City Pages: So many of your novels take place in Brooklyn. What made you want to write about L.A.?
Jonathan Lethem: I see this novel as a return to a daffier tone. I spent almost a decade of my writing life dwelling on the part of Brooklyn that I came from. I think it was really good to surprise myself and recover the sense of license to do anything I please. There's something very seductive and gratifying in the way that I have been acclaimed as "Mr. Brooklyn." But it's also very dangerous for a writer to let any kind of mantle be put around their shoulders. So this is sort of my way of reclaiming my amateurishness. To write about a place I didn't really know about, you could say I was intentionally disarming myself.
CP: Did you have any bands in mind while writing the novel?
JL: There were loads I was thinking of, the bands that I loved that were a little less famous in the world than they were in my mind. Some went on to have little careers and others kind of vanished without a trace—the Feelies, the DBs, Big Dipper. I was also trying to evoke the feeling of bands that not only have gender-mixed lineups, but also have a history of romantic entanglements within the band, like Fleetwood Mac and the White Stripes. There's something very mysterious and evocative about bands like that.
CP: What's the strangest job you ever took to make ends meet?
JL: Some of the small bookshops I worked in were pretty eccentric. There was one I worked in that was a used bookstore and puppet theater. There were all these shelves that would convert into seating and they would suddenly erect a little stage and put on puppet shows for kids.
CP: If there was a real complaint line, what would you call in to talk about?
JL: Oh, I've got no complaints. I am a happy camper. I guess airport food is as bad as it ever was.
CP: "The complainer" writes bumper-sticker slogans for a living. Is there a saying that you subscribe to?
JL: I am very fond of one of Carl's that was actually made up by one of my friends: "All thinking is wishful."
Jonathan Lethem reads Monday April 2 at the University of Minnesota Bookstore. Free. 7:00 p.m. 300 Washington Ave SE (Coffman Memorial Union), Minneapolis; 612.625.6000