It's a testament to the popularity of American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, who has written only three books in the past decade, that the ASB Theatre was packed at 10am yesterday for the last day of the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival.

Eugenides introduced himself by saying he'd seen the sign "Schindler's Lift" at his hotel, quipping he wasn't sure if he'd be safe getting in.

Hosted by Kate De Goldi, Eugenides was a smart, wry guest, much like his books (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex and The Marriage Plot).

He attended university in the 1980s when the teaching of literature was having a kind of civil war; his creative writing teacher hated narrative but Eugenides liked stories, sneaking them in like a "blackmarket".


Eugenides, of Greek origin, wrestled with spirituality when he was a young man and went to Calcutta to work for Mother Theresa, but "avoiding the hardest tasks". He didn't last long. An advocate of learning Latin ("it taught me English grammar") and Anna Karenina as the greatest book he has ever read, he could have told us much more, but De Goldi tended towards long statements instead of honing those more quickly into questions, while the Q&A was marred by a member of the audience trying to seek publicity for his own book.

British writer Geoff Dyer, was introduced by Gregory O'Brien as a "close personal friend for years but we met only a few hours ago". Dyer's latest book, Zona, is a riff on the experience of watching Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's very slow, very long classic film Stalker, which is rarely seen. So we were treated to some very slow scenes on screen as Dyer read from his book his thoughts on those scenes. All the more surreal because the book started out as a treatise on tennis.

"The film," he said with a straight face, "is no more than a trailer for my book."

Dyer has even been a Vogue correspondent (once), covering couture shows in Paris. As he told us, he and the Vogue PA were travelling by train to France when she started to show doubts he knew anything about fashion.

"Sure I do," he assured her. "We're about to enter the Chanel tunnel."

Attendance for this year's festival was up 10 per cent on last year, with 24,000 tickets sold for the five-day event, including 82 sessions and workshops delivered by 120 writers.