It’s been over two years since my last “By the Book” post, so I think I can safely indulge myself again. These questions are taken from the By the Book interviews in the New York Times Book Review. Some questions are new, some updated.
What book is on your night stand now?
I’m currently reading two books, which is unusual for me. The first is Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris. It’s a detailed look at the five movies nominated for Best Picture in 1967 and how their productions reflected the breakdown of the Old Hollywood studio system. I’m also working on Nutshell, Ian McEwan’s new book, because I got it off the library waitlist and won’t be able to renew.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
This year my reading has gone between literary fiction and psychological thrillers. I’ve also integrated some nonfiction into the rotation: a smattering of literary biographies, history, and psychology. I haven’t found myself reading young adult this year, so I must have needed a break. All the better to return to the genre with fresh eyes. Although I’m much less averse to mysteries these days, I still don’t find myself interested in legal dramas or straight-up romance novels.
Who writes the best thrillers?
My favorites are Gillian Flynn and Dennis Lehane. Although she’s only put out one book so far, I’m excited to see what Paula Hawkins comes up with after The Girl on the Train. Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters, also knows how to scare the bejesus out of me.
Tell us about your favorite short stories.
I’m not particularly well-versed in short stories, but my favorite is “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. It captures the vulnerability of being a young woman and teeters on the uncanny edge of reality as only Oates can do. J. D. Salinger also meant a lot to me as a teenager.
How do you organize your books?
Moving into a studio apartment, my biggest concern was whether there would be room for all my books. Thanks to some generous shelving in the closet, there was! Outside of the closet, I have a long, skinny bookshelf with perfect spaces for poetry, nonfiction, and books about writing. My larger bookshelf has most of my young adult and favorite adult fiction. Overflow is relegated to the closet.
What was the last book that made you cry?
Definitely Room. I ugly-cried watching the movie, and even though I knew what would happen, I cried again reading the book. If you want to reduce me to tears, just show me a child in distress.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
There are way too many good ones, but I love Jane Eyre as a heroine. Despite having little social power, she stands up for herself and makes her own choices. My favorite villain would have to be someone whose villain status is ambiguous, like Amy Dunne from Gone Girl or Odalie and Rose from The Other Typist.
What book read for school had the greatest impact on you? And which book did you hate reading as a student?
Eleventh-grade English was a formative year for me, particularly studying poetry and the modernist writers. The Great Gatsby sparked my interest in literary criticism, as well as evoking themes that still fascinate me today. On the other hand, I loathed reading Ernest Hemingway. I had to read The Sun Also Rises again in college, and my feelings were much the same.
What was the last book you just couldn’t finish?
Oddly enough, I’ve tried twice this year to read books about Puritans and never made it past the first chapter. The first attempt was The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, and the second was The Witches by Stacy Schiff. I will have to give Sarah Vowell another chance because she seems very much in my wheelhouse. Apparently Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials are topics that I find interesting in theory but not in practice.
What do you plan to read next?
The new Blackthorn & Grim book just came out, so hopefully I will be getting that from the library soon. I’m also interested in reading Five Came Back, the other book by Mark Harris, and some of the writers referenced by Suzanne Rindell in Three-Martini Lunch, like James Baldwin and Truman Capote.