Big Think Interview With Lionel Shriver

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Question: What was\r\nthe first piece you read that made you want to become a writer?

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Lionel Shriver: Oh, I was big on “Curious George.”  I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was seven years\r\nold.  So it was only shortly after\r\nI learned to read.  So, it would\r\nhave been the very early books of my childhood; Dr. Seuss, “Where the Wild\r\nThings Are,” and “Curious George.”

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I just loved\r\nstorytelling.  I loved the way that\r\nwords could bring something to life that imaginary.  And I’m still fascinated by that.  So fascinated by the way a novel, little by little, creates\r\nsomething that seems so tangible and so real, even to me, and yet it is\r\ngossamer really.  It’s just\r\nwords.  And that’s magic to\r\nme.  And I’ve never got over that\r\nmagic.  I hope I never do. 

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Question: What was\r\nthe first piece you wrote?

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Lionel Shriver: Oh, one of the first pieces I wrote was in second grade.  I won a contest writing about our newly\r\nrenovated cafeteria.  You know, the\r\nnew colors are very nice.  And I\r\nremember they were very ceremonial about this little contest and what you got\r\nwas a Chef’s hat and a box of cookies. \r\nSo, I walked around all day wearing my Chef’s hat, and I just thought,\r\nright – this is the business. I’m going to be a writer. 

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I think it’s important that\r\nI grew up in a literate household because both my parents have written books,\r\nalbeit non-fiction.  That made the\r\nwriting of books accessible and doable, not a distant weird thing that other\r\npeople did.  So that helped a lot,\r\nand also both my parents are well spoken and always talked with their children\r\nusing a large vocabulary.  And that’s\r\na big advantage because I believe that the words that you learned as a child\r\nget deeper inside than the ones you learn later in life.  I always find that words I learned as\r\nan adult don’t stick in the same way.   I don’t think I understand them completely in the same\r\nway.  They’re not\r\ninternalized.  There’s a way in\r\nwhich I have to recite a little definition to myself, they don’t quite stick.  So, I was especially fortunate to be\r\nexposed to a range of more complex words, nuanced language than a lot of other\r\nchildren would have been.  

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Question: Who is the\r\nfirst person who sees your work?

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Lionel Shriver: I show my work before submitting it to my agent to practically no\r\none.  I will let my husband read it\r\nbefore I send it to my agent.  But\r\nI’ve gotten to the point where I am less interested in soliciting a lot of\r\nopinions.  I find that more\r\nopinions tend to obscure my mental landscape.  Most of all, it obscures the fact that the buck stops\r\nhere.  You have to be able to trust\r\nyour own judgment.  It doesn’t mean\r\nthat I don’t sometimes take my editor’s advice, but fundamentally, I have to\r\nrely on my own opinion of my own work and showing it to my best friend, or even\r\nto my husband, it’s ultimately a fruitless exercise because it’s all about\r\nlearning to trust your own editorial judgment.  Which doesn’t mean that you rubberstamp everything you\r\nwrite.  It means that you subject\r\nit to your own fiercest criticism. \r\nIt’s one of the good things about being a writer, it’s also one of the\r\ngrim things about being a writer. \r\nThere is no resort really. \r\nIt all begins and stops with you. 

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Question: Why do you\r\nwrite?

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Lionel Shriver: I think writing -- the impulse to write  -- comes out of a failure to communicate by any other\r\nmeans.  I think most natural\r\nwriters are socially incompetent. \r\nAnd I would include myself generously in that category, especially as a\r\nchild and in my early adulthood, and yeah, often as not at parties I still feel\r\nlike a 13-year-old fish out of water, would prefer to crawl off in the corner\r\nwith a book. 

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Talking only works so\r\nwell.  And you know that feeling of\r\nhaving had an encounter with someone and later you think what you should have\r\nsaid.  Well, writing is all about\r\nbeing able to rewrite history and get at what you should have said.  And it’s a way of writing subtexts,\r\nthat’s the thing is that with social interaction, it’s always got more than one\r\nlayer, and that’s very frustrating. \r\nAnd with people whom we are trying to be intimate, we’re always fighting\r\nto get down to the layers.  And it seems\r\nthat no matter how many layers you go down, there’s another one that you\r\nhaven’t really tapped.  And writing\r\nis an effort, and sometimes a failed effort as well to get down to the bottom\r\nlayer. 

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Question: Who are\r\nyour favorite authors? 

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Lionel Shriver: I’m a big fan of Edith Wharton. \r\nI love the way she writes elegantly without being fussy.  She writes beautiful sentences, they’re\r\nwell constructed and balanced.  But\r\nthey’re never just beautiful sentences. \r\nThey always say something. \r\nTo me that’s the essence of a beautiful sentence.  It’s not just pretty in its language,\r\nbut it gets at something, some kind of truth or essence that is revelatory and\r\nshe embodies that for me.  She is\r\nalso a great storyteller and writes wonderful characters. 

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I’m also a huge fan of\r\nRichard Yates.  I feel I have a\r\nreal affinity with his perspective on the world, which is a little bit sour,\r\nbut also has a sense of humor.  And\r\nI love the way he writes characters– in a lot of ways he’s taking the Mickey\r\nout of them, as they’d say in Britain. \r\nThat is, he’s exposing them. \r\nBut he’s exposing them in a way that is short of ridicule.  Yates still has a tenderness toward his\r\ncharacters.  Even characters that\r\nare being used a bit for laughs, or maybe shallow or pretentious, but there’s\r\nalways something poignant about that and sympathetic.  And I like that. \r\nI’m not sure I always managed to pull that off into my own work, but\r\nwhen I do I really feel I’ve achieved something because as much as it’s\r\nsatisfying to expose people’s foibles, it’s most satisfying to do that in a way\r\nthat is empathetic with those foibles which sees them from the inside and how\r\nthey’ve come about and has an element of forgiveness in the portrait. 

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Question: Do you\r\nhave a specific approach to the work of writing? 

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Lionel Shriver: There’s nothing occult about what I do.  It is very ordinary. \r\nI’m often asked at literary festivals, for example, how many hours a day\r\ndo you write?  And when do you\r\nwrite?  And do you have a set\r\nnumber of pages that you write?  And\r\nthe answer is, it varies enormously. \r\nI used to be much more insecure about my capacity to generate a\r\nmanuscript and so when I first started out, and I’m sure a lot of writers will\r\nrecognize this, I started at a particular time, I had to write three pages a\r\nday.  Now I’m not like that at\r\nall.  Maybe some day I’ll write\r\nnothing, and another day maybe I’ll write 10 pages.  The secret is just to keep at it and put in the time and it\r\ndoesn’t matter what the time of day is. \r\nIt’s a very work-a-day, plodding profession, especially writing\r\nbooks.  You’re better off not\r\nwaiting for inspiration.  I find\r\ninspiration is something that you demand of yourself that will arrive in due\r\ncourse if you sit in front of a computer long enough, you just have to\r\nconcentrate. 

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So, I get up in the morning,\r\nhave a whacking big cup of coffee, read the newspaper.  I have to say, that’s an important part\r\nof my life is keeping up with current events.  I am especially attentive to the little articles.  I think for a writer, those little\r\nsidebar articles are the jewels of the news day; tiny little incidents that are\r\nusually on a more individual level and not like peace talks in the Middle\r\nEast.  And I love those.  And I’m somebody who fanatically clips\r\nthose articles.  I’ve got whole files\r\nfull of bits and pieces from newspaper. \r\n

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And then I answer my email,\r\nwhich takes an atrocious amount of time, and finally I get down to work.  I guess on an advice level, the only\r\nother advice I dish out is that the one counterpoint, important part of my day\r\nis getting a lot of exercise at the end of it because it’s such sedentary\r\nprofession that otherwise it’s enervating when you get enough exercise, it\r\nkeeps your energy levels up.  So,\r\nanybody out there who writes should also learn to run.  

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Question: Do you\r\never use ideas from those news clippings?

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Lionel Shriver: Occasionally.  I don’t use\r\nthem as much as I think I will, or I should.  I think they more function along the lines of giving me a\r\nsense of narrative possibility. \r\nAll the weird little plots. \r\nI mean, reality is stranger than you could ever make up and I like to be\r\nreminded of that. 

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Question: How you\r\nbalance the reality of current events with the fiction in your novels?

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Lionel Shriver: I do try to write novels that speak to reality in some way.  I’m a little leery of writing\r\nexclusively issues books, though I’ve certainly been guilty of that.  I have strong political opinions, often\r\nstrong conflicted political opinions. \r\nAnd it’s when I feel conflicted that I know that I’ve got a good subject.  It’s important not to let fiction\r\ndegenerate into polemic when writing about healthcare, I don’t want it to sound\r\nlike an op-ed.  And it’s also\r\nimportant that even if you are writing about an issues and it is an issue that\r\nyou have strong partisan feelings about it.  That there’s enough air in the narrative to allow for those\r\nother points of view that maybe you feel as if you disagree with, but you have\r\nto give them voice if you’re going to explore any kind of an issue with some\r\ndimension. 

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As far as I’m concerned, the\r\nonly thing that makes politics important is the way in which these issues\r\ntranslate into individually lived lives. \r\nSo, it has to have implications for single people, what happens to them\r\nand what they feel.  So, in writing\r\nabout healthcare, I’m not talking about what tax exemptions I’m advocating, but\r\nyou know what is it like to receive an EOB, or Explanation of Benefits, and try\r\nto go through all those papers and figure out what checks your supposed to\r\nwrite and where.  You know, this is\r\nwhat people are going through and it even has a comic aspect and that could\r\nmake for good fiction.  But again,\r\nyou do have to be careful.  You\r\ndon’t want to write a novel what becomes obsolete, you know, that becomes an\r\nanachronism, that’s the biggest problem with speaking to the immediate moment\r\nbecause the moment is always moving. \r\nSo, if you speak to this moment, and for that matter, it takes two to\r\nthree years to write a book to get it out, so if you speak to the immediate\r\nmoment too specifically, it’s already moved on by the time the book is\r\npublished and in trying to be super relevant, you make yourself\r\nirrelevant. 

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Therefore, it’s important to\r\ntry to keep consciously addressing issues that never go away.  So in my latest book, I’m talking about\r\nlarger matters of illness and what it’s like to face death, what kind of an\r\neffect a diagnosis of a terminal illness for one spouse has on a marriage.  Does it bring you closer because\r\nsuddenly your time together is so precious, or does it alienate you because you\r\nare living in completely different universes?  And I think the answer is a little bit of both.  But these deep human things about\r\nmarriage, and family and friendship and the experience of birth or death aren’t\r\ngoing anywhere.  They are timeless,\r\nand if you don’t have some of those elements in your story, you’re going to\r\nbecome dated in short order. 

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Question: What is\r\nyour process for creating characters?

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Lionel Shriver: Naturally I draw on people whom I know and any fiction writer is always\r\ndrawing on his or herself.  And I\r\nhave to admit that in latter years I have gotten dead bored with myself.  I believe, by the way, that this is the\r\nhealthiest development in my character. \r\nI think becoming bored with yourself is some kind of Zen achievement.  But what I really enjoy about the\r\nprocess of constructing characters is -- and I tend to go for more composites\r\nof taking little bits and pieces from here and there-- is the way in which\r\ngradually they do achieve and integrity and identity of their own, which is\r\nquite apart from whoever might have helped to inspire them is when, even in my\r\nown head that character has an independence of the sources that contributed to\r\nthat character.  And that's when a\r\nbook starts to become fun. I can start seeing them, I can hear them talking in my\r\nhead, and it's all an illusion, but it's a delightful illusion.  

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Question: Do your\r\ncharacters follow you around?

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Lionel Shriver: Oh yes.  They definitely\r\nstay with me.  And the funny thing\r\nis I get easily offended on their accounts.  I really don't like it when a reviewer insults them.  I do believe that this experience of,\r\n"How dare you say that about Shep?" is distinct from, "How do\r\nyou say that about me?" as an author.  It is a protective sensation, my little wards.  Right?  It's like, okay, they are defenseless; you don't go for\r\nthem.  You go for me.  Go ahead, insult me as much as you want,\r\nbut you leave Shep alone. \r\nRight?  He's a good man;\r\nHe’s a lot nicer than I am. 

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Question: What do you think of MFA programs?

Lionel Shriver: I'm very torn about them.  I have to confess, I did get an MFA from Columbia University.  And I can't say that I regret it exactly.  I didn't have a bad time, I had some interesting teachers; I'm still in touch with one of them.  And we've become friends.  I am still friends with some of the students that I met at Columbia.  My very best friend I met at Columbia.  So it's a little mystifying why my immediate impulse is to diss MFA programs.  But I sometimes feel in retrospect that I should have gotten a proper education in something like history, something substantive.  If I'm going to be honest, what I really needed in my early 20s wasn't audience; I wasn't developed enough as a writer to be publishing.  So I couldn't achieve that audience through getting short stories in The New Yorker.  Frankly at this point in time, I'm still not getting short stories in The New Yorker.  But I'm working on it.  

So it is not a dumb thing for me to do.  And therefore I can't really tell other people who were in a similar situation and have a similar need to have people read their work that they shouldn't do it.  But it does have a kind of indulgent, middle-class gestalt.  The grim truth is that most people who get MFAs will not go on to be professional writers and therefore when I've been on the other side of it and occasionally taught creative writing, I felt a little bit guilty because so many of the people that you should be encouraging, because there's no point to it if you're not encouraging, are not going to make it.  And I think that's true across the board in the arts.  My husband is a jazz drummer and he has the same sense of queasiness about teaching jazz drumming.  There's more of a career in teaching jazz than there is in playing it right now, and so at the very best, most of the students are going to go on to become jazz instructors.  So there's something a little corrupt in that, something unwholesome.  And I share his discomfort in participating in it. 

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Question: One of\r\nyour novels that was based on your family created a rift. Do you regret writing\r\nit?

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Lionel Shriver: No I don’t.  But maybe I\r\nshould.  My fifth novel, much to my\r\ndespair because it was not the intention, injured more than one member of my\r\nfamily because they took some of the portraits to heart.  Which were not always kind, I\r\nconfess.  I regret the hurt.  I don’t regret the book, because I like\r\nthe book.  And maybe that makes me\r\na jerk because, of course, the book came with the hurt.  You couldn’t have the book without the\r\ninjuries, so I guess that is a price that I am still willing to have paid, but\r\nanyone else who decides to write fiction that is so-called loosely based on\r\nreal people should take it under advisement, that it is a dangerous thing to do\r\nand that’s a well polled quote because you will get into trouble for everything\r\nyou keep the same and you will get into trouble for everything that you\r\nchange.  You know? 

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And the other killer is, and\r\nthis is something that I remarked on in this article, you can be incredibly\r\ncomplementary in fiction.  You can\r\nplay to what this real person likes about themselves for pages and pages, but\r\nif you insert as a single line that hits a nerve and violates what that person\r\nwants to think of themselves, that’s all they’ll remember.  That is all they will remember.  You know?  And that’s when you really can’t win.  And these perceived insults are\r\nforever.  That’s one of the deadly\r\nthings about the written world. \r\nIt’s out there, you can’t take it back. 

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And you know, it is a book\r\nthat the whole plot is made up, people’s professions are made up, it starts out\r\nwith both parents are dead and at writing, my parents were alive.  And as we speak, my parents are still\r\nalive; knock wood, they will stay that way as long as possible.  So, I did, I changed all kinds of\r\nthings, but it didn’t make any difference. I have a feeling that with the\r\nbenefit of hindsight there might have been a few lines that I could have\r\nchanged.  You know those single\r\nlines I’m talking about?  I think\r\nthey could have been slightly altered and made really no significant artistic\r\nsacrifice and have done less harm. \r\nAnd I’m sorry about that.

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Question: What\r\nprompted your novel “So Much for That”?

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Lionel Shriver: It came down from a newspaper article and then a big personal event in\r\nmy life.  The newspaper article was\r\nin The New York Times, detailing the fact that not only was the leading cause\r\nof bankruptcy in the United States medical bills, but that the majority of\r\nthese people who were going bankrupt from medical bills had health\r\ninsurance.  And that floored\r\nme.  I mean, how is this?  What is the bloody insurance for\r\nthen?  And I thought, that really\r\nsounds like a novel.  And then\r\nfollowing on that, then why don’t you write it?

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I was interested in medical\r\nissues in general thought especially because in late 2006, I lost one of my\r\nvery closest friends.  We had known\r\neach other for 25 years.  She was\r\njust barely older than I and she was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma,\r\nwhen she was only 50 years old. \r\nAnd she lived a year and three months after her diagnosis.  Her prognosis was only about a year, so\r\nthat despite $2 million being lavished on her treatment, she died pretty much\r\non schedule.  Mesothelioma is\r\nalmost always caused by exposure to asbestos, and my friend was a metal smith,\r\nand she would have worked with materials that were laced with asbestos,\r\nespecially back when she was at arts school.  And since I was also trained as a metal smith, I may have\r\nbeen exposed to the same thing. \r\nThat’s frankly, not something that I look at very hard because I just\r\ndon’t want it to be.  I don’t want\r\nthat disease.  But it was very\r\nupsetting to watch her go through that, it was upsetting to watch her\r\ndeteriorate, to see her go through a period of extreme hopefulness when a CAT\r\nscan came in and it looked as though the cancer was retreating and then to\r\nwatch her plummet again. 

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And what was especially\r\ndifficult about that experience and this is something I duplicate in the book,\r\nis my friend Terry, refused to admit she was dying.  And so my character Gwyneth who is another one of those\r\nloosely based characters that ended up achieving an independence of my friend\r\nalso refuses to admit she is dying. \r\nAnd I think it had to do with this business of regarding cancer as a\r\nwar, as a battle that you try to win so that you use an arsenal of drugs at\r\nyour disposal.  You know, all that\r\nlanguage of the military.  I’m very\r\nuncomfortable with this way of thinking. \r\nI don’t think illness has anything to do with battle.  I don’t like the way that puts the onus\r\non the patient to win.  Right?  Because when you lose implicitly, it’s\r\nyour fault.  It’s a failure of\r\nwill.  My character embraces this\r\nway of thinking and therefore will not concede that she is dying because she\r\nassociates dying with personal defeat.  And she is a person who has a ferocious will.  And therefore she believes that if she\r\napplies that will to her cancer, she can overcome it. 

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This wouldn’t seem to\r\nmatter, except that it puts the people who love her in a very uncomfortable\r\nposition.  And this certainly\r\nhappened to me in relation to my friend, Terry.  It injects an artifice in the relationship because when\r\nsomebody’s dying, it’s a pretty big elephant in the room.  And if you can’t mention it, like oh by\r\nthe way, I have a feeling you’re not going to be here next year, it’s a big\r\nthing not to be able to talk about it. \r\nIt also precludes any number of conversations.  I know that her own husband was never able to talk to her\r\nabout, what was next for him after she died because they could never acknowledge\r\nthe fact that she was going to die. \r\nSo, he was never able to discuss his own grief to address his future\r\nwithout her.  And all of us were\r\ndenied the opportunity to have that, perhaps mythical, I don’t know if it’s\r\npossible to have this, but that last conversation. You know, the saying of last\r\nthings.  I have this notion; I\r\nnursed this idea that when you acknowledge with someone that you are never\r\ngoing to speak again, that maybe it is possible to say some things that you\r\nwould never say in any other circumstance. 

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To me, that’s the one\r\nopportunity that a terminal illness presents you that getting run over by a bus\r\ndoesn’t.  You know, there’s no\r\nwarning with the bus, you’re there one moment and you step off the curb and you’re\r\ngone.  And you don’t get to put\r\nyour affairs in order, and the most important of those affairs is your\r\nrelationships to other people.  And\r\nthen you leave – you know, you leave a spouse behind grieving not only that\r\nyou’re not there, but that you just had a fight. 

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I like this idea that you\r\ncan use disease as an opportunity to set the record straight.  And to maybe breakdown certain\r\nemotional barriers that will always stay up unless you strip away the pretense\r\nthat there’s always some later time when you can redress things.  That’s the way we relate to each other\r\nalways.  We always assume that we\r\nwill see each other again, and even people that we know perfectly well we’ll\r\nnever see again barring some bizarre coincidence, we tend to say, “See you\r\nlater.”  You know?  And I would have liked to have that\r\nlast conversation with my friend, Terry. 

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In the book, Gwyneth is\r\nrefusing to admit that she is dying, denies that last conversation to her\r\nfamily and friends until finally, her husband breaks her down and rams the\r\ndoctor’s prognosis down her throat until she concedes, no this is not a war, it\r\nhas never been a fight.  Dying is\r\nnot losing.  It’s just going to\r\nhappen and this is an opportunity to say goodbye.  And therefore she is finally able to say goodbye in a way\r\nthat is fittingly elegant.  She is\r\nan elegant woman and understated and dry.

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Question: What, in\r\nyour opinion, is wrong with the U.S. health care system?

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Lionel Shriver: In the\r\nUnited States, our answer to the finitude of healthcare resources is to spend\r\ndisproportionate amounts on single people with very good coverage and then to\r\nspend practically nothing on people who don’t have the coverage or essentially\r\nwe discriminate according to how much people earned.  Or just how unlucky people are because you can actually earn\r\na fair amount and just happen to have a health insurance plan that drops you\r\nwhen you get sick, or be very well-off and not be able to keep working because\r\nyou’re sick and then your health insurance lapses.  So, it’s no exclusively an issue of the uninsured and the\r\npoor. 

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Nevertheless, a single-payer\r\nsystem like the one in Britain, and I’ve lived in Britain, so I’ve experienced\r\na national health service, is capable of making some of the hard decision that\r\nwe make on a commercial Darwinian level in the United States in the UK they are\r\nmuch more systematic about it and I think much more fair.  There’s an organization called\r\nNICE.  Not very appropriately\r\nchristened, The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, and they\r\nare particularly responsible for looking at drugs and various therapies and how\r\nmuch they cost, and assessing how much more extra life these drugs or these\r\ntherapies are going to get for an individual patient.  And if they cost too much for too little life, then those\r\ndrugs and therapies are simply not approved.  The NHS will not pay for them.  Now, there’s a brutality to that.  NICE is not very popular in the UK, but I believe that that\r\nkind of an organization and those kinds of determinations are necessary\r\nevils.  I, personally, do not want\r\nmillions of dollars spent on my living maybe a couple of extra and probably\r\nmiserable months.  And by the way,\r\nI would add that that’s easy for me to say now because I’m in good health.  And I may feel differently later.  But I would think that it would be\r\nquite reasonable and maybe merciful for a higher power were I in that situation\r\nto say, “Okay Lionel, now you’ve changed your mind.  You’re desperate to stay alive, but no, we’re not going to spend\r\n$2 million on a couple of extra months for you.  You know, you’re not worth it.”  And certainly from this vantage point of a healthy, rational\r\nperson, I don’t think a couple months of my life are worth $2 million of\r\nsomeone else’s money.

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Question: What keeps\r\nyou up at night?

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Lionel Shriver: You know, that’s funny. \r\nThis sounds so petty.  But,\r\nwhat kept me up last night was, I just moved house in London and my study is\r\njust a pile of cartons and I’m tortured where to put the desk.  So, last night I was rearranging\r\nfurniture in my head.  So, it goes\r\nfrom the mundanities like that. \r\nActually most writers would probably not see that as mundane.  The orientation of a desk is bizarrely\r\nimportant.  

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Otherwise, I don’t\r\nknow.  The state of my marriage if\r\nI recently had a fight, or what to do in chapter three.  I solve a lot of fictional questions in\r\nmy sleep.  That is, I’ll go to\r\nsleep thinking about something and wake up with the answer.  I find dreams and the state of\r\nunconsciousness very creatively useful. 

Recorded on March 12, 2010

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A conversation with the novelist.

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SpaceX plans to launch about 12,000 internet-providing satellites into orbit over the next six years.

Technology & Innovation
  • SpaceX plans to launch 1,600 satellites over the next few years, and to complete its full network over the next six.
  • Blanketing the globe with wireless internet-providing satellites could have big implications for financial institutions and people in rural areas.
  • Some are concerned about the proliferation of space debris in Earth's orbit.
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Russian reporters discover 101 'tortured' whales jammed in offshore pens

Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.

(VL.ru)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Russian news network discovers 101 black-market whales.
  • Orcas and belugas are seen crammed into tiny pens.
  • Marine parks continue to create a high-price demand for illegal captures.
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How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

Videos
  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.