Jonathan Lethem

Literary Birthday – 19 February – Jonathan Lethem

Happy Birthday, Jonathan Lethem, born 19 February 1964.


  1. I learned to write fiction the way I learned to read fiction – by skipping the parts that bored me.
  2. Music still sort of hangs up there in the sky for me as this thing that moves me so much, but I can’t really make it. It’s like a car I can’t drive.
  3. With a book you can read the same paragraph four times. You can go back to page 21 when you’re on page 300. You can’t do that with film. It just charges ahead.
  4. Art is about eliminating almost everything in order to focus on the thing that you need to talk about.
  5. Reading and writing are the same thing; it’s just one’s the more active and the other’s the more passive. They flow into each other.
  6. When people call something ‘original’, 9 out of 10 times they just don’t know the references or original sources involved.
  7. I try to write every day. I don’t beat myself up about word counts, or how many hours are ticking by on the clock before I’m allowed to go and do something else. I just try to keep a hand in and work every single day, even if there are other demands or I’m on a book tour or have the flu or something, because then I keep my unconscious engaged with the book. Then I’m always a little bit writing, no matter what else I’m doing.
  8. I work on a laptop specifically so I can work in cafés and pretend I’m part of the human world.
  9. I’m a firm believer that there are no rules in art. Every trajectory is different.
  10. I never take any notes or draw charts or make elaborate diagrams, but I hold an image of the shape of a book in my head and work from that mental hologram.

Jonathan Lethem is an American novelist, essayist, and short story writer. His novel, Motherless Brooklyn won a National Book Critics Circle Award.

Source for quotes / Source for image: By David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 18th February 2020