Lena Dunham, best-known as the creator and star of HBO’s “Girls” has a new book out. It’s called “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” and tells the story of a young women’s self-empowering journey of self-discovery.
Dunham was inspired by Judy Blume, the well-known author whose books like “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and “Forever” have been must-reads for girls experiencing all the baffling things that come with growing up.
It turns out that the two writers have a lot in common. They both have been called on to be the “voice of a generation,” they both get a lot of fan mail, they don’t belong to book clubs, and neither has read “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
This conversation took place at Blume’s New York apartment and covers questions about growing up, grappling with childhood, how to write about sexuality, and what it means to really be a writer.
You can hear the whole thing on The Organist, a podcast from KCRW and The Believer Magazine.
Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
LENA DUNHAM: YA didn’t exist when you began. So what was the media that connected for you when you were the age that you’re writing about?
JUDY BLUME: My parents gave me that gift of “reading is a good thing.” I mean my mother was afraid of everything. But she was never afraid that Judy is reading.
LD: And so you were reading adult novels?
JB: Yes. You know it was exciting. It was the world of grownups. There was nothing about teenagers.
LD: And as a kid, what was popular? What were the books that people read at school? Was it like “The Bobbsey Twins” and “Boxcar Children” and stuff like that?
JB: I never read the “Bobbsey Twins” or “Boxcar Children.”
LD: Both boring
JB: But I did remember being downtown, at the bookstore by myself and having an allowance and spending it on a Nancy Drew mysteries. And I was probably eleven, twelve, and then what did I do? I invented, you know, made up a lot of books to give book reports on.
LD: You invented them? And you would report on a book that had never existed?
JB: I did.
LD: Were you ever caught?
JB: Nope. I always got an A on those because I wasn’t interested in the kinds of books that I thought I should be reading. So I invented them, I mean it was a whole horse series. I never read a horse book in my life. But I thought that’s what my friends were reading and that’s what I should be reading. And this was “Dobbin Does This” and “Dobbin Does That.”
LD: That was the name of your series?
JB: Yes. And I was shy, but I stood up in front of the class and I gave my report.
LD: On the book that you had created in your mind?
LD: That’s a literary hoax, basically.
JB: Yes. And I tell teachers, now when I tell this story, why not once during the school year, let them do that, because they don’t have to write the book. They just have to…
LD: Imagine a book that they would want to read?
JB: Right, but I was reporting on books that I didn’t want to read. I was inventing books that I didn’t want to read.
LD: Did you ever say in the book report, “I didn’t like it. It wasn’t good?”
JB: I don’t think so
LD: That would be a whole other meta layer.
JB: And, theme. If somebody says the word “theme” to me now, I run. I go under the table. “No, don’t ask me!”
LD: I have like two dreams a week that I have to write a paper that I’m late with or that I’ve gone back to high school and have to do that in addition to my current job.
JB: That’s mine too.
LD: Is it really?
JB: That’s my anxiety dream. I go to the library and all the books on my subject are out.
LD: That’s exactly it. Only my anxiety dream involves not being able to find any results on Google.
JB: Oh right! See, I go to the library. The different generations with same anxiety dream.
LD: Do you have a writing routine every day? Do you have a way that you structure your day?
JB: I do, I do. Do you?
LD: No, I wish I did. I write at all different times. I write in my bed, I write at the table. I need to get it together. Or maybe I don’t?
JB: But it’s working for you. Why do that. I would not mess around with what you do right now.
JB: No because look how productive you are.
LD: That’s so nice to hear.
JB: So you’re, you’re writing how many episodes at a time? Thirteen?
LD: Lots twelve, and then I’m working on a book and working, and just jam it in whenever it makes sense.
JB: Wow, I can’t do that. I can’t, so first of all I can only focus on one creative project at a time. I wish I could focus on two, because I really only write. But now I’m getting excited because once I get to Key West, that’s where I really work.
LD: Is that, do you have your office set up there?
JB: Yes, and it’s so beautiful
LD: That’s wonderful. It’s so great. I’ve always loved my own little office spaces no matter what they were like. It’s the Virginia Woolf, room of one’s own concept, it’s really important.
JB: It is.
LD: So then what has your reaction been to the intense YA that has grown and bubbled over the past, fifteen years, has it been? Do you have any interest in reading any of the sort of, huge blockbustery YA trilogies, like “Twilight” or “Hunger Games?”
JB: George and I listened, we had a great trip, and we listened to the first Hunger Games and we loved it. And we couldn’t wait to get my car and come home. And when we came home, I’m not sure if we’d quite finished, and we sat in the car until we finished. I did not read any of the others. I had no interest in Twilight. But I did see the first movie.
LD: So did I, but I sort of gave up after the moment that he told her to hang on to his back like a little spider monkey. I don’t remember. I just could’t carry on. I’ve had as an adult strong connections to certain YA books I’ve read but fantasy is not a particularly rich area for me and I don’t know if you are interested in fantasy.
JB: Me too. You like reality. I like reality. I like reality. I’m not into fantasy and I’m not into dystopian world.
LD And escapism for me can come in the form of someone else’s reality.
JB: Yes, me too. Are you sure we’re not related?
LD: That’s the feeling I always had about your books which I re-read and re-read and re-read. I have to reiterate for the recording how thrilling it is to get to meet you and talk to you and how, how much what you do has made it possible for me and so many women I admire to make their work. It’s informed our perspective and I wanted to tell you a brief anecdote, which is that I, like a lot of children, had a babysitter who was staying with us for the summer and she was reading “Forever.” And I had read a lot of your other books, the ones that were my parents deemed age-appropriate and my parents are pretty liberal. But they were just you know trying to look out for my innocence or whatever. But my babysitter had “Forever”. And I said “Well I’ve read Judy Blume books, can I borrow that?” And she said no, this one’s not appropriate for you. Which obviously, got me really worked up. So I took it.
JB: How old were you?
LD: Eight. But I was a very precocious reader. I read a lot of things I didn’t understand, like I read “Lolita” when I was nine which I don’t think I understood.
JB: You went right through it. That’s what I tell parents.
LD: I had no clue what anyone was talking about like, you know I don’t think I, I don’t think any of the depictions of sex were more to me than just like an image of two people’s arms rubbing together, I just had no clue. But I took “Forever” to the bathroom to read and then I heard my mom coming so I stuck it under the toilet and went running out. And I went back later to check for it. And it was gone. I was freaked out and my babysitter came to me, and she said “Did you take my copy of ‘Forever’, I saw it in the bathroom under the toilet.” And I told her that my cat had put it there, which at the time seemed like a really great excuse.
JB: And “Lolita.” I mean you got it just right. This is what I’ve been yapping at parents for ages. Let the kids read the books, if they have a question they’ll come to you. If they don’t they’ll just read right over it.
JD: It’s like, I thought babies were made because a guy and a girl put their arms together and the sperm and egg met through the pores of their skin. And I remember telling that to my mom and she was like “it doesn’t not make sense.” She’s actually like, “it’s scientific. It’s not a stork. It’s like it has some bearing in reality but, it’s not going to work.”
JB: How old were you?
LD: Probably five? Cause I learned about sex pretty early when I was, I remember, my friend Amanda DeLauro explained it to me when I was six and then I went home and I told my parents, “Oh my God, Amanda said this ridiculous thing, can you believe how stupid this is? She’s insane.” At which point they kind of looked at each other and went well actually, we’ve been meaning to tell you and I like couldn’t believe it. I probably I went into my room alone and I was just like, how have I even, how can I even continue on this earth with this terrible, terrible knowledge.
What made you want to start writing for younger readers? Had you always been a storyteller?
JB: A secret storyteller. They were always rolling around inside my head from, I remember being nine and having stories, great stories, melodramas. And they did not feature kids.
LD: They featured adults in crazy, passionate, disastrous situations.
JB: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I was a surgeon, amputating legs and arms of my paper dolls. And I had a little board with little tacks that I would tack them down to do this.
LD: So that they would be restrained while you cut their legs off?
JB: Yes, and then they were very grateful because I would re-attach the limbs.
LD: Yeah, you’d save their lives basically. I was always really encouraged to write stories and which was a part of the kind of education that I had.
JB: You were lucky.
LD: I was really lucky. But looking back on the things I chose to write about it was all like you know, a family who gave up their daughter for adoption and she became a pauper and she came back to kill them all. It was all like, so heavy, so deeply heavy. And I called them all novels no matter how short they were.
So then when you felt it was finally time to write something down, what was the impetus for you making the leap from secret story teller to public storyteller?
JB: I would make up Dr. Seuss-like books at night when I was cleaning up from the dinner, you know, putting these little kids to bed, reading them rhyming books. And so that’s what I started doing. They were really bad. I have some in a box and it says on the box, it’s a note to my kids you know, when I die, if you ever publish these I will come back and haunt you.
LD: it’s really hard to rhyme.
JB: Can you do it?
LD No. You can’t? I can’t rhyme at all. It’s a real skill and it’s a different kind of skill than the one I think you’ve been developing in your career.
JB: I’ve not been developing rhyming.
LD: And did suddenly it just feel like your life had changed and you were a writer, and that’s what you would do from now on? Was it hard to make the transition from?
JB: I didn’t know I was really a writer until I read it in the New York Times. And then I thought, “Oh my god, maybe I can really do this”. That was a review of “Margaret.” That’s good when you don’t know what you’re doing. But you’re doing it and it’s spontaneous and you’re not afraid.
LD: Well it’s a really exhilarating feeling.
JB: You have to be fearless like you, I hope you’ll be fearless forever. I mean I am certainly a fearful person, but fearless in my writing. So there’s that other person inside.
LD: My boyfriend’s a musician, and I think when he’s on stage is the only time he’s not worrying. And so that’s the reason he keeps doing it is because it gives him that sort of experience of weightlessness that I only get out of being sort of, deep into writing something or really lost in a moment on set, like it’s available to me in these select moments through my work.
JB: But isn’t that great?
LD: It’s the most wonderful thing that can happen.
JB: Me too, when you say “Did it change my life?” it totally changed my life. It gave me my life. Everything opened up.
LD: I want to know, And you’re writing this novel that’s inspired by, I guess you’d call it a news story, something, was it at a public event?
JB: I actually remember it.
LD: What do you think made you want to write about your childhood now?
JB: It’s not my childhood, actually It’s a series of events that happened in the town. You know it came to me all at once in a burst when I was listening to Rachel Kushner on stage. She wrote a first novel called “Telex from Cuba”. I really, really related to it. And she was in Key West at a literary seminar that we have in January. And she stood up and she started to talk. And it was like, it was like a lightning strike. I’m phobic about lightning and thunder so…
LD: So’s my dog.
JB: Get him a thunder shirt.
LD: I did and he loves it, and sometimes I put him on it, it on him when it’s not even thundering just because it seems to relax him in all situations.
JB: George tried to get me one at the pet shop around the corner for a big dog. To see if it would help? But there are no dogs, even though I’m a small woman, there are no thunder shirts big enough for me. I said “look,” you know I got down and I walked like a dog. I said I’m not, I’m not bigger than a big dog. Like a hundred pound, a hundred pound dog thunder shirt would fit me. I’ve tried really hard to not have this phobia anymore.
LD: But it doesn’t go away?
JB: No. And they say if you lose one then you’ll get another one.
LD: So it’s like maybe you’re comfortable with the phobia you have and you don’t need to switch it up.
JB: Well at least it’s seasonal.
LD: Because your books have sort of, covered so many big issues, so many big cultural issues whether, you intended them to or not. I wondered if you ever conceived something as like, I would like to write about this subject: racism, puberty, bullying, or whether you conceive a character, you conceive a world, and then it happens to speak to that particularly essential need for people to discuss that topic.
JB: I don’t really know exactly how it happened but I don’t like the idea that I would ever have said I’m going to write about racism or puberty or bullying. I know where “Blubber” came from. It came from stories that my daughter told me when she came home from fifth grade. There was a kid in the class who was being bullied. We didn’t even call it bullying then, that’s what’s so weird. Victimization in the classroom. The word bully was so out, was so not in use for all those years and now it’s back big time.
LD: It’s a hugely discussed topic right now.
JB: It’s huge. I don’t know that you can ever really get rid of it. I mean the way kids behave toward one another. But it’s good to bring it out in the open.
LD: I think that as our country becomes more tolerant as a whole of certain things, hopefully becomes more tolerant, there’s a way that certain kinds of bullying will be passe and unacceptable. And it’ll be taught in homes that it’s not okay to make fun of a kid because he’s gay or it’s not okay to make fun of a girl cause she’s fat. But that we have been living for so long in a culture where so many people’s parents supported those beliefs that there wasn’t any infrastructure for children understanding right and wrong in those situations, if that makes sense.
JB: I hope you’re right.
LD: That’s my utopian dream.
JB: That’s a good dream.
LD: So you never approach a book thinking “I need to bring this subject into the light,” you approach a book from a character place, and it happens to speak to the issue.
JB: With “Margaret,” I remember clearly it was, you know because I did remember it clearly. I was young, you know. I thought I was young, anyway and I was young in terms of experience and what did I know about and I had an incredible memory from my own childhood. And so it never occurred to me to write for any other age group. And I thought I’m going to write a book and I’m going to tell the truth. But you know it was just my truth. It was what I knew to be true about sixth grade.
LD: And it happened to become this sort of bible for girls going through that experience which is, it must have been incredibly satisfying and also somewhat overwhelming, to sort of, to be sort of suddenly the voice assigned to all the young women developing breasts in the world.
JB: Yes but you must have the same thing. I mean and you know that it can get overwhelming.
LD: Feminism and issues surrounding being female in the world, always, but particularly right now at this complicated cultural moment. It’s a huge part of what’s important to me but it’s not all that’s important to me and I’m sure you feel the same way. I feel like so much more than my gender and so much more than my relationship to my body and my relationship to men. And, but suddenly you’re sort of asked to be an expert.
JB: Oh, you are right. You’re the expert, of a whole generation.
LD: And there is a sort of backlash of people who feel like you’re not representing them accurately, and you want to say as elegantly as you can, “I wasn’t trying to represent you I, was just doing what I could do to make being alive easier for me.” And if it helped anyone or made them feel comforted in the process then it’s the greatest thing you can ask for.
JB: There’s no book or play or series or anything that speaks to everyone, because then it wouldn’t speak to anyone. If all you leave in the library is books that you think speak to everyone, what are you going to have? You’d have nothing.
LD: What emotions did having, I mean I’m sure it was myriad, but like what emotions did having books banned elicit for you.
JB: It didn’t happen in the 70s. So I had a whole decade when I was writing these books and maybe there was a little bit here or there but there was no big effort to ban books. So when it happened, I felt completely alone and that was scary and sad.
LD: Did it make you feel sort of concerned about our cultural state as a whole?
JB: Yes I thought it was crazy. Really my thoughts were “This is America, we don’t do this here” but of course I know a lot better now. And I wasn’t the only one. Norma Klein was writing at the same time. Her books were going. So many of us. When you say to me, no you can’t do this I say, oh yes I can.
LD: I have the same problem, I have an authority problem.
JB: Do not tell me what to do and do not tell me what I can’t do.
LD: It’s crazy to me by the way this has just occurred to me that like, we’re living in a world where your books were ever banned, and now like “Fifty Shades of Grey” is being read in high schools. Like it’s just a wild-
JB: That’s being banned too. Is it being banned?
LD: Oh yeah. I just see it on the subway all the time so I assume that it’s… I haven’t read it, have you read it? This is a multi-part question. I’ll start by saying that “Fifty Shades of Grey:” It’s like I don’t have. an elicit confused relationship to my sexuality. So I don’t need a book like that. Right now in my life. From what I hear, it’s not a way that I feel like I need to be turned on or like a hole that needs to be filled in me. I also really like to read good books and I don’t have enough time to do it. So it’s really hard for me to imagine willingly submitting myself to a trilogy of books that I’ve been told are at the fourth grade reading level which isn’t a very nice thing to say but. You know, I wish that author all the success in the world. It’s just not for me.
JB: I have no interest in it either, which is interesting because when I was twelve. And I was going through my parents’ bookshelves, I found the most wonderful books and plenty of. Within those wonderful books that were real turn-on’s. At 12 or 13, books were such turn ons.
LD: Oh my God it was all I thought about. And I would have specific books that had pages that I knew had sex on them that I would go and read. So you’ve written and are writing a novel for an adult, you’ve written novels for children. What can you do in an adult novel that you can’t do in a book for younger readers, besides just sort of speak frankly about sex? Like is there a narrative approach that differs or is it just about the subject matter?
JB: The process isn’t any different. It’s equally awful. This book, that I’m writing now, I mean it’s interesting because in 1952 the characters, the main characters are 15 and 18. So one might think, oh it’s a YA book but it’s not. I don’t think it is. Kids should read whatever they want to read. So I’m hoping that just like 15-year-olds read “Summer Sisters,” I’m hoping that they’ll read this.
JB: “Summer Sisters” was actually, I was excited to tell you this, was a huge influence on “Girls” because it was the first thing I ever consumed that sort of looked at the way that female friendship can be glorious and can be complicated and can be so like a worse betrayal than something romantic and it just showed these archetypes of femininity than totally sort of individuated them and exploded them. And I wondered if that book was brewing in you for a long time or whether it was based on particular experiences you had of female friendship. It’s really powerfully done.
JB: It’s probably my least autobiographical book. The whole idea started with rowing down the pond. And I heard an explosion. I don’t like sudden loud noises. They scare me. And then all these people came running down the hill and jumped in the water in their finery and a bride and groom was with them, and that’s where it all started. I thought it would be a children’s book – two girls who summer together from very different backgrounds. And then when it just kept going and going and going. They kept getting older.
LD: And then when the lesbianism took root. It was time to move it into an adult book?
JB: See that’s what you think it is! I don’t think it’s that at all.
LD: It is a love story. I don’t think they’re lesbians, I just mean there is like this sexual exploration that takes place between them like so many female friendships. It’s impossible to put a real title on what exists between those two characters. Well, I remember it made me feel better because so many of my friends at school. Were doing that stuff and doing that stuff on sleep overs. But I just didn’t feel ready. It wasn’t like I had any judgment of it being two women. It would have scared me as much if not more.
JB: But how did you know they were doing it?
LD: Well they did in front of me. I was like a three month period in which all the words sleep over was code for was “let’s get together and touch each other’s vaginas.” and I was. Haunted. And I remember going home and feeling like I couldn’t tell my mother even though she would’ve understood and probably laughed.
JB: Oh you were doing little orgies! Little girl orgies.
LD: Like Summer Sisters comforted me just because I was like, okay things I’ve seen with my own eyes are not so terrible, and even though I knew adult gay people and had absolutely no issue with it. And I just couldn’t articulate what made me so uncomfortable about the space that I shared with my friends becoming a sexual space. And it was very healing for me to read that, and feel like it was a part of other friendships, even fictional friendships I admire. I thought about it so often as I was writing about these female characters who love each other and hated each other and were sort of in love with each other.
JB: Yes. All your characters, that’s why we love them.
LD: The goal was that I would be as fully realized and as you take us on this much of a journey as that book did. Were you scared the first time you wrote about sex? Did it scare you to do it?
JB: You know I wasn’t, but my mother was a cracker jack typist. And she would come in and sit at my house and type the final type script before I would then send it to the publisher. And it was nice for us. When it came time for Forever, I did not let do it.
JB: No, I couldn’t let her do it. My mother never talked about sex. I was on the Dr. Ruth show once – this is years and years and years ago – and it was her Mother’s Day show. And I didn’t know what we were going to talk about but what she decided we were going to talk about was female masturbation. My mother had invited all her girlfriends. And you know these were all women in their late seventy’s maybe they were in their eighty’s by then and then and they were horrified because Dr Ruth had a little she had a little chart up you know “female masturbation” Then you do this and then you do this and she had me reading letters from kids.
LD: Oh my god! My parents were open about sex. And my dad makes paintings that have a sexual component and it still scares me.
JB: You were getting naked! Did they not watch?
LD: They both watch. It doesn’t make my mom sheepish maybe because we’re the same gender. And so my body doesn’t feel alien to her. My dad is definitely, he said something really smart at the beginning, he said you know it just goes against nature to see your daughter in those situations. So he’s like even though I’m proud of you. Yes. It’s never going to be comfortable for me to watch you simulating sex with such a large guy.
JB: Right. No, I know I think that’s absolutely true.
LD: My dad once told me that he would rather I had an old boyfriend than a tall boyfriend. I don’t know why, I think he’s just feels stressed by… He’ not that short I just think the idea of a really tall guy is super anxiety producing to him. And now I’m with neither old guy nor a very tall guy. So everything has worked out perfectly.
JB: It’s sounds like they’ve done really, really well.
LD: They have. It would be hard if there was a shame component, and there’s no shame component. There’s just a sort of lightly embarrassed component but they’re supportive of my ability to do it in the world. I get a lot of unasked for sexual confessions. Have you gotten a lot of those in your day because of what you do and your books?
JB: Yeah, they’re probably different than yours. But especially when young people, when everybody, wrote by hand. You know email is just not the same. It’s not the same to get this stuff by email.
LD: I don’t really have a place where people can reach me via email because it got a little overwhelming. People tweet things at me like, “oh DM me for a great story that you’ll definitely need to use on the show,” which I don’t, you know, DM them.
JB: No. No you’re don’t want to do that. You must get a ton of fan mail. You know I get some and I have not figured out an answering philosophy yet. Do you have an answering philosophy?
LD: Do you answer everything?
LD: But it’s not always from you?
JB: Everything gets an answer. Because remember it’s a lot of kids. And kids, you have to answer them.
LD: Mine’s a lot of like weird guys in prison. So I don’t need to answer them. Did children and adolescents sort of say to you “I’m having this experience that I’m sort of beginning to dip my toe in the sexual waters?” Do people respond to “Forever,” like here’s how it went with my first boyfriend or…
JB: Yeah but not sexually explicit stuff.
LD: Well that’s better. It really is. Basically my new litmus test for people is, do they make me hear about a blow job they gave in the first ten minutes of us talking? And if they didn’t then I can feel excited. It’s not that I don’t want to hear about that stuff, I just want to hear about it immediately. And I want to hear about it on more comfortable terms.
JB: We weren’t doing blow jobs when I was growing up. You know, it’s so amazing. I mean talk about sexuality changing. And I think you know we made out. I think that’s really great, and we didn’t jump into intercourse. And there were no blow jobs.
LD: And my mom said the term heavy petting existed a lot when she was in high school.
JB: Heavy petting, that was fun! That was good. And frankly, you know I wish kids would go back to it. It’s very satisfying. And it’s not as scary. So many girls, you know this. I mean they are having what we call sex. Right? They’re having intercourse. They don’t want to, they don’t get anything out of it.
LD: It’s true.
JB: It’s like what what are you getting out of this? You’re doing this stuff to please some guy. What are you getting out of this? Maybe a feeling of power?
LD: It’s funny because they were having this big dialogue in our country about the idea of slut-shaming which is a big conversation. And of course you don’t want anybody to feel shame for their sexuality. But you also want to make it clear that a loud, a loud and proud approach to your sexuality at a young age isn’t necessary to be a fully integrated person.
JB: So slut-shaming is when they do it online? They tell you online?
LD: That can be it. Or it can also be, like, people are calling the dialogue around Miley Cyrus slut-shaming. Like that everybody’s attacking her.
JB: That’s ridiculous. Because she Twerked. I said, “what is twerking?” You know we used to call it “humping.”
LD: We called it grinding.
JB: Right, grinding.
LD: Were you a trouble-making child?
JB: Oh god no. I was Little Miss Perfect. That’s where all the secrets come in, because you know damn well you are not perfect, but you think your parents want you to be. And so you pretend. That’s not good. That’s a burden. You know, with your mother saying, “were you the most popular girl at the dance?”
LD: I was just writing for my book about my grandmother and mother’s relationship in my grandmother’s subtle, but clearly stated in other ways, non-verbal ways, the need for her daughters to have perfect bodies and perfect hair and perfect bearing, and how much my mom has reacted against that in raising me, and how grateful I am to have been the recipient of her rebellion.
JB: You’re so lucky.
LD: Did you always feel particularly connected to your childhood self? Like, I know for me, I’ve always been someone in that period of my life sort of the pains and anxieties of being young are the things that have really stuck with me. And I think about more than anything else. I think some people are really connected to who they were as children. And some people aren’t.
JB: I do believe that people who write for children are deeply connected to their own childhood.
LD: The thing that’s so hard about being a kid is you don’t have enough knowledge to explain things yourself. And so it makes it sort of uniquely terrifying to be young. I actually didn’t enjoy being a child particularly at all even though I had nice parents in a comfortable place to live. Just because I was too confused in generating too many answers for myself that just scared me more.
JB: But that’s thing. I mean you’re a creative person. An imaginative person. So we invent stuff that’s usually worse than things really are.
LD: So many of the issues that are complex for young people and complex for parents to explain to young people – you looked at. Do you feel like there are still areas that are impossible to discuss in the lives of young people or in life? Do you think there are still even taboos to cover in writing?
JB: I’ve never really thought in terms of taboos. I think that books can really help parents and kids talk together about difficult subjects. I’ve always felt that way. The parent reads the book. The kid reads the book and then they can talk about the characters instead of talking about themselves. You know there’s a connection even if you don’t talk about it when you read the same books.
LD: I literally think that’s why there’s so much comfort in book clubs and why it’s so popular.
JB: Isn’t that interesting. All the book clubs. I’ve never belonged to one. Have you?
LD: No, but I thought about starting a novella club because it seemed less ambitious.
JB: I don’t necessarily want to talk about a book that I read. You know even when I love it. And I don’t necessarily want to.
LD: You want to ruminate on it, privately. I feel the same way. I don’t know if you’ve read this novel, “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P?” I really loved it. Adelle Waldman, I’ll send it to you. It’s having a really hot moment. Unlike many hot books, it’s actually really wonderful. I tend to have that reaction: I don’t want to read it if everyone thinks it’s cool. It was a really interesting insight into being young and male. Now that made me feel really thankful for my boyfriend and really thankful because he wasn’t like that protagonist, but I know so many people who are like that protagonist.
JB: So it’s about the young being young and male but written by a woman.
LD: Beautifully written by a woman. And everyone on my staff was reading it at the same time and everyone wanted to talk about it. And I was glad everyone was reading it because I was glad it was being supported. I was like enraged when people wanted to discuss it with me, which is probably evidence I’d be bad at a book club.
JB: Yeah. I don’t think I’d be good in a book club.
LD: It’s amazing it for me. Just when I was really researching you and looking back on everything years. I read for this interview. It was amazing for me to realize sort of the breadth of what you’d accomplished. Have you been able to enjoy the success of the books?
JB: Yes. Have you been able to enjoy the success of the show?
LD: Sometimes. Mostly.
JB: Yeah. I think I probably always did. It was a such a surprise, such an absolute shocking surprise to me to not know what you’re doing and to find out that this thing that you don’t even know how to do, that you’re sure you don’t know how to do, speaks to so many people and touches so many people in some way.
LD: And it seems like you kind of can’t stop doing it. You just keep doing it.
JB: Well, after “Summer Sisters,” I said I’m never doing it again. I’m not, it was going to kill me.
LD: Because it was so exhausting to write that book?
JB: It was three years. I didn’t know, again, I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t figure out what it was I had 20 something drafts and they were all over the place. Before that the book came out I had begged George to buy it back give them back in advance. Stop it from coming out. I don’t want to go down this way. It had a wonderful career. I don’t want this to. But this is when you can see when you know being fearless and you start getting scared and he is like the most easygoing person in the world. He said, “just leave the country and come back and it’ll be over.” But you know they sent me on a big book tour so I couldn’t. And it was the most wonderful professional experience of my life. I mean it was like Kleenex on every table wherever I was, friends patting friends on the back and they’d cry and I’d cry.
LD: I was reading all morning and getting to come and do this and talk to you. It’s the best way to re enter what I’m doing. Thank you. Thank you so much for answering these questions. It’s a real honor.
JB: So let this be the beginning of our friendship and not the end.
Still want more? The whole conversation was made into a free book, and is available at The Believer.