Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Gregory Levey

Share |
Ten Questions, with Gregory Levey

Gregory Levey talks to Open Book about laughter and Armageddon, what the UN taught him about writing, his new book How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving your Apartment (Simon and Schuster, 2010) and more.

Visit our Events Page for details on his upcoming Toronto launch this Wednesday, Sept. 29, and his reading at the Toronto Jewish Book Fair on Tuesday, Oct. 26.

Open Book:

Your new book, How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving your Apartment, is your own (humorous) take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In your armchair pursuit of peace, you undertake some unusual endeavours. What was the experience of researching and writing the book like?

Gregory Levey:

While I don’t want to give away the ending—whether or not I actually made peace in the Middle East—I will say that it was tricky. It was also a bit disorientating, talking to so many people with so many different opinions on the topic, and seeing that they all think they are perfectly rational when many of them are obviously out of their minds. It made me question whether I myself was as rational as I thought.

OB:

Did you have a specific audience in mind for the book?

GL:

Well, there’s the obvious one of people involved with or interested in the Middle East situation, but I also thought (or hoped) that young people who aren’t normally interested in international politics might be drawn to it too.

OB:

What has the response been so far to How to Make Peace in the Middle East? Has anything about it been surprising to you?

GL:

So far, so good. I’ve got some very good responses from both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as from other people. Something that has surprised me a bit is that people seem to be taking the book far more seriously in terms of political analysis than I ever imagined. I mean, I spend a good portion of it discussing how I ordered lucky boxer shorts through the mail, so I didn’t really expect to be taken quite so seriously.

OB:

In your first book, Shut Up I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government, you wrote that “sometimes it is the comic details that best reflect the gravity of the larger picture.” Can you talk a bit more about your use of humour in your approach to the violence and conflict in the Middle East?

GL:

The Middle East conflict is so tragic, one can’t help but laugh at it…Look, humour in itself is never going to make peace, but I think it’s a way of calming people down a bit and maybe letting them build bridges. If not, it can at least make us laugh as we hurtle toward Armageddon.

OB:

Did you learn anything writing speeches for the Israeli government that you've been able to apply to your own writing projects?

GL:

In political speechwriting—especially in the heated debates at the U.N. that I was involved in—there’s not a lot of time or room for ornamental language. I think that was a useful lesson. But I think the most important thing that I learned is that whether you like it or not, if you want to succeed with writing, you need to write with your audience in mind. It can’t be just for you unless you’re writing in your diary.

OB:

What authors would you say have influenced you as a writer?

GL:

Far too many to list! But I think my favourite Canadian book is Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock

OB:

If I were hoping to better understand the conflict in the Middle East (and who isn’t) what books would you recommend that I read? (Other than your own…)

GL:

I would recommend just buying several copies of my book so that you can read it again and again. But if you stubbornly insist on going further afield, there are a lot of great books out there. I think Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem is fantastic, even if it’s very outdated now. I also loved Amos Oz’s How to Cure a Fanatic, and Jennifer Miller’s Inheriting the Holy Land.

OB:

In addition to the time you spent in Israel, you’ve lived in Canada and the USA. Do you think you would be able to write a similar “How to” book for either of these countries? (How to unify French and English Canada? How to make the Red and Blue States hate each other less?)

GL:

I think that could be done, but nothing has quite the level of outright animosity and stupidity as the Arab-Israeli conflict. Outright animosity and stupidity make for good fodder.

OB:

You work as a writer, a journalist and a professor. How do you fit it all in?

GL:

I’m very tired. But, honestly, I think these three things all complement each other well, and I feel fortunate to be able to float back and forth between them. Still, like I said, I’m tired.

OB:

What are you working on now?

GL:

I’m at the early stages of planning another book. It has nothing to do with the Middle East, and I couldn’t be more pleased about that.


Gregory Levey is the author of How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment and Shut Up, I’m Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government

He has written for Newsweek, Salon, The New Republic, The New York Post, The Globe and Mail, The Jerusalem Post, The National Post, The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog and others.

Gregory served as the Israeli Government’s speechwriter and one of its delegates at the United Nations, and then went on to serve as Senior Foreign Communications Coordinator and English speechwriter for Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.He is on the faculty of Ryerson University in Toronto.

Visit his website at www.gregorylevey.com and read his blog here.

For more information about How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment please visit the Simon and Schuster website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad