On Poetry, Politics, and Candy Crush

Molly Ball
Molly BallTim Coburn

In “Pelosi,” longtime political reporter Molly Ball charts the path that led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to become one of the most powerful people in American politics. Ball has covered Washington politics for Politico, The Atlantic, and currently for Time magazine. She is an analyst for CNN and a regular on the PBS program “Washington Week.” She lives in northern Virginia with her family.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

BALL: To be totally honest, between working from home, home-schooling three kids, and doing a virtual book tour, I haven’t had much time for reading. I’ve been digging into the new Hilary Mantel, “The Mirror & the Light.” I love her. I’m not usually into historical fiction, but her trilogy transcends genre. I like good books regardless of genre. I’m not into science fiction but I love Margaret Atwood, and a few years ago I got into the South American writer Jose Saramago, whose books are kind of science fiction-y.

BOOKS: What was your last best read before the pandemic began?


BALL: The last couple of books I was reading when this hit were books by friends. My colleague Charlotte Alter’s “The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For,” which is about millennial politicians. The writing is so evocative and the descriptions of people are really fun. The other one is Olga Khazan’s “Weird,” which is a social science-y book about how being different can be an asset in life. She also writes about being a nerdy Russian Jewish immigrant in Texas. She’s hilarious.

BOOKS: Do you read many books about politics?

BALL: I actually don’t. I mostly read literary fiction and nonfiction. Politics is my day job and I need an escape but I did read Ezra Klein’s “Why We’re Polarized” just before the pandemic hit. That is phenomenal.


BOOKS: What kind of nonfiction books are you drawn to?

BALL: I love nonfiction novels. “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo is one of my favorite books of all time. That’s such a deeply researched book. “Random Family” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is another all-time favorite. It’s like 900 pages long but it’s so riveting.

BOOKS: Who are your favorite novelists?

BALL: Growing up, my favorite writer was James Jones, who wrote “From Here to Eternity.” As an adult I’ve gravitated to more women writers. I devoured the Elena Ferrante books. I love Alice Munro. My favorite book of the last 10 years was “Netherland” by Joseph O’Neill. It’s about cricket and 9/11, two subjects that interest me barely at all, but it’s so beautifully written. I picked it up because it was on Barack Obama’s reading list. I’m not necessarily an Obama fan but he has a good taste in writing.

BOOKS: Did you read any biographies as background for your own book?

BALL: There’s a great biography of one of Pelosi’s political role models, Philip Burton, “A Rage for Justice” by John Jacobs. He’s a fascinating character. Another friend of mine, Sally Bedell Smith, has written a number of great biographies. I read her book about Prince Charles, which is really interesting even for someone who’s not at all interested in British royalty.

BOOKS: What else do you read?


BALL: I was an English major in college and read poetry almost exclusively though I took a class on Joseph Conrad that changed my life. My thesis was on James Merrill. What blew my mind my freshman year was discovering “Paradise Lost.” I became obsessed with Milton. “Paradise Lost” is still one of my favorites.

BOOKS: Which poets do you read now?

BALL: I have a couple of shelves in my home library that I will dip into to soothe my mind. I always go back to Philip Larkin. I have a lot of his poems memorized and recite them to myself when I can’t sleep. I also go back to Merrill. A.E Stallings is a poet I like who’s working today. She’s American but lives in Greece. She’s a formalist but does some interesting things with the form.

BOOKS: What do you read for a guilty pleasure?

BALL: I don’t read for a guilty pleasure. My guilty pleasure is Candy Crush.

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.