What Do the PDFs Say about This?: Brandon Taylor and Stephanie Insley Hershinow

“What are the systems of power in this fictional context andthe story world I'm making? What are the stakes? What are the values?”

Our partner podcast Novel Dialogue invites a novelist and a literary critic to talk about novels from every angle: how we read them, write them, publish them, and remember them. This season’s signature question is: “What is the first book you remember loving?”

Brandon Taylor practices moral worldbuilding in his fiction—that means an essential piece of these worlds is the “real possibility that someone could get punched in the face.” Brandon, author of the novels Real Life and The Late Americans, joins Stephanie Insley Hershinow for a wide-ranging, engrossing, and often hilarious conversation about the stakes of the novel today. They discuss Brandon’s “Hot Freud Summer,” during which he read all of Sigmund Freud’s essential works, as an example of an intellectual journey that engages with what Brandon calls the PDFs of criticism: the histories of ideas that he wishes to track back to their origins. Along the way, Brandon reveals what he has taken away from the Romance genre (“everything”), his conviction that The House of Mirth is the prototypical social media novel, and how he tries to avoid writing characters that are just “three spritzes of a personality standing in a room.” Brandon, Stephanie, and Chris close things out with their answers to the signature question about the first books they loved, and the answers are … revealing.




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View a transcript of the episode here.




Mentioned in this Episode

By Brandon Taylor:

Also mentioned:

Featured image: An illustration from the back cover of A Is for Apple, W Is for Witch by Catherine Dexter. Illustration by Capucine Mazille .