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Anne Tyler, Toni Morrison, Rick Bragg, Ishmael Reed, Jean Thompson, Bernice McFadden and Roger Reeves.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
Short stories and memoirs. I devour short stories, and love them because of their tight immediacy; close-up focus, often on a single incident or moment; and how complete they feel. Memoirs because I admire how some people are able to revisit and remember the tragedies in their lives, and especially how they managed to rise above it. If they did. I do not like espionage, science fiction or romance novels, because I don’t believe half of them, they feel totally implausible; and because I either know how they’re going to end or don’t care.
What’s your favorite self-help book?
I don’t like self-help books. However, I do respect the Bible, but have more often than not turned to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and “The Real Meaning of Life,” compiled by David Seaman, because it’s refreshing to read how differently other people see their lives, especially disappointments and difficulties. Reading a good novel can have the same effect as a self-help book because I gain more insight, empathy and respect for how others not just survive, but thrive, which is empowering.
How and when do you read? Electronic or paper? Bath or bed?
I like to read in the evening, when it’s quiet, sit in my favorite chair with the perfect white light; and I read real books because I like to crack the spine, turn the pages and smell them. I also like to highlight beautiful or powerful lines — and often go back to them just for the zing.
How do you organize your books?
I have tried by genre, but I buy so many types of books (it’s an addiction of course), it’s impossible to manage. I do, however, like to keep the most recent purchases within eyesight, which is why they’re usually in stacks on the floor in my office, reminding me of their urgency.
What do you like to read on the plane?
Short stories or sleazy magazines, except I do like reading some articles in The New Yorker, but only after laughing at the cartoons and then reading the poetry. I often save the poetry in a file I call “Amazing Poetry.” I’ve got years’ worth.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
“My Struggle,” by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I have Books 1, 2 and 3 and will read all six. It’s written with verve and so much honesty and is so powerful; it’s quite intimidating because of just how much he sees.
What’s the last book that made you laugh out loud?
Sad to say, but I can’t remember. I prefer to smile. But there are moments in lots of novels that make my cheeks hurt from smiling, which is pure joy. However, if I could go back in time, which I often do with my favorite books, I’d have to say “Haircut and Other Stories,” by Ring Lardner. He was a comical magician.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
I can’t remember. I rarely get books as gifts, because people don’t know what to buy me.
Tell us your favorite TV, film or theater adaptation of a book.
“The Color Purple.”
And now for a movie or TV show that has yet to be made: Tell us about your ideal adaptation of any book.
Notwithstanding that some of my novels have been made into films for the big and small screens, I would trade them all in to see “I Almost Forgot About You” made into a film, because I’d really like to see a middle-aged woman — and a black woman in this case — fall in love. Older women are not given the same respect or screen time (except Meryl Streep did, but that was a rarity) as being sexy, strong, beautiful women who don’t happen to be thin, young and white. And yet men can be old, gray and wrinkled and have no trouble being seen as sex symbols. I resent it.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
I’d have to say my heroine is Janie Mae Crawford in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” because she showed me what courage and confidence looked like as a black woman when I was young and didn’t realize black girls/women had it. I don’t have a favorite villain, but there are characters in some novels that are antagonistic that I don’t like, but it doesn’t mean they’re villains.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I didn’t read much as a child, because we didn’t have books at home, but we did have a bookmobile that my siblings and I appreciated from time to time. I really started reading at 14, when I got a job as a page in our local library. It was when I started getting lost in books. It was magical.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
“Think on These Things,” by J. Krishnamurti.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
David Foster Wallace, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison.
If you could be friends with any author, dead or alive, who would it be?
Ring Lardner and Zora Neale Hurston.
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?
“The Corrections,” by Jonathan Franzen, and if I can go back, “Middlemarch.”
Whom would you want to write your life story?
Someone who didn’t like me. Or misunderstood me. Perhaps they might come to see me in a better light.
What do you want to read next?
One of the books on my night stand. Whichever one I touch first.Continue reading the main story