I like reading about American politics and art in foreign newspapers—especially the Guardian, the left-wing London rag—for the perspective they offer in the process of introducing the subject to their readers from the bottom up. In this recent profile, a British correspondent walks the streets of Brooklyn with Jonathan Lethem, decoding the hyperlocal implications of Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude—the history of gentrification, the secret borders of microhoods, and what exactly is this “Yoo-hoo” we drink over here—for a British readership. (As I noted when reviewing Chronic City, Lethem is an unparalleled chronicler of New York as an endless overlapping of personal maps.)
The whole piece is quite delightful, for reminding how it felt to read The Fortress of Solitude when Brooklyn was still largely a novelty to me, and its geography mostly arcane, and also for the writer’s droll note, which rings true to anyone who’s seen Lethem speak, that “Lethem is not a novelist who doesn’t know how his books come about, or who dislikes talking about the process.” It’s also, very briefly, an entirely harrowing article, for this detail:
Lethem now lives… in a one-bedroom walk-up rental…
Seriously? And here I thought that being a prolific novelist with a large devoted readership was worth at least 1 BR convertible to 2.