On a recent, cloudy Thursday afternoon, four booksellers gathered together in the Book Chat Chat Room to discuss Rebecca Makkai’s recent release, I Have Some Questions for You. You can read the transcript of that conversation — about podcasting empires, time capsules, and drunk tweets — below.
(Small warning: we’ve redacted major spoilers from this conversation, but some vague allusions to certain events and settings remain.)
Kelsey F: Inaugural Book Chat Chat Room! Let's go!
Sarah R: Let’s talk about BOOKS.
Michelle C: Books books books!!!
SR: (One SPECIFIC book!)
KF: I Have Some Questions for You about I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai.
KF: First: how did we each come across the book and what made us decide to pick it up?
SR: Makkai tweeted the cover announcement with: “the literary feminist boarding school murder mystery you didn’t know you needed!”
KF: And then you slacked those tweets to me and I immediately added it to my TBR.
MC: I for sure heard about it from Sarah, excitedly sending that tweet out on Slack like a bat signal.
Keith M: I immediately emailed the publisher's representative about getting copies ASAP.
SR: Like a hero.
MC: (And we’re so thankful!!!!)
KM: I was such a fan of The Great Believers.
KF: I'm so curious about The Great Believers now.
MC: I haven’t read any of her others! But hard same on TGB curiosity
SR: I had wanted to read Believers but then never ended up getting around to it, so I just had this vague idea that Makkai would be an author I’d love.
I mean, I’m going to tell everyone to read it and then immediately call me when they finish.
MC: The working-in-a-bookstore curse!
KM: TGB was a finalist for both the NBA and Pulitzer Prize, and I was excited to see how she'd follow that up.
KF: How did we all feel about the book? I think I loved it. I read it very quickly
SR: I also think I loved it. I mean, I’m going to tell everyone to read it and then immediately call me when they finish.
KM: It's very much a work of think-piece fiction, so I'm still thinking about it.
MC: I definitely loved reading it, and feel like I will love reading it again. I’m still chewing on some of my feelings about it, but in a very satisfying way.
SR: Before we really get into it: Keith, with this being a follow up to TGB and with your reference to it being a “think piece,” how was it as a follow-up? How do the two works compare? (In vagaries, I know we’re trying not to spoil people.)
This book is by a columnist, but TGB was by a historian.
was very focused on the AIDS crisis in the mid-eighties, and the way that past traumas live on; it was 50 percent set in the present, but it felt like a work focused on history. IHSQFY
is a work about right now. That gives it some fresh energy; it also changes the way I regard the social commentary. This book is by a columnist, but TGB
was by a historian.
That does meander me toward my next question, which is very much about how the main character, Bodie, interacts with the Right Now. Sarah, in your blurb for it, you said, “Even while mentally screaming ‘maybe don’t enable this!’ to the protagonist, I blazed through with a similar single-minded need to know where this went, who did it, and what will happen now.” Would love to discuss the moments where I really wanted to just… shake her.
I really did mentally scream this a lot
while reading. Quick backup to summarize this book for people, the set up is: film professor and podcaster Bodie Kane gets the chance to teach a short summer course at the New Hampshire boarding school (Granby) where she unhappily spent her high school years and where during
those unhappy years a classmate (Thalia) was murdered. Presumably this murder is solved (someone is definitely in prison) but heading back to campus causes Bodie to go down a deep “what if the facts are wrong” rabbit hole and she ends up mentoring some of her podcast students through making a true crime podcast about
the murder. The book jumps between time periods so you get to have Bodie’s memories of the place and the events alongside the reexamination of those events and the escalation that leads to. Does that cover it? Just vague enough?
I think that covers it! It really is at the exact nexus of "campus novel meets true crime story," which is unfortunately such a sweet spot for me.
Perfect. So essentially, I started going “no Bodie no don’t enable this” as soon as she brought up Thalia in podcasting class (podcasting class at boarding school! how now!
) and then let her students actually go ahead with the project.
And then getting more and more involved??
She questions true crime media from the get go and then enables it!
I found it a little uncomfortably relatable that she was so fixated on her own choice to include Thalia as a possible topic! That she sort of knew she shouldn’t have included her, and that she kept coming back to her own plausible deniability in putting her in a list rather than highlighting it specifically, and that she was a little fixated on the choice!
(Small sidenote that everything happening right now with Serial
and Adnan Syed feels like a pretty fascinating real-life parallel.)
Am I the only big podcast listener who spent a lot of the book trying to identify which podcasts were being satirized? It seems interesting that she's pulling a bunch of different, famous podcasters and just remixing them freely. There were moments where I had to remind myself that Bodie isn't actually the You Must Remember This
host, so she can pivot to a Serial
-style podcast if she chooses. Though the podcast fan in me wants to state that those are very different skill sets!
SR: Sarah Marshall
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
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would NEVER enable this, but I do imagine even fictional podcasts in her voice.
@KM I was definitely doing this! (Or really, trying to connect Bodie to other podcast amalgamations in pop culture, like the folks on Only Murders in the Building
I spent approximately 90 percent of this book mentally yelling at Bodie. I had visceral reactions to some of the decisions she was making.
(the drunk tweeting
Kelsey, I feel like the ARC that we read like naturally opens to that page.
Of course it does! I’d be reading and think, "oh god, oh no," and would have to put the book down, probably open in that exact spot.
Bad, bad, bad news bears. We’re yelling at Bodie but she’s addressing the whole book to someone else.
Such a fascinating authorial choice!! To address the book to this character!!
The thing is it's never clear when this book is written in Bodie's timeline. It's one of the interesting themes in this book. I don’t know if any of you have read Rachel Cusk’s last book [Second Place
]. I don't think it's the one to start on, but in the second paragraph she refers to somebody who this is being directly addressed to, and then we learn nothing about them for the entire rest of the book. There’s somebody who she's talking to and we don't know who it is.
I didn't think of it as a book that was written at any point in Bodie's life. I thought it was just a present second person “you,” so she is going through it and her thoughts are to this second person.
[Redacted for spoilers].
I don't really think you could detective it, because I think the point that Makkai's making is that it could have been any of these men.
I do wonder if there will be a post-Twitter time when we look back on fiction that included it in the plot and regard it as a mystifying oddity.
I do wonder if there will be a post-Twitter time when we look back on fiction that included it in the plot and regard it as a mystifying oddity. (In the present time, I regard it as a mystifying oddity.)
RIP Twitter, you were the worst website.
And you changed me foreverrrr.
I think one of the interesting time capsules that might exist for our strange, brief period will be when fiction writers included Twitter in their books. My hope is that Twitter goes away and then it's just like, "Huh. That was a weird thing that no writer mastered or even figured out how to do." The most successful version is by Patricia Lockwood
, but that's some sort of metaphysical Twitter.
This is something I’m stuck on. Reading that the modern-day parts were set in 2018, I was like, "ah, this is how authors are like getting around the pandemic." And then it jumps ahead further, so then I was thinking about these three different chunks of time. Which was exciting. Like, "oh, I get to find out what happened with your husband and what's going on here?"
She’s [redacted for spoilers].
I did love the circus of the trial.
The hotel was so good. You can't be here, but you can be here.
Can't talk to Podcast Girl, but you can talk to Podcast Boy cause he's not on the stand.
2018 also makes perfect sense, because it is a #MeToo book.
I love this discussion of all of the different time capsule elements in the book.
Did you all regard the Twitter theme as an interesting area of ambiguity? Or did you think it was simply Rebecca Makkai (who is very on Twitter) attacking the idea of Twitter? When I was reading this, I was like, is everybody above the age of thirty going to read this as an attack on wokeness? And also, why are you bringing Marina Abramovic into this? It certainly felt like she was satirizing them. But I am older than everyone else in this chat room by a lot.
I read it as no good players here. The artist is culpable, Jerome is culpable, Bodie’s culpable. The lesson being more that it’s dangerous to conflate every incident to the same level.
I’m already screaming at her — “don’t enable this,” “don’t do that,” “you are doing weird, bad things.”
I definitely had those thoughts while I was reading it. At very first blush, it felt extremely anti-cancel culture or anti-woke culture. But I don't think that it necessarily was because I think that with Bodie, it was definitely a character moment and not an author moment. I’m already screaming at her — “don’t enable this,” “don’t do that,” “you are doing weird, bad things.”
This is a huge question in literature today. We've all become very used to autofiction and people are bad at media literacy and there’s this tendency to conflate the author’s opinions with the character’s. I’m worried that people will read it and feel that way. [Ed. note: this is why everyone should read Monsters
by Claire Dederer!]
I think maybe the statement that's being made is about the way people do the court of public opinion. And we go to literal court in this book. So it's this precursor/microcosm of Bodie being a little too engaged in the public sphere, which carries through the whole novel.
With the Twitter theme and the two opposing sides, Makkai did seem enthused for one and not for the other. It's one of the very interesting things about the book that I have no idea how to talk about here.
It was uncomfortable. And I think many parts of this book were interestingly uncomfortable in that way.
I think that's one of the main things I liked about it, was how interestingly uncomfortable it was. I like that phrase.
Yes. One of the things I liked about the book is that it is uncomfortable but isn’t cringe. This is the kind of discomfort I would like to sit in. Please.
You're sitting in this uncomfortable space with characters who are making uncomfortable decisions, but Bodie knows, and Makkai obviously knows, about our obsession with crime and murdered girls and problematic men.
SR: There was a point in the first third where I was like, "oh, I cannot endorse the decisions that are being made by anyone here. Should I stop reading this book?" And I simply could not. Because at that point, I needed to know who murdered Thalia. I needed someone to get a comeuppance. And I think that that was very clever. You're sitting in this uncomfortable space with characters who are making uncomfortable decisions, but Bodie knows, and Makkai obviously knows, about our obsession with crime and murdered girls and problematic men. It was propulsive in that way.
MC: The piece where she goes through the different suspects and potential scenarios. I realize it's very Dateline: here's the dramatization, here's how it could have happened. And thinking about it, I'm like, "I have read through and watched this girl die several times now, which is not normally what I'm drawn to, but I'm completely sucked in."
MC: And I’m also thinking about it in terms of this larger podcasting trend and empire and where my discomfort falls within that and thinking about where I might be culpable but can see why this exists. I am entertained. I’m in it.
SR: Yeah. That's a really great point, Michelle. I forgot how many times you have to bear reading- witness to the death of Thalia, because every time Bodie has a new idea of who might’ve done it, you get walked through it as if that's exactly how it happened. And they all seem plausible, which is the terror and fascination that people have with this type of narrative. It could have been anyone.
KF: Speaking of deaths, I guess, this is unfortunately all the time we have! Thank you all so much for discussing I Have Some Questions for You. I feel like I have a deepened appreciation for the book now because of it.
MC: Thanks so much for getting us all together!!! I’m already pitching IHSQFY to my book club so I can keep screaming about it.
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Book Chat Questions (Including Many We Didn’t Get To):
- How did you initially find the book and what convinced you to read it?
- How would you describe the book, using one sentence?
- Did you have any particular expectations going in?
- Was there a moment when you realized you were all the way in? Or, alternatively, if you weren’t ever all the way in — how come?
- This book deals with issues of power and consent — a question that has become very potent over the last few years. What do we think about this element, how it was handled, and a book like this that exists during a very specific moment in time?
- Bodie’s work as a podcaster brings in a lot of questions about the ethics about the true crime genre. Do you have any personal feelings about this ethical question, and how did you think the book handled it?
- Was there anything about the way the book handled these questions of ethics that you disagreed with or wish had been handled differently?
- How much of the time while reading did you spend playing armchair detective?
- The book is addressed to a certain character — it takes a minute before we figure out who that character is, and even longer before we figure out why it’s being addressed to them (although maybe we figure out the why before Bodie does). What did you think about this decision?
- Any questions about the book that didn’t get resolved for you by the end?