In Tremor( Random House, Oct. 17), as in his first novel, Open City, Teju Cole has created a protagonist who resembles himself—in this case Tunde, a photographer, writer, and Harvard professor raised in Nigeria. Tunde contemplates music and art, friendship and marriage, race, identity, and authority. Our starred review calls it “a provocative and profound meditation on art and life.” We asked the author some questions by email; his answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What can you express through fiction that you can’t through nonfiction or photography?

This question makes me think of the concept of “inscape” as developed by the 19th-century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. For Hopkins, everything in creation had its own unique character, its own “inscape,” and each thing is at its best self when it expresses that character. A hawk hunts, a flower blooms. “Each mortal thing does one thing and the same,” he writes, “deals out that being indoors each one dwells.” I apply this thinking to fiction, nonfiction, and photography. There are inherent possibilities in each (the use of words, the use of light, the reliance of fact, the relationship to time, etc.) that the others can’t quite replicate. But what I find most interesting is that any art form, brought to fruition, has effects commensurable with other art forms: We are moved, we are changed. In other words, the path to universality is through a very stringent specificity.

Who is your ideal reader for this book?

In my mind, a novel is an invitation to step into a space that will be somewhat unfamiliar. I think some readers have an opposite definition: They read novels in order to get exactly what they expect. Those are not my readers. My ideal reader trusts that I will take them somewhere, not knowing quite where that will be. And yet this unpredictability, in retrospect, should feel necessary and whole.

Were you a big reader as a kid?

Yes, and I read good stuff: Achebe, Twain, Lamb’s abridged Shakespeare. In my early teens, the reading got a bit more generic: Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie. Book after book of those series. I learned something there, I suppose. But beginning at 19 and into my early 20s, the truly formative reading experiences happened, and those were Hemingway, Salinger, Joyce, Kundera, and a large variety of 20th-century poets. That’s what really alerted me to the making of literature, and to the weird intensity that literature could sponsor, and that planted in me the desire to make literature myself.

What book do you absolutely love that is not as well-known as it deserves to be?

I often give different answers when asked to name my favorite book (I take this as an exercise in free will) but my most frequent answers, over the years, are Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family and Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian. Recently, Miriam Toews’ Women Talking knocked me off my feet. No, I haven’t seen the film and no, I don’t want to. But I admired the book a great deal.

What fall release(s) are you most looking forward to reading?

I’m actually not that clued in to what’s coming up. I’m curious about Zadie Smith’s The Fraud and Ben Lerner’s [poetry collection] The Lights—two of my peers who do what they do on an extremely high level. But, otherwise, it’s the usual wait and see. In any case, I rarely get around to reading something in the year it’s published. If I were not the author of Tremor, I’d be intrigued by it but probably not get to it until 2027.

Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.