Paul Harding Talks Tinkers

Christopher Lydon read Maine-sourced Tinkers three times and then interviewed author Paul Harding in May 2009 for Radio Open Source, almost a year before Tinkers won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, awarded to a work "preferably dealing with American life." Elizabeth Strout's linked stories about Mainer Olive Kitteridge won the same prize in 2009, so now we know that Maine is très Americaine. Lydon's 57+ minutes with Harding offer a generous sampling of Tinkers in the author's voice (five excerpts!), an unstuffy exploration of his neo-Transcendentalism, and also a lively recounting of Harding's itinerant formation as a drummer-writer-teacher-man. You can listen to this episode from Open Source's webpage on Tinkers, or download it for portability by using one techniques from the BBC FAQ page (command+click works on my Mac). The Harding interview episode is no longer listed on Radio Open Source's iTunes podcast feed, but you might want to subscribe to see if Lydon turns up any more Pulitzer Prizewinners early in the race.

A New England Voice
This Tinkers interview reminded me how wonderful it is when literary podcasters invite authors to read their work. As much as I enjoy the New Yorker: Fiction podcast, it's a crapshoot whether the admiring contributor's voice clashes with or enhances the chosen story; other podcasts are too much chat and not enough text. Lydon seems to get the balance right. Here's a guide to the excerpts from Tinkers that Harding reads aloud in this interview:

(Go to Open Source Radio's Tinkers page, and then press the Play arrow, and then use your mouse to drag the gray status bar to the desired audio Minute):

Tinkers Audio Excerpts:
Minute 5:20: Selling "better" soap to turn-of-the-century skeptics.
Minute 9: Backwoods dentistry with a fillip of Hawthorne.
Minute 31:30: The exquisite language of clock parts.
Minute 35:40: Kindness and flirtation for the dying.
Minute 40:40: Manual transmission for the autodidact on Christmas Eve.

The Author's Formation
Interspersed with the readings Harding talks about his New England roots and his fascination with prior generations. He shares a selection of his literary and Transcendental influences, including Carlos Fuentes, Michael Ondaatje, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, the Tyndale Bible, and Thomas Mann. He also recounts his Candide-like entry into the hallowed Writer's Workshop program at the University of Iowa (Minute 23), where he became a disciple of Marilynne Robinson and a fan of Elizabeth McCracken.

Keeping Time
A rock drummer who toured with a band in his youth and trashed his hearing, Harding makes some interesting comments on the relationship between drumming and writing. "I'm just fascinated by the experience of time, of being in time, and all these characters sort of thinking about time and all that. As a drummer, that's what you do--you're the time keeper." (Minute 45:30) Harding also lays down a useful drum track for writing students: "Write as clearly, and straightforwardly, and precisely as you can about things that are truly mysterious, as opposed to writing obscurely about what proves to be received opinion or cliché." (Minute 50).

Click here to listen to the Open Source Radio interview with Paul Harding.

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