The WORD Interview: Joanna Smith Rakoff
May 19, 2009
WORD is excited to welcome Joanna Smith Rakoff to the store tonight, May 19 at 7:30 pm. Joanna will be reading from her debut novel, A Fortunate Age, which details the lives of a group of Oberlin graduates whose ambitions and friendships threaten to unravel as they chase their dreams and build their lives in Brooklyn during the late 1990s. Jami Attenberg, author of The Kept Man will interview Joanna about the new book.
We did a little pre-event interview of our own with Joanna. Her answers to our grueling questions (otherwise known as The WORD Interview) can be found below – enjoy! And hope to see some of you at the store tonight!
1) Do you have a favorite WORD?
I have so many favorite words that it’s hard to choose just one. Lately, I’ve been loving “bereft,” which Jean Hanff Korelitz uses to great affect in both her new novel, Admission, and her 2004 novel, The White Rose. I suppose what attracts me to this particular word — as well as other favorites — is the way the sound of it mirrors the meaning. To be bereft, in my mind, is to be swept clean with sadness.
2) What WORDS do you live by?
If you’re asking which words I’m guilty of overusing, well, I’m afraid the answer is seriously banal: I’m always having to stop myself from saying “like” and “you know.” But I’m also prone to using silly modifiers to lessen the impact of my opinions or pronouncements: “sort of,” “semi-,” “kind of,” “a bit.”
If you’re asking whether or not I have a motto (or suchlike), I don’t.
3) What was the last book you read?
The aforementioned Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz, which has struck awe in me. The sheer force of her language — reminiscent of George Eliot — held me in thrall. And she’s just a great storyteller.
4) Any idea what you’ll read next?
John Wray’s novel Lowboy, followed by Robin Romm’s memoir The Mercy Papers.
5) What is the last book you bought someone as a gift?
Either Kate Atkinson’s genre-busting mystery Case Histories or Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End. I’ve given both of these to numerous people as gifts, as they’re two of my favorites of recent years.
6) Where did you buy them?
McNally-Jackson, on Prince Street, in Nolita. It’s the closest general bookstore to my apartment, other than Bluestockings, a feminist bookshop, and the Tenement Museum store, which specializes in books about New York. I buy what I can at the latter two, but they often don’t have what I need, so I do much of my shopping at McNally-Jackson.
7) What are you working on now – anything you can tell share about your next project(s)?
Right now, I’m working on some essays, both critical and personal, and some short stories, which are basically a tool to help me figure out the scope of my next novel, which will, it looks like, be about American expats in Berlin and North Africa.
8) Have you been to Greenpoint before? Do you have a favorite spot in this neighborhood?
I used to live in Williamsburg, back in the day, and regularly walked up to Greenpoint to run errands and eat pierogi (this was ten years ago, when it was easier to, say, buy a frying pan in Greenpoint than in Williamsburg). My favorite place was the little soda shop at the edge of McCarren Park, where you could get egg creams and sodas made from flavored syrup and not-very-good hot dogs, and which was largely populated with elderly men of indeterminate ethnicity and loud teenagers drinking milkshakes. I’m not sure if it’s still there!
(Ed. note – Thanks Joanna! We think you might be referring to a luncheonette on Driggs that used to be an old-fashioned soda shop kind of place. Unfortunately, not anymore!)