Mary Roach, the best-selling nonfiction author known for her wry deep dives into unusual subjects from corpses to the nitty-gritty details of space travel, explores what happens when humans and wildlife meet in “Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.” For her seventh book, Roach trails human-elephant conflict specialists and bear managers as they contend with animals infringing on humans. Or, as Roach realized, the other way around. The author will give a virtual talk sponsored by the Harvard Bookstore at 5p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 5).
BOOKS: What are you reading?
ROACH: I am just getting to the end of Dave Eggers’s newest novel, “The Every.” It’s really good. My favorite by him is “You Shall Know Our Velocity” which is Eggers at his Eggersly best. This is more straight-forward writing but it’s about a dystopian world where Amazon and Google have merged and are running the world.
BOOKS: Do you read one book at a time?
ROACH: Ideally, but I’m easily distracted. I’m always sent books to blurb. That can get burdensome but I discover authors I adore that way.
BOOKS: Who are some of the writers you have discovered?
ROACH: Lulu Miller’s “Why Fish Don’t Exist.” It’s a difficult book to describe but it’s profound, quirky and global. Another is Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh’s “Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine.” They had been working on it for years and fortuitously finished it in the middle of a pandemic. I also discover writers when I judge contests, such as Will McGrath, who wrote “Everything Lost Is Found Again,” which is about his experience living in Lesotho, which is surrounded by South Africa.
BOOKS: Do you look for humor in your reading?
ROACH: Not exclusively, but yes. Charles Portis make me laugh out loud. He wrote “True Grit” and is one of my favorite novelists. To me he’s as beautiful a writer as Cormac McCarthy but he is funny as hell. Patrick deWitt’s “The Sisters Brothers” is hilarious. The dialogue between the brothers just cracks me up. Bill Bryson, of course, is also funny. When I first graduated from college I was very excited to not have required reading so I didn’t read for a while. He’s one of the authors who brought me back to reading with “The Lost Continent.”
BOOKS: Do you read more fiction or nonfiction?
ROACH: I read more fiction. I enjoy nonfiction as well but there are as so many novelists I love and they are always putting out books.
BOOKS: Are there any other genres you enjoy?
ROACH: I don’t read graphic novels that often but I do enjoy them. I don’t read poetry regularly. Mystery, no, some true crime.
BOOKS: Have you read self-help books?
ROACH: No, I haven’t but I was impressed by Dr. Jen Gunter, who wrote “The Vagina Bible,” which is an advice and information book. She has so much zeal and humor and is so well informed. I looked something up and then just kept reading.
BOOKS: Which book do you turn to the most?
ROACH: “Everyday Amazing,” one of the Beatrice the Biologist books. They are written by Katie McKissick for young adults. This one is about the natural world and how it works. She’s an incredible and charming explainer of cell biology or physics. I go to her when I need to understand, say, genetics. I have her book on my reference shelf along with my French dictionary and “The Merck Manual.”
BOOKS: How do you treat your books?
ROACH: If it’s a book for my own research I underline stuff and fold pages down. With books I’m reading for myself, especially novels, that’s like a religious experience. Thou shall not fold the corner of the pages over. I’m a sloppy person but not with my books.
BOOKS: Will you loan your books out?
ROACH: All the time and they never come back. The problem is you always loan out the good ones. My stepdaughter’s husband had never read Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” so I told him he had to read it and lent it to him. My husband said, “Well, you are never going to get it back.” Truth be told, I’d never reread it but I like to look at my shelves and see the books I love.