“Disappearing Earth” author Julia Phillips always has something good on hold

Julia Phillips
Julia PhillipsNina Subin (custom credit)

Author Julia Phillips spent more than a year in Kamchatka, the far-flung peninsula at Russia’s northeastern edge. The result was a best-selling and award-winning debut novel, “Disappearing Earth,” which tells the story of what happens to an isolated community after two young girls go missing. A Fulbright fellow, she lives in Brooklyn. She will speak at the Sturgis Library in Barnstable at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec.17, and at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

PHILLIPS: I’ve been reading mostly for work. The last thing I read for myself was a mystery, “Lady in the Lake“ by Laura Lippman. That was really fun. I read almost exclusively eBooks from the library. I’ve always got about 15 books on hold and read them in the order they become available. I have a bunch of the books on my hold list in hardback put I prefer to read them as eBooks. So I wait until they materialize in my Kindle.

BOOKS: What are some recent books that materialized on your Kindle?


PHILLIPS: “Fleishman Is in Trouble” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, which I loved, and “The Other Americans” by Laila Lalami. I read “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which I enjoyed. I read “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens, which took about a year and a half to come off hold. I started “Say Nothing” by Patrick Radden Keefe the other day.

BOOKS: What was your last best read?

PHILLIPS: I think “The Other Americans,” which was really masterful. I also read “All You Can Ever Know” by Nicole Chung. It was so tender and honest in ways that are difficult for memoirs to be sometimes. Last month I read the whole “Reluctant Royals” series by Alyssa Cole, which I can’t quit talking about. They are so good, so contemporary. They are full-on romance novels, like people holding each other on the front cover. I enjoy romance as much as memoir and general nonfiction.


BOOKS: Were there bookstores in Kamchatka when you were there?

PHILLIPS: I was there in 2011-2012 and then again in 2015. There were lots of bookstores selling Russian-language books, but my Russian wasn’t strong enough to read a novel without a dictionary. Also, after a day of speaking Russian I wanted to read English. I ended up reading public domain books off of Project Gutenberg. I read a lot of Sherlock Holmes and loved it. I read L. M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables.” I read George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” again, which is one of my favorite books of all time. I read a lot of Jack London. I had thought of “The Call of the Wild” as a kind of kids’ book, and I was interested in how strange and violent it was.

BOOKS: Who are your favorite Russian writers?

PHILLIPS: There’s a big Tolstoy-Dostoyevsky divide and I’m on the Tolstoy side. I’m also a big Chekhov fan. I’ve been reading a lot by the Belarusian nonfiction author Svetlana Alexievich. I also really love Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. She’s had some very strange short stories come out in English. They are like Angela Carter’s spooky fairy tales.

BOOKS: What is on your upcoming hold list?

PHILLIPS: “Dear Girls” by the comedian Ali Wong. “Olive, Again” by Elizabeth Strout. “The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood. “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo. This is my second time on the wait list for that book because I didn’t make it through it the first time.” I have the boxed set of The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, so they will come in as a single book.


BOOKS: How do you read something that long before it expires and you have to return it to the library?

PHILLIPS: When the books show up off the hold list they usually show up in this huge wave. This is a scandalous thing, but not too scandalous: When they show up, I download them and then turn my Kindle to airport mode. Then I can have the books as long as I want.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com