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10 Questions for Jonathan Dee

Each summer, Oxford University Press USA and Bryant Park in New York City partner for their summer reading series Word for Word Book Club. The Bryant Park Reading Room offers free copies of book club selections while supply lasts, compliments of Oxford University Press, and guest speakers lead the group in discussion. On Tuesday 4 June 2013, author Jonathan Dee leads a discussion on Father and Son by Edmund Gosse.

Jonathan Dee. Photo by Ulf Andersen.

What was your inspiration for this book?
I would say a combination of Tiger Woods and John Calvin.

Where do you do your best writing?
In conditions of silence, with a pen and a legal pad, in the easy chair in my living room.

Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?
Probably Edna O’Brien, or Clarice Lispector, or Sylvia Plath . . . Remember, I’m a 7th grade boy in this scenario.

What is your secret talent?
My daughter would say it is that I can talk like Donald Duck.

What is your favorite book?
Impossible to say. Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, To The Lighthouse, The Good Soldier, The USA Trilogy, The Postman Always Rings Twice . . .

Who reads your first draft?
My first drafts are written in longhand, so no one else could read them even if they wanted to.

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?
See above.

What book are you currently reading? (Old school or e-Reader?)
Death of the Black-Haired Girl by Robert Stone. Old school always.

What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing?
The semicolon. Like duct tape for sentences. The worst part is how I scoff at other writers who have the same weakness I do.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
In my twenties I worked at The Paris Review, on the theory that if I didn’t make it as a writer, I would still want a professional foothold in some world where people valued the same things I did. So I probably would have been an editor of some sort, or an academic.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?
Reading the short story “So Much Unfairness of Things” by C.D.B. Bryan when I was in the seventh grade. It was my introduction to the idea that a story’s job might be to make it harder, rather than easier, to judge the characters within it.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?
Never. I can’t finish a page without coming across a sentence I want to rewrite, and it’s painful to realize that I’m too late.

Jonathan Dee is the author of five novels, including The Privileges, which was both a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and winner of the 2011 Prix Fitzgerald. He is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, a National Magazine Award–nominated literary critic for Harper’s, and a former senior editor of the Paris Review. He teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and the New School. He is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. His most recent novel is A Thousand Pardons.

Read previous interviews with Word for Word Book Club guest speakers.

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