Interview with John Freeman

When I meet with John Freeman to discuss his new book, How to Read a Novelist, he is in the middle of moving. The wood-planked floors groan under the weight of books, thousands of them stowed in boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling. He offers coffee—the coffee maker isn't packed yet—and I see at once that he's the sort of bibliophile whose immersion in the world of fictional people hasn't hampered his ability to communicate with real, breathing ones. The coffee is good and strong; I haven't had a cup in almost two years, an experiment in caffeine deprivation that has somehow become habitual. Two sips and I'm dizzy, though I don't mention it; instead, I pepper him with questions about the interviews compiled in How to Read a Novelist—fifty-five in all, which he conducted between 2000 and 2013. The interview takes on the contours of metafiction as we discuss what can and cannot be observed, and the perils of subjectivity. As for what is observable, John is amiable and erudite, just as engaging an interviewee as interviewer.

Bookforum: I wanted to interview you because I thought it would be interesting for a writer to interview a writer about interviewing writers.

Freeman: We're crawling inside the wormhole here...

Bookforum: We're like that MC Escher lithograph, the hand drawing the hand drawing...

Freeman: When you're conducting an interview with a writer, you're thinking all these things while the writer is talking, but you have to keep your thoughts at bay long enough so you can hear the germ of what the writer is saying and ask another question.

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