award this is before it won the Pulitzer and Jones Jones grew up in poverty. His mother was illiterate and she talks about Rachel in the peace. Talks about how others rapturous reviews when they first started coming Ming in he had no car no cell phone no fax machine which I guess at the time something and he decided against buying a cellphone fearing it could seem too pretentious and he was in his mid fifties and I think had had spent a long time working for like a tax trade magazine or something and had been homeless himself when he was a young man. And there's something so old fashioned about the book it's a very godlike omniscient narrator and so you know I think Jones's I guess someone who didn't have a phone or car he. I think he gets back into that. Sort of nineteenth century century feel very naturally and beautifully he published another collection of short stories two years after this and then he hasn't published book since reached out to him. Hasn't he has reviewed for for us. He has not reviewed for us. We have reached out to him. He's he's not an easy person to get in touch with. Yeah he's he's just kind of absent from from the scene as it were. I'm trying to the national world in which everyone thinks it's too pretentious to. He's nearing seventy now so. I hope that there's another broken them but it's it's fantastic tastic. Only halfway through a I'm I'm trying to be leisurely enough about it to really luxuriating up because the pros is very old fashioned. Lovely Greg. What about you? You're reading. Something brand new. Yeah yeah which is unusual for me. I'm usually reading things either. Well before they come out for work or else I'm doing what you're doing right now with the Edward p Jones catching up on things things that that passed me by at that time that they came out but right now I'm reading the novel. Nothing to see here by Kevin Wilson which was just reviewed on are covered by taffy brutus actor. So it's kind of the book of the moment. I don't read a lot of it books of the moment. It's a very funny novel about a woman kind of a down at loose ends southern women living at home with her mother. She had a moment where it seemed that everything might break right for her and she won a scholarship to a prestigious this private school and while she's there she has this kind of fraught relationship with her roommate and takes the blame when her roommate has caught with drugs and she's kicked out of the school and they stay in touch over the years and now the roommate is married to a senator who has big political hopes and want to enter the democratic. Feel If he has hopes that that he will become secretary of state and he has twin children from a previous marriage whose mother has has just died and these children are now coming to live with him. As a result and they have a propensity to burst into flame. Whatever they get agitated -tated and literally literally burst into flame? It's spontaneous combustion is one of those oddities of scheduling in terms of The print book book review that this cover was also our children's book issue Burning off on the cover. I was the editor who assigned it Taffy and when I described the book tour she looked for really but she was all in on in this one when she loved it. Yeah Yeah it's funny reading it as a father myself. It takes me back to the times when he wanted your flame. It's I mean my oldest my son if I can tell a tale on him You just have a hard time containing his emotions and in public. Can you know it's not quite bursting into flame but it's bursting into kind of emotional extravagance becoming a scene the center of attention wherever you are and the patients that it takes to work through that with your young children give them coping mechanisms for the world coming at you. And that's part of what this woman Lillian. Who is the narrator of this novel has to do with these children? She develops a real bond with them very quickly. There's a lot of sweet sweet parenting stuff in there. Even though she's not their parents she she becomes their surrogate parent. And there's just a lot of real bonding in there that speaks to me as a father. There's also a lot of female friendship relationship between Lillian and these twins stepmother Madison. There's a lot of class stuff in there because Madison and comes from tremendous wealth. She's heiress to a department store fortune. She's married to the senator who himself comes from tremendous wealth. It reminded me a little bit of who is rich by Matthew Clam. AM which also has this sense of an outsider coming into a very privileged world and realizing. Wow it's completely different from anything that we're used to it. Sounds like it. Also combines like a comic tone with a more down to earth like the parental bonding and the sweetness Hewitt. I'm just over halfway way through at this point. I know from Taffy review that there is a turn in the last third of it. That feels inevitable when you reach it. I'm not there yet. Some trying to guess what it might be. But yeah it's it's very comic and there are moments that I really laugh out loud. It just kind of passing observations either about parenting or about life in general. The kids are big readers when they come to stay with Madison in the Guest House on the senators estate. The house is filled with Nancy. Drew Books and taking you back to my hardy boys books. Yeah Blue Spine and she says can we read all these and and Madison says yes and she's like we love to read but we are at our grandparents house and they only had books books about World War. Two there are four different folks about Hitler what about you. What are you reading this week reading a new book which is uncharacteristic of me? It's Megan domes new essay collection the problem with everything my journey through the new culture wars. And it's different for me in another way okay and that this is a book where I kind of agree with a lot of what she's saying so which. I don't often like to read books that I thoroughly agree with. Because you're not really learning anything a new she is a really good right are really strong. SAS and very persuasive in this book kind of interrogating her own assumptions and then flipping them and in an and and Rian targeting them and the cover kind of gives you a sense of just how to various controversial issues that she goes because on the cover. It's as micro aggression toxic fascist rape culture triggered bad ass violence speech identity politics. Goss Lighting Patriarchy privilege. There's like kind of nowhere that she doesn't go in this. That is in the subtitle. That's all in the art deco. The design it's interesting 'cause I she's a great way with titles. I think I'd pick this up sleep because of the title because I'm often talking about the problem with everything. My problem problem with. Everything is probably a little bit different from her problem with everything but the last book that I read by Megan down my also read because of the title And that book was not one of her most well. Oh noon books but it was. Life would be perfect if I lived in that house. Something I've certainly have thought to some degree or another before so I just finished is not book. I want to ask all of you a question. Courtesy of or by way of one of our listeners. Edward W. Leyland. He emailed me back in September and he asked a question that I always want to ask all of you because I'm a very slow reader but he said just wanted to make a suggestion concentrated segment on. How the hell you all manage manage to read so much for fun while doing your time consuming jobs and presumably having lives to live and he's wrong in my case but you know John John I would as you were talking about the Edward P Jones book which is not short and you were saying like you wanted to actually read it more slowly and luxuriate? I mean I really could not read need more slowly if I tried. So how do you read everything you do. Well I'm a fast reader which is not like a speed reader but I probably read a little bit more quickly. Then I'd prefer and I. It's just hard for me to have any sympathy at all. Well part of that I think was was by nature and part of it was when I was in publishing. You sort of had to read the manuscripts that were submitted. Sometimes very quickly because they wanted to know what you thought or if we thought that other houses. We're GONNA be betting on them. You wanted to have an opinion pretty quick so you take home at Three Hundred Fifty Page manuscript unscripted and be expected to read it and thirty six hours twenty four hours and obviously you're not reading for great depth at that point but it gives me a sense of moving the pages for me. It's just there are different different kinds of lives. You know you. You joked about not having a life I have a social life and I go out and do things but I don't have kids and I think that that just gives me all my time pretty much and so I read on the subway coming to work work. I read home at night. Sometimes I read on the weekends sometimes for hours at a time. Just go to a cafe or something and or the park if the weather's nice and read there's no real trick to it I just I do it all the time. Rit Eighteen. You do have kids but if anyone reads as fast as John. It's probably you know faster. It's interesting when I was five years old. And was reading thing I famously and Family Lore. My mother used to take me to the library every week. We were on our way home and we have not gotten home from library when I announced I had read all the books I had just. Yeah she didn't believe me so she took the books and read them and quizzed me and sure enough. I had read the books. We believe you so. I don't it really I. I don't really know I just like started reading fast from the very beginning so I can tell you. Do you quickly Greg. I don't well you know it's different Brent. For work from my home reading at John was was describing about publishing. I read very quickly for work. And there's a certain amount of dipping in and getting the the sound astound of something that sense of what a writer is doing. But when I read in the wild as it were I. I'm about forty pages an hour. That's what I was before I took this job. I don't know if it's now slower than that because I'm burdened with other things or if it's faster because I've I've developed the habit of it I will say it took me about two and a half years to get it through ulysses took you two and a half years to get through ulysses but one thing that I think we do need to mention here. Is that every day without fail. Greg Gets Queen Bee Time Spelling Bee game. It's deeply upsetting every generous. That's that's not the almost every day. Do you have any explanation for this gonNA burst into flames. The child on my way home from the library. Once I said I've we've got Queen B by Family I I have no explanation for it except that my mind has always i. It might be a form form of dyslexia. I look at street signs and break them down into grams right away. It's I'm always kind of rearranging letters. So Queen Bee or spelling bee that that puzzle really speaks to away that my mind works. I look at a word jumble and immediately starting to assemble the pieces. It's almost like a mathematical thematical thing like musical. My Dad had an incredibly weird habit that I'll tell you about because it's actually too complicated and people wouldn't believe emails saying I want to know what John's Dad's thing. My Dad was was a big reader but he was also kind of a he. He did have a matthey brain for someone who didn't really do it for a living. But he he and he read a lot he would read a paragraph and he was good with percentage a he would calculate the number of words in paragraph that had eiser Jay is dotted letters as a percentage of the paragraph in everything. He writes US newspaper articles billboards so if he passed a billboard that you know was forward long with the slogan and one of the words was John He would say that's twenty five percent in his brain and then he would just do that constantly. My little trick is so much less impressive and I didn't even know. I know that it was a trick. I just thought everyone could do it. But as you all know when people come into my office to talk about assigning books they'll usually come with something written on a page and one of the things written is a list of suggested reviewers and I will read it upside down and know what what everything that they're gonna say ahead of time and I guess everyone doesn't have that skill knowing if you can do it quickly and easily. I think that's a skill. It's it's it's not that exciting skill so what you're saying micro-scale scale no. I'm saying it is a skill. It's not something that everyone can do. Can you do it with a lot of time. I can do it a little bit. I think maybe maybe if I read my books upside down. Have you ever seen upside down. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're not really reading it all right. Let's run down the titles that we talked about today. Tina I read Mrs Delany a life but Clarisa Campbell or nothing to see here by Kevin Wilson. I'm reading the known world by Edward P Jones and I read Megan downs. The problem with everything all right. Thanks guys thanks Pamela. Remember there's more at NY TIMES DOT com slash books and you can always write to us at books at NY TIMES DOT Com. I write back not right away but I do. The Book Review. PODCAST IS PRODUCED BY DECREE TO PEDRO FROM HEAD stepper media with a major assists for my colleague. John Williams. Thanks for listening for the New York. Times I'm Pamela Paul.