Brooklyn’s Lev Grossman is a senior writer and book critic for Time. The Magician King, the follow-up to his fantasy novel The Magician, is just out; the book’s launch party is tomorrow night at WORD in Greenpoint and he also reads on Wednesday at the Barnes and Noble on the UES.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Viking’s marketing department called The Magicians “Harry Potter for grown-ups.” I don’t know if that’s the most accurate thing anybody’s said about it. But it’s definitely the most lucrative.
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I could lie and say that it’s something fancy and literary, but who has the energy? It’s a Webcomic—an online comic book—called Erfworld. It’s about an obsessive wargamer who accidentally falls into one of his own games. It’s funny, sad, complex and kind of beautiful too. Lewis Carroll would have loved it.
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
You’re assuming there’s somebody whose celebrity tell-all I wouldn’t sprint to the store for. But pick one? I’m going to say … Joss Whedon.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I have actually. I was for a good chunk of my 20s. I lived out of my car for a while. I stole food a few times. This was after going to Harvard, so you know, I didn’t have a good excuse—I just couldn’t get it together. It definitely didn’t make me brilliant. I suppose I stored up a lot of anger and frustration during that period, which was very motivating later on. But at the time I was not writing well.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
I spot them on the subway. Even before I notice they’re immersed in The Magicians, I’m drawn to their raw intelligence and attractiveness. The book looks well-thumbed—this isn’t their first time at the rodeo. Our eyes meet: there is recognition and mutual respect. No words are necessary. Then they get off at the next stop, leaving behind a single hundred-dollar bill on the seat.
Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Yes. God—so many things. When you’re a journalist for a weekly magazine for 10 years, you write a lot, and you’re not proud of it all. In particular there are some negative reviews that I wrote of other people’s books that I regret. Colson Whitehead. A.M. Homes. Then there are some comments I posted online. I could get more specific, but it would just call attention to them.