Although Salman Rushdie is, most simply, a prominent international literary figure, his work as a novelist and essayist is far from what defines him. That is, Rushdie is more than the sum of his written words, but a personality that we collectively turn to for general edification and insight. He stopped by NeueHouse Madison Square for a talk/reading to celebrate his new book, “Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights”, which is out today via Random House. We spoke with Rushdie during his visit, hoping to glean some wisdom from one of the world’s great living sages.
NeueJournal: How has your worldview changed over the last decade?
Salman Rushdie: It’s not so much that my worldview has changed. I think the world has changed a lot. Technology has transformed it on the one hand, and politics have got much nastier. So, I am really interested in the transformation that the communication revolution is making and, on the other hand, I think politically it’s a really bad time.
NJ: What’s your favorite place on earth?
SR: I think probably right here in New York City. I came here a very long time ago when I was young. I must have been about 25 and I came here in the early 70s. It was a very different New York — a much dirtier, poorer and, in many ways, a much younger New York. It was cheaper for people to live in places like the Village, SoHo and so on. All the young people and young artists were still giving the place its character. I just fell in love with it. I thought one of these days that I would just put myself here and see what happens, and now I’ve been here 16 years and it was exactly what I thought would happen which is, you know, love at first sight.
NJ: Where do you never want to live?
SR: Tehran, Iran. I just wouldn’t last very long.
NJ: What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
SR: Chastity. It’s boring.
NJ: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
SR: Perfect happiness is hard to find. I love my work. There are moments when a book is coming to life and going well which are very exhilarating. So there’s that, and the rest of it is not very exciting, but it’s just family and friends, as you know, and I’m blessed with a lot of wonderful friends like Opera. I have two great sons, so hanging around with them. Actually going on a holiday with my boys is kind of the nicest thing in the world.
NJ: What is your idea of utter misery?
SR: Misery! If I got to a point where I couldn’t do my writing.
NJ: What is your most treasured possession?
SR: Oh, I have a thing. When I was one day old a friend of my father’s gave him as a gift for me a little silver brick that’s about an inch high and on it is engraved a map of India and I carry that with me wherever I go.
NJ: What item do you find easy to dispose of?
SR: Pens! I lose dozens every day.
NJ: What are your top 5 favorite books?
SR: That’s a hard one because it changes. Authors I would say: James Joyce, William Faulkner, Gabriel García Marquez, and Franz Kafka.
Right now, I am actually reading a lot of nonfiction at the moment because I am going to be teaching at NYU, so I’ve been reading a lot of narrative nonfiction like In Cold Blood, Schindler’s List, Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Susan Orlean’s Orchid Thief, among others… A whole lot of these narrative nonfiction books which I’m going to be teaching at NYU, so I’m really enjoying reading that.
NJ: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
SR: Somebody once told me that I should give up writing and concentrate on earning a living. That was bad advice.
NJ: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
SR: My older son, for whom I wrote this children’s book — I had a first draft of it and he said he thought it might be boring, and I said why is that and he used this wonderful term which was that it’s because it doesn’t have enough “jump” in it. Not enough “jump,” and I knew completely what he meant. He meant get on with it and I thought, okay, I can do “jump.” So, I took it back and wrote it again and he said yes, now it was okay.
NJ: What is your greatest accomplishment?
SR: Two children.
NJ: On what occasion do you lie?
SR: Times like this [laughs].
NJ: On what occasion do you never lie?
SR: Oh, well, I try not to lie to my children and I try to encourage a relationship of openness and truth because I think that is a good way to be. I’m not saying never — I have lied, but, as a whole, I think that’s the occasion.
NJ: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
SR: There is a word or phrase I overuse. I say, “You know”. All the time I’m saying, “You know, you know”. Um is bad, but “you know” is worse.
NJ: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
SR: Slowness. I’m very slow at writing. I’d much prefer it if I was faster.
NJ: What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal