Coming to the Festival of Books: Charles Yu

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Charles Yu, the author of ‘How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,’ is a working attorney in Los Angeles. He was named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 in 2007 after publishing his first book, ‘Third Class Superhero,’ a collection of short stories.

Yu will be at the Festival of Books on Sunday on the 12:30 p.m. panel ‘Fiction Inside Out,’ with Aimee Bender, Chris Adrian and Grace Krilanovich. Tickets, which are free with a $1 processing fee, become available Sunday from Eventbrite.


Jacket Copy: You seem to be writing between or across genres -- literary speculative fiction and science fiction that’s informed by both pop culture and Kafka. Where do you see your writing fitting? Whose work would you like to see your books shelved next to?

Charles Yu: I like writing, as you put it, ‘between or across genres’ because it seems to me that it’s a good representation of how I actually exist. I sometimes feel like a person who is in the wrong kind of story, trying to figure out the rules and conventions of my environment.

As for shelving, I’ve seen my novel shelved with literary fiction and with science fiction, and both make me very happy. I think where it is shelved is really a reader’s decision, right? My idea of where it ought to be shelved is probably too limiting. I mean, ideally, I’d love to be on the shelf that has Lethem, Chabon, Adams, Harkaway, Egan, but then again, who wouldn’t want to be on that shelf? I don’t think I can get there properly, so maybe I’ll have to slip pages from my book into the books on that shelf. That’s a great shelf, right there, although if there is a shelf like that in a bookstore, the store clerk might want to work on the alphabetizing a little bit, because it’s sort of all over the place with L, C, A, H and E all on the same shelf. But really, any shelf is good with me. Even the remainder bin is OK. As long as it’s not the one outside the store where it is basically inviting you to steal the books inside.

JC: ‘How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe’ is very funny. Do you ever crack up while writing?

CY: I’m glad you think so! I can safely say I’ve never cracked myself up while writing, though. The only people I can crack up on a regular basis are my kids, and the way I do that is to dance around like a malfunctioning robot or cause bodily injury to myself.

JC: Were there ways law school prepared you for being a writer in ways that an MFA couldn’t?

CY: I work for a great company in Venice called Digital Domain. The texture of daily life in an office, that’s something I value greatly. As for law school [Columbia] specifically, it was an ego-bruising experience for me. Maybe even ego-destroying. I remember getting there the first day and looking around and realizing, whoa, these people are all adults. They all just seemed so much more equipped to handle real life than I did. And New York knocked me around a bit. All good things, I think.

JC: Are you looking forward to anything in particular at the Festival of Books this year?

CY: I am definitely looking forward to meeting the other novelists I’m going to be on a panel with. ‘On a panel with?’ Empaneled with? Co-panelized with? I am not good with the terminology of panels and festivals. I am looking forward to meeting them, though, as I’ve admired their writing from afar. As for the rest of the festival, it’s too much to even take in. I’m going to bring my autograph book and stalk my favorite writers.

JC: What do you think about the Festival of Books being at USC this year?

CY: Well, my dad went to UCLA, and I went to Berkeley, so I have mixed feelings, because USC has long tormented us, sports-wise. I’m going to have to plant some blue-and-gold flags around campus.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg