Bostonians really, really like Good Will Hunting. We recently spoke via email with author Christian Lander of the famed blog — and subsequent book — Stuff White People Like. He has a new book called Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle’s Sweaters to Maine’s Microbrews. We asked him a few questions about his new book, Boston, and of course, Good Will Hunting.
BLOG WILL HUNTING: Did your travels as a published author, perhaps on your first book tour, affect the way you see the (white) world? I was struck by the similarities — looking from your book tour dates to the cities you profile in the new book.
CHRISTIAN LANDER: Absolutely. Like most people I fell into a bubble of only visiting cities where I had close friends or were absolute must stops for white people (New York, San Francisco). I had a rough idea about the makeup and attitudes of these other cities but it wasn’t until I actually visited them that I realized that they were as predictable as me. Which is to say, very predictable.
BWH: I suspect there are particular questions that authors get asked all the time. What is the quintessential question people ask of you at author talks?
CL: “Is there anyone who doesn’t get it?” And the answer is always yes. You can’t write about race, or you can’t write anything even close to satire without an drawing an audience that doesn’t get it.
BWH: Following up on that, I’d imagine you’ve been pitched some pretty esoteric blogs. Any that were particularly memorable?
CL: Not sure I’d call them esoteric. Most people won’t tell me their idea for a tumblr blog, they’ll just do it, and before you know it we have a site of “Cats that look look like this lesbian I know.” Boom. What I find are people who have done brilliant spin off sites: Stuff Educated Black People Like, Stuff Black People Hate, White Stuff People Like, etc.
BWH: I’m of course particularly interested in your Boston section. Why did you choose to kick off the book with Boston?
CL: I wish I could say I had a burning desire because I had my heart broken by a girl from Brookline or a particularly harsh rejection from Harvard. But the truth is when we were arranging the book we tried to do a rough geographical tour, and we figured we should start in the Northeast. After all, that’s exactly where white people started.
BWH: I feel like you sum up the Good Will Hunting phenomenon perfectly in your comment about Bostonians being “proud of their blue-collar roots” but “two generations is as close as they will ever get to a job requiring manual labor.” Matt and Ben made this film that was so intensely proud of its grittiness, and much is made of their true-blue Boston backgrounds, but they were Cambridge brats who were teachers’ kids and went to Cambridge Rindge and Latin. Assuming it wasn’t actually Damon and Affleck, what was your inspiration for this astute observation?
CL: The “Boston” movies help (Good Will Hunting, The Town, The Departed) and since I have a lot of friends from Boston (mostly classmates who I met at McGill), they all sort of take on this pride that Boston is somehow still a place where you can be white and tough and I guess sort of smart. It was fun to see people taking pride in these roots and then finding out that their parents were lawyers. It’s like when they call professional sports teams “blue collar.”
BWH: So… does Good Will Hunting fit? Is it something White People Like?
CL: Absolutely, because we all like to think we were smart enough to go to Harvard but chose not to.
Christian Lander will be signing books and speaking here in town, at Cambridge’s own Harvard Book Store, on Saturday, January 22.