Jenny Offill Thinks Children Should Learn Survival Skills to Prepare for the Future


-One of my favorite things to
talk to writers about is their process, how long it
takes them to write a book. You take a longer —
You’re on the longer side. Not judging.
-I take a while. Sometimes, people see
the length of the book, and they sort of wonder, what
was I doing all of those years? -Yeah. ‘Cause this is about a —
This is a 200-pager. It’s a wonderful book.
It’s an incredibly fast read. And then — But fast reads,
of course, are not fast writes. -This one took me about
six or seven years, which is kind of fast for me. -Really? -Sometimes, people say, “Oh, did
you write a really long book and then cut it down?” And the truth is — I’m like a
Depression-era writer. Like, I save every little bit
and only at the end makes up, like, a whole piece of string. -You refer to yourself
as a good self-editor, yes? You don’t need an editor
to tell you to cut it down. That is your own style. -No, I think I refer to myself
sort of as a merciless editor. -Merciless.
You have no mercy for yourself. -No mercy for myself. But sometimes — I mean, often
at the beginning of a novel, you have all sorts of
grandiose ideas about it, and I sometimes think,
“Oh, this one is going to be really long. And — But it — It’s like at
least 10 pages longer than “Dept. of Speculation.” So, you know, if you’re feeling
like you want more — If you want a little more bang
for your buck, here it is. -This is a —
The narrator, Lizzie — she is someone who
is sort of having fears about the End Times, yes? She’s working for
an old mentor who runs a — has a podcast about
climate change, and she starts fearing
about the future because of the environment. Are these fears
that you are having? Is that what inspired sitting
down and writing this book? -Well, I certainly fell down
a few rabbit holes while I was writing it. There is a lot of
doomer information on the web. I mean, for example,
I had no idea that chewing gum
was so important. Like, there’s entire websites
about how you have to have chewing gum
when the collapse comes. -Oh, really?
-Right. Well, because
I guess the main thing is that your brain thinks
if you’re chewing gum, things aren’t that bad. -Wow. -That’s why they do it
in the Army, and, apparently, lots of
preppers are always like — And also, apparently, it helps
you create a sense of goodwill if you offer gum
to your fellow collapsitarian. -That’s really good to know. -And you can fish with it, I
guess, if you have a paper clip. -Oh, wow. Look at this. Now I feel like
I’m going to be fine. -Yeah.
-Yeah. -So that’s the kind of
info I try to bring in. -You mentioned you go down
rabbit holes on the Internet. I think we’re all used to that. But you have a very —
a game of sorts you play when you go to
a library. -Yeah, I mean,
I call it library roulette. And it’s basically just that
I go to a library, ideally one that has sort of — has not discarded many books
over the years so that you can go anywhere. And then I just have one rule,
which is that I can’t go to the fiction
or the poetry section, which are my
normal wheelhouses. And then I just walk along
and I look at books and I pull them out
and I flip through them. And it doesn’t seem like
there’s going to be something amazing in, like,
a short history of air-conditioning in America,
but, like, often, there is, like, one radiant fact
that I want to pull out. -That’s wonderful. And, I mean, I think,
ultimately, all writers are looking
for that one thing that will maybe send them down
a bit of work, and that’s a very unique way
of going about it. -Yeah. -You have found that one of the
ways to get people to — or have the message of sort of
climate change resonate with people is to remind them of
the following generation, either, you know, your children or just the next generation
of humans. Have you found that
has been helpful when you try to warn people
about what’s coming? -Well, I feel like I was
sort of a bad, you know, dinner guest for a while.
and a bad person on the playground,
because especially when I still lived in New York,
there would be those conversations that
New York parents have that are all about how, like, making your child
ready for the future and how incredibly efficient
they’re going to be. And they’d say, “Oh, I think
they should learn Mandarin.” And I’d be like,
“Oh, archery, archery.” Something like that. And, usually,
I’d just get a little — I’d just get a little look,
you know? -Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Well, you know what? I think with the week and all
the news that’s happening, archery is maybe a pretty good
thing for all of us. -I think we have to go back for
another printing and put little
hand-washing tips in. -Hey, thank you so much
for being here. Congrats on the book.
What a delight to have you here. Jenny Offill, everybody.

  1. Sam

    Natural selection is coming back to haunt the species that thought they transcended. Evolution is the hurt locker. Good luck, my brothers and sisters.

  2. Heartland Sadie

    I've never heard such terrifying implications of the future wrapped up in jokes and giggles. ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

  3. E Lewis

    A fantastic writer–so glad that Seth had her on! Her earlier novel Dept. of Speculation is the best portrayal of a difficult marriage I've ever read.

  4. Rebel 4 Life

    No mention of the recent Antarctic Heat wave or Australia losing 22 % of it's Forrests and a billion plus creatures in Hellish Flames?

    Guess that's just not very funny!?!?!?

  5. Kate

    I admit I have encouraged my nephews in their archery. They got bows last year…. I have also felt relief that I don't have my own children…

  6. Kay Sloan

    As a writer, it no longer surprises me that people are shocked that it can take from four to even eight years or more to write a book, even a short one. The "fast reads" are the ones you slave over, page by page, editing, combing through the prose, sentence by sentence. They think books are written the same way they might write a check, I guess. It's a disappointing lack of appreciation for the art of writing — and it does surprise me coming from Seth Meyers. I'd have thought he was more aware than this. She's a wonderful writer/artist!

  7. Drexel Finnicum

    Spent two winter outside in Alaska and one camping on the mountain behind University of Missoula,Mt. while attending classes. I started 15 years ago. Humans cannot be trusted for anything.

  8. will crow

    In every other country kids are learning these 'survival skills' because they're a necessary part of everyday survival. What's never been an option for them, is what we need to teach here.
    You can't hold up a stress card, you can't have a time out, you don't win by just participating.
    Professors from Australian universities are moving themselves and their families to New Zealand because the chances of survival there are better than other places on the planet. Billionaires are buying citizenship there and building million dollar bunker-bolt-hole homes.

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