Writers on the Record with Victoria Lautman - Adam Gopnik

In his 20 years at The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has worn several hats: art critic, Paris correspondent, author of the “New York Journal” column. Victoria Lautman caught up with Gopnik, who spoke by phone from his New Yorker office.

Photography: Lautman Marc Hauser

In his 20 years at The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has worn several hats: art critic, Paris correspondent, author of the “New York Journal” column-and he has written umpteen book reviews, profiles, and “Talk of the Town” pieces. His best-selling collection Paris to the Moon (2000) detailed his family’s five years in the City of Light; now this self-described comic-sentimental essayist has compiled a similar collection about their return to Manhattan. Mixing previously published and entirely new contributions, Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York is darker, but no less droll, than the earlier book. Victoria Lautman caught up with Gopnik, who spoke by phone from his New Yorker office.

Critical Mass:
Noteworthy new releases for October

 

The Audacity of Hope (Crown) Describing the need for more authentic politics, Senator Barack Obama calls on Americans to find common ground and unite a divided nation, echoing themes from his momentous 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

 

The Female Thing (Pantheon Books) Outspoken Northwestern prof Laura Kipnis offers a humorous and blunt look at the conflicted state of the female psyche.

 

Old Town School Of Folk Music Songbook: Vol. 1 (Bloodshot Records) An all-star lineup of locals, including Alice Peacock, Wilco’s John Stirrat, and Eleventh Dream Day’s Janet Bean, recorded this compilation of traditional folk songs. Warning: Dan Zanes’s rowdy “Drunken Sailor” will stick in your head.

 

The Break-Up (Universal) The ending still stinks. But after the credits roll in the new DVD version, Vince Vaughn and cast give a bonus tour of their favorite city spots - including the Skylark, the Riviera Theatre, and Wrigley Field.

 
Adam Gopnik

Q: Did you actually have a theme in mind before you composed this book?

A: I only figured out the trajectory when I was halfway through. I didn’t want a “collection,” but pieces of a story, and when I came back [to New York] in 2000 I didn’t know what the story would be. I thought the dominant theme would be about the ironic absurdities brought about by prosperity in New York life. But then the events and experiences of the world altered the theme dramatically, and the story became about bringing a family home, going through the pain and fear of 9/11, watching my two children growing up in the light and shadow, struggling with loss and confusion and finding a way to be happy. So now it’s a book about the universal struggle for joy in the midst of a world that’s inexorably tragic.

 

Q: Once you had the stories together, did they add up to something you didn’t anticipate?

A: I was . . . surprised, particularly after recording the audio book, which is more primal and psychological, narrating all the stories at once. It really struck me how much they were about memory and loss. When I first assembled the book I included a lot more journalistic pieces-about the remaking of Harlem, for instance-but the tone was too jarring and they didn’t really work. They just weren’t islands in the same archipelago. So I deleted them.

 

Q: Your wife and children make many appearances in the stories. Does this bug them?

A: Oh, no. We joke about it. But the only two rules we’ll enforce with the kids as they get older are no piercings-and no memoirs! The reality is that the stories are true, but such small, stylized slices of our lives, and they’re much more illustrative than confessional.

LIVE
Hear Adam Gopnik talk with Victoria Lautman, Sunday, October 22nd, 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave. Free. Call 312-832-6788 for reservations. WFMT (98.7 FM) will broadcast the event live at noon.

 

Q: In one of my favorite stories, “Man Goes to See a Doctor,” you talk about being in psychoanalysis years ago, describing yourself as a “creative New York neurotic.” How neurotic are you now?

A: Well, I meant that somewhat ironically. I like to think, probably wrongly, that I’m less neurotic now than fifteen years ago. I don’t think children make you neurotic, but they take up so much of your time that you have less time to brood on your neuroses, which is the only way to cure them.

 

Q: So what’s with all the name-calling by other writers? You’ve been dubbed “the Seinfeld of public intellectuals,” and “a flaneur fop.” And you even made last year’s “50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers” list in New York Press.

A: I did? 

 

Q: Come on. You didn’t know?

A: No. I didn’t. And the only thing you can say about it is that being a public person makes you a part of public life. I scrupulously try to avoid getting drawn into the life of malice and vendetta. It’s what Charles Dickens once referred to as “the lice of literature.”

Photography: Lautman Marc Hauser, Gopnik Brigitte Lacombe

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