Author Jami Attenberg on What It Means to Be an Adult

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What does it mean to be an adult? That’s the question author Jami Attenberg asks in her latest novel, All Grown Up. The book tells the story of 39-year-old graphic designer Andrea Bern, who eschews the traditional milestones of adulthood—marriage, children, home ownership—and searches, with mixed results, for her own sources of fulfillment. Watch the video above to hear Attenberg’s thoughts on what it means to be “all grown up.” And check out the interview highlights below for some handy tips for aspiring novelists (hint: try writing by hand).

mental_floss: Your protagonist, Andrea, is 39 years old and still trying to figure out what it means to be an adult. Why choose that age?

Jami Attenberg: Andrea is 38 at the beginning of the book, and then turns 39 and 40 very quickly. I have her 40th birthday come and go, and it’s really a very small section of the book. I wanted to show that it’s not really that big a deal. You can choose to be an adult at any time in your life. You can get over your issues any time you choose, and 40 just happens to be that age [for Andrea]. But it’s kind of significant in our culture, more for women than for men, since we have a biological clock, and pressures surrounding that. I’ve created a character who doesn’t care about having babies or getting married. It doesn’t really mean as much to her in the book, and I’m trying to show why it doesn’t really matter.

mental_floss: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Attenberg: I teach a little bit, and the best advice that I have for writers is to just sit down and do the work. There are no shortcuts to writing a novel, or an essay, or a screenplay. Whatever it is that you’re trying to put out into the world, you just have to sit down, and write every single day. That’s how I get everything done. There’s no cheating. My process is: I read first thing in the morning, anything but the internet, because I find that tightens up my brain a little bit. I try to take a walk, and not take my phone with me. There’s a lot of turning off screens. And then I write by hand until I think I’m done.

mental_floss: Why write by hand?

Attenberg: Writing by hand is a totally different experience than typing. It uses a different part of your brain. For me, in a really pure and simple way, when I’m typing into a computer, and a red line shows up, telling me I’ve spelled something wrong, it feels like someone else’s voice in my head. Whoever programmed Word is correcting me, and correcting my way of thinking. When I hand write, I have no red lines, and I’m able to make mistakes if I want to, and be more experimental. I find that when I type directly into the computer, I want my writing to be perfect. And I don’t think any first, second, or even third draft needs to be perfect.

Watch 10 Celebrities Read Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Raven"

by James Carling, Urbancanvas // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
by James Carling, Urbancanvas // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven,” published in 1845, has been inspiring fellow artists for nearly 175 years. From Christopher Walken to Neil Gaiman, here are 10 celebrities putting their own spin on Poe's iconic verses.

1. Neil Gaiman

Literary wunderkind Neil Gaiman is putting his love of all things creepy to good use this year by teaming up with Worldbuilders—a self-described "geek-centered nonprofit supporting humanitarian efforts worldwide"—to assist their group in their fundraising efforts by staging his own candelit reading of Edgar Allan Poe's classic poem.  

2. Christopher Walken

Everyone does a Christopher Walken impression, but rarely do they come close to matching the unique inflection of the real deal. For the Poe tribute album Closed on Account of Rabies (1997), Walken recited the classic narrative poem as various haunting sound effects moaned and whistled in the background.

3. James Earl Jones

There are very few actors whose voices are as iconic as James Earl Jones's. From Darth Vader in the Star Wars films to Mufasa in The Lion King, you always know when the veteran thespian—who had a stutter as a child—is behind a character because of the deep, theatrical boom of his voice.

4. Vincent Price

The legendary actor—and the creepy voice in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”—needs no introduction to horror fans (or to those who remember the old Tilex mildew remover commercials). The clip above isn't the only time that Price was recorded reciting Poe’s poetry. If you want more, check out the hour-long Halloween special An Evening Of Edgar Allan Poe (1970), during which Price reads “The Tell-Tale Heart,” "The Sphinx," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Pit and the Pendulum."

5. Sir Christopher Lee

Known to younger generations as the actor who played Saruman in The Lord of the Rings franchise, the late Christopher Lee has more than 270 acting credits to his name, dating all the way back to the mid-1940s. Of those credits, Lee has lent his skills and voice to numerous legendary characters, including Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, and Dracula several times over.

6. Stan Lee

If Stan Lee hadn't gone into comics, he could very well have been a voice actor—at least based on his 2008 reading of "The Raven," a poem he said he at one point had memorized.

7. William Shatner

To the world, William Shatner will always be Captain Kirk. The character is so closely tied to the actor’s personality that it’s hard not to see them as the same person, which makes it harder to watch—or take seriously—a young Shatner reciting “The Raven” on stage during Dick Clark’s Magical, Musical Halloween (1983).

8. John Astin

Known primarily for the role of Gomez Addams in the television show The Addams Family, John Astin’s eyes and mustache add to the creepiness (and unintentional humor) of his dramatic reading of "The Raven," as he stands in full costume.

9. Basil Rathbone

Many recordings were made of this Shakespearean stage actor and star of many a Sherlock Holmes movie as he read the works of authors like Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and, of course, Poe. In the recording above, his voice fluctuates from calm and almost musical to loud and quite terrifying as things begin to escalate between man and bird.

10. Tay Zonday

If you're familiar with the Internet at all, then you probably know Tay Zonday. The deep-voiced YouTube celebrity rose to Internet fame with his song and music video "Chocolate Rain" back in 2007, and he has been using his natural voice to delight and unsettle audiences ever since.

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

28 Amazing Facts About Theodore Roosevelt

Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy loves Teddy Roosevelt. Like: really, REALLY loves Teddy Roosevelt.
Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy loves Teddy Roosevelt. Like: really, REALLY loves Teddy Roosevelt.
Mental Floss

If there is one thing to know about Teddy Roosevelt, it is that you can never know too many things about Teddy Roosevelt. The nation's 26th president was also an author, rancher, big game hunter, martial arts expert, and savage insult machine.

Join Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy as she breaks down some of the most fascinating aspects of Roosevelt's life, then be sure to check out History Vs., our new podcast (also hosted by Erin, a noted TedHead), which explores the little-known stories behind some of history's greatest figures. (First up: Teddy Roosevelt. But you probably knew that.)

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

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