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Alex Shakar at Powell’s

September 2, 2011

From the look on his face, I think Alex Shakar thought he was on Candid Camera last night.  The author was at Powell’s to read and was surprised and delighted to meet two fans (Rachel Wiseman and Lisa Russell pictured above with Shakar) wearing T-shirts with quotes from his novel, The Savage Girl, emblazoned across their fronts.  He wrote it 10 years ago and it garnered huge critical acclaim and apparently a fan club.
His latest book, Luminarium, has also racked up early praise. Dave Eggers blurbs on the jacket, “This book is funny and soulful and very sad, but so intellectually invigorating that you’ll want to read it twice.”  In a nutshell,  the story revolves around twin brothers, Fred and George Brounian, who were once co-CEOs of a NYC software company that created utopian virtual worlds.  But when the novel starts, George is in a coma and Fred has lost control of the company.  He’s broke and living with his parents.  We follow Fred as he tries to wrestle his way back into his company, falls for a girl, and takes part in a neurological study that promises to give him “peak” experiences and a new profound spiritual outlook on life.   I think that if you don’t plan to read it twice, at least read it slowly, because there’s a lot going on.
After reading a few passages from Luminarium, Shakar said it took him a decade to write it because “it took me awhile to get beneath the surface of this story. It’s a complicated story and it’s a story that if done wrong could go wrong in all sorts of ways.”
The densely layered Luminarium is packed full of details from diverse areas of knowledge which prompted the question of whether he did all the research first.  Shakar replied, “The way that I work – I don’t know if it’s the most efficient way to work – I try to prepare for the story I’m writing, but I don’t always know what that story is.  I’ll do all the research I can. For example, once I figured out that Florida was in the book, I went down to Florida and hung out in the the military entertainment complex and got the Holy Land experience.  I do a lot of reading.  I try to make all sorts of notes and outlines and try to get some idea of where I’m going, and then I plunge in and start writing and all that goes out the window.  Then, I just have to follow the truth of the moment and where the story is taking me.  I’ll do that and the outline gets proven wrong pretty quickly and I’ll go off on my own until, eventually, maybe I’ll get some good stuff and then, eventually, I’ll get lost and I’ll have to go and get the aerial view again and try and remap where I am.”
When asked what pearls of wisdom he imparts to his students Shakar said,  “I just try not to get in the way too much. I think that if there’s anything I stress in my classes it’s about approaching a work of fiction with a certain amount of humility.”
After I got home, I read what he inscribed in my copy of Luminarium and it reads: To Diane, Thanks so much for organizing this event. Enjoy!  Alex Shakar.  Whoa Alex!  You need to know that I did not organize the event – I’m just another geeky fan.  Those girls were totally on their own.

Soho Press, 2011

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