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Thursday, October 18, 2007

John Reed on Orwell, God, self-destruction and the future of writing

John Reed: "A kid who reads a book and says, 'This isn't for me. It doesn't have anything to do with my time period; I don't know why I'm reading it. Literature is completely removed from my experience.' They're right! There's no reason to have that kid reading books that are removed from their experience." Image: David Shankbone.

It can be difficult to be John Reed.

Christopher Hitchens called him a "Bin Ladenist" and Cathy Young editorialized in The Boston Globe that he "blames the victims of terrorism" when he puts out a novel like Snowball's Chance, a biting send-up of George Orwell's Animal Farm he was inspired to write after the terrorist attacks on September 11. "The clear references to 9/11 in the apocalyptic ending can only bring Orwell's name into disrepute in the U.S.," wrote William Hamilton, the British literary executor of the Orwell estate. That process had already begun: it was revealed Orwell gave the British Foreign Office a list of people he suspected of being "crypto-Communists and fellow travelers," labeling some of them as Jews and homosexuals. "I really wanted to explode that book," Reed told The New York Times. "I wanted to completely undermine it."

Is this man who wants to blow up the classic literary canon taught to children in schools a menace, or a messiah? David Shankbone went to interview him for Wikinews and found that, as often is the case, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Reed is electrified by the changes that surround him that channel through a lens of inspiration wrought by his children. "The kids have made me a better writer," Reed said. In his new untitled novel, which he calls a "new play by William Shakespeare," he takes lines from The Bard's classics to form an original work. He began it in 2003, but only with the birth of his children could he finish it. "I didn't understand the characters who had children. I didn't really understand them. And once I had had kids, I could approach them differently."

Taking the old to make it new is a theme in his work and in his world view. Reed foresees new narrative forms being born, Biblical epics that will be played out across print and electronic mediums. He is pulled forward by revolutions of the past, a search for a spiritual sensibility, and a desire to locate himself in the process.

Below is David Shankbone's conversation with novelist John Reed.



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