Meg Wolitzer makes writing novels look easy. Her first, “Sleepwalking,” was published a year after she got out of college. Since then she’s published a steady stream of well-reviewed novels, the latest being the much buzzed about “The Interestings.”
BOOKS: Does your reading change in the summer?
WOLITZER: I associate summer with going to the library and inhaling 20 books, with that gorging quality, of not reading for homework. In the summer, you look for an adult version of that experience, of being absorbed in the world that the author creates without having to discuss it or draw a picture related to it. Can you imagine? Here’s my interpretive drawing of “Freedom.” “Middlesex,” my diorama.
BOOKS: What’s on your summer list?
WOLITZER: We are leaving for South Hampton tomorrow. I’m going to teach, but there will still be time at the pool and the beach. One thing I didn’t get to this year is Ian McEwan’s “Sweet Tooth.” I want to read that. There’s also a new YA novel I want to read, “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell. I really want to jump into Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical novel, “My Struggle.” There are two volumes out, but there will be six eventually. It’s apparently Proustian. If you are going to bring a million-page, dark, Scandinavian autobiographical novel you have to have “I, Rhoda” by Valerie Harper. I like to balance my reading a bit. I’m about high and low.
BOOKS: What’s the last book you read?
WOLITZER: Susan Choi’s novel “My Education,” which was excellent. I always have several pots going on the stove. I’ve also been reading Elinor Lipman’s collection of essays, “I Can’t Complain.” Everyone has read “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter, but I just started it. I’m slow on the uptake. That is going to weigh down my suitcase, but it should go. I like a long book. I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods that in this Internet era we want short things. To throw myself head first into a long, fantastic novel is my idea of fun. I forgot to mention that I recently read Delia Ephron’s newest collection of essays, “Sister Mother Husband Dog,” which comes out this September. It’s rare to find a of book essays with ones that are heartbreaking and some that are really funny.
BOOKS: Do you read any other kinds of nonfiction?
WOLITZER: You mean like books about Ernest Shackleton and Antarctic expeditions? My son had his book “South” sitting out. Here’s where the shame comes in. I’m married to a science writer. We can have moments when he’s walking through the room with a book by Stephen Hawking, and I’ve got one by Valerie Harper. I don’t think those two names have ever been said in the same sentence. I read less nonfiction than I would like. I’ve become a foot soldier for fiction, but I would like to be open to anything. There’s a great line John Updike said about book reviewing, that it’s basically your job to submit to the spell of the story. You can say, “I don’t like reading about physics or whaling,” but I think when you do that you cut yourself off from being moved and changed by a book.
BOOKS: Have your tastes changed over time?
WOLITZER: Yes. When I was young I liked reading about people my own age. When I first read Colette I was too young. I didn’t understand what was the big deal. Then later I read her “Cheri.” Then I got it, that she was writing about the sadness of aging; I couldn’t see that earlier because I was in such a bubble of youth. One of my favorite books is “Old Filth” by Jane Gardam about an elderly man. I wouldn’t have read that when I was young. I hewed too close to my own experience. Thus the Shackleton never got read.
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