A Naked Singularity: A Novel
Sergio De La Pava
University of Chicago Press, 2012
688 pp., $18.00
Interview by David Michael
A Naked Singularity
Editor's note: One of the most interesting and ambitious novels of the year is Sergio De La Pava's A Naked Singularity, published in May by the University of Chicago Press. David Michael talks with De La Pava about the book.
When did you initially write A Naked Singularity?
I originally self-published it in late 2008.
How did University of Chicago Press pick it up?
After I self-published it, a couple years went by and nothing really happened. Sometime in, I'm going to say, late 2010, a couple of reviews started appearing, and I gather that an editor at UChicago Press read some of the reviews, then read the book, and then got into contact with us.
I'm not great on the details. My wife handles most of that stuff.
What was the decision like to self-publish it—how did that come about?
After I finished the book, I looked for an agent for a few years, and nothing panned out. I was pretty willing to let it die and move on to the next thing. My wife was pretty adamant that I should publish it, and at some moment she convinced me to do that.
I did it on a print-on-demand service where you essentially print a book when anyone orders it, make it available on Amazon. An actual book—not just an ebook.
Because you self-published, did you have contacts who functioned as stand-ins for a publishing house editor?
I don't have any friends who are writers, editors, or in publishing, so the quick answer is no. I was generally happy with it; I wasn't thrilled beyond belief, and I didn't take the rejections to heart to where I thought it wasn't a worthy book. I tend to keep my own counsel when it comes to fiction, and I believe in how I do it. I felt like, eh, let's take it, bind it, and put it into a book. I never expected anything more than that to come of it.
The book is polymathic … almost encyclopedic. You bring together the law, social commentary, physics, music, and boxing. What's your background? Are you working in the legal system? What did you study?
I guess you could say I have a background in all the things you mentioned. I studied philosophy, I have a law degree. As far as things like physics and boxing, they're just big interests of mine though not formal pursuits. A lot of what I feel like I'm doing when I'm writing is keeping myself entertained, keeping myself interested. So it felt natural to include things that I found intensely interesting, provided that it would work within the framework of the story I was telling.
Which I think it does, but you're always coming up on the limits of that. How much of that hyper-elusive digressive thinking you can get away with while still hopefully telling a somewhat compelling and linear story. I thought that was the challenge that this particular book creates.
Some of the book's finest writing occurs in the portions about boxing. You primarily focus on boxing in the Seventies and Eighties. I wonder if you think boxing's dropped off since then? I get the impression that it seems to be dying a bit in popular culture, perhaps losing popularity to Ultimate Fighting.
The Eighties were probably the last real golden age of boxing. I would make an argument for the early Nineties as well. The book covers Wilfred Benitez, but also four other prominent boxers of that time. I would say that since then, the sport has definitely declined in popularity. It's gone the way of something like horse-racing. Except that what keeps horse-racing alive is the gambling, whereas with boxing, a lot of people have lost interest in it. I can't really blame them; it's a poorly run sport.
But it has its own beauty. It's a savage beauty, but it's definitely there. I think that's what I was responding to. I also felt that, with respect to Wilfred Benitez himself, there was a good theme there. He's the forgotten fighter of the five that I mention, and I felt talking about him at length fit in well with the story I was telling.
I found myself watching videos of him on YouTube after I finished the book.
It's funny. When I was writing the book, I found a guy who basically has every fight you've ever heard of on videocassette. I would correspond with this guy: "Hey do you by any chance have this really obscure Wilfred Benitez fight?" And sure enough, the video tape would arrive at my house a week later for eight or ten bucks. And that's how I did my research.
Nowadays, you could almost read the book and then pop in the YouTube clip. But it was a little more complicated than that at the time.