By the Book

In their "By the Book" column, The New York Times asks authors a standard set of questions about their reading lives. I thought it might be fun to answer those questions myself here on the blog. 

What books are currently on your night stand?

Whip Smart, a dominatrix memoir I've just barely started; Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, which I'm reading for book club; The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book; and Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of Cheryl Strayed "Dear Sugar" columns, which Ryan and I are slowly making our way through together. 

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

This is an impossible question, but I'll say that some of my favorites are Jane Austen, Junot Díaz, Meg Wolitzer, Donna Tartt, Nick Hornby, Roald Dahl, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gillian Flynn, and Curtis Sittenfeld.

Whom do you consider the best writers — novelists, essayists, critics, journalists, poets — working today?

In addition to the above novelists that are still working (Díaz, Wolitzer, Tartt, Hornby, and Sittenfeld), I'd say Megan Daum, Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, Jhumpa Lahiri (I know she's written novels, but I've only read her short stories), Karen Russell (ditto), Jon Ronson, and Sara Vowell.

And who are the funniest writers — whether in books, TV, standup or film?

The late Harris Whittels, Tina Fey, Paul F. Tompkins, and Louis CK.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

For nonfiction, I particularly enjoy psychology, micro histories, memoirs, biographies of lesser known figures, letters and correspondence, cookbooks, and design books. I avoid dense history books that assume I have a better history education that I do, most self-help books, and diet books.

For fiction, I particularly enjoy "literary," speculative, magical realism, spiraling generational tombs, quality YA, comics, books about eccentric rich people, and books that, when made into movies, tend to star Keira Knightley. I don't necessarily avoid anything, but I haven't read any romance yet or many mystery/crime novels. 

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

You really shouldn't be surprised by anything, but you might be surprised to find comics (including Buffy and Archie in addition to "critically acclaimed" ones), the Song of Ice and Fire series, children's books, a fair number of plays, the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, lots of fairy tales, several eating disorder memoirs, several sex worker memoirs, about 15 books by or about the Mitford sisters, redundant copies of Shakespeare (the complete works I grew up with and the one I used in college, not to mention individual copies of a few favorites), redundant copies of Pride and Prejudice (they're all so pretty), and six copies of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (at this point, let's call it a collection).

What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite books and authors?

I read and reread Roald Dahl incessantly, and I loved slogging through Shakespeare. I enjoyed the language even when I barely understood what was happening. I also have fond memories of the Amelia's Notebook series and the Ramona books. Of course I also started reading Harry Potter when I was around 11, but that stretched into early adulthood.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

Catherine, Called Birdy, which I read as a teenager and have reread probably more than any other book. It meant a lot to me and made me understand that not knowing who you are yet isn't a bad thing but is actually the first step to finding out who you are. 

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?


You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

Cheryl Strayed, Megan Daum, and Roxane Gay. Can we make this happen? 

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing? Do you ever hate-read?

I have a list of abandoned books here. I didn't necessarily hate them but I didn't like them enough to finish. The last time I finished a book I hated was when I had to read The Lord of the Flies in school. The last time I finished a book that I didn't hate but just wasn't for me was when I had to read The Road in college. Now that I'm not a student, I don't bother to finish books that aren't for me, hence the abandoned books list. I don't really "hate-read" so much as I "amuse-read" sometimes. I.e.: Fifty Shades of Grey, which I've actually been savoring slowly because it's so bananas that you have to take it a bit at a time. 

What book hasn’t been written that you’d like to read?

Books that will eventually be available: the next Donna Tartt novel, the next Gillian Flynn novel, and the the remaining two Song of Ice and Fire books.

Books that will never be available: Sylvia Plath's second novel and whatever The Last Tycoon would have been if Fitzgerald had lived to finish it.

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

I don't do very much rereading because there are so many books I haven't read yet that I want to read, but I have reread Catherine Called BirdyHarry PotterThe Testiment of Mary, All My Friends are Super Heroes, Prep, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking GlassThe Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and Pride and Prejudice, and I might consider rereading any of the books on my five-star books list

What do you plan to read next?

I just bought A Sport and a Pasttime, which I'd like to read this summer because I've heard it's a great summer books. I also recently bought Fun Home, Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, and Lumberjanes.

I might also indulge my curiosity about a few recent talked-abouts (Hausfrau, All the Light We Cannot See, and The Girl on the Train) sometime soon.

I'm also feeling that the time might be right to finally read Sharp Objects (the only Gillian Flynn book I haven't read yet), The Little Friend (the only Donna Tartt book I haven't read yet), or one of the three Jane Austen's I haven't read (Mansfield Park, Emma, and Northanger Abbey).