Nathaniel Rich Writes Cranky Letters to Potato Chip Companies

04/11/2013 10:48 AM |

Nathaniel Rich Odds Against Tomorrow

You might know Nathaniel Rich from his magazine writing, like the Times magazine story about the jellyfish that could live forever (!). But he’s also a fiction writer. FSG published his new novel Odds Against Tomorrow last week, and tomorrow he stops by BookCourt to celebrate with a reading and signing and Q&A. We checked in with him first to hear about infectious diseases and the declining quality of Wise New York Deli Jalapeno potato chips.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
“Intelligent, hallucinatory, and, most important: heartfelt”—Gary Shteyngart.

What have you read (or seen or heard or tasted or etc.) recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
I do believe in literature’s power to change one’s life, but not nearly as much as the latest issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal. I advise everybody to subscribe to that journal immediately.

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
By noon I’m starving every single day. The only things that make me brilliant, however, are coffee and amphetamines.

If you couldn’t express yourself through fiction, what medium would you choose?
Cranky letters. But I already express myself this way. I recently wrote to Wise to complain about the declining spiciness of their Deli Jalapeno chips, for instance. They sent me a coupon for a free bag of chips, but no deli will accept the coupon. So I’m writing another letter.

If this whole writing thing hadn’t worked out, what would’ve been your ideal fallback?
Owner of a bookstore. It would be one of the really cluttered insane ones, very poorly organized, where customers have to step over piles of books and climb up ladders and crawl beneath tables to find their book. I would scowl and read all day.

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Reader: “Your novel was so excellent that I feel it my obligation to present you with this check.”
Me: “Whoa! Ten million dollars? Are you sure? I mean, I’m just a writer, I didn’t cure cancer or anything—”
Reader (chuckling): “I’m sorry. In my haste I left off a zero.”
Me: “Wait… one hundred million dollars? That is really quite generous of you.”
Reader: “I almost forgot! Here’s your personal key.”
Me: “Key to what?”
Reader: “Key to the Nathaniel Rich Presidential Library and Museum.”
Me: “Jeez, thanks. But I was not elected president.”
Reader: “Neither was George W. Bush, but he has one.”
Me: “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Where’s the library?”
Reader: “Are you familiar with the Chrysler Building? We’ve purchased the entire building.”
Me: “Wow.”
Reader: “Now please select up to 10 women from this binder.”

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
The last sentence of the previous answer. Is it too late to rewrite that?