THE NEW YORKER
Don DeLillos Annotated "Underworld"
On December 2nd, Christie’s will host the PEN American Center’s First Editions/Second Thoughts benefit, an auction of first-edition books annotated by their authors. (Last year, PENEnglish held an inaugural version of the event, at Sotheby’s in London.) Among the offerings is a copy of Don DeLillo’s 1997 novel “Underworld,” its original cover featuring a bird alighting over the Twin Towers, the silhouette of a church in the foreground below. Inside the eight-hundred-page book are four hundred pages of DeLillo’s handwritten notes, providing anecdotes, playful commentary, and his recollections of writing the book. I recently spoke to DeLillo, via fax, about the process of revisiting the novel, which he had said was a “somewhat grudging experience” that turned into “several days of pure pleasure.”
DeLillo was given the option of annotating “Underworld” or “Americana,” but felt that his distance from the latter was too great. “I have fairly clear recollections of writing the book—the room, the desk, the painting on the wall, the feeling that after two years of work (of an eventual four years) I now considered myself a novelist,” he said. “But I was fairly certain that the text itself would resemble foreign matter.” In rereading “Underworld,” he said that he was sometimes surprised—by the space given to the Bronx storylines (“These are words and phrases and curses meant to be delivered orally … sounds and actions, not alphabetic symbols set down on a page”), by the power of certain turns of phrase, and by the process of rediscovering his own work seventeen years after its publication. “I found it interesting to become curious about something that I myself had written,” he said.
Here are a selection of pages from the annotated book, accompanied by further comments from DeLillo: