Thursday, February 19, 2009


DESK SPACE Who (a witty one-liner or a bio)?

ELIF BATUMAN Elif Batuman is Senior Writer for n+1 magazine and lives in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared in Harper's, the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, and the Guardian, among other publications. You can learn more about her life and thoughts by visiting her blog, My Life and Thoughts.

DS When did you start writing, publish your first book (or when are you
publishing your next)?

EB I started writing a novel when I was seven, about the daily lives of the witches in all the Grimm fairy tales (there were four of them, and they all knew each other). I never finished this novel. I became a full-time writer 20+ years later, once I finished grad school.

I'm currently working on my first book, provisionally titled "The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them" - it's scheduled to come out in February 2010.

DS Where do you write (at your desk/outside/in bed)?

EB Mostly at home at my desk.

DS Why do you work where you do (at your desk because it is a quiet
> space/outside b/c it helps you think/in the park b/c you can smoke, etc)?

EB I like to have a big computer screen, so I can move things around. I also like for my cat Friday to sit under the desk. Sometimes I work on my laptop at the library or in a café, but eventually I miss the big screen and cat.

People sometimes ask me why I keep a framed $20 bill on my desk. I tell them: "It's a $100 bill!" (Which it is - I don't know why people think I'm so cheap.) I found it a few years ago at the Stanford library, inside a 1950s edition of the Catalan chivalric romance, Tirant lo Blanch. I was researching a dissertation chapter about Don Quijote, and had somehow convinced myself that I needed to check the first paragraph of each chapter of Tirant lo Blanch, a book I have never actually read, to check whether there was any first-person narration. I don't think I found any first-person narration... but I did find $100! I still keep it on my desk, to remind myself of the benefits of the "distant reading" of noncanonical literatures.


Michael Fay said...

Another fascinating piece of writing, Elif. I'm very intrigued about the book in progress, too. The Russians are lucky to have someone of you wit and intelligence telling their story in the 21st Century.

Elif said...

thanks michael, this is very kind of you!

judith said...

I heard you read from The Possessed
last night at the LA Library, just one in the crowd who were totally charmed. After a while my cheeks (facial ones) started to ache with overuse. I had walked into a one person comedy routine.

The night was terrific, you were so open and smart and...funny.

Thanks so much for coming.
And of course today, without a waiting line, I will buy your book at the library store.