Novelist Per Petterson's latest take on time and friendship

'I Refuse' by Per Petterson
'I Refuse' by Per Petterson
Courtesy of Graywolf Press

Per Petterson's life has been all about books. He's worked in a bookstore and in a library; he's been a translator and a literary critic.

He wrote his first novel on the bus, riding to and from work in his native Norway.

His novels, translated from Norwegian and published in the United States by Minneapolis literary powerhouse Graywolf Press, have received wide acclaim. "Out Stealing Horses" was named one of the 10 best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review in 2007.

The Guardian hailed his latest book, "I Refuse," as a "masterful study of time." It's the story of two childhood friends who are separated as teenagers and don't meet again for another 30 years.

Where does he draw his inspiration? From the bus. Petterson said he gets some of his best lines from eavesdropping on the bus. He starts with an overhead line of dialogue, and lets the story run from there.

"You write down the line in the dialogue, and one leads to another. I write books from sentence to sentence and I don't really know what's going to happen," Petterson said. "You write on the page but you don't know what the next page is going to be, and then you finish that and go: Ah, of course, couldn't be anything else."

Petterson joined MPR News' Kerri Miller to discuss writing, friendship and how 18-year-old boys really talk.

He will read from "I Refuse" at Common Good Books in St. Paul on April 21.

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