Roman Holiday

A month or so back marked the 20th anniversary of the International Forum on the Novel, a gathering in Lyon, France, that brings together a host of writers from around the world to discuss matters like (from this year’s docket) “A Historian Facing Literature” and “The Bildungsroman.” (There’s a PDF of the complete program at the forum’s Web site.) Among the panelists on the latter gathering was Jonathan Lethem, and he’s also one of the novelists who answered the forum’s call to choose the one word that defines their writing. Lethem’s answer: furniture. The Guardian has his explanation:

Furniture may be explicit or implicit, visible or invisible, may bear the duty of conveying social and economic detail or be merely cursorily functional, may be stolen or purchased, borrowed, destroyed, replaced, sprinkled with crumbs of food or splashed with drink, may remain immaculate, may be transformed into artworks by aspiring bohemians, may be inherited by characters from uncles who die before the action of the novel begins, may reward careful inspection of the cushions and seams for loose change that has fallen from pockets, may be collapsible, portable, may even be dragged into the house from the beach where it properly belongs, but in any event it must absolutely exist. Anything less is cruelty.

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