In your book, All These Things I’ve Done, the world is running low on resources and there are things that are a rarity, one of these things is books. If this became a reality for us now and we had to get rid of all but five books, which books would be on your list?
I could do the clever thing and say I’d keep the e-reader… but the fact is, if the world’s resources become limited, electrical power, too, could become limited. And then where would I be? So, I’m going with 1) a book written by me – so I could remember that once upon a time, when we had loads of resources, I used to write them, 2) the dictionary – I will lord my superior vocabulary over the dictionary-less masses, 3) An Equal Music by Vikram Seth because I could go for reading that novel again right this very moment, 4) Jane Eyre because I want something soapy but moderately substantive, and 5) Complete Works of William Shakespeare because with limited resources, maybe we’ll all put on plays to pass the time.
Have you got a favourite genre(s) of books?
No, not really. I will say that my favourite thing to come across as a reader is when two genres merge to form something new. I love Kazuo Ishiguro because his books often do that – Never Let Me Go, for instance, is a mix of sci-fi thriller and literary bildungsroman.
Was there a specific author who inspired you to write? Which authors inspire you now?
I am not nor have I ever been an author-centric reader, and it does pain me as a professional author to say this – I want you to read ALL my books! On a personal level, I fall in love with individual books more than I do bodies of work. But, as I sort of alluded to in the previous question, I really admire authors that experiment in multiple genres: from Roald Dahl to Kazuo Ishiguro to F. Scott Fitzgerald (some very interesting stuff in his short stories) to Gary Shteyngart. Not related to this point, I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and the depth of her research and her passion to tell that story in the face of many challenges was really inspirational to me.
Growing up did you have a favourite book/ author that you returned to over and over?
As a girl, I loved orphan stories. I am not an orphan nor did I wish to be. However, if a book had a scrappy young female protagonist and ideally one with literary aspirations, this was usually a book for me. My favourite orphan books were probably Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, A Little Princess, Little Women, and a funny little epistolary novel called, Dear Daddy Long Legs. There are more, I’m sure.
Can you remember who you got into reading and when your love for the printed word began?
My parents aren’t religious, but something they were religious about was going to the library once a week. It all started there.
Are your bookshelves in any precise order?
Yes, but it’s the boring alphabetical way divided into all the usual categories – and still it takes me forever to find anything. And still I can’t find A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor, which I really need to be re-reading right now! I’m flirting with covering all my books with brown paper bags because I saw someone in a magazine who had their books this way. I thought it looked chic, but it also was sort of liberating to me – the books were freed from tyranny of jackets!
As a lover of books more than an author, what would your reaction be to someone who claimed not
to like reading or said it was a boring pastime?
Well, I want people to read but… I’m not going to beg someone who doesn’t want to. It’s a good club we’re in, and if you want to be in it, you’ve got to make an effort. However, I’m also an optimist, and I usually think when someone says they don’t like to read that they just haven’t met the right book yet.
Do you have a least favourite book that you are willing to share with us?
I have books that I’ve been disappointed by. I have books that I am not the right audience for. I read books that I wish were more daring narratively or formally, or with characters I think behave in untruthful ways. But in general, I do not have least favourites. I never really have. Life is too short to spend it keeping track of the things you don’t like.
If you could have coffee and a chat with any author, alive or dead, who would it be and why? (Obviously I know you have probably met quite a few fellow authors so this could be either someone you’ve already met and would like to again or someone you haven’t!)
I’ve been fortunate to know a few interesting authors over the years and have the occasional friendships, too. However, in general, the more I love a book, the less I find I want to meet the author who wrote it. The book is the book, for me, and often, it’s the very best expression of its author. So, no, I’m not dying to meet anyone. That said, I’m rather looking forward to doing a panel with M.T. Anderson and Lois Lowry this fall. A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry was one my favourite books when I was a girl. And M.T. Anderson is the best kind of literary trickster.
Thank you for taking the time to do this for me!
You are very welcome!