Jill Medvedow, director of The Institute of Contemporary Art, admits she’ll use about any excuse to pop into the museum’s shop and pick up a few new books. The museum just opened “The Refusal of Time,” an exhibit of work by South African artist William Kentridge. The show is open through May 4.
BOOKS: Do you have a lot of books?
MEDVEDOW: Yes. We have books from four people in our house, from my husband, my two kids, and me. My books tend to be mostly novels —
BOOKS: What’s your most recent acquisition?
MEDVEDOW: I just got this really amazing, immersive book, “That Which Is Not Drawn,” which is a conversation between the artist William Kentridge and the anthropologist Rosalind C. Morris. It’s fantastic.
BOOKS: What’s the most recent novel you read?
MEDVEDOW: I just took Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” off my nightstand because I finished it over the holidays. I have mixed feelings about it. I couldn’t stop reading it, but I was disappointed that all the compelling characters were men. I’m completely envious of the long lines at the Frick museum in New York City to see the actual painting [at the center of the novel]. I wish someone would base a novel on one of the ICA’s pieces.
BOOKS: What’s left on your nightstand?
MEDVEDOW: My nightstand is frightening. I have Wallace Stegner’s “Crossing to Safety,” which I’m rereading. I love that book. I was in the mood to read about long friendships and long marriages. I also have Ann Patchett’s “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage,” which I just finished. It’s really smart and honest. There’s Rep. John Lewis’s graphic memoir “March,” written with Andrew Aydin, which I read yesterday in honor of Martin Luther King Day. It’s a quick and moving read. There are two books I haven’t read yet, “In an Antique Land” by the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh and “Bloodlands” by Timothy Snyder. That is about the millions of people who died under Stalin and Hitler. It’s big, thick and, I expect, deeply depressing. My husband said it was a stunning piece of writing.
BOOKS: How would you describe your taste in books?
MEDVEDOW: I’m really drawn to stories of imperfection. Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is a touchstone. Another favorite is the novel “A Journey to the End of the Millennium” by the Israeli author A. B. Yehoshua. I love “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” by David Mitchell. I don’t know why, but once I spent a year reading everything by Anthony Trollope. My husband grew to despise Trollope because I spent so much time reading him.
BOOKS: Which of his books was your favorite?
MEDVEDOW: “Barchester Towers.” Some of his books are deeply bombastic and disappointing. “The Way We Live Now” was not one of my favorites.
BOOKS: What do you read besides novels and art books?
MEDVEDOW: I manage to fit in a bunch of mysteries between major reads. I read “The Lost” by Daniel Mendelsohn, which was really moving, a mix of memoir, detective story, and history about his relatives who were killed by the Nazis.
BOOKS: Have you always been a mystery reader?
MEDVEDOW: Ever since I grew up with Cherry Ames, a nurse who solved mysteries. She got her name for her cherry cheeks.
BOOKS: Do you finish books?
MEDVEDOW: I do. I had a formative experience in high school. One of my dearest friends gave me E.L. Doctorow’s “The Book of Daniel.” I didn’t get into it at first. He insisted that I read it. It ended up being one of the most important books for me. Lesson learned.
BOOKS: What are your reading habits?
MEDVEDOW: I can read pretty much anywhere except in a car or bus. I don’t get motion sickness but neither of those are my favorite places. Maybe I just don’t want to sully the pleasure of reading with them.