April 25, 2015

As Per

Author Per Petterson (Out Stealing HorsesI Curse the River of TimeI Refuse) appeared Friday (4/24) as part of the New York Public Library’s “Live from the NYPL” program. The surroundings were suitably swanky, the Wachenheim Room, and the host was the personable NYPL program director, Paul Holdengruber. Petterson’s personality seemed to mirror his books, a combustible mix of ego and shyness, which is a normal configuration for artists. Under Holdengruber’s probing, Petterson delivered some home truths: “The book is dead before the reader takes hold of it.” “How would I know how the story ends if I haven’t written it yet?” Holdengruber quoted a writer’s apothegm: “Method is the path after you’ve traveled it.” He told of an Italian writer who worked on a typewriter because, the writer said, compared to a word processor a typewriter was more like life, with no delete key, and a “linear present” that means you can’t easily go back and check, re-check and worry your text. It reminded me of something I heard about Ernest Hemingway, that he wrote description out longhand and dialog on a typewriter, since he thought it was better for staccato human speech.

NY Pub Library

Holdengruber (left) with Per Petterson