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Non-Fiction Blog

New thinkers, mavericks and mavens

Fan Interview Series: Gregory Levey

Gregory Levey is the author of Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government, and more recently, How To Make Peace In The Middle East In Six Months Or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment. His books intrigued us, made us laugh—sometimes uncomfortably—and made us think about a centuries-old conflict in a new way.

It seems like other readers are responding to his books in the same way. We recently put the question out to our Facebook and Twitter followers: if you could interview Gregory Levey, what would you ask him? We got a ton of interesting questions, and asked Greg to answer some of the best:

Q: What is the craziest thing you saw while you were doing your research?

A: I saw—and visited—a real life castle, owned by a guy who thinks he is a superhero, and regularly wears a cape. He calls himself Peaceman and like me, he is trying to contribute to peace.

Q: What is it that keeps you motivated?

A: Oh, I’m not motivated. Far from it.

Q: How did you come up with the concept for this book?

A: I was totally fatigued with hearing about the Middle East conflict, and sick of all the shrill voices that go with it. And I decided that the only way I was going to escape it all was to solve the conflict myself. I figured that even if I failed, the book would at least be interesting.

Q: What was the most touching thing you encountered in writing or researching this book?

A: It didn’t make it into the book, but one young teenager who lives in the region and has been personally affected by the conflict took me way too seriously. She thought that maybe there was something I could do to actually help her people. It was hard to be funny when encountering that sad little misunderstanding. If you’re relying on me for hope, then I think things have gotten even worse than I thought. I explained to her that unfortunately, I couldn’t really do anything—and now we’re email friends.

Q: Why approach this subject in this way—with humor? Did you ever worry that you were treating the situation too lightly?

A: I was definitely treating the situation too lightly, but that’s what I do. Look, the subject has been dealt with a million other ways, and I think that humans naturally tend to find humor helpful in dark situations. I know that Israelis and Palestinians use it to deal with their dire circumstances, and I thought an outsider could do that as well. Sometimes looking at the silliness can help separate the trivial issues from the really serious ones.

Q: In your opinion, is there actually any way to make a lasting peace in the Middle East?

A: Theoretically, I guess so, but unlike most of the people I encountered while working on this book, I can’t spell out any solution that I think will work. I think a pretty reasonable analysis ends with a simple, “No, it’s not possible. What’s on TV?” But I think it’s important to cling to whatever threads of optimism we can still find.

Q: What are you working on now? Will you continue to write about this topic?

A: I am in the early stages of writing another book. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Middle East. Although I will likely continue to write about the Middle East sporadically, it will be in short journalistic pieces. I’m really looking forward to expanding to subject matter that involves less yelling.

Q: What authors influenced your writing style? What are you reading right now?

A: Too many to count or list. Right now I’m reading three books: Jonathan Ames’ novel The Extra Man, a book called More Money Than God, which is about the Hedge Fund industry, and a book called How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication. It’s safe to say I have eclectic tastes.

Q: Any tips for aspiring, but lazy, activists?

A: Yes. Keep it up! The Middle East conflict could use more apathy. There are too many people involved with this issue who are so sure of themselves, and so full of dangerous energy, that it could probably use a little more laziness. By that I mean a little more ponderous, thoughtful second-guessing. A little less frenzied, finger-pointing rushing to judgment.

Q: What will you do with your giant Facebook fan base? Will you use it for good or evil?

A: Definitely for evil. We recently gained our two millionth misguided “fan.” Nobody will stop us now.

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Thanks to Greg for answering our fan questions, and to the good folks at Simon & Schuster for arranging the interview.

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