Colson Whitehead on 'Harlem Shuffle'

Subscribe: Apple podcasts | Spotify | Stapler | How to listen Colson Whitehead’s new novel, “Harlem Shuffle” revolves arou...


Colson Whitehead’s new novel, “Harlem Shuffle” revolves around Ray Carney, a Harlem furniture retailer in the 1960s with criminal activity. It’s a relatively light novel, certainly compared to “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys”, Whitehead’s two previous novels, each of which won the Pulitzer Prize.

“I usually do a lighter book then a heavier book, but I felt compelled to write ‘The Nickel Boys’ around the time I did it,” Whitehead said in this week’s podcast. . “I knew that in the detective genre, there is more room for jokes. There is just a lot more room to play. So that I can exercise my humor muscle again. And then right away, Carney… I wanted him to win, as soon as he appeared on the page. He was someone who wasn’t as determined by the circumstances – slavery, Jim Crow – as the characters in those two previous novels. And he succeeds in a few capers. And I think we – or at least I supported him. So immediately, the tone was different, and I gave myself to it.

Colm Toibin visits the podcast to talk about his new novel, “The magician,” based on the life of the great German writer Thomas Mann. Toibin says the book is not an attempt to “inhabit” Mann, or fully understand him, which is impossible with such a complex person.

“This is not an attempt to corner him, so that by the end of the book you really know him,” Toibin says. “I’m as interested in his unfamiliarity as in trying to paint a very clear picture of him. I think this is an important question. I often hear novelists say, “I felt like I really knew my character. And I often feel the opposite. I often feel like my character has become even more elusive as I try again to get into their minds.

Also in this week’s episode, Tina Jordan reflects on the history of book review as she celebrates her 125th birthday; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they read. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed in “What We Read” this week:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode and the Book Review podcast in general. You can send them to books@nytimes.com.

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