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Cheap Wine, Plastic Chairs: A weekly series that celebrates everyone’s favorite part of the author reading: the Q&A. This week, John Green and Neil Gaiman at Carnegie Hall.

Advice for aspiring novelists?

John Green: My two pieces of advice are to read a lot and to read broadly and my second piece of advice is to tell stories to your friends and pay attention to when they get bored.

Neil Gaiman: I was gonna say, read everything, write, and finish things – just whatever it takes to finish, finish and then go on to the next one. You will learn more from glorious failure than you ever will from something that you never finished.

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Cheap Wine, Plastic Chairs: Oliver Sacks at Barnes & Noble: A weekly series that celebrates everyone’s favorite part of the author reading: the Q&A.

With science rather than spirituality, how do you find consolation in life?

I in no sense downplay the importance of given experience in various sorts. For me, for example, music is tremendously important; music transports me. I regard Mozart’s music as coming from heaven. That is only a way of speaking, but I can’t help speaking that way. I find my joys in nature and in human art and culture. And sometimes in science. There’s a lovely book by a great physicist called The Joy of Insight, and he describes epiphanies and ecstasies and feelings of revelation quite as intense as any religious person. But I personally have no taste for immortality. I think it would be a disaster for the species if any prominent way of averting death was found. I’d like a few more years of relative health to enjoy life and write and I will be happy to bill it in.

Cheap Wine, Plastic Chairs: Tracy K. Smith at Strand Bookstore: A weekly series that celebrates everyone’s favorite part of the author reading: the Q&A.

Why poetry?

I remember the moment that I “got” poetry. I had always loved it as a child and liked making puzzles with words. I liked the feeling of wisdom I attributed to poems and I wanted that for myself. I remember when I was older, I was in college reading a poem and really coming under its spell and realizing it was visceral. It afforded the reader, and I imagine the poet also, the opportunity to stop and look at very small details with such scrutiny that it becomes completely other.

The poem that did it for me was Seamus Heaney’s “Digging,” in which the speaker is looking at a pen. In the beginning, he says, “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.” Then as he considers the pen and his environment, he goes backward in time and remembers his father and grandfather were working the land. By the end of the poem, having really stepped back into that history and that sense of place, he looks at the pen and says, “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it.” Suddenly the pen becomes a completely different implement but also suggests a different kind of urgency and a different kind of vocation. That just really blew my mind. I wanted to be able to look at the things that were at hand and let them teach me something about not just themselves but myself and the world that I was in.

Cheap Wine, Plastic Chairs: Michael Chabon at Greenlight Bookstore

Our new series that celebrates everyone’s favorite part of the author reading: the Q&A. The same groan-worthy questions are always asked (“What was your inspiration?”), but a good writer can provide the most generic question with a stimulating answer. This week, Michael Chabon weighs in on the pros and cons of “healthy” Internet research.