Andr Aciman talks at the New York Public Library

eightwhitenightsWriter and academic Andr Aciman had to field some pretty weighty questions last night: "What's the meaning of literature, and has it changed over time?" was NYPL president Paul Leclerc's opener, which was greeted with laughter from Aciman. "I'm not going to touch on that" he said, before talking about the things that stay, in a literary sense at least, omnipresent: love and war. His latest book, Eight White Nights, is firmly in the former camp: it's the story of a couple whose love life plays out over one week on the Upper West Side.

Aciman addressed some of the journalistic criticism leveled at his latest novel, in particular the notion that his characters seem to inhabit a world apart from quotidian concerns: "Reviewers get very annoyed when you don't give a profession [for a character]. 'What does he do for a living?' It's immaterial." For Aciman, it's the internal world that matters.

He spoke, finally, of the universality of feeling that his novel explores: "We've all been there when the person you're dying to call tells you not to call, and you now have eight hours to wait for that moment when you will see if you are going to be alive that evening or not." Roland Barthes said something similar in A Lover's Discourse: as in love and war, it seems, some things never change.