Loyal newcomers to Brooklyn’s crowded literary scene are taking issue with one of its godfathers. In the L.A. Times this weekend, Motherless Brooklyn author Jonathan Lethem, he of the all-night readings at Book Court and center stage at Brooklyn Book Fair, had some disparaging words for the borough he abandoned for a professorship at Pomona last year. “It’s not the best place to write. The mental traffic level is very high here. Here, you have traffic problems; there, you have mental traffic problems,” he told the Times, adding:
“Brooklyn is repulsive with novelists, it’s cancerous with novelists. That can sometimes be too much when you need to also be inside yourself, exploring your own meandering feelings, not dictated by your environment, but dictated instead by what you read that day, or something else.”
In Brooklyn’s defense, first-time Fort Greene author Carey Wallace, who recently published The Blind Contessa, said, “The vibrant literary scene in Brooklyn — and the noise and ‘traffic’ it generates — aren’t something I’m likely to take for granted — let alone complain about,” adding, “In my experience, a writer’s only weapon is their ability to direct the traffic in their own head. As far as I’m concerned, the level of ‘mental traffic’ here in Brooklyn keeps us in fighting shape. It’s not an edge I’d want to lose.”
That might be easier to say when you’re writing about nineteenth-century Italy and not trying to capture a moment in New York history, but maybe wait until you’ve been called for comment on the umpteenth article about why Fort Greene is the nexus of the literary universe and how you stack up to the other Jonathans before you give a man a hard time for preferring sunny California.