My newest Q&A at Currency is with Adam Levin, whose debut novel THE INSTRUCTIONS has been receiving a ridiculous amount of buzz. A lot of it has to do with the sheer length of the book (it clocks just over 1000 pages) but even more owes to its tackling of Jewish questions, past and present, and attempting to be the ne plus ultra of contemporary Jewish humor (Philip Roth is a supporting player; Seinfeld and Woody Allen get mentioned quite a bit, and so on.) For the purposes of this piece, what fascinated me was how Levin survived financially while writing such an epic over almost a decade, and (even though it was cut for space purposes) how McSweeney's ended up with the book. I'll post that part tonight, but for now, an excerpt of the published piece:
How long did The Instructions take to write? What were your financial considerations? It took me nine years. I started at the end of 2001, a couple of months after I got to the University of Syracuse to start my MFA. About four or five years in, I realized this was going to be a pretty long book. I didn't think it would break a thousand pages, but I knew it would be over 300 pages.
I was never under the impression I'd make much money. I was teaching, and I continue to teach. I was living hand-to-mouth.
How so? Well, it's what you'd imagine. I had really crappy emergency health insurance: a $5,000 deductible, and I paid $185 a month. And I used to be a heavy smoker—between two and four packs a day—although I quit 10 weeks ago. If a terrible thing had happened, my parents couldn't exactly have sold their house to pay for my treatment. I didn't have any real savings yet.
Read on for the rest. For futher reading, see:
- Maud Newton's piece in the B&N Review
- Levin interviewed in the Chicago Tribune, and offering his five biggest literary influences
- Levin profiled in Chicago Magazine
- Julie Steinberg's WSJ Q&A
- Michael Miller's NYO rave
- And for a case in how to write a bizarre piece that has less to do with the book and more to do with the reviewer's insecure ego, I present Joshua Cohen's NYTBR review of THE INSTRUCTIONS.