David Levithan is the best-selling US author of over 15 books for young adults, including ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ (upon which the twee film starring Michael Cera was based). Last night he appeared in conversation with fellow author Phil Earle, discussing his career and new novel ‘Every Day’. The event took place at Waterstones Piccadilly – where I now work as a bookseller.
(Did I mention that I work at Waterstones Piccadilly now? I work at Waterstones Piccadilly now.)
The two writers were super likeable, making jokes about ‘The Hunger Games’, fellow writers and Justin Bieber, and obliging their fans by staying to sign books at the end of the event. They even coordinating their checked shirts and blue jeans! I think I saw Patrick Ness in the audience as well, dressed in a similar attire, so I guess it’s the required uniform for male YA authors attending London book events.
The two hour event just breezed by, helped in part by the elderly woman sitting in the front row who provided much comic relief. The discussion and Q&A were bookended by chapter readings from ‘Every Day’ and ‘Two Boys Kissing’; both passages were really effecting and beautiful and I could tell immediately that Levithan is going to be one of my new favourite writers.
Earle and Levithan talked a little about his method, his penchant for blasting Tegan & Sara when writing, and his day job. It’s refreshing to hear of a best-selling author who still works a 9-to-5 and writes on the weekends!
I found the discussions of the politics surrounding queer identities in YA fiction particularly interesting. Some of Levithan’s books aren’t named too subtly, but he does this intentionally so that the young gay boy who sees ‘Two Boys Kissing’ in the library knows it’s there. Maybe he doesn’t check it out, but just seeing it on the shelf could give him the strength he needs to get through the day. I think that’s a nice sentiment.
On the other hand, ‘Every Day’ has a vague and ambiguous title, but I suspect that pertains to the vague and ambiguous protagonist. He says he wrote the novel with two questions in mind:
- Who would you be if you had no body?
- You fall in love with the person from the last question. Can you?
A, the protagonist, is a genderless being who wakes up each day in a different host body. It’s a pretty neat concept. Almost all of the discourse in the novel is about gender, and there’s even a secondary transgender character in the book which is pretty spectacular. And it’s not just a one off! Even in ‘Lover’s Dictionary’ the gender of the lover is never specified.
It seems Levithan likes experimenting with style like this. In ‘Two Boys Kissing’, narrative is delivered from a chorus of last- and next-generation gay men. In ‘Lover’s Dictionary’, chapters were improvised from words picked at random from a dictionary. Levithan is also no stranger to collaboration either, having worked with a handful of other authors during his career.
According to Levithan, he realised he was a writer in the third grade when he felt disproportionately pleased with himself to have one of his characters “scamper” through a hotel lobby in one of his many chase scenes. I’m glad he’s still writing all these years later. He’s an important voice, not only for the queer community, but for anyone who likes plain old good fiction.