Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Goldstein report

Last weekend, J-F and I crowded into the hotel space where Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Jonathan Goldstein as part of the 11th Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival. The event drew an audience almost as large as A.S. Byatt had earlier that day in the same room.

I don't have anything earth-shatteringly insightful to say about the evening. I started taking notes but stopped before the interview started. The evening, certainly insofar as that it was a date, was meant for entertainment, not analysis.

Entertaining it was, and a little bit more besides.

Ghomeshi spent a lot of time emptying his pockets before taking a seat on stage. Wallet. Lots of loose cards and half-folded paper scraps. Looks like a phone, or ipod, or... Keys? There must've been keys. Pack of gum. He can't decide whether to hang on to the gum.

Goldstein looked nervous. There's foot-tapping and head-shaking. Earlobe-pulling.

Ghomeshi's introduction was long, rambling, and self-indulgent, but somehow just right. He promised to ask Goldstein only questions that he would ask Tom Petty.

I felt pretty connected to the two people on stage. We're all about the same age, with the same pop-cultural references. I guess that's a pretty lame explanation of why these public personalities are likable, but they are relatively smart and articulate to boot, and the situation is so very pleasant and Canadian.

Ghomeshi asked Goldstein about his writing process — the difference between writing a finite column or for radio and writing something like the stories that make up this book, something more open-ended and indeterminate (at least at the outset). The first is work, but sounds relatively routine, fueled with a cup of coffee. The latter, the uncertainty of how to grow these kernels of ideas as well as the uncertainty of their reception, is more likely to require a cup of whiskey.

They talked about Bible stories, God, sense of mortality, childhood, parents (Goldstein's were present), memory, the essence of comedy, the value of comedy, where in the hierarchy of traits being the funny one fits amid being the smart one, the pretty one, etc.

In addition to having read a few excerpts throughout the evening, Goldstein treated us to a slide presentation: an illustrated reading of a story about being Lois Lane's girlfriend after she'd broken up with Superman. Very poignant.

Goldstein: There's you in the moment and there's you outside of that moment (watching yourself in the moment). The gulf between is where comedy lies.
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