I was initially drawn to Jonathan Lethem for his early fiction, particularly his first novel, Gun, with Occassional Music; I've keenly followed his forays into less explicitly outré and genre-reliant territory with Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, both of which I like very much. However, it wasn't until I read his non-fiction, and in particular his essays, that I was re-excited by his literary presence: the acuity of thought present in all of his work – but which seemed somehow more stale in his later works, as if, in hewing to less zany plots, he too felt the need to tamper the inner lives of his characters, which then became less convincingly unstable and opaque, more occupied by discrete, reliable characteristics and an agglomeration of clearly-delineated likes and dislikes – finds terrifically well-suited mark when applied to cultural and literary analysis. Unlike, say, Anne Carson, his fiction and non-fiction read as quite distinct; unlike, for example, David Foster Wallace, his non-fiction doesn't quite read as a new medium for the expression of similar interests, values, and approaches to the world as those previously expressed in others. The tenor and melody of his fiction and non-fiction feel distinct; it is as if non-fiction has allowed him the opportunity to unsheathe what he had previously hidden beneath weighty metaphor. It feels, in a sense, as if it comes easier to him, and almost as a relief. This makes the artistry of his fiction all the more admirable, in a sense, but it doesn't much alter my preference for his fiction. The Disappointment Artist is to me – and this is a dangerous and unreliable term with which to apply value – his most satisfying book, and "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism" – about which he speaks and which he expounds on for much of this video – is, I think, the best thing he has ever written; it can be found here.
I've seen him speak a couple of times, and he seems to operate, with the audience's questions and in his speech, more in his "non-fictional vein." This video presents an absolutely wonderful talk; Lethem speaks with an affable authority that allows him to curtail his generalizations without seeming as though he is sacrificing his statements' integrity; his interaction with those in the room feels like one of engaged discourse, something that Lethem – as is evidenced in both his fiction and non-fiction – quite evidently treats with great, excited, and stimulating import.