by Len Lear
The recently published novel, “Burning Down George Orwell’s House” (Soho Books), written by Roxborough resident Andrew Ervin, 44, has received a virtual cornucopia of ecstatic reviews all over the country. Here is the second part of our recent interview with Ervin:
Has anyone else in your family been a writer or teacher?
No, my father ran a plumbing and heating business for a long time in West Chester. and my mother was a psychologist. They now live down the shore full-time.
When you were a child, did you know even then that your destiny was to be a writer?
I always imagined I’d be a visual artist.
Who are some of the writers whose work you most admire?
The author Robert Stone passed away last year. He was as great at storytelling as anyone I’ve ever read. It’s awful that I’ll never get to read another new book of his. I’m also a big fan of Franz Kafka, James Joyce, the Japanese author Yukio Mishima. My favorite book all-time is either “Moby Dick” or William Gaddis’ masterpiece, “The Recognitions.” No way I could decide between them.
How did “Extraordinary Renditions” do?
The reception was strange. It got nominated for some awards but also got panned some places. I’m enormously proud of the book, even if I can see some flaws, some things I’d do differently now; my hope is that it captures a particular era of America’s influence (for good and not so great) on the world.
How has the internet affected your work?
The access to so much information at my fingertips is a blessing and a curse. We live in the age of distraction. Our minds work differently than they used to, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
You once had a job at Borders Bookstore (now closed) in Bryn Mawr that you have said was “an education unto itself?” Would you explain?
Every day, I got to interact with a team of very smart booksellers and with the book-buying public. When I write, I don’t think about an audience (outside of myself and a few people I love), but as the editing process happens, I do think about what happens on the other side of the author/reader transaction. I write because I enjoy the quiet time, and if readers at home or on the bus want to spend their valuable time in the worlds I’ve constructed, then I hope to repay that confidence. It’s a huge, huge honor to have a stranger walk into a shop, purchase my book with real money and then dedicate time to reading it. I don’t mean to sound corny, but that still means the world to me. If my next book gets one reader or one million, I will be grateful.
You left a high-paying e-commerce job in 2001? Do you ever regret that decision?
Have you been deluged with interview requests as a result of the reviews?
“Deluged” would be an exaggeration. I’m grateful for your interest.
What is your ultimate hope for the “Orwell” book?
I hope that the warm public reception the book is receiving will make it easier to write and publish the next one.
Can you say what you are working on now?
Most of my time is spent on a nonfiction book I have under contract with Basic Books. I’m working on an art history of video games from 1958 to the present. What I’m discovering — and perhaps this gets back to our culture of distraction — is that some of the most vital artists of our time aren’t working in literature or paintings but in video game development. I suspect that at their best, video games are the most vital art form of the 21st century. Like with cinema, there are obnoxious and violent blockbusters that get all the attention, but there’s also a very cool and under-appreciated indie scene. That’s where I’m spending my time.
Beyond that, I have some notes on a new novel—set in the Wissahickon Valley, in fact, but I want to get this nonfiction book done before I dedicate myself to it.
If you could spend a day with any living person on earth, who would it be?
The corny answer happens to be the true one: my wife Elivi Varga is the smartest human I’ve ever met. She’s a tremendous musician, and after all these years (we met in 1991) I love spending every day with her.
If you could spend a day with any person on earth, now deceased, who would it be?
Could you imagine getting to sit down for a few hours with William Shakespeare? That would be incredible. Do you think he’d let me call him Billy?
For more information, visit andrewervin.com.