She Said, Z Said: Judging Michael Lewis’ Books Not by Their Covers But Their Characters
Some authors have all the fun, like writing a book about Obama just because they can
She: When I grow up I want to be Michael Lewis.
Z: And I’ll be J.K. Rowling. Do we have to buy more costumes. Is this like our Friday night Stewardess and Pilot thing?
She: Michael Lewis is an excellent story teller. He takes these complex stories about things I’m not all that interested in, like Wall Street and baseball, and turns them into gold. Not only do they make gazillions of dollars, but unlike some best-selling authors, his books are actually really good.
Z: He says he tried to write about the financial crisis like he was explaining it to his mother.
She: Or to me, which is probably even more difficult.
Z: Now you want to be his mother? I don’t know if we can get that costume.
Z: At least he’s older than I am.
She: True. But not that much older. And you heard what his new gig is, right?
Z: Yes. I was sitting right next to you when he came to UCSB Arts & Lectures.
She: He’s shadowing President Barack Obama for the next four or five months to, oh, “maybe write a book of some sort about what it’s like to be president.” He’s not quite sure what he’s going to do with the information. How great is that? Michael Lewis got unprecedented access to the president of the United States and he doesn’t even have a firm idea of what his story is going to be.
Z: I was the president of seventh grade, so you already know what it’s like. Lucky you.
She: My favorite story he shared was that he thinks Obama has a writer’s sensibility. Obama has kept journals for his whole life and wrote short stories as a young man. Lewis said it was clear that if one of those short stories had been accepted by a publisher, Obama might not be president.
Z: That’s clearly my problem. I never should have sold that screenplay. I could totally be president now.
She: Not only does Lewis write these incredibly successful books, people just love the guy. He still stays in touch with all of the people he writes about.
Z: It’s easier to do that when your characters aren’t fictional.
She: Even with Liar’s Poker, where he took on Wall Street in the 1980s. As he said, “Not only did I burn bridges, I thought I left plastic explosives on the side of the remains.” But his old colleagues still want to go out for a beer with him.
Z: Well, sure. Free beer.
She: He said, “I tend to stay in touch with pretty much everybody I write about. They become characters in my life.”
Z: I like that the nonfiction author talks about his subjects as “characters.”
She: I think that might be the secret to his writing. He looks at it as telling stories in a similar way that a fiction writer might, which is why he says he doesn’t quite know the story beforehand. “When you come to people without knowing the answer, it’s more interesting.”
Z: Ah. That could be my problem. I already know all the answers.
She: He had a great quote: “You write your book, but the reader reads the book he wants to read. You find out what that is later.”
Z: A little bittersweet.
She: I’ve had that experience before with stories I’ve written.
Z: See, you could be your own version of Michael Lewis, just write a book already.
She: I’d love to, and if I had the opportunity to shadow Obama I’m pretty sure I could get a book out of it. My problem is I don’t know who or what it is that I’m interested enough in to invest that much time and energy into.
Z: Work the other way. If you could have complete access to anyone or anything in the world to write a book about, what would you want to do?
Z: And I’d want to do Leonardo Da Vinci. Should we go get those costumes?
She: Yes, dear.