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Novelist, ‘promiscuous reader’

Barbara Kingsolver: Novelist, ‘promiscuous reader’

David Wood

Barbara Kingsolver is a rare species, a well-respected writer who’s regularly scaled the bestseller list for more than 20 years. She reads from her new book, “Flight Behavior” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Cambridge’s First Parish Church. Tickets are $5. The event is sponsored by the Harvard Book Store.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

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KINGSOLVER: “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich. I love it so much that I’m carrying around the hardcover in my purse despite the 15 or 20 books I have on my e-reader. That’s the best review I can give any book, that I’m carrying around this big whopper.

BOOKS: Do you usually read a number of books at once?

KINGSOLVER: I’m a very monogamous writer, but I’m a promiscuous reader. I just finished Kevin Powers’s “The Yellow Birds,” which is one of those books that knocks your perceptions into new alignment permanently, Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “Once Upon A River,” Penelope Lively’s “How It All Began,” and “Notes from No Man’s Land,” a fascinating collection of essays about race by Eula Biss. I also read with my 16-year-old. I skipped out on the Harry Potter years and let them do YA on their own, but I’m loving the English AP years. We read out loud to each other when we are making dinner or driving. We just finished Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities.” I crush on Dickens. His novels are so large yet so contained. Now we are reading “Fahrenheit 451.” A great prose stylist Ray Bradbury is not, but he wrote this book in 1953 about presumably now. It’s interesting to see what he got right, such as that TV would colonize the human psyche and ear buds. Everyone in the book walks around wearing them.

BOOKS: Have you always read a bunch at the same time?

KINGSOLVER: Yes. I pick up a lot of different books because I’m almost phobic about waiting somewhere without something to read. I don’t just mean the doctor’s office, but even a long red light.

BOOKS: Have your tastes changed over time?

KINGSOLVER: I’m pickier as the years go by. At age 40, I gave myself permission to stop reading a book I’m not loving. I will skip too, particularly with 19th-century literature when a lot of description was more necessary. I also speed read. In my early 20s I took the Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics course. It works. You can read a few hundred pages in an hour. I don’t read fiction that way, but it comes in handy for reading the history of the Mexican revolution.

BOOKS: Did your childhood in Africa influence you as a reader?

KINGSOLVER: Maybe in the same way that people who lived through the Depression are hoarders. [When my family was in Africa] was a period of time when I never had enough to eat or never had enough to read. We took my schoolbooks, and I devoured those in short order. Then I read my brother’s schoolbooks. Then there was nothing. Missionaries sent us a package of comic-book versions of classics, like Dickens’s “Great Expectations.” It was like water for someone dying of thirst.

BOOKS: Any African authors you like?

KINGSOLVER: I liked Peter Godwin’s “Mukiwa,” his memoir of growing up in pre-war Rhodesia. I’m a longtime fan of Doris Lessing. Probably the first great literature I read was her “Children of Violence” series, which I read at 12.

BOOKS: Wasn’t that kind of young?

KINGSOLVER: I grew up in a house full of books. Maybe that’s where I learned to be so eclectic because I would just pull down anything. I’d read my dad’s medical journals. My brother and I read the Encyclopedia Britannica from beginning to end. In the early grades, I read a lot of stuff I maybe shouldn’t have. That’s probably why I could not engage when my kids went through the YA stage, because I never did. I just went straight from children’s books to Lessing and Dickens.

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