Questions about An Abundance of Katherines (SPOILERS!)

NOTE: This page is for people who have read An Abundance of Katherines. As such, it contains numerous huge spoilers. If you have not read Katherines, kindly avert your eyes. Questions about the book can be asked here.

This page is organized into categories:
Writing the Book/Inspiration
Why Did I…
My Beliefs/Opinions
Specific Quotations
Allusions/References
Symbols/Metaphors
The Formula
Settings
Colin
Lindsey
Hassan
Other

Questions about Writing and Inspiration

Q. What inspired you to write An Abundance of Katherines?
A. I’m really interested in why we are all so obsessed with mattering–why people in our historical moment are so fixated on fame and notoriety and leaving a legacy. (It says something the word “individual” did not take on its current meaning until the 18th century.) So that was part of it. Also, at some point in your adolescence you become aware that you are not quite so special as you’ve been led to believe, and this is a pretty difficult thing to reconcile, and I wanted to write about a young man who was experiencing that in the most extreme way possible.
Also, I wanted to write a book about getting dumped, because I’d just been dumped when I decided to write the book. But then I started dating the woman who is now my wife very early in the process of writing the book, so I had to write this story of a bitter, angry guy railing against his exes while I myself was falling in love.

Q. What was your inspiration for Colin?
A. I’d been interested in child prodigies ever since I read Salinger, so that was a big part of it, probably. I’m very conscious of the debt that I, like all YA writers, owe to Salinger, but I’m also very conscious of the size of his shadow. The Glass kids–Salinger’s original prodigies–are more than sixty years old now. I wanted to try to write about a different kind of prodigy with a different set of anxieties.

Q. It seems unrealistic that Colin would have so many girlfriends named Katherine. How did you pick the number nineteen?
A. Well, it’s totally unrealistic that Colin would have so many girlfriends, let alone girlfriends named Katherine. I wanted it to be a high enough number that it was completely impossible. (I chose 19 because it is prime—but more than 17 and less than 23.)
You eventually learn that Colin’s definition of “dating” a girl is very different from, like, anyone else’s definition, but even so, it’s a ridiculously high number.
I wanted to establish right at the outset that this was not going to be a typical realistic fiction novel, but instead something of a magically realist one. In all of my books, there are fantastical elements—I grew up reading and loving magical realism, and I think it made me unafraid of telling impossible stories as if they weren’t impossible.
With Katherines, I wanted these fantastical elements to be grounded in reality, but only just barely. (Like, it is possible if you live in the city of Chicago to date 19 girls named Katherine. It just isn’t…you know…possible.) Colin’s entire life is lived out on that edge of possibility, and what causes him so much pain is that the process of growing up is pulling him away from being oh-so-special toward being just another human.
I wanted to try to express that phenomenon in a bunch of different ways.           

Q. Katherines is written in third person unlike the rest of your books. Why? Did you ever try writing in first person?
A. I felt like KATHERINES needed to be written in third person, because it’s about a guy whose brain does not lend itself to narratives, and who struggles to tell stories in ways that other people find interesting.
For a while I tried to write it in first person with all these tangents and footnotes to the foot and the story never really moving forward. But it was infuriating to read, and I felt like it was already challenging enough to empathize with Colin.
My hope was that creating a little narrative distance would make it easier to understand Colin.

Q. Do you have saved drafts of when the novel was in first person? Can we read them?
A. I do have those drafts, yes, and you can read them all if you outlive me, because they will all go to a university library.
But until then, I don’t want to share any of my work in pre-published form, because I worked very hard to make the book I wanted to make and I don’t want to compromise the story by introducing competing narratives—particularly ones I’m not happy with. 

Q. Where did you come up with the idea for the footnotes? And where was the first one used?
A. In college, I often felt like most of the really interesting stuff in academic nonfiction was in the footnotes, because that’s where the author’s voice came through.
Also, I’d read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which contains a lot of endnotes, and I loved them, because:
1. They can function as a kind of competing narrative that comments upon and—for lack of a better word—problematizes the central narrative.
2. Also, sometimes exceptionally intelligent people (like David Foster Wallace or Colin or E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver) feel this need to qualify and refine and analyze everything they say, because they feel this urge to be both understood and intellectually precise. They want to be both very clear and very accurate. Footnotes can serve as a way of attempting to achieve that precision and clarity.
But I think that at least on some levels, precision and clarity are in competition with each other.* As discussed in the novel, human memory is not in the accuracy business; it’s in the narrative business. Colin eventually starts to feel that when it comes to being understood, telling stories empathetically works best.
* Like, eventually footnotes and endnotes and footnotes-within-footnotes and so on in the ceaseless attempt to be clear in precisely what you are trying to say leads to the reader being confused and annoyed and altogether less engaged. 

Q. Colin is so very different from most of your characters in that he is often seen as less empathetic/sympathetic and has a sort of atypical brain that may make it harder to relate to him. Why did you decide to write a character like him?
A. So we tend to imagine love monolithically, especially when we’re talking about romantic love. There is this assumption that everyone’s experience of romantic love is identical, and that romantic love is this THING sitting out there somewhere that you eventually stumble upon (or as the saying goes, fall in to).
But in fact, romantic love is different for every person who experiences it, because all of our brains are wired differently, and this is especially the case for someone like Colin, whose brain is exceptionally good at making certain kinds of connections but not particularly good at making connections that would traditionally be seen as emotional.
I wanted to write about this, and even find a way to celebrate it, because I do not think it’s fair only to imagine romantic love as a thing. And so I wanted to write about Colin, because I wanted to argue that people like Colin can and do make emotional connections; we just aren’t defining the words emotion and love broadly enough when we talk about them.
Plus I wanted to write a story about story (I’m kind of obsessed with stories and what they do/why they matter; see also, TFiOS), and I wanted to write about a character for whom understanding the importance and nature of narrative is a matter of legitimately high stakes—so his kind of a brain was a natural fit for the theme.

Q. Were there any other title ideas?
A. No, I actually came up with the title before I came up with the book.
After college, for a strange project that is too complicated even to get into right now, I created this fictional bibliography of books written by a fictitious author, and one of them was called, An Abundance of Katherines and was about an anagrammatic genius. It was just a total throwaway thing; the same fictitious author wrote many other books about many other obscure topics. But that one stuck with me.

Q. When you were writing the book, did you come up with personalities for the different Katherines or were they just numbers?
A. Not really. Very early on in the process of writing the book, I wrote a draft of the long list that Colin finally shares with Lindsey when he’s learned some things about how to organize facts into narratives.
Obviously, I had to rewrite the list a lot as I discovered things about the plot and the Katherines, but the important thing to me was that Colin really doesn’t distinguish among them (except for K-19), because to Colin this whole process is identical, and he’s so focused on HIS role in it (as dumpee) that everyone else is dehumanized/diminished.

Q. How did you come up with the unique format in which you wrote the book?
A. The structure of the book was all about trying to deconstruct what makes a story work, what organizational tactics help a narrative make sense in the mind of one’s audience.
This is something Colin struggles with very openly, but in a way all the characters in the novel are dealing with the problem of story—or at least the problem of collecting and sharing their stories in a way that will make people listen and pay attention.
So the novel has 19 chapters for obvious reasons, but it’s interspersed with these jumbled flashbacks through which Colin is trying to organize his thoughts and feelings.
This was meant to reflect the relationship we have between chronological narrative and emotional narrative.

Q. Colin mentions the hole he feels in his stomach. Did you get the idea because you had felt it before?
A. I wrote all these stories in high school and college in which I called that gnawing stomach pain “the night feeling,” because for most of my life I experienced it primarily at night.
(The feeling, insofar as I can tell, is some variant of worry/fear/sadness/insecurity/etc. I still get it, although now I often feel the physical pain of sadness or anxiety in different places, especially the center of my chest, which is why you will sometimes notice me pressing my ribcage when I’m on stage or in public or talking to someone.)
So that particular observation came from my own past. But more generally when writing Katherines I was interested in how false the distinctions are between mind, spirit, and body. Constructing the mind as separate from the body can be useful at times, but it can also be really destructive, as it is for Colin.

Why Did I…

Q. Why the Archduke Franz Ferdinand?
A. He’s a good example of someone who mattered very much to human history, but didn’t really do anything to matter. History came for Franz Ferdinand, not the other way around. That interested me because Colin is obsessed with how you matter (and whether the extent to which you matter historically is the measure of one’s life).

Q. Why did you choose a Muslim character for Colin’s best friend?
A. I wanted to write a character to counter Colin, so who was thoughtful and religious without being dogmatic. Also, I’d studied the Islamic world in college and had a number of Muslim friends in high school and college. I guess I chose to make Hassan a Muslim because I felt like I wasn’t seeing enough Muslim characters in novels, and like the ones I did see were defined entirely by their faith, when in fact “Muslim” is, for most Muslims, one identity among many. (One can be a Muslim and a feminist and a nerdfighter and an American and so on.) So I wanted to write a character who was faithful, and thoughtful about his religiosity, but not someone who was dominated by it—this in contrast to Colin, who is dominated by the identity of “child prodigy.”

Q. Why did you decide to write Katherines in third person instead of first?
A. Well, the story is about a guy who can’t tell stories, so it seemed like it would be even harder to read, and even more discursive/experimental/self-indulgent, to write the whole thing in first person. I felt like in the end that would just do a disservice to the reader, even though it would have been really fun for me. Also, I’d never written in third person before, and I wanted to try it.

Q. Why did you choose tampon strings for the business that Lindsey’s mother runs?
A. Yeah, good question.
1. This is going to sound crazy, but I spent a lot of time trying to think of something that Colin would think of as behaving like light, and after all that time thinking about it, I could never think of anything other than millions of tampon strings blowing in the wind.
2. There are—or were in 2006, anyway—still textile factories in the American South, and some of those textile factories had been reduced due to outsourcing to producing one specific product, and when I was in high school, a friend of mine explained her hometown to me by saying that every adult she’d ever known worked at a tampon string factory.
3. It seemed like a gentle and funny way to get at Colin’s massive discomfort with actual human women. Like, obviously he is obsessed with romantic relationships and being in them, but he is also majorly freaked out by the reality of girls, because he is so busy romanticizing them.

Q. Why the name “Katherine”?
A. It has nothing to do with Hank’s wife (who was not his wife at the time).
I chose the name Katherine for an extremely fancy and metaphorically complex reason: It is good for anagramming. It contains the right mix of consonants and vowels. Also, helpfully, it contains both the word “heart” and the word “tears.”

Q. Why did you name Lindsey’s boyfriend Colin too?
A. Well, there’s a lot of name play in this book (and also in Will Grayson, Will Grayson). In Katherines, some of it is about repetition and mirroring, I guess: Colin sees the women in his life so narrowly that they just become this single monolithic thing, the katherines.
In Lindsey’s case, though, Colin and TOC are opposites in many ways. They’re physically opposite; they have very different worldviews; they represent a different set of opportunities (Colin, the big city; TOC, staying home forever); and they also like different Lindseys. In a way, she has a boy for each of the ways she thinks of herself, and she has to decide which Lindsey is really Lindsey in order to decide which boy she really wants to be with.

Q. Is there a reason that the majority of the main characters in your books don’t have siblings?
A. I think of it as a very subtle way of being able to torture my brother.

Q. Why did you decide to call Chase, Fulton, and Colin by JATT, SOCT, and TOC? Was it to emphasize how Colin and Hassan see them as different?
A. Maybe. I never thought of it in precisely that way, but that makes a lot of sense. One usually doesn’t associate acronyms and initialisms with other humans, so it is a way of expressing the distance Hassan and Colin feel from those guys.
But yeah, that’s basically what I was trying to do, although I don’t know that I would’ve characterized it that way before you explained it to me.

Q. Why did you choose the name “Colin”?
A. He’s constantly callin’ his ex-girlfriend. That’s about it.
(The word singleton means a person who is not a conjoined twin. So you and I and almost very human alive on the planet are singletons. And obviously the idea that Colin cannot be as physically/emotionally connected to other people as he wants is important to the book.)

Questions about My Beliefs/Opinions

Q. Why do you seem to have less affection for Katherines than for your other books?
A. I like Katherines! I do! I do not think of it as less good than my other books; I just think it’s very different. It’s a comic novel, and a zany one, but I’m just as proud of it as I am of my other books.
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of any of my books. I always feel very conscious of the times I ran up against the limit of my talent, or failed to make something clear, or might’ve made a better joke, or could’ve been more emotionally honest, or whatever. That’s just the nature of the enterprise, I think.

Q. You often say you can’t remember certain things in the novel. Does this mean you rarely reread your books?
A. I never re-read my books. (I re-read both Katherines and Paper Towns years ago for movie things, but I would never re-read them for fun.) There are several reasons for this:
1. The world contains a lot of books—far more than I can ever read—and to read my own books seems weird and narcissistic.
2. It’s not a pleasant experience for me, because I’m always thinking of all the things I could’ve done differently and better, and wanting to go back and change things.
3. When a book comes out, I really truly feel done with it. Like, I’m very happy to talk about it with people, and I’m definitely interested in people’s reactions to it, and I want to do everything I can to help the book find its widest possible audience. But by that point, I’ve read the thing hundreds of times. That’s enough. :)

Q. Why do you think so many adults recommend Katherines more so than your other books?
A. To be frank with you, I think it appeals to teachers and librarians because it is the way to teach and share my work that involves the least sex.

Questions about Specific Quotations

Q. Are you aware that the quotation, “What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” has been quoted more than ten thousand times on twitter?
A. Yes, I am aware. For the record, I think there are many meanings to a life that is not lived in pursuit of the remarkable. Life is a series of very small gestures and that if you ignore those little gestures in pursuit of some ill-thought-out vision of greatness, you stand a fair chance of ending up really unhappy and also historically unhelpful regardless of whether you meet your constructed definition of remarkability. (Let us think, for instance, of Kim Kardashian.) But, I mean, Colin does say that in the novel. I do wish twitter would attribute the quote to him and not to me, though. :)

Q. Why did you choose to write the parts in the cave as solely dialogue with no description?
A. I’ve read a lot of stories that used similar constructions to get across an idea of physical remove or sensory deprivation (see Kiss of the Spider Woman, for instance), and I think it’s a nice way of capturing that feeling.
To be honest, I wrote those scenes in a cave with absolutely no light because I knew it would be truly impossible to film in a Hollywood kind of way.
I liked the idea that even in this world supersaturated with images, where readers have a huge catalog of images* in their memories, there could still be things that cannot be properly pictured except via written description.
* Like, I realize this is on some level obvious, but until about 150 years ago, if you said “The Great Pyramids in Egypt,” the image of the Great Pyramids in Egypt did not pop into most people’s minds, because most people had never seen an image of any such pyramid. So writing had a completely different set of responsibilities from the responsibilities it has now, which is one of the reasons that when we read books from before, say, 1850, we often proclaim them boring.

Q. Towards the end of the book, Colin thinks about how he wants “to be as special as everyone had always told him he was,” which recalls a middle school memory of discovering that I was not, in fact, the smartest person in the world. Did you ever have a similar experience?
A. I think most people have had that experience, whether it’s about academic performance or baseball or writing or cheerleading or whatever.
I think in some ways that’s what adolescence is—the emerging knowledge that you are not alone, both in exciting and in disappointing ways.
At some point in adolescence, you realize that you are not the center of the universe, which is a bummer of a thing to discover. But it’s only through this discovery that you can build the kind of deep and lasting and sustaining relationships with peers that are so central to adulthood.
That’s what I wanted to write about.

Questions about Allusions/References

Q. Is there significance to Colin finishing the book “Seymour: An Introduction” by J.D. Salinger?
A. Well, anybody who writes about intelligence in teenagers does so in the shadow of the extraordinary children of Salinger’s Glass family. And I wanted to acknowledge that.
Obviously, Salinger is a much better writer than I am, but I do think very differently about prodigious intelligence than Salinger did, and I hoped that Katherines would offer a different perspective on prodigies. (That said, “Seymour: An Introduction” remains one of my favorite stories.)

Q. Is there a connection between when Hassan sees “God hates fags” carved into the picnic table and when Holden Caulfield sees “Fuck you” written on the wall of Phoebe’s school?
A. No, but again, these things don’t have to be purposeful to be useful/interesting/meaningful. This is a nice example of books belonging to their readers.
I like that connection—one associates picnic tables with families eating together, a similar kind of innocence to the associations one has with a young kid’s school. And they’re both jarring moments of innocence jutting up against viciousness and cruelty, although I have to say that Salinger draws the scene more clearly and cleverly.

Q. Have you ever read David Malouf’s novel Ransom? Despite the stories being different, Katherines also has hints of Malouf’s ideas about the role of storytelling and narratives.
A. Those are indeed VERY different books (for one thing, Ransom is better), but yes, I’ve read it. It’s great, and yes, as you say, both novels are concerned with how and why we tell stories.

Q. The band Franz Ferdinand have a song called “Lindsey Wells,” which came out in 2006. Is there any connection to Lindsey Wells and Franz Ferdinand’s grave in Katherines?
A. No it’s just a completely crazy coincidence. (She was called that long before the song existed.)

Questions about Symbols and Metaphors

Q. Many people read Lindsay’s cave as a metaphor for her vagina (the secret nature, her only showing it to the Colin she feels strongest about, it being a Sapphic image, etc.). What do you think of this reading?
A. That’s such a good observation.
Was I conscious of this? I don’t think so (although I might’ve been; it was written a long time ago).
But of course intent is mostly irrelevant. It’s a good metaphor, and a useful one: It helps us to understand the importance of the cave to Lindsay (and to Colin!) and it also works well with the (very phallic) obelisk monument of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
In a sense, their romantic journey is a journey away from the (phallic) obelisk and toward the (sapphic) cave, and in the end only in the place associated with femininity is Colin able to become authentically himself with someone else. (That’s who you really like: the people you can think out loud in front of, etc.)
I don’t think that was intentional (although again, it might’ve been), but it’s very interesting regardless. Does it reveal something about Colin, or about the author, and if so is that something misogynistic or feminist? I don’t know. I will have to think more about it. But it is really fugging interesting.

Questions about the Formula

Q. Does the formula work?
A. No. For one thing, the formula is designed overwhelmingly to bias past relationship history as a determining factor in who ends a romantic relationship. I happen to think one’s history actually is a pretty good determining factor, but certainly Daniel and I overemphasized it as a little joke to all the hardcore math nerds reading the book. Furthermore, it’s totally impossible to write a mathematical formula that will reliably predict such a complicated equation as love–not because love is essentially nonmathematic or irrational (I think it is in many ways both rational and mathematic), but because the variables are too numerous. There has been some interesting research in the field, however.

Q. Can you put the Katherines formula back on your website?
A. For a while, you could actually use the Katherines formula here on the web site, and it was pretty awesome, but I cannot put it back on the site, at least not unless and until someone re-creates it. The formula’s java applet was always really buggy, and as my site started to get more traffic, it became such a huge bandwidth drain that the site was crashing a lot. The only solution to this was to remove the formula. You can still do it on your graphing calculator, though! (And someday, I hope that some mathy reader will create an iPhone app with the formula or at least instructions for putting it on your calculator. Sadly, I almost failed precalc, so I don’t think I’m the guy for the job.)

Q. Did you ever use the formula to test your real life relationships?
A. Yeah, Daniel and I messed around with it a lot to make it as funny and accurate as possible. (My favorite joke is that the formula fails if the dumper/dumpee ratio is 0, as if it has never occurred to Colin that people could come into a relationship on equal dumper/dumpee footing.) 

Q. If I try the formula and get a graph that doesn’t cross the x-axis, does that mean the relationship never would have happened?
A. No it means you calculated the dumpee/dumper differential as 0, which Colin believes is literally impossible. 

Q. How did Daniel Biss’s mathematical help factor into the writing process? Did he write the formula before you began the novel or vice versa?
A. He wrote the formula after the first draft but before the huge revisions (more than 75% of the story was deleted) that accompanied the last year or so of the writing process.
Daniel’s math helped a lot with the writing. I needed Daniel to help me understand what variables Colin would care about most. Also, in the process of writing the formula, we came up with lots of jokes (some mathematical and some not) that ended up in the book.
It was really great fun. Mathematicians get a bad rap. All the ones I’ve met are brilliantly funny, Daniel included. (He is now, of course, not so much a mathematician as a politician.)

Q. My problem with the relationship formula is that I don’t think the variables can be decided by either member of the potential relationship. You’re going to overestimate the popularity and attractiveness of the person you’re crushing on.
A. Yeah, no, the formula is crazy. It’s the work of a deluded madman desperate to find some intellectual path out of a mostly non-intellectual problem.

Questions about Settings

Q. How much of Gutshot is fictional?
A. All of Gutshot is fictional insofar as the town doesn’t really exist; I borrowed a few details here and there, however, from my grandmother’s hometown of Skullbone, Tennessee.

Q. What inspired Gutshot? Is it a combination of places you know or is it totally fictional?
A. Gutshot is a mixture of places I visited growing up. Both my mother’s parents are from small towns in Tennessee, and so the architecture and industry of those towns was pretty familiar to me.
Gutshot is most directly inspired by my grandmother’s tiny hometown of Skullbone, Tennessee, which—aside from lacking a textile mill—is geographically very similar to Skullbone.
Quick Skullbone story: Once I visited Skullbone with a girl I was dating at the time, and we stopped at the bridge that leads into town and we were just looking at the river. Suddenly a minivan pulls up and a guy gets out of the car. He’s a big guy with a thick brown beard, and he’s wearing (apparently) nothing but very dirty overalls and brand new sneakers.
Of course, I feel nervous: I’m this scrawny college kid clearly Not From Around Here, and this man has pulled to the side of the road on a bridge, and I’m worried that I’m going to have to protect my girlfriend or something, which is not exactly my specialty.
But the guy doesn’t even seem to look at us. He just goes to the back of the minivan, opens it up, pulls out a very old pair of tennis shoes, walks to the edge of the bridge, stares into the water for a moment, and tosses the shoes into the river.
Only then does he look up at us, standing maybe ten feet away from him. “I moved to Nashville 20 years ago,” he says. “Every year I come back here and toss last year’s shoes into the river, so that they can walk the country even though I can’t anymore.”
Then he gets back in the minivan and drives away.
True story.

Q. Was Gutshot named for how Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in the stomach, thereby referencing Colin’s feeling of a missing piece from his middle?
A. I was conscious of all the people who are or feel gutshot when writing Katherines, yes. (I think a lot of us, when we are heartbroken or stricken with grief feel pain in our guts. That pain is as real as any other pain, as the narrator takes pain to point out.)

Questions about Colin

Q. How would you sum up Colin’s definition of dating?
A. Well he counts people he only held hands with, which to many of us would not constitute a full-fledged boyfriend-girlfriend type romantic relationship. 

Q. Was there any intention to make Colin autistic?
A. I’m a novelist, not a doctor, so I won’t attempt to diagnose any of my characters. But I was conscious of the way people on the autistic spectrum struggle to read certain social cues, and the way their brains process and store information.

Q. Do you think that Colin stayed a genius when he was older?
A. I can’t imagine the story outside the text of the story. Like, I can’t see further into the future and know if he and Lindsey get married, or if Hassan graduates from college, or if Colin ever becomes a genius.
All that stuff is for you to imagine, if you wish to.
There are many child prodigies who grow up to lead very ordinary lives; there are others who are paralyzed by their prodigious childhoods and never find their way in adulthood. And then there are prodigies like Norbert Weiner, who enjoy exceptionally productive adulthoods and get rooms at MIT named after them.
But I think by the end of the novel, Colin is measuring success a little differently than just seeking genius.

Questions about Lindsey

Q. Lindsey feels like she’s constantly chameleoning and never really acting like herself in front of other people. Do you have advice for people dealing with this problem in real life?
A. Lindsey’s life feels very performed and she feels this distance between how she thinks of herself and how she acts.
I can’t speak for everyone, but at least among people I’ve talked to, this feeling is damn near universal. I still feel it, actually: I feel like a total imposter as a writer and as a person, and I often feel like any minute someone will notice that I am a total phony and everyone will stop reading my books, etc.
But the process of trying to live an authentic life is complicated, as Lindsey discovers. I think you hit at something important in your question, though, by linking worry and authenticity. Colin is super-annoying in a lot of ways, but one thing he can’t help but be is himself, and that is really attractive to Lindsey.
And when you acknowledge that there is nothing repulsive or unforgivable or shameful about yourself, it becomes easier to be that authentic person and feel like you’re living a less performed life.

Questions about Hassan

Q. Why did you have Hassan drink and kiss a girl? Was it a point about restriction?
A. Well, if Islam forbids premarital kissing, I am unaware of it.
That said, drinking alcohol is unambiguously haram, and by having him drink, I wanted to point out that religious faith and practice exists on a continuum: Many Muslims don’t pray five times a day. Many Muslims drink alcohol. Many Jews don’t keep kosher.
These narrow definitions of religiosity don’t hold up, at least not to Hassan.

Q. You’ve said before that you think Hassan is the only one of your characters whose voice you could re-imagine. Why?
A. Well, I’m just very fond of Hassan. I don’t even really understand why. But I still think about him a lot and imagine him making jokes. So if someone put a gun to my head or something and told me to write a sequel to one of my books, it would probably involve Hassan in some way, because he’s the only character I still think about a lot.

Other Questions

Q. Are you good at anagramming?
A. No, I’m not very good at anagramming at all. Nor was I in any way a child prodigy. (I was not a good student in high school.) I do, however, enjoy anagramming, which made the countless hours I spent on anagram web sites entertaining. The best anagram site by far is I, Rearrangement Servant (that is, Internet Anagram Server), which you can find here.

Q. Why do all the Katherines on the cover of An Abundance Of Katherines have the same basic hairstyle and snowflakes in their eyes?
A. I assume the idea is that the Katherines in the novel are basically clones of one another, or at least that the relationships are. I have nothing to do with the designs of the covers (I express my opinion on the covers; sometimes my publisher agrees with me and sometimes they don’t). I have no idea what the deal is with the snowflakes.

Q. Do you ever wonder why Katherines gets the least attention of all your books?
A. It is the worst-selling of my books (by a fair bit), but the people who like it seem to REALLY like it, which is cool. Also, the new cover (designed by nerdfighter Sarah Turbin) seems to have given the book fresh life, so it may be too soon to judge.
There’s a lot at play here. I do think the fact that the book involves a lot of abstract mathematics (even though you don’t have to know anything about math to read the story) is intimidating to some people. Also, Colin isn’t a very easy person to like, especially at first. And I think for some readers the book feels more like an exercise in cleverness or somehow less emotionally grounded than my other books. (My favorite professor from college, who God bless him cannot tell a lie, said, “I liked your first book. Your second one, schticky.”)
All that noted, Katherines has still had a great life, and I’m really pleased that so many people have responded to it so generously over the years.

Q. Have you ever tried anagramming the title: “An Abundance of Katherines”?
A. I never tried to anagram the title. There are a lot of little anagram easter eggs in the book, but I never thought of doing that with the title, because this book—unlike all my others—had a title from the moment I began writing it.

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