David Mitchell: I’ll pass on the books but take his advice

I really don’t think I would enjoy David Mitchell’s novels or short stories. I get the feeling that it would take me ten pages before I put the book down and realized I was completely out of my league.

Though I don’t think I would be a fan of his work, I did find Mitchell intriguing. I had briefly read five interviews before finding Mitchell’s, and nothing stood out to me in those transcripts. But Adam Begley — the interviewer — highlighted something about Mitchell that stood out to me in comparison to the other writers.

Begley began by highlighting the tremendous success that Mitchell has had throughout his career as a writer. Then, and this is the part that drew me in, he delved into his personality:

“Despite the critical adulation, Mitchell remains modest, polite, and friendly. Eager to laugh, he brims with boyish enthusiasm. He dresses like a slacker, in baggy jeans and layered T-shirts, and the clothes add to the youthful aura—as do his close-cropped reddish-blond hair; his long, lanky frame; and his translucent, stick-out ears.”

This was the part that kept me reading. First off, I felt like I could picture Mitchell in front of me. And he didn’t look like a snobby academic in my imagination, he looked more so like one of my older brothers. Then there was the modesty, politeness and friendliness. Granted I’m trusting Begley’s impression, but anyone who can stay down to earth after Time magazine chose him as “the only literary novelist in their 2007 list of the one hundred most influential people in the world” makes a good first impression on me.

The second part that stood out to me was the way Mitchell described writing in the third person. He said that, “each chapter has a single principal observer who wears an imaginary recording digicam, like a coal miner’s hat with a spike tapping his brain, so his thoughts, but only his, can become known to the reader.”

I’ve always struggled to write descriptive pieces — even though I haven’t had to do it often — but I thought Mitchell’s strategy was pretty eye-opening. His metaphor stuck out to me, and I think it will be a good source of inspiration for descriptive writing in the future.

Finally, there’s one part of my writing process that I’ve tried to put into words for a long time, but never seemed able to do. Mitchell helped me out there.

He said, “You start with a blank page, and the first word opens up possibilities for the second word. If your first word is Call, those second two or three could be a doctor or it could be me Ishmael. It could be Call girls on Saturday nights generally cost more than . . . The second sentence opens up a multitude of third sentences, and on we go through that denseness of choices taken and choices not taken, swinging our machetes.”

This part of the interview was something I could really relate to.

There’s plenty more to the Mitchell interview, but these three aspects jumped off the page to me. So while his actual work may not be up my alley, I think it’d be pretty cool to pick his brain.

4 thoughts to “David Mitchell: I’ll pass on the books but take his advice”

  1. Kevin-
    I read a few different interviews as well, and I think the interviewer really made or broke the piece. If they asked boring questions, it was boring, and if they didn’t elaborate on the author’s ideas, it felt like a Q&A and not a dialogue. So I liked that you highlighted the interviewer’s description that pulled you in and kept you reading. I liked that you payed attention to the writing of the interview as well as the content.
    I also thought that your use of quotations was nice. I wrote down cool ideas or clever phrases as I read through the interview I chose too, and it helped me remember what stuck out to me as a read such a long piece.

  2. Hey Kevin!
    When I started reading your post, I was wondering what made you think you wouldn’t enjoy his writing. I was wondering what made you separate the relaxed, approachable guy that you wanted to read about, from the guy that you think his writing would be way out of your league. Once I read the quotes you included however, I feel like I too would not really enjoy his writing. The metaphors and his general rhetoric sounds very academic (and I only read two quotes that you included…) & like something I would have to reread multiple times. So now I get where you’re coming from haha.

    I can totally relate to your struggles writing descriptive pieces. I just always feel like my descriptions are so lackluster and don’t really convey what I hope they would. I hope you have success remembering Mitchell’s metaphor and applying it to your own writing!

  3. Hi Kevin!

    Following Lexie’s comment, I also immediately wondered why you would choose to write on an interview of an author you would not enjoy reading the work of. However, I too understand how the relaxed persona may draw you in to listen to him being interviewed while his persona on the page may not be as accessible, enjoyable, or even recognizable (considering you said his physical description reminded you of your big brother).

    I especially enjoyed the final quote from Mitchell you included, reading “You start with a blank page, and the first word opens up possibilities for the second word…” for I found it entertaining and accurate. I am happy you chose to end your blog post with that particular quote because it has left me thinking about all the ways our words shape what is to come.

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