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Jonathan Lethem Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 12.16.09

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"Have lucky things. It doesn't matter what they are. I bought a green cardigan sweater for a quarter at a thrift store in Bennington, Vermont, and wore it nearly every day through the writing of my first three novels, until it was in tatters. Even then I kept it in my closet and wore the tatters for selected moments as I wrote the next book or two. When I wrote The Fortress of Solitude I had a fortune cookie fortune taped onto the hood of my computer—a mysterious, atypical fortune, I can't remember the exact words, something like ‘You don't know the whole story.' It encouraged me to go deeper in that book than I'd gone before, into my personal mysteries. Not to settle. While I was working on Chronic City I ate the same kind of breakfast cereal (Barbara's Shredded Spoonfuls) with the same bowl and the same spoon (it had a kind of fluted handle I liked) every morning, just like Wade Boggs eating chicken before every baseball game. The point isn't to believe in hokum, but to turn yourself over to the force of ritual, to deliver the project out of your own neurotic proprietorship. The philosopher Niels Bohr kept a horseshoe over his doorway, and when he was challenged by a visitor as to whether he believed in such things, he replied, 'Of course not, but I am told it works even if you don't believe in it.' Or the joke about the man who was searching for his lost keys on a darkened street: A policeman stopped to help him, and the man had the cop look with him under a street lamp. When the cop asked if this was where the man had lost the keys, the man said, 'No, but there's more light here.' Always search where the light is."
—Jonathan Lethem
, author of Chronic City (Doubleday, 2009)

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