"Crap! I wish I hadn't seen Ricky on the sidewalk."

"You will be fine for 31 minutes. You will be dead in 32 minutes."

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Ian McEwan was in town last week, reading aloud, answering questions, and participating in panel discussions. 

He was primarily the guest of physicists, so many of the conversations were devoted to science rather than literature.  

The final event was sponsored by the English department.  McEwan read for about 40 minutes and fielded questions from the audience.

I went to four events, sat in a lot of uncomfortable chairs, passed on a lot of light refreshments.  I had 20 books to be signed, so I brought 4-5 to each event. The last thing I want is to make a nuisance of myself, the asshole at the end of the line with a big box of books.  

I own multiple copies of The Cement Garden and Atonement so I took the lesser copies of each and asked McEwan to personalize those.  The other books got signatures only.

I've been asking authors to sign books for nearly three decades. I've never sold any of them, except for an extra copy of The Nutcracker signed by Maurice Sendak.  
On more than one occasion, McEwan discussed the impetus for Sweet Tooth, his latest novel.  The Congress for Culture Freedom was a CIA-funded covert op dedicated to publishing literary and political journals like Encounter.  Their ultimate goal?  To curb the appeal of Communism among artists and intellectuals.

There was a party at the Waldorf-Astoria in March of 1949 where  hundreds of prominent writers and artists flocked to discuss peace. Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, etc.

Meanwhile, Sydney Hook, an NYU philosophy professor, organized a group to harass the peace conference with support from Mary McCarthy, Dwight MacDonald, and Max Eastman.  

I didn't care much for Sweet Tooth, but I'm a great fan of McEwan's work. 

particularly enjoyed Amsterdam and Enduring Love when I first read them.  There's a darkness to his early stories and novels that has faded slightly over the years. A byproduct of success, perhaps?

At one point, I asked McEwan if he had any memories of The Comfort of Strangers (Schrader, 1990).  The screenplay was adapted by Harold Pinter and McEwan said there wasn't a better course in screenwriting than Pinter's Five Screenplays which includes The Servant, The Pumpkin Eater, The Quiller Memorandum, Accident and The Go-Between. 

McEwan is convinced Christopher Walken based his performance in The Comfort of Strangers on Pinter himself. 

I asked McEwan about the book he's currently working on, and he said he hopes to finish it this year.  I thanked him for his many signatures, shook his hand, wished him well.

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