What books are on your nightstand?
Three small volumes of a series called “A Return to Poetry.” In each, 10 famous Australians choose their 10 favorite songs and share why those songs speak to them. I read these books often and I’m sad they ended the series. Alongside them now I have “Worn,” by Sofi Thanhauser, a dive into the human and environmental cost of the things we carry on our backs; two novels, “Master of the Revels,” by Nicole Galland, and “The Lioness,” by Chris Bohjalian; and Gish Jen’s new short story, “Thank You, Mr. Nixon.”
What was the last great book you read?
I’m enjoying “The Overstory,” by Richard Powers.
Are there any classics you’ve read for the first time?
I will whisper this, for I am dead: “Middlemarch.”
Can a great book be written wrong? What other factors can overcome bad prose?
The “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy, by Liu Cixin, is full of information on everything from China’s Cultural Revolution to why we don’t know about early contact, and why we might. to dislike. But there’s something wrong with some of the words and I can’t tell if it’s the writing or the translation. Alas, it took me too long to learn Mandarin to get a clear answer.
Describe your best reading experience (when, where, how, how).
A cold winter’s day, a lavender-scented bath, a good book, no need to be anywhere else for an hour or so, nothing wrong with turning off the hot water.
What is your favorite book that no one has heard of?
“No One on Earth,” by Walter Moudy. The next thing I saw reading was my son, because I clicked on him.
What book should everyone read before the age of 21?
I taught writing at Harvard last year and half of my students had never read a Shakespeare play. That set my hair on fire.
What book should not be read by anyone until the age of 40?
Thinking of you be able to “Gilead” and “Housekeeping,” by Marilynne Robinson, were read as teenagers, but you should challenge yourself and re-read them when you’re out of style.
Which writers – novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets – working today do you most admire?
Anyone who stands up for the truth against the toxic mud of Murdoch-enabled lies.
Do you consider certain books to be guilty pleasure?
I love Michael Robotham’s fiction and I wasn’t wrong at all.
Who are the best writers in American history, in fiction or non-fiction?
In nonfiction, the prolific and protean Jill Lepore, especially her account of Ben Franklin’s sister, “Book of Ages,” is a painstaking unarguing of the voice of a neglected woman. Likewise, in “Bound in Wedlock,” Tera W. Hunter makes us listen to the untold stories of love and marriage among the oppressed. Drew Gilpin Faust in the Civil War; David W. Blight on Frederick Douglass; Charles E. Rosenberg on dangerous diseases. Nicole Hannah-Jones, like my late husband Tony Horwitz, is a journalist in history, showing the cost of the truths we deny and the stories we embrace. now. In fiction, my favorite American history book is “I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company,” by Brian Hall, about the Lewis and Clark expedition. It’s packed with insights gained through in-depth research and is a master class in tone and style.
How do you organize your books?
My books keep me organized. Poetry should be in the entrance hall, play chairs in the TV room, antiques in the living room, books about food to clutter the kitchen, novels of this period spilling over the walls of built-in shelves in the lobby, books for my current research teeter. In the piles on my desk, while the books from past research go to the closet, it’s Tony’s study. There, books about lead mining in the Pennines and the letters of Bronson Alcott join every book written about the Civil War, which is Tony’s favorite. And in some stable metal tables there is a motley selection of titles, united by the fact that their authors are still with us.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from a recent book?
The size of an octopus is an octopus, no octopi, because you can’t put the Latin “i” at the end of a Greek word. One of the interesting things I learned from “The Soul of an Octopus,” by Sy Montgomery.
What topics do you wish writers would write more about?
We need to reframe the narrative of climate change so it is not about abandonment and loss, but also about possibility and happiness. A wild lawn full of bees and wildflowers is more beautiful and less expensive than an expanse of toxic ChemLawn; An electric car powered by the sun will be much more fun than a gas car, and the first value that was discovered while interacting with the neighbors at the local Dumptique brings to more comfortable than a plastic tchotchke clicked on the web. It’s not about giving up but finding better ways.
What motivates you most in a writing career?
Wit, in all its forms. From Jane Austen to Andrew Sean Greer I love a book that makes me laugh while revealing deep truths about human nature.
What book would surprise people to find on your shelves?
“How to Land an Airplane,” by Mark Vanhoenacker. As the author observes, you are not have got fly, but you will land. As someone who lives on an island and has to fly in small planes with unknown pilots during a time of increased fitness, I find that having this book in hand is a comforter. And Vanhoenacker writes beautifully about flight. I love his book “Skyfaring.”
Do you like books that can make you emotional, or intellectual?
How do you feel without thinking? In what world, or species, would those two species be separated?
What genres do you enjoy reading the most? And what do you avoid?
I love beautiful and insightful writers like Helen Garner, Ann Patchett, Michael Lewis, George Packer, Annie Dillard, WEB Du Bois. I’m a bit of a reader myself because I get really angry when the spirit of research takes the soul out of the story, or when I get carried away by inaccuracies. There was no train to Fitchburg in 1840. There were no camels in Israel before 2000 BC And no one used the word “mauve” for a color until 1796. ” founded in 1665.)
If you could force the president to read one book, what would it be?
“The End of Nature,” by Bill McKibben, with a publication date of 1989 selected at the top. Maybe remind him that we’ve been dealing with this problem for over three years so it’s time to step on Joe Manchin and decide on an air ticket.
Do you remember the last book you left unfinished?
“Moby-Dick,” again. Despite Nathaniel Philbrick’s persuasive story about the quality of the text, that whale doesn’t escape me.
You are organizing a literature dinner. Which three writers, dead or alive, would you invite?
First, I’m going to bring back Tony Horwitz, because he’s more fun at a dinner party than I’ve ever seen him. Then, because I think it’s very rude – and a little – to invite authors without their partners, I would like my Australian friend Tim Winton and his wife Denise, a marine scientist. I add Margaret Atwood and bring back her partner, Graeme Gibson, a conservative.
What are you going to read next?
“All She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Backpack, a Black Family Savings,” by Tiya Miles.