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March 14, 2024 42 mins

Martha and author Jonathan Safran Foer share a deep interest in raising awareness about the harms of factory farming. They met years ago around that cause and then reconnected recently during a photo shoot at his home. Listen to them catch up about his latest books, visiting the Pope to talk about climate change, and how reducing meat and animal products in one’s diet can impact the environment.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Anyone who claims to care about the environment has to
acknowledge also hypocrisy. But that doesn't have to stop our
efforts in their tracks.

Speaker 2 (00:14):
Hi everyone, today, I'm with Jonathan Saffron four, who is
one of the most accomplished authors and thinkers of his generation.
I first met Jonathan Oh quite a few years ago
when he published an amazing book, Eating Animals. That was
not your first book, though, was it, Jonathan.

Speaker 1 (00:32):
No, and it's not the first time we met, Oh,
you tell me we met even before then. When I
published Everything Is Illuminated. I came out to your farm.
Unless I dreamt this, which is also possible.

Speaker 3 (00:44):
But there's a.

Speaker 1 (00:45):
Detail from that afternoon that I remember really vividly, which
was that whatever the piece was before me that you
were doing involved smoothies, and you had a bunch of
smoothies on the table. And after we had done our segment,
I said, could I drink one of those smoothies? And
you said you want to drink one of those smoothies?
I said, yeah, they look delicious, and they're just sitting there,
and for whatever reason, you thought it was the funniest
thing you'd ever heard.

Speaker 3 (01:06):
How was the smoothie who can remember.

Speaker 2 (01:08):
I don't know all smoothies are the same ultimately, but
I always liked you because I always liked your books.
And it's just incredible the career you've had as one
of the literary world's most accomplished writers. You gained the
literary world's attention with your best selling fiction book Starting Books,
starting with Everything Is Illuminated, and you've also written best

selling nonfiction books that explore factory farming, which really attracted
me and really appealed to me and my daughter a vegetarian,
but also global warming. You have focused on that, and
the latest book is We Are the Weather. We have
so much to talk about and it's so nice to
see you again. It just happened a couple weeks ago.
I was doing a commercial and it was in a beautiful,

beautiful on a late late nineteenth century house in is
a Kensington section of It's some.

Speaker 1 (02:01):
People call it Ditmus Parks, some people call it Prospect
Park South.

Speaker 2 (02:04):
Yeah, right in your Prospect Park, which is one of
my favorite parks, by the way. And I love the
Brooklyn Botanic Garden and I love the Brooklyn Museum. But
I was in this house and my dressing room was upstairs,
these very steep, beautiful staircase, and it was in a bedroom,
and I'm looking around. Every wall was covered with shelving

and which was full of books. And I'm looking and
looking and looking in the hallway too. In the hallway
there are books in Hebrew and German and French and Italian,
but there's multiples of each book. I'm saying, what would
so many books in the same book and all these languages.
And then I saw the author and it was you.
So you had copies of all the different translations of
all your different books. And then I realized it was you.

I looked you up in my phone and I called
Jonathan and we chatted for a little while. I think
he was horrified that I was in his bedroom. Were
you horrified I was in your bedroom?

Speaker 1 (02:55):
I had been dreaming about it for twenty years.

Speaker 2 (02:58):
Well, welcome to my podcast. Thank you, and you look great.
I told him as I walked in the door today
that he looks like a man now, because the last
time I saw you, you looked more like an older boy.

Speaker 1 (03:09):
I suspect that's coded language, And what you're saying is no,
it's not.

Speaker 2 (03:12):
It's not coded at all. You do look more immature. Now,
you don't look at any of those things.

Speaker 1 (03:18):
I came here from NYU where I teach, and I
take a nap every single day. That's the secret to
my relative youthful looks.

Speaker 2 (03:25):
Oh good. And how long a nap?

Speaker 3 (03:28):
Twenty minutes? Oh?

Speaker 2 (03:29):
Sometimes I take two naps? Are good? I am an apper? Also,
you take it every day? Well, I'm in the car,
so I sometimes nap in the car on my way
to someplace. And I think it is rejuvenating and good
for you because I don't sleep at night. Do you
sleep at night?

Speaker 3 (03:42):
I have problems at night. Need you don't sleep? A choice?
Or you don't sleep? I just don't sleep.

Speaker 1 (03:47):
You want to sleep and you can't sleep? Yeah, And
is your mind spinning with things?

Speaker 3 (03:50):

Speaker 2 (03:50):
I read or I watch a movie or you know,
I'm addicted to my iPad?

Speaker 1 (03:55):
Right, that's of course terrible to do when you can't sleep. Yes,
any kind of screen as.

Speaker 2 (03:59):
You go down the rabbit hole with a whole series,
I can watch an entire I can binge anything at
night all night long.

Speaker 3 (04:06):

Speaker 2 (04:07):
So anyway, well back to more serious matters. Jonathan is
very active person, father of three, and you have a
new baby.

Speaker 3 (04:15):
Yep, fifteen months old.

Speaker 1 (04:16):
Sixteen months old, and good, fine, great, She's a girl,
which is a new experience for me and utterly different,
I mean, exactly the same and utterly different.

Speaker 3 (04:26):
But I've been enjoying it a lot.

Speaker 2 (04:28):
Well, you recently visited the Vatican, which interested me tremendously
because I was raised a Catholic and we were revered
the various popes. I did meet Pope John once when
I was visiting Cuba. He was there to meet with
Castro and I was sent down by CBS to cover
the visit. And it was that same visit when Monica

Lewinsky's bomb dropped, so everybody left Cuban and I was
left there with Pope John, and it was a very
unusual situation. But I got to know Cuba pretty well.
But Pope John, what a delightful man he was. How
is Pope Francis.

Speaker 3 (05:06):
Well, he is everything I was hoping for.

Speaker 1 (05:09):
I'm not a Catholic, as you know, and I don't
know that much about Catholicism.

Speaker 3 (05:14):
I don't know that much about the Pope.

Speaker 1 (05:16):
But I got an email on like a Wednesday that
said the Pope is going to be delivering a paper
lau datte deem. It was the kind of sequel to
a paper he'd released a couple of years before about
climate change and about the church's responsibility, Catholics responsibility and
as he put it, the responsibility of people of goodwill.

Speaker 2 (05:37):
And they said, who sent you the who sent you
the letter?

Speaker 1 (05:40):
Some his like right hand, oh guy, whatever that title
would be. And they said, do you want to come
next week to give a little talk about it?

Speaker 3 (05:50):
How wonderful, how wonderful.

Speaker 1 (05:52):
But I thought, this is my little brother or you
know who sent me this this email?

Speaker 2 (05:56):
I thought it was a joke.

Speaker 3 (05:57):
I did. I did think it was really Yeah.

Speaker 2 (05:59):
Did you come on fancy he's papal stationary.

Speaker 1 (06:01):
Well it was an email, an email, yeah, but it
did have a fancy little stamp at the bottom, and
English was like sort of like questionable enough to feel authentic.
I know somebody in Rome's brother works for it.

Speaker 2 (06:13):
I hope you saved that. Did you say that? Even
course of course yes.

Speaker 1 (06:17):
Anyway, a couple days later I found myself in the
Vatican and I got to to meet him for a
little bit.

Speaker 3 (06:22):
I brought my daughter, which was really special.

Speaker 1 (06:24):
He In advance of meeting him, I asked his people,
you know, what's the what's the protocol? I've never met
a pope before. Am I supposed to look him in
the eyes? Do I kiss a ring? Do I bow?

Speaker 3 (06:35):
Do I do I not touch him? What? What do
I do?

Speaker 1 (06:38):
And they sent me back a two sentence text. They said,
be normal. He's normal, That's all they said.

Speaker 2 (06:46):
Isn't that nice?

Speaker 1 (06:47):
And he's one of these people and you don't meet
that many of them in the course of a life.
Who walks in a room and you just know he's special.
He doesn't even have to say anything, he just obviously.

Speaker 2 (06:56):
Isn't it great when you meet that? Amazing?

Speaker 1 (06:58):
And he was just drawn to my daughter. You know,
there was a in that room. There was a Nobel
Prize winner for physics. There was an incredible young woman.

Speaker 2 (07:07):
This is the baby daughter you took.

Speaker 3 (07:08):
Yeah, oh great, Yeah?

Speaker 2 (07:10):
Did he bless her?

Speaker 1 (07:11):
Did he bless her? Probably? Who knows? He gave her
a rosary, you know he did? Yeah, Oh that's so nice. Yeah,
he tickled her, which was blessing enough. And then we
had this like press conference where he had these different
speakers and the way that he runs his organization I
found just incredibly impressive and inspiring.

Speaker 3 (07:35):
I said, what should I talk about?

Speaker 1 (07:36):
I said, whatever you want to talk about, whatever his
paper moves you to say. For about how long should
I speak? Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, but whatever your move
to say. Should I send you my remarks before I
give them? They said no, there's no need for that.
And there were four or five people. Carlo Petrini, you
know him, this slow food, he was one of the speakers,
and we just got up and we said whatever we

wanted to say.

Speaker 3 (07:59):
You know, in America.

Speaker 2 (08:01):
You would have been produced to death, right produce death.

Speaker 3 (08:03):
I would have been vetted to death, produced to death.

Speaker 2 (08:06):
And this was distributed to the public.

Speaker 1 (08:08):
How so it was the official release of this paper,
of his pamphlet. It's maybe like forty pages. You can
find it online in anywhere, and it's really worth reading.
It's an incredibly impressive document. It's more progressive than any
elected world leader would say. So they had added a
two hundred three hundred journalists there and we gave our

talks and then it was disseminated through there.

Speaker 3 (08:34):
And magazine tu Well.

Speaker 2 (08:36):
Global warming certainly is abstract, it's overwhelming, it's frightening to
all of us. And to me it's kind of especially
depressing and at the same time kind of enlightening. I'm
a gardener, so it has affected me a lot. My
hobby's gardening. And I just found out that Bedford, New York,
which has been traditionally zone five on the climate chart,

have you know it's for gardeners and growers and farmers,
is now a seven. It has warmed. The climate has
warmed two whole not degrees, but two whole classes up
to seven. So it's almost I can almost grow anything
now in a seven. We still we'll get frosts, and

citrus would die if I if I put them outside.
But it's horrifying, horrifying where I can grow now.

Speaker 1 (09:26):
Yeah, gardeners see what the rest of us have a
harder time seeing.

Speaker 3 (09:30):
Yes, we don't have a day to day experience with it.

Speaker 1 (09:32):
These horrible floods in California.

Speaker 2 (09:35):
And they're talking about atmospheric rivers now, which means there's
a river in the sky dumping eight inches on Los
Angeles and Brentwood had eight inches of rain in one
and a half days. That is an extraordinary amount of water,
and plants can't take it, the houses can't take it.
The hillsides in California certainly can't take it, and they're

so worried that another storm is coming and then the
MUDs lives will start. But all of this has prompted
you to write a really interesting book, We are the Weather.
Can you tell us about that book?

Speaker 1 (10:08):
So I should say I never thought I would write nonfiction.
I never really wanted to when I was Younger writers,
I know, seemed to break into two categories. Those who
grew up and always knew they wanted to write were
always reading like kids who had books under the covers
of the flashlight when they were little.

Speaker 2 (10:25):
That's me. See, that was not me, it was it. No,
I came to reading later.

Speaker 3 (10:29):
I'm still not.

Speaker 2 (10:30):
I read a lot of books in your room. Who's
reading all those books?

Speaker 3 (10:33):
First of all, as you said, they're all No.

Speaker 2 (10:35):
No, they weren't because I was looking at the titles
of all the books I like to read.

Speaker 3 (10:40):
But I bet you read more books than I do,
or I.

Speaker 2 (10:42):
Used to read more. As time disappears, I have read
fewer and fewer books a year. But I did read
so so much under the covers with a flashlight. Yeah,
so I came to a kind of late and not
because I.

Speaker 1 (10:54):
Loved literature, but I loved just a certain kind of
expressiveness and freedom.

Speaker 2 (11:00):
A way of like, and you had an imagination.

Speaker 1 (11:03):
Exercising my imagination, Yes, And so that got me into
fiction and then nonfiction. It was really born out of
this concern that I had and I've had since I
was a little kid, which I think a lot of
kids have, which is why do.

Speaker 3 (11:15):
We eat meat?

Speaker 2 (11:16):

Speaker 1 (11:17):
Yeah, and anxiety about it, and not even anxiety, but
an acknowledgment that our relationship to animals. Every story I
received about what animals are and how to treat them
was sort of like made a kind of sense to me,
except for food. So you have a family dog, you
treat it well. You certainly don't abuse it, you know,
you try to give it pleasure, and you act as

if it is has some sort of experience of its existence.
I had stuffed animals that I was like tucked in
with my parents, read me stories, and I was a
kid that had animals for heroes.

Speaker 3 (11:48):
And then there's this other thing we do where.

Speaker 1 (11:49):
We keep them in cages and dismember them and eat them.
So that doesn't mean it's wrong. There are a lot
of things that kids find weird that aren't wrong. You're
just not mature enough to understand the way that they
are a part of life. If you showed a kid,
you know, an image of people having sex, the kid
would freak out and think, this is the most horrible
thing I've ever seen.

Speaker 3 (12:10):
So I was an on and off vegetarian for a
lot of my life.

Speaker 1 (12:12):
At times I was really on, and I was kind
of like annoyingly inflexible about it and probably a little
self righteous. And at times I was really off and
I would eat anything that was in front of me.

Speaker 2 (12:25):
But it wasn't.

Speaker 1 (12:25):
Until my first child was born that I thought, you know,
I really need to figure out what's going on here,
both in the sense of how this industry works and
also how I actually feel and like what my own
limits for change are. There are a lot of things
that I think would be great that I don't do
because they're impossible.

Speaker 2 (12:43):
Well, in your book about climate change, you make very
bold statements. If we skipped animal products before dinner, we
could make a huge impact. What does that mean?

Speaker 1 (12:55):
So you know, I don't actually think of that as
a as a bold statement or not anymore then it's
bold to say if you jump from a building, You're
going to fall toward the ground like it's the it's
the science, and the science at this point is really unambigious.

Speaker 2 (13:10):
I mean, don't eat any meat all day long, but
you can have it for dinner.

Speaker 1 (13:13):
What is behind the statement is that meat is one
of the biggest problems we're facing when it comes to
climate change, and we cannot meet the goals of the
Paris Climate Accords without eating a lot less meat.

Speaker 3 (13:25):
There are a lot of ways to do it.

Speaker 1 (13:26):
It's not certainly not a binary, like everybody doesn't have
to become a vegan or vegetarian.

Speaker 2 (13:31):
You know. Mark Zuckerberg's solution he kills if he eats meat,
he has killed it.

Speaker 3 (13:37):
Yeah, personally, I find that dumb. I have to be honest.

Speaker 1 (13:42):
You know what does killing it yourself prove? First of all,
most people obviously can't do that. It's an enormous luxury
that he's able.

Speaker 3 (13:50):
To do it.

Speaker 1 (13:50):
And I would like shudder to think about the carbon
footprint of his hunting habits.

Speaker 2 (13:55):
Taking the jet to some place where there's a cow.

Speaker 3 (13:58):
Yeah you can shoot, yeah doing it.

Speaker 1 (14:01):
You know, I don't need to murder somebody to know
that murder's wrong. I don't need to commit any number
of other ethical offenses to know it's wrong.

Speaker 2 (14:09):
I raise my own food. Eight of my beautiful turkeys.
They were a year old, and they're eating a tremendous
amount of food. They are giving me turkey manure, which
I put into the compost and feed it back to
the earth and the forest will grow better, et cetera,
et cetera. If you're going to ever serve a turkey,
you might as well raise it yourself, if you can.
I bought a pair of them at the Poultry Congress.

Speaker 3 (14:29):
Last year was the Poultry Congress.

Speaker 2 (14:31):
Oh, this wonderful, wonderful congress where people who grow their
own backyard poultry for eggs primarily, and also for beautiful
birds and keeping species alive. People come from all over
with prize birds of every kind of species of chicken,
for example. I mean amazing. I go every year because
I want to see all the different geese and all

the different She said, Oh, don't expect any babies this year,
but next year you'll get a whole big crop from
these two. And I got thirteen babies the first year
out of their eggs, very fertile, very very well cos seeds, yes,
and so I have my own turkeys. But I do
that with chickens, and I do it with guinea fowl,

and I do it with a pheasant. I do. I
have all kinds of birds. But I don't feel guilty.
I feel good if I have to eat meat that
I have. I know what they've eaten and how they've lived,
and they're not tortured, and they're not raised. I mean,
I don't raise anything big, no cows.

Speaker 1 (15:31):
So I don't write about and I don't talk about
and honestly I don't think that much about cases like that.

Speaker 3 (15:38):
I don't have a problem with them at all.

Speaker 1 (15:40):
The problem is the dominant industry, which is responsible for
nine factory percent of the animals that we eat. You know,
you're talking about your turkeys. You put them together. They
made other turkeys. There's not a supermarket in the United
States where you can buy a turkey that was not
the product of artificial insemination. I agree now, because their

their bodies have been bred to grow so big that
they're literally incapable of having sex anymore. So, the notion
of that as like our symbol of harvest, our symbol
of gratitude, is truly insane.

Speaker 2 (16:14):
Yeah, you know, it has changed tremendously and I and
I totally understand that, and it has not yet driven
me to vegetarianism. But I cannot go to a supermarket
and buy a steak. I just can't. I have to
go to a local farmer and buy something that he
raised in his in his pasture that looks good, tastes good.

Speaker 1 (16:34):
Well, we can, I think we can move toward more
system like that. Yes, it's just about to do so
I have.

Speaker 3 (16:39):
To eat a lot less.

Speaker 2 (16:40):
Oh yes, both will be more expensive than they explain
about the gases that arise from just the manure of
all these animals and feed lots. I mean that's more.
Isn't that the most most the biggest cause of pollution
in the United States.

Speaker 1 (16:54):
Of methane, Yes, yeah, And it's not only the burping
and farting of cows. It's also an incredibly energy intensive industry.
So you have to put in about between seven and
twenty calories into an animal to get one calorie out
of the animal. So living on a planet with finite

resources and ever increasing human population and needs for food,
it's just unsustainable. And it's not like a provocative opinion
When I was writing We Are the Weather, I spoke
to a lot of climate scientists, and I met some
who were vegetarian.

Speaker 3 (17:32):
I met some who eat meat once a day.

Speaker 1 (17:35):
But I didn't meet one who disputed the fact that
this is an enormous piece of the puzzle.

Speaker 2 (17:41):
And yet they have not stopped eating me.

Speaker 1 (17:44):
Yeah, but who would I be to judge that I
have not stopped flying, I have not stopped driving cars?

Speaker 2 (17:49):
Yeah. I was going to ask you, do you drive
a car? I do, yeah, yeah, gas car.

Speaker 1 (17:53):
I had an electric car and then I found myself
getting in trouble all the time, you know, running out
of charge with my kids and whatnot. So now I
have a guest car. I'm lucky in Brooklyn not to
really have to drive hardly at all. But I mean,
we are all massive. Anyone who claims to care about
the environment has to acknowledge also hypocrisy. But that doesn't

have to like stop our efforts in their tracks.

Speaker 3 (18:19):
You know.

Speaker 1 (18:20):
I think when we feel vulnerable, and climate change makes
a lot of us feel vulnerable, there's a temptation to
race towards these binaries.

Speaker 3 (18:27):
These all are nothing like.

Speaker 1 (18:29):
If you acknowledge that meat is problematic, then it makes
one feel like a hypocrite not to go all the way,
you know, and become a vegan or a vegetarian. If
one acknowledges that climate change is a catastrophe, you can
feel like a hypocrite if you still drive.

Speaker 2 (18:45):
Or fly or take an airplane. Right, But there's no.

Speaker 1 (18:47):
Progress in that because the reality is we're human beings.

Speaker 3 (18:51):
We're not ethical or logical robots.

Speaker 2 (18:55):
And unjul we are. We're going to keep flying and
we couldn't keep driving.

Speaker 1 (18:59):
Yeah, And the good news is, like meeting the goals
of the Paris Climate Cords doesn't require us to give
that all up, to give it all up. It just
requires us to live with a kind of moderation we're
not used to. And that probably scares us more as
a prospect than it would actually be uncomfortable as reality.

Speaker 2 (19:17):
But I remember growing up, you had one car. I mean,
this family of eight, we had one car. We turned
the lights off when we left a room, We ate moderate,
moderate amounts of store bought food, and we traveled not
too much, but we did travel. This was, you know,
fifty sixty years ago, and now it's just snowballed so

drastically that we have to, we have to take some steps.
I travel a lot, and I see I see every
I just went to Mumbai for the first time in India.
I was horrified at the way people live there, the
crowded nature of the city. The filth is such a
difficult place to exist and polluted beyond believe, and nothing's being.

Speaker 3 (20:01):
Done about it.

Speaker 2 (20:02):
So it's heartbreaking, worriesome, really worrisome.

Speaker 1 (20:07):
The trick is, the stuff is heartbreaking when you have
occasion to think about it or when you're forced to
look at.

Speaker 3 (20:14):
It, and it's incredibly easy to forget when you don't.

Speaker 2 (20:17):
Yeah, so you were in Mumbai.

Speaker 3 (20:19):
You saw it with your own eyes. You were moved.

Speaker 1 (20:22):
If you are like me, and you probably are in
this way, in a week, you'll think about it less.

Speaker 3 (20:27):
In two weeks you'll think about it less.

Speaker 2 (20:28):
No, I have a pretty good memory, and I don't
and vivid, a vivid memory for things that are not pleasant.

Speaker 1 (20:35):
And so what do you do with it? If you
see something like that.

Speaker 2 (20:38):
And well, I talk about it, I ask about it,
and I learned about it. And what else can we
do really except read your books and give you give
a book to everybody about this and hope that more
and more and more people will take it seriously. How

long does it take you to write a book like
We Are the Weather?

Speaker 3 (21:04):
That's a tricky question. Two years.

Speaker 1 (21:07):
But you know, there's a great old story someone told
me once when I first started writing about Picasso, that
a friend of his went to his studio as Pacaussa
was preparing a show, and they were there's a show
of drawings, and there were drawings on all the walls,
and they were sort of like naive looking, primitive looking,
and his friend said, just between us, like how much

are you going to sell that for? And Pacassa said,
I don't know the equivalent today of a million dollars
five million notes. He said, because how long did it
take you to draw that? The implication being it looks
like it took thirty seconds to draw, And Pakassa said
that one took me about seventy six years, which is
how old he was at the time. So you know,
there's different kinds of ways of work, like everything that

one does leads to where you are. But then there's
also the time when you're like sitting down and trying
to put words on a page.

Speaker 2 (21:59):
So but you're prolific. I used to be you used
to be more powerful. Do you think you were more
Your first book came out in what year?

Speaker 1 (22:08):
That was in two thousand and two, which is easy
to remember because it was right after two thousand and one.

Speaker 2 (22:13):
Okay, and that is everything is illuminated. Yeah, tell us
what's the storyline? And everything is illuminated if you have
not read this beautiful book.

Speaker 1 (22:22):
So I should say I have not read that beautiful
book since since I wrote.

Speaker 3 (22:27):
It, So I hope I get this right.

Speaker 1 (22:30):
It is about a young American who shares my name,
Jonathan Saffron for who goes to the Ukraine searching for
a woman who supposedly saved his grandfather during the war.

Speaker 3 (22:42):
That's half the book. The other half we're just.

Speaker 1 (22:44):
Woven through, is a kind of imagined history of this
village that he goes to.

Speaker 2 (22:50):
And has that village been destroyed?

Speaker 1 (22:53):
That village, that village has been staying many times. The
last time it was destroyed was during World War Two.
It wasn't rebuilt. Oh yeah, but you ask a good question.
I don't know what that area is like undergoing right now?

Speaker 2 (23:07):
Yeah, horrifying. Yeah, your maternal grandmother inspired that book.

Speaker 3 (23:12):
She did.

Speaker 1 (23:13):
She was born in Poland and lost her family. She
escaped east. She was a member in some socialist youth
groups and assumed that because of that she would be
a bigger target. So she with a friend walked east,
the equivalent of walking across the United States.

Speaker 3 (23:34):
I don't know one and a half or two times,
ended up coming back meeting my grandfather.

Speaker 1 (23:40):
My mother was born in a DP camp, and then
they came to the States a couple of years later.

Speaker 2 (23:45):
Amazing stories, It's just amazing stories that people went through.
You studied philosophy in school, So did you know you
were going to be a writer or did you were
you thinking when you went to college?

Speaker 1 (23:56):
I wish I could do it again. My oldest son
is going to college next year. Oh it's given me
an opportunity to think about how wasted the experience was
on me.

Speaker 3 (24:06):
You know, I didn't know what I was doing.

Speaker 2 (24:08):
Where did you go to college?

Speaker 1 (24:09):
To Princeton. And it's not even like I had so
much fun. I just I didn't know how to enter
the stream.

Speaker 3 (24:16):
You know.

Speaker 1 (24:16):
I felt like I was on the banks looking at
the stream passed by me. So, you know, I studied
and there were things that I liked philosophy. I ended
up choosing at the last minute because I had to
have a major. I didn't get seriously into writing until
probably my junior year, and I had Joyce Caro lots.

Speaker 3 (24:32):
As a professor.

Speaker 2 (24:33):
I love her.

Speaker 3 (24:35):
Yeah, she's Have you ever had a conversation with her?

Speaker 2 (24:37):
No, I have not, but I love her.

Speaker 3 (24:40):
I think you would enjoy her company.

Speaker 2 (24:41):
And no, I've read every single one of her books
that I don't know about the most recent recent ones,
but I read everything.

Speaker 3 (24:48):
She was incredible. Yeah, she's a good teacher. I remember
when I was saying that.

Speaker 1 (24:52):
The Pope is one of those people who walks into
a room and you say, this is a special person.

Speaker 3 (24:56):
Joyce is very much like that as well.

Speaker 1 (24:57):
So she was my teacher, and she was the first
person ever to say to hey, you should take this seriously.

Speaker 3 (25:02):
You know, there's what would happen if you really tried.
She did.

Speaker 2 (25:07):
Yeah, and she I mean, I'm not that's encouraging.

Speaker 1 (25:10):
It is encouraging. It's very encouraging. I'm not unique in
that way. She's started a lot of careers, a lot
of writing careers. She would write letters to me at
my parents' house during vacations, saying you might think about
reading this book. I was thinking about your last story.
It got kind of thin at the end. Here's how
you might.

Speaker 2 (25:28):
And she is.

Speaker 1 (25:29):
She has as much success as anybody would ever need.
She has no need to become involved.

Speaker 2 (25:33):
She does. She's a teacher. She's a teacher, and that's
why she does that, because she actually cares. And that's
such a fantastic, fantastic thing.

Speaker 3 (25:43):
I literally owe my life to it.

Speaker 2 (25:46):
Oh nice, Yeah nice. I'm the daughter of two teachers,
and they cared. They cared that we learned and that
we were encouraged. And that's that's the that's the goal
of a teacher. Don't have fabulous? That is Jrace Carrol Oates. Yeah,
lucky man. So you've written not only fiction but also nonfiction.
Similar processes for you? Or which is hard? Which is harder?

Speaker 1 (26:10):
Fiction is much harder it is Nonfiction is more laborious.

Speaker 3 (26:15):
You know, you know what you have to do, and
you do it. With fiction.

Speaker 1 (26:20):
What's so tricky is not knowing what you have to do,
not knowing what the destination is.

Speaker 2 (26:24):
Do you do an outline?

Speaker 3 (26:26):

Speaker 2 (26:27):
I don't you just go? I just go? Which is
I used to think was really inefficient.

Speaker 3 (26:32):
I don't know.

Speaker 1 (26:33):
I have a friend who's a writer who once said
writing a novel is like.

Speaker 3 (26:37):
Pulling teeth out of your penis.

Speaker 1 (26:40):
Uh, you're just very, very uncomfortable, and I find it's
gotten harder, not easier over time.

Speaker 2 (26:49):
Yeah, you know, now you're teaching. I teach. I teach it.

Speaker 1 (26:53):
But I've been teaching for a while. I've been teaching
what's your what's your course? At n y U, I
teach two different classes. They're both workshops. One is fiction,
one is nonfiction. My classes are almost always twelve students,
and each week three of them will turn something in
and we just talk about it. There's no like reading
that they do other than each other's work. There's no
lecture that I give. It's very conversational. There tends to

be a lot of camaraderie.

Speaker 2 (27:17):
Have you found another Jonathan Saffron four in that group?

Speaker 1 (27:21):
I've found much better than that. Oh yeah, I've had amazing,
amazing excuse.

Speaker 2 (27:26):
You know.

Speaker 1 (27:26):
One of the great lessons of teaching is really talented
people and really smart people are not that rare. They're
not as rare as you would think. You know, every
semester I've ever taught. I've had at least one student
that I've been jealous of who's talent I've been jealous of.

Speaker 2 (27:42):
So great when you're jealous, isn't it?

Speaker 3 (27:44):
It's the best?

Speaker 2 (27:45):
I mean, it's the worst to love. No, I love
finding somebody I'm jealous of it, and it makes me
better in a funny way. And I'm sure it does
that to you too, it does.

Speaker 3 (27:56):
I guess I've been fortunate.

Speaker 1 (27:58):
The people that I have been jealous of, I've all
so liked, which makes quite a bit of difference and respected,
and you know, their success feels like my success because
I respect them. But yeah, I've had I've had some
some truly amazing students.

Speaker 2 (28:14):
As a reader, who are your favorite authors?

Speaker 3 (28:18):
I tend to read more nonfiction than fiction.

Speaker 1 (28:22):
I tend to read probably even more poetry than non Yeah,
it's a tricky thing reading when you're a writer. The
old joke about the gynecologist who comes home Friday night
and his wife is in lingerie on the bed and
she taps the bed next to her, has a little
romantic music playing, there's whatever roses in the vase.

Speaker 3 (28:45):
You know where this is? Guy?

Speaker 2 (28:46):
Maybe I can guess.

Speaker 1 (28:47):
Okay, well, he says, if I have to look at
another one of those things, I'm going to kill myself.
I have sort of that relationship to books. I find
it I cannot read on the way that I used
to read before I was a writer, because now I.

Speaker 2 (29:02):
Never marry a gynecologist.

Speaker 1 (29:04):
Ladies, Yes, never marry a gynocologist. But writers are safe.

Speaker 2 (29:09):
So three of your books have been adapted to films.
Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud, and incredibly close. Who was
in Everything Is Illuminated? Well?

Speaker 1 (29:19):
Leev Shreiber wrote and directed it and is one of
my oldest and best friends. I met him right at
the beginning of my career before my first book came out.
It was excerpted in The New Yorker and he bought
the rights to it, and we just became friends.

Speaker 3 (29:34):
And never stopped.

Speaker 1 (29:35):
In fact, when you were in my house, when you
displaced me, I was staying at his house. You were, yes,
just to bring it all together, Elijah Wood, wasn't that much?

Speaker 3 (29:46):

Speaker 2 (29:46):
What about extremely loud and incredibly close?

Speaker 3 (29:49):
How was that adapted? Stephen Daldry was the director, Eric
Roth was the writer, and Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock
were in it, and in both cases, I didn't really
have anything to do with you.

Speaker 2 (30:03):
You just sold the books for the movies. Yeah, and
what about eating animals? Did you have a lot to
do with that?

Speaker 1 (30:09):
A little bit more? Because documentaries are kind of labors
of love. Natalie Portman produced it. Christopher Quinn with the
name of the director, and I think he did a
great job. It's such an important conversation to have, but
it's a really tricky one because it just makes people
feel so increable and defensive. It makes me feel scared
and defensive. So finding a way to both speak honestly

about it but also accessibly and to create room just
for inconsistency and to create room for things like cravings
and family culture and religion and celebration gathering.

Speaker 3 (30:51):
It's hard. It's really hard balanced to strike What.

Speaker 2 (30:54):
Are the most surprising aspects of seeing your works translated
to the screen? And do you watch your movies more
than once?

Speaker 3 (31:02):
No? I don't do. I don't watch them more than once.

Speaker 2 (31:05):
You never tempted to go back and see that first
movie again?

Speaker 1 (31:10):
No, but not not not for any It's like, you
know it, if I were to play for you a
message you left on my cell phone you probably have
like an uncomfortable relationship with your own voice. Right, So
now imagine that it was somebody who was adapting you,
like impersonating you left a message on my cell phone.

Speaker 2 (31:31):
You might say, oh, that's that's funny or.

Speaker 1 (31:33):
That's interesting, or hey, that person did a great job.
But you would have a discomfort. So I have a discomfort,
as I said, I haven't. I don't read my books
either after I write them.

Speaker 2 (31:42):
I always think I don't want to sit in an
edit room. That's one thing I hate to do is
sit in the edit room because I know what I did,
I know what I see, I know what I can see,
what I see what I did in my head. I
don't have to see it on the TV. And yet
it is surprising, sometimes surprisingly bad, and sometimes surprisingly you
could I do finally see thing.

Speaker 1 (32:00):
Yeah, I was glad they did it because the scale.

Speaker 2 (32:04):
It's good for all of us that they did it,
because you know, the visual now, the screen is where
we get most of our information, and I think people
are more more anxious to see things adapted for the
screen then even read them. Sorry to say, well.

Speaker 3 (32:21):
It's not even close.

Speaker 2 (32:22):
Yeah, the scale of viewership is way bigger than readership.

Speaker 3 (32:27):
Right. Oh god.

Speaker 1 (32:28):
You know a film that is considered an absolute bomb.
You know that Dies The Quietest Death is seen by
more people than is.

Speaker 3 (32:35):
Read by most bestsellers.

Speaker 1 (32:36):
Yeah, boy, yeah, so that's the world we live on.

Speaker 3 (32:40):
What are you going to do?

Speaker 2 (32:41):
I know, well, I had a magazine that has already
gone by the by the wayside, and that was forty
years old after thousands of issues and now and now,
you know, just people miss it. I know they miss
it because I get letters from them. But it's the
same kind of thing. What's it like to have a

family in Raisive in Brooklyn? Is that where you grew
You didn't grow up in Brooklyn, do No?

Speaker 1 (33:11):
I grew up in DC, in d C, d C.
Whenever I tell someone I'm from DC, they always say,
are you from d C? Are you from Potomac or
Silver Spring? I grew up in d C and lived
there in my life until I went to school, And
then immediately after school I moved to New York.

Speaker 3 (33:26):
I moved to Jackson Heights. Queen's where I was for
Have you ever been to Jackson Kights?

Speaker 2 (33:30):

Speaker 1 (33:30):
Yeah, Jackson Kights is the best. That was My original
sin was leaving Jackson Heights, OH.

Speaker 2 (33:34):
I went to doctor Roschieton there. He was a chiropractor
type in Jackson Heights. Crazy place.

Speaker 1 (33:42):
One of my recent nighttime hobbies to sort of sand
down the corners at the end of the day and
just like relax myself. I'll watch videos of things and
I find that I get drawn to really unusual subjects
for no obvious reason. And a recent one that I've
been taking a lot of pleasure in is chiropractic adjustments
of dogs and it works.

Speaker 3 (34:01):
It works incredibly well.

Speaker 2 (34:02):
And horses. You should see, I have horses. I have
a chiropractor who does my horses.

Speaker 3 (34:06):
I've seen that too, and it helps them so much.
I'm gonna do it. I'll do it.

Speaker 2 (34:11):
Okay. What's it like to raise your kids in Brooklyn?

Speaker 3 (34:14):
I think about that a lot.

Speaker 1 (34:16):
I think about it a lot, especially now that I
have a very young child again.

Speaker 3 (34:20):
And can you know.

Speaker 1 (34:21):
Now I have the benefit of knowing then what I
know now Brooklyn is if I were to live in
New York City, if I were to live in a
city in the United States, I can't imagine living anywhere
other than Brooklyn. In fact, I can't imagine living anywhere
other than my neighborhood. I like it so very much.

Speaker 2 (34:39):
You have a beautiful neighborhood. It is beautifulghe it's so unusual.
It's usually beautiful. And those houses on your street and
the streets around you, these are giant mansions. How many
square feet is your house?

Speaker 3 (34:51):
I don't know.

Speaker 2 (34:52):
It's huge, those three stories high. I didn't look all
around it.

Speaker 3 (34:55):
I'm sure you did.

Speaker 2 (34:56):
No, I didn't know. I know I did not. I
did not. I only went to to the second floor,
to your bedroom, to the hallway. I went into your library,
into your kitchen.

Speaker 1 (35:05):
I have a list of everything that was there by
the way, double check. And I couldn't find my de
ownerant this morning.

Speaker 2 (35:11):
Oh, I do not take that. And you're and that
beautiful living room. It's giant, giant living room. It's like
three living rooms running into each other and big beautiful windows,
has architectural very fine architectural detail. And who built that house?

Speaker 3 (35:25):
You know, I don't know.

Speaker 2 (35:26):
You haven't done research on that? Now when I when
I uh, that is that's a novel, you know when
I'm that neighborhood is a novel.

Speaker 1 (35:33):
I'm sure there you know Sophie's choice the film.

Speaker 2 (35:37):
Was filmed there, film there. Yet when I moved into.

Speaker 3 (35:39):
That house, no one had lived in it for like
four years.

Speaker 1 (35:42):
There were like weeds growing inside. Yeah, it was a
pretty disgusting place. So it took some.

Speaker 2 (35:49):
Any of your children going to be writers, I.

Speaker 3 (35:51):
Have no idea. I don't think so.

Speaker 1 (35:53):
But maybe my my younger son is really into filmmaking
and fifteen just turned fifteen actually two days ago, and
he's truly great at it. And I know that, like
a dad is not the most trustworthy. You know, in
a way, it's harder to make predictions like that now
than it's ever been before, because who knows what the

hell the world's.

Speaker 3 (36:15):
Going to look like?

Speaker 1 (36:16):
Like you saw this new Apple thing.

Speaker 2 (36:19):
I've put those goggles on. Have you done that yet?

Speaker 3 (36:21):

Speaker 2 (36:22):
Oh, it's horrifying. Yeah, there's all sense of reality right away,
and you get you get all disoriented because there's so
much going on right in front of you, so close
and colorful and brilliant. You should rewrite your first book
from God with goggles on. Well, I'm on that. The title.
The title is perfect, it's true.

Speaker 3 (36:42):
Maybe they'll be my corporate sponsor. It could work out,
it could be.

Speaker 1 (36:45):
I'm actually on the hook to write a non fiction
book about technology. Oh good, Yeah, because it's something I
think about a lot and it bothers me a lot.
But I don't know what to do with my feelings.

Speaker 3 (36:55):
About it, because well, it's the same thing.

Speaker 2 (36:58):
It's the same thing as edy animals. We are trying
in technology. It is not going to go away. Did
you watch the hearings this week? There were these there
were these congressional hearings this week on TikTok and on
Instagram making us feel so so bad that these platforms exist.
And I use both platforms, and if you use them

responsibly and playfully, they're okay. But boy, when you lose
them inappropriately, they arouse a tremendous amount of iron and
there's no and there's nobody monitoring them really, and then
they complain about it, and then they want to fire everybody,
and they want the stocks to go down. They want
these companies to go away. They're not going to go away.
So that is a very good book subject for you,

if you could get it, If you can look at
it the way you looked at eating animals, that would
be it would make so many enemies for you. You would
love it.

Speaker 3 (37:49):
I would love it. You know.

Speaker 1 (37:50):
The other day when I came, if you just think
about why we're having this conversation right now. You were
in my house and you sort of had a very
analog experience of moving around the objects in my house,
and you even said, like there were nice architectural details.
I noticed these books. These books were in these languages.
They were on bookshelves. Some of the bookshelves have those

their barrister bookshelves with the glass door. Some of them
were open. Everything has like a character. And in response
to that, you wrote, hand wrote a letter. Yeah, you
could have written a text, you could have written an email.

Speaker 2 (38:22):
Now I wrote you a little note.

Speaker 1 (38:23):
You hand wrote a letter, and you put it on
my bedside table, which is.

Speaker 2 (38:27):
You know you read it. Of course, good read it.
And that's where you know. And then it led to us.

Speaker 1 (38:34):
Sitting in these chairs having this conversation like it scares
me to think that scares me.

Speaker 2 (38:39):
It's a tragedy that that might not happen in the future,
that might not happen, and it's on its way.

Speaker 1 (38:43):
Yeah, And that's when I think about the things I
enjoy most in life and that make me feel most
alive and grateful to be alive.

Speaker 2 (38:51):
Like the human interaction.

Speaker 1 (38:52):
Yeah, those analog things that you touch and taste and
see and engage with your senses and that are interpersonal.

Speaker 2 (38:58):
And you must keep that up with your kids. I
only have one daughter, but her kids I want her
kids to experience all that that I grew up with.
I think you're so right about that. It is the
human interaction that we have to maintain.

Speaker 1 (39:12):
I was walking here from NYU, maybe twenty minute walk,
and I found myself looking at my phone as I walked.

Speaker 2 (39:18):
It's a beautiful day out, and then you're going to
get run over.

Speaker 1 (39:21):
I'm going to get run over or I'm going to
miss everything that's going on.

Speaker 2 (39:25):
And yes, and your children will not have a father.
Don't do that. Do not be running your phone when
you're walking or listening. I don't put earphone, I don't
put earplugs in my ears. I just won't do that
because I don't want to miss what's around me. Yeah,
So if we could only learn how to do that,
it would be better.

Speaker 1 (39:41):
You know you talked about you mentioned that the magazine
is now non existent. Like my impression of that magazine
was it was almost entirely about how to make things
nicer with your hands. That's right, Like, here's how you
can make a table look a little nicer, and believe
it or not, a table that looks a little nicer

inspires a slightly different kind of conversation, slightly different kind of.

Speaker 2 (40:05):
Appreciation does That's what we were crafters, inspirers, and how
to do it yourselfers And if you didn't want to
do it yourself, at least you knew how it had
to be done.

Speaker 1 (40:17):
I think that I've given a lot of thoughts to
this reason. I read a book called The Architecture of
Happiness not that long ago, and the point that the
author was making it's going to sound like he's saying
nothing at all, But when you start to like sit
with it and really think about it, it can make
an impression. Which is, the spaces that we are in

influence the kinds of thoughts and feelings and experiences we have.
So if you walk into Notre Dame, it's almost hard
not to have a deep thought, you know, a deep feeling.

Speaker 2 (40:46):
No more Notre Dame for a while, no more Noture Dam.

Speaker 3 (40:49):
So let's say Saint Patrick's.

Speaker 1 (40:51):
If you walk into McDonald's, it's almost hard not to
have a cheap, styrofoam thought or feeling. And you know
that extends not only be on our physical spaces, but
the kinds of people we spend time with and putting
aside forty five minutes or an hour to have a
conversation with someone you haven't seen in a long time.

Speaker 3 (41:07):
It's like a kind of space.

Speaker 2 (41:09):
Well, I'm very glad that we got together, and I'm
very glad to hear about your work, about your progress
as a very very fine and acclaimed author in the
American genre of literature, and I wish you well in
all your future endeavors. So I'm not going to ask
you about your new book, but I hope when it
is out that you will come back and speak to

me on our podcast.

Speaker 1 (41:31):
I would love that, and I hope it won't be
as long as it was since our last conversation, I hope.

Speaker 2 (41:35):
So thank you very much, Jonathan Saffron for and be
sure to pick up We Are the Weather to learn
more about climate change. Eight
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