Monday, March 4, 2013

Yann Martel Came to the Nashville Public Library (and I actually got to stand up and speak to him!).

On Saturday, Keith and I went to Nashville Public Library to hear Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi and Beatrice & Virgil, speak about his work. The event was so full, many people were diverted to another room to watch the speech on a monitor. But we unexpectedly got rockstar front row seats. It was one of the nicest things that's happened to me this year! I sat two seats away from Mayor Karl Dean. Faaaancy!

Image source includes super juicy literary world gossip.
Want to know the magic formula for winning the Man Booker award? Look no further!
For those of you who haven't read the book or seen the movie, Life of Pi tells two stories. I promise, no spoilers. But one of those stories is fantastical and asks the reader to believe the unbelievable; the other story is ordinary and unimaginative, but horrible. Martel said he intentionally made the ordinary story so terrible that the reader would choose to take a leap of faith and believe the magical story. Martel said that living a live of cold rationality turned him into "a dry husk of a man." So embracing magical thinking and accepting the idea that some parts of life have a greater meaning than what we see on the surface is a good thing. It enriches one's life and invites a fuller sense of wonder and joy. I agree wholeheartedly, and I hung on every word.

Other things I learned:

1. Richard Parker was originally going to be a juvenile elephant, not a tiger. But the image of an elephant weighing down one end of a small boat was too silly, so Martel scrapped the idea.
2. Then Richard Parker was almost a rhinoceros. Most people don't know anything about rhinoceroses. That would let Martel make up anything he liked about the species, and readers would believe it all. But rhinoceroses are herbivorous. Can you imagine Pi collecting and drying algae to feed the rhino? Boring!
3. Martel collected so much information about rhinos, he really wanted to write about one. So he decided to put a rhinoceros in his next book. Stay tuned!
4. Martel's writing process is unusual: He prints hundreds of pages worth of research before he begins writing. Then he grabs scissors and cuts these pages to separate the different ideas and concepts. He then takes envelopes--one for each chapter--and puts all the little pieces of research into the proper envelopes. When he's ready to write a chapter, he grabs the corresponding envelope, refers the pertinent research, and he's ready to go. Nice process!
5. Yann Martel was not invited to the Oscars. He was invited to a viewing party in Los Angeles. It wasn't glamorous, but he met some nice realtors there.

This is not the Richard Parker you are looking for! *

During the Q&A session, I swallowed my fear of speaking in front of crowds to ask the question about Beatrice & Virgil that has bothered me for over a year: Why was the ending so abrupt? I had my own theories, but I wanted to hear the true reason from the author himself. When I stood up, took the mic, and asked my question, I was terrified! My heart was kicking against my ribs like an angry child.

Martel's answer was so long that my question was the last he took. He didn't answer the question directly, but he talked at length about his reasons for writing about the Holocaust in an unconventional way, and he described how difficult it was to write Beatrice & Virgil. He made a good point: Should women be the only ones who write about sexism or feminism? Should African Americans be the only people who can write about slavery? Shouldn't we all be concerned about these things? Um, yeah. So why should Jewish writers be the only ones allowed to write about the Holocaust? Everyone should be concerned and moved by a human tragedy of that magnitude.

Shouldn't we all be concerned?! YES. *
In a roundabout way, I think Martel answered my question by not answering it. He didn't have a good answer for why the book ended so abruptly! This shoots down my theory that the book's sudden ending mirrored the way that so many lives ended too soon during the Holocaust. Sometimes a book just ends awkwardly because it's a difficult story to write. And as usual, I've been thinking too hard about books. *grin*


  1. Best post ever for the photos included! How awesome your question was "answered." I just saw the movie yesterday and was pleased with it. What you say about his writing process makes sense based off what I read in Life of Pi. It definitely seems very heavy on research (fine by me!). Would you recommend Beatrice & Virgil?

    1. Haha, thanks! I still need to see the movie. I hardly watched any movies in 2012! But my friend's husband was a set designer for Life of Pi, and I want to admire his work.

      I liked Beatrice & Virgil very much until the ending. Some of the writing is beautiful--especially the description of a pear, and the diatribe on literary genres. I'd recommend it to readers who can enjoy the journey despite an awkward ending.

  2. This book has been on my "to read" list for a while. My sister who teaches English has been begging me to read it for years. For this reason, I have put off seeing the movie- because I want to read the book first.

    1. Oh, come to my library today and check it out! Once you get started, Life of Pi goes very quickly. It's the kind of story you can't put down. :)

  3. i think i put life of pi down too soon. i had a hard time getting in to it! i didn't even get to their ship voyage, i got bored with all the religion stuff! i liked the movie though.


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