Author Interview: Karen Joy Fowler


Author Karen Joy Fowler Photo by: Brett Hall Jones

Author Karen Joy Fowler
Photo by: Brett Hall Jones

Karen Joy Fowler, the author of We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, recently answered questions from Books in Common about her book and speaking experiences at Community Reads and All Campus Reads programs.

What are some of the “teachable” moments in your latest book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which help it work well for a Community/Campus Reads program?

The book deals with a number of issues, all quite fascinating to me.  Among them are memory and how we now think it works; theory of mind and who has it and who doesn’t; recent developments in animal cognition; and what separates humans from the other animals.  I did my best to be quite current in my research, although the book was finished a few years ago now and animal studies are a fast moving field.

What do you think of the Community Reads structure as a literary event format?

I love events with people who have already read the book and will have questions and issues of their own as a result.  I love being with people who have already shown that they care about books and reading and stories as much as I do.

Would you share some notable experiences you’ve had at Common Reads events or other literary events that you’ve participated in?

I’ve done so many by now and over many years.  I’ve had tremendous audiences with smart and surprising questions and I’ve had turnouts so small I skipped my reading and took everyone out for drinks instead.  One of my most memorable events was at a bookstore two days after September 11th.  I wanted to cancel – I couldn’t imagine anyone would show up –  but the bookstore was insistent and it turned out to be a wonderful evening.  I had an audience of about fifteen and we sat and talked for a couple of hours about what the role of fiction in our lives was and why it mattered to us.  Many different answers, all of them so thoughtful.  I think people were just happy to get away from the television, even if briefly.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has accomplished the rare feat of winning a prestigious literary fiction prize (the 2014 PEN/Faulkner) and being nominated for one of the nation’s top science fiction/fantasy awards (the Nebula Award). As one of the few authors to win acclaim in both literary and speculative fiction circles, which are often viewed as mutually exclusive genres, do you think there are similarities between literary and speculative fiction? What do you think that readers can learn and take away from both genres?

We live in a science fictional world these days.  Animals are created in laboratories; brain scans are used as evidence in murder trials; there is a new app for war-torn countries that you can use to tell your family you are still alive; revolutions take place on twitter; the sixth mass extinction is well underway.  I could go on.  Science fiction has become the new realism and the great divide between it and literary work is no longer great.  Or even much of a divide.

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