A Conversation with Colum McCann
Colum: A lot of people are falling for Tillie. But every now and then you have someone come along and say, "I thought those weird phone freakers out in California were a lot of fun." I want to send a copy to Bill Gates and find out what he thinks of them, because he was a freaker. Gates and, as far as I know, all those guys who became computer hackers would break into the phone system early on. Which is a wonderful idea that they were all sitting there breaking into phone lines.
O: Why did you include that section about the freakers anyway?
Colum: The novel folds over from 1974 on to 2006 or where we are now. Vietnam folds over to some extent on Iraq. They're not exact maps of each other, but the section about the freakers is definitely a metaphor for the Internet. Today, we can be absolutely everywhere instantaneously. We can be at Michael Jackson's memorial, look at a camera that is on Kings Road in London, or we can Google Earth ourselves down to Australia. In the summer of 1974, the Web didn't exist yet, but people had begun sending e-mail messages, and these guys from California could phone-freak in and "experience" Petit's walk.
O: Which brings us to our last question: Can you recommend any summer books for the Oprah.com readers?
Colum: I have different books for different times of the day, let alone different seasons of the year! I picked up this little Argentinean book, An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by César Aira, which is a very interesting, off-beat book. I'm reading Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault. She's one of the most glorious writers around. And Colson Whitehead's Sag Harbor, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Nec. It's like hitting different notes all at once.
Start reading Let the Great World Spin and get the reading group guide.