Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

Sydney Writer's Festival: Part Three

The distinction between an author and a diplomat has become a minor one. If you can handle something called "Early dinner with Random House International Guests" (part of the Sydney Writer's Festival), then you are more or less ready to serve your country’s embassy in Luxembourg or Malta.
This is not to say that that the "Early dinner with Random House International Guests" was an extremely unpleasant experience, or that the food was bad. I just felt as if I was attending a wedding party, and this feeling is described by Bob Morris in today’s NY Times, “The other day I finally got around to sending some good friends a wedding gift. Their lovely event was back in February, when I got so drunk I dozed off at my table.” At the "Early dinner with Random House International Guests," I was seated opposite Audrey Niffenegger, with whom I had a detailed conversation about writing versus teaching, and living in London versus living in Chicago.
Ms. Niffenegger struck me as rather unhappy. I felt the urge to make her happy, but didn’t know how to do that during the hour I was given to eat my Tasmanian trout.
Only after dinner, the Random House publicist whispered in my ear that Ms. Niffenegger’s latest book was on the NY Times bestseller list for several months. “She is worth a million dollars,” I heard.
I really must study the bestseller lists better, especially before attending literary festivals. But this is also a nice example of the old wisdom that money can’t buy happiness.
For the record, last Friday I played poker with Ms. Niffeneggger’s agent, Joe Regal. While taking my money, Mr. Regal declared that Ms. Niffenegger was worth much more than a million dollars. This is an even better example that money doesn’t always lead to happiness. But at least, if worse comes to worse, it can lead to male gold diggers.
Now for a few last words about the Sydney Writer’s Festival, especially about the comedian Andy Borowitz.
We know that authors, maybe with the exception of Ms. Niffenegger, are entangled in a love affair with themselves.
But I have never seen an author as much in love with himself as Mr. Borowitz.
While four authors, among them Mr. Borowitz and I, were doing the panel “Bloody Hilarious Readings,” Mr. Borowitz didn’t even feign listening to the other readers. He read an interview with himself.
Now those of you who cannot feign listening to your fellow authors anymore, I understand completely. But in that case, bring your copy of Proust, don’t read an interview with yourself in a local Australian newspaper.
But worse than that, I don’t think that Mr. Borowitz is terribly funny. The Bush-joke is past its prime.
Well, if anyone in the audience thinks he is a kind of contemporary Che Guevara for laughing about a Bush-joke, one has to admit that bad jokes have a purpose in this life.