Feature

Author of the week: E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow likes to do things the hard way.

E.L. Doctorow likes to do things the hard way, said Manuel Roig-Franzia in The Washington Post. While he’s working, the 83-year-old author of Ragtime and Billy Bathgate even welcomes the kinds of distractions that give other writers fits. “The important thing is to not be too comfortable,” he says. “Noise in the street? That’s good. The computer goes down? All these things are good. It has to be a little bit of a struggle.” With his latest novel, he’s also ditched the comforts of straightforward storytelling. Andrew’s Brain unfolds as a time-warping conversation between a troubled neuroscientist and a frequently confused interrogator. “I do think this book, more than most, judges its readers,” Doctorow says. “If someone is looking for ordinary formulaic fiction, this is not it.”

Andrew’s Brain’s themes are challenging too, said David Wolf in The Observer (U.K.). Ever since he studied philosophy as a Kenyon College undergraduate, Doctorow has been fascinated with questions about cognition that materialists like Andrew can’t answer. Neuroscientists, Doctorow says, still can’t explain “how the brain becomes the mind”—how it generates a sense of individual consciousness. He, for one, hopes that the riddle is never solved and that scientists never manage to replicate human consciousness in a computer. “If that ever happens,” he says, “it’s the end of the mythic world that we’ve lived in since the Bronze Age, with all the stories we’ve told ourselves about what human life is. That could be as much of a disaster as an asteroid hitting the planet.”

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