Booksmart Tulsa and Tulsa Library partnered to bring in novelist Ben Dolnick to the new Librarium in downtown Monday, September 9. The Librariam had its grand opening Saturday and will be the stand-in library facility for Tulsa while the Central Library is being remodeled.
Dolnick was promoted as a “Great New Voice” and proved himself as such during the reading of two excerpts from his latest novel, At the Bottom of Everything, a book about how far apart old friends can grow when one of them loses his mind.
The other two novels Dolnick has written are Zoology, the story of Henry Elinsky, a college flunk-out who takes a job at the Central Park Zoo and discovers that becoming an adult takes a lot more than just a weekly paycheck, and You Know Who You Are, a coming of age story about a family, its middle child, Jacob Vine, illness and the emotional aftermath.
Dolnick told the audience that he never wanted to be anything but a writer. He grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a place he admitted was “indistinct from other places” and got a degree in English from Columbia University in New York “because the school didn’t offer a Creative Writing degree. Creative Writing was considered ‘a trade.’”
Dolnick’s father and brother both make their living from writing and they often email sentences to one another and ask which one sounds better.
Currently, Dolnick resides in Brooklyn, “where 90% of American writers live these days.” He runs into famous authors he admires in his neighborhood, for example, seeing Jhumpa Lahiri in the grocery store.
Writing in the morning and using a kitchen timer is one of the habits Dolnick has developed. He said that a writer must learn to operate in four different roles: “as a madman who edits nothing and is all impulse, as an architect who designs structure, as a carpenter (which is the toughest role and takes a year or two) and finally, as a judge, who decides whether or not something is ready to be sent out.”
In between novels, Dolnick writes op-ed pieces or book reviews “to remind the world I exist.” He says, “Most of my early snobbism or Puritanism has burned off. I no longer say ‘I’m a novelist. I don’t write that.’”
At the conclusions of his talk, Dolnick gave a sincere plug for author Kazuo Ishiguro, who will travel to Tulsa in December to receive the adult fiction library award. “Ishiguro’s book, Remains of the Day, belongs on a sneak-attack novel list. It starts slow because the narrator is so modest and self-effacing, but is ultimately a devastatingly sad story. It’s the only book that has ever made me cry.”