02-23-2009 11:58 AM
Colson Whitehead will join our discussion for the next three weeks!
Please welcome him into our discussion of Sag Harbor, and post your questions for him here!
02-23-2009 12:13 PM
Thanks for being open to allow the average person to read your book before it its official release date.
It has come up in the discussions that the book is written from the perspective of Benji. We are wondering at what stage of Benji's life was it written? His current age, as an young adult, middle age, etc.
~ Joseph Addison ~
"Reading lets you visit the world of another"
02-23-2009 12:55 PM
Your book has opened my eyes to so many issues I never thought about. Do you think there will ever be a meaningful dialogue between the races, without anger, to address all of the misconceptions held by both sides? There is a book which addresses the misconceptions about faith. Do you think there should be one about race? I wish there was.
It didn't make me happy to realize that when I was a teacher, years ago, I might have inadvertently done something to offend one of my students because my gestures or remarks would have been perceived in a wholly different way than they were intended.
02-23-2009 01:10 PM
Thanks so much for making your book available to us.
I wondered why you did not just write an autobiography? instead of making it fiction but still based on events in your life?
I also wondered about the lack of the sister being mentioned. Was there a reason for that?
The insight that Benji displays, did he have this much insight as a teenager or is he relaying this story as an adult?
I had some difficulty understanding all the "terms" used by the kids.
I wish there had been a bit more plot that connects all the stories of Benji's youth.
What exactly are you looking to convey to the reader?
What was the main aim for this book?
Hope I am not asking too many questions.
02-23-2009 01:37 PM
Well, I'm here. I look forward to talking with you guys over the next few weeks. Hope you enjoyed the book, and if you didn't like it, perhaps the hours you spent reading it kept you from a more unpleasant experience. Like attending an unwanted social engagement, or getting food poisoning in a beloved restaurant, thus tainting the memories of the place forevermore.
I'll be in and out of here, checking out the scene and trying to be helpful where I can. I've been following the posts since last week, and it has been an interesting experience.
But to start things off, as to how old is Ben/Benji when he is telling the story, the answer is: It's not spelled out it, is it?
If I had wanted to be specific, I would have said, "As I recall that summer, now that I am forty-five, husband to my lovely Bella, father of three darling children...I was so young then!" or something along those lines. A bit corny, no?
To determine how old he is, he has to be old enough to have an adult perspective on the summer of 1985, a certain amount of additional wisdom. That accounts for the way he tells the story, and his processing of events years past.
So, he is not sixteen, right? Is he twenty-five? Forty? Sixty. It's up to you, my friends!
Additionally, enough time must have passed for him to know certain facts -- how, for example, friends of his came to unfortunate ends, as we see at the end of Chapter 4. So that's another time marker -- how much time must have passed for the events at the end of Chapter 4 to have occurred?
I didn't spell it out, did I? So I guess you have to decide for yourself. But he's probably not 16, right?
Anyhoo, I'll be back soon!
And I keep a list of helpful links at my website, here:
Which might be helpful!
02-23-2009 01:43 PM
First, welcome to our group Mr. Whitehead! It is a pleasure to have an author join us, and to have you here for three weeks should be a great treat. Thank you for joining us.
Second, my question would be about the timing of your novel. I am enjoying it, for the most part, and am happy that you shared it with us. But, what caused you to write the book now? What was your stimulus?
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
02-23-2009 03:22 PM
02-23-2009 03:28 PM
I liked the way you began the book explaining the "out" greetings for those of us who have never had the experience of going to the shore for the summer or for weekends. Is the community still there as it was in the book or has it diversified?
Having lived in Wyoming and Colorado my whole life, I've never experienced going to the shore. It was fun imagining what it looks like, how the houses and cottages are situated, and the kids either running through the woods and backyards or going to town in their teens.
02-23-2009 04:20 PM
Not a very profound question but, here it is:
Why did you choose to spell the phrase "even Stephen" instead of the more common and matchy-matchy even Steven?
I am really enjoying your book.
02-23-2009 04:38 PM
First of all, thanks so much for sharing your book with us! It is exciting to be able to ask questions and discuss the book with you before it is released to the public! I am enjoying the book so far, especially the descriptions of the people and places on Sag Harbor. I especially like the chapter that describes Ben's experiences at Jonni Waffle.
My question is regarding Ben's friends; NP, Randy, Marcus, Bobby. Are these characters based on people from your past or are they "made up" ?
02-23-2009 04:54 PM
As to this question:
"I wondered why you did not just write an autobiography? instead of making it fiction but still based on events in your life?"
The answer is: Because my life isn't that interesting. There are probably few people who had a Summer of '85 that would be worthy of writing a book about.
Like if you were in an avalanche, or had to outrun a tsunami. That would be a crazy story!
I, however, am not one of them.
Most people's lives wouldn't make interesting novels, so you have to make things up.
If I were in an avalanche or tsunami, and survived, I would totally try and monetize that into a memoir. I ain't no dummy.
When I worked at ice cream store, did I have weird racial encounter with my boss that led me to sabotage his freezer? No. He was a cool guy, and I'm not a freezer-sabotager.
But certainly my time working at an ice cream store helped me make those scenes more realistic.
Do I hate people who hate rum raisin? Some of my best friends eat rum raisin.
To lay it out a little more, an excerpt of "Sag Harbor" ran in the New Yorker and I was asked this question:
How is Benji different from you?
And I answered:
I tend not to act or feel or talk in a way that would add anything worthwhile to an extended work of fiction. I tend not to do things that lend themselves to dramatic unity, aesthetic harmony, and narrative discharge. My leitmotifs are crappy. I need an editor or someone of artistic bent to shape my useless existence into something that would interest other people. Also, I am a real person.
I hope that is helpful...
02-23-2009 04:57 PM
>>>Not a very profound question but, here it is:
Why did you choose to spell the phrase "even Stephen" instead of the more common and matchy-matchy even Steven?
I am really enjoying your book.<<
There are weird little typos that come and go, and you hunt them down, and they come back. Like varmints. I assume in the final final copy, it will be mathy matchy.
But you never know.
02-23-2009 06:30 PM
02-23-2009 06:33 PM
I would have liked a bit more of the motives behind some of the thoughts and actions of the characters. Such as why did Benji leave the freezer open?
Why did his sister talk about leaving the house as soon as he could? What does, "you know what goes on in that house?" mean to her and to Benji. Is it just that the parents left them alone alot?
02-23-2009 06:43 PM
It seems the style of this book is like a group of short stories or journal entries of Benji's summer
Each one not always related to the past events.
Is that the style you were thinking of when writing this?
02-23-2009 10:20 PM
Welcome to our group, Mr. Whitehead, and thank you for allowing us this pre-publication look at your new novel. I haven't finished the book yet, but am finding it very enjoyable. My question, which is absolutely NOT profound, concerns working at the ice cream shop. If this is something that you really did, were you, as Benji was, allowed to eat all the "goodies" you wanted and, like him, able to do so without gaining weight? As someone who loves ice cream and is constantly fighting the weight battle, I found this possibility SO appealing!
02-23-2009 10:56 PM
"I think of literature.....as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach."
The Uncommon Reader
"You've been running around naked in the stacks again, haven't you?"
The Time Traveler's Wife
It is with books as with men; a very small number play a great part.
02-23-2009 11:06 PM - edited 02-23-2009 11:18 PM
Dear Mr. Whitehead, thank you for sharing your time and creative processes with us.
I’ve read your earlier books with much joy. I’m delighted to participate in this discussion.
Your writing feels light and fresh and irreverent on the surface, but it’s actually very layered. I’ve enjoyed the hilarious but biting social critiques of your earlier books… on government bureacracy and elevator inspectors in “The Intuitionist”, and on our culture’s obsession with brand-names in “Apex Hides the Hurt”.
I fell in love with Lila Mae from “The Intuitionist; she’s a marvelous literary creation……and the nomenclature consultant in “Apex Hides the Hurt” who thinks up brand-names for bandaids that are color-matched to human skin. When I read it last year on the subway, I laughed out loud and got strange looks from strangers. He reminds me of Ben grown up and making a living brand-naming thinks like styrofoam cups.
“Sag Harbor” is a major change. I grew up in the 80s and am struggling to ward off those miserable teenage memories that Ben is making me remember. Adolescence, struggling to find our self-identities, is a universally tough period for so many of us...
Of all the periods that you could have focused on, why this one? Do you address your story to an audience of teenagers like Ben... as well those of us who have survived this turbulent era of our lives, scars and all?
"I am a part of everything that I have read."
02-23-2009 11:09 PM
Thank you for sharing your new book with us and taking the time to discuss it. I'm finished with the book and I enjoyed every page. Being a child of the '80's myself, some of your references took me back in time. It's a light, entertaining read, but at the same time it makes you think.
I'm not sure how many of the postings you have read, but there was a definite reaction to the fact that the kids were left alone all week. Does it surprise you that people seemed so upset with the fact that the boys were left alone while the parents went back to the city?
I think the lack of parental supervision gave us a lot of the story. So many of the things wouldn't have happened if the parents had been there.
02-24-2009 06:11 AM
I was wondering if you had given much thought to how the book would awaken other's memories of their past--I think much of the enjoyment of the book comes from the aha
moments when you recognize something you yourself did--for example getting a job at
an ice cream store/dairy queen/fast food and stuffing yourself with all the product.
I laughed aloud when I read that part.
Does Benji realize that in the larger population--he is truly blessed to have a summer home to go to? Many people in the Midwest consider themselves lucky to spend a day on one of the Great Lakes, luckier to spend a week on vacation, -but it is almost impossible to imagine getting to spend the entire summer on the beach.