No too long ago the New York Times Book Review introduced a nifty new feature, the “By the Book” interview, in which the editors pick the brains of a celebrated writer–folks like Joyce Carol Oates, Ian McEwan, Karen Russell, Alain de Botton–on assorted literary questions. It seemed to me that this is a feature worth replicating (read: stealing).
The questions vary slightly from one week to the next and depending on the interviewee, but I’ve lifted most of the core questions. In the spirit of sharing, and with fingers crossed that I am violating no intellectual property rights–sorry Gray Lady–I’ve included my answers below. Please share your own in turn.
What was the best book you read last year? I’m awful at the business of anointing a single winner, but the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud were all wonderful.
Where and when do you like to read? In an ideal world, in the sunshine, when I can be uninterrupted for several hours. In reality, anywhere, anytime: on the train, in the car, to myself when my children are sleeping, out loud when they are awake, as a reward for accomplishing odious or challenging tasks, as a means of procrastinating odious or unpleasant tasks, as an aperitif, as a digestif…
Who are your favorite authors: Ian McEwan, Nadine Gordimer, Margaret Atwood, Naguib Mahfouz, Lorrie Moore, Jonathan Franzen, Roald Dahl, Philip Pullman.
Preferred genre—probably literary fiction
Guilty pleasures: Buying books at second hand book stores, garage sales, thrift stores, and other quirkily organized non-royalty reporting venues.
Best book about your home state (NJ). Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Tom Perotta’s Election.
What were your favorite books as a child? Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, anything to do with King Arthur—Marion Zimmer Bradley to Thomas Mallory to Mary Stewart, L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon and Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, the Fairy Books (Red, Brown, Green) collected by Andrew Lang.
A book you wish the President would read: a memoir written by a client of mine, to be published by FSG this April called A FORT OF NINE TOWERS: An Afghan Family Memoir—a joyous, heartbreaking, eviscerating chronicle of a boy and a country in impossible times.
Author, living or dead, who you might meet: I have a special place in my heart for the English Romantics—William and Dorothy Wordsworth, the Shelleys, Byron, Coleridge, Keats. I would also have liked to tag along with intrepid women travel writers like Gertrude Bell and Freya Stark.
Do you organize books in a particular way: I used to attempt to group roughly by category. I have since given up entirely on a system and now shelve more or less by size and how best I can make them fit.
Paper or electronic? I prefer paper, but read a greater volume electronically.
What do you plan to read next? The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.