At 7:00 PM in the South Court Auditorium of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, I had the privilege of attending the LIVE from the NYPL program hosting author André Aciman in conversation with Paul LeClerc. André was promoting his new book, Eight White Nights, which focuses on the seven-day romance of two strangers on the Upper West Side who meet on Christmas Eve.
Paul started off the program by asking André, “What is the meaning of literature?” André pointed out that every writer, intentional or not, makes assumptions before they start writing. His goal is always to “embrace the problem” of the characters. In his experience, “most of literature is about love.” He also spoke about the idea that books have lives. Just as you can grow to books, books can also grow to you.
André’s goal with this book was to portray a romance frozen in time for seven days. He wanted to show how the relationship between the characters was affected by slowness. He mentioned that he started the book, wrote Call Me by Your Name in between, then went back to finish Eight White Nights. André wanted to portray that both of the main characters were ambivalent, an essential theme throughout the title.
A discussion of the narrator ensued. The narrator has no name. Certain other biographical details, such as his profession, are omitted. André wanted to avoid “the Dickens thing” and give the reader the ability to fill-in-the-blanks about the narrator’s past. Paul asked about the narrator’s reluctance to take the next step in the relationship. He wanted to know if it was realistic to have “the man who says no.” André defended the decision, saying that sometimes in the relationship the man is not ready for sex. Paul asked if André considers the narrator neurotic. André replied, “not neurotic; doubtful.”
A short discussion of André’s writing process ensued. André was a fellow at The Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers of The New York Public Library for over eight months, which aided in his ability to write the book. He also was quick to thank his President in the Graduate Center of CUNY and his family. Without their support, he wouldn’t be able to write. When asked by Paul if André sets a page limit for himself on a daily basis, André was quick to respond, “no.” He is often concerned with perfecting the sentence, asking himself such questions as, “What if I put a comma in the end?” Asking these questions, he warns, can take you in an entirely new direction.
Paul finished up his questions by asking André about his presence on Facebook. André was quick to point out that he doesn’t update it on a regular basis, but it is a wonderful experience to have interactions with his fans from all over the world. For example, Call Me by Your Name has increased his online following from a large part of the Italian gay community, something he never expected. He gets a lot of messages through Facebook and e-mail, averaging up to four or five a day. He said, “It’s wonderful being an author [online]. It’s like throwing your business card to the wind.”