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On the benefits of reading for work

Daphne Kalotay is a novelist and short story writer who lives in Somerville.Sasha Pedro

Author Daphne Kalotay recently moved back to her Somerville home after another school year teaching creative writing at Princeton University. For this summer break, the author will be doing events for her award-winning short story collection “The Archivists: Stories.” Kalotay is also the author of three novels — “Sight Reading,” “Russian Winter,” and “Blue Hours” — as well as another story collection, “Calamity and Other Stories.” Kalotay reads from her book at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, May 31, at 7 p.m.; and at Earfull, a performance series with authors and musicians, at the Branch Line in Watertown on Tuesday, June 6, at 7 p.m.


BOOKS: What have you been reading?

KALOTAY: I just finished Rebecca Makkai’s “I Have Some Questions for You.” It’s a mystery but also a smart examination of the way society and the media treat missing girl stories and the Black men who are so often wrongfully incarcerated. I also just finished A.M. Holmes’s “The Unfolding,” which I assumed would be a comic, absurdist look at how conservative men reacted to the 2008 election but it turned out to be this amazing family saga.

BOOKS: How well can you keep up your own reading during the semester?

KALOTAY: Not as well as I would like. I’m always reading, but mostly for my classes. Sometimes I pick a theme for a class. For instance, last fall I taught short stories that had to do with the workplace and went looking for anything that had to do with labor or jobs. That kind of reading is good for me because I learn about authors I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

BOOKS: Who did you discover?

KALOTAY: There’s this wonderful story, Manuel Muñoz’s “Anyone Can Do It.” That story is tense in a quiet way, and it subverts some of the stereotypes we have about Mexican immigrants laboring in the fields. There’s a wonderful, very funny story by Lesley Nneka Arimah called “Glory,” which is set in an office where the character is a telemarketer.


BOOKS: What are some of your favorite books to teach?

KALOTAY: I often teach Octavia Butler’s story collection “Blood Child” in tandem with Daphne du Maurier’s collection “Don’t Look Now.” Du Maurier is amazing when it comes to the supernatural, and Butler has this spin on speculative fiction that is more sci-fi. The students respond to these authors very powerfully.

BOOKS: What writers spoke to you as a young reader?

KALOTAY: We grew up with a lot of Canadian literature, which mostly came from my Canadian aunt who would send us the hot new things there. This was in the ‘70s so Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields.

BOOKS: How have you changed as a reader?

KALOTAY: In my thirties I thought I could never listen to fiction audio books because I thought I’d miss too much. In the last five years I definitely broke that rule and realized I can focus if I like the reader.

BOOKS: Was there a book that was the crossover to audio?

KALOTAY: I was reading “Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk for book club. I had the hard copy but worried I wasn’t going to finish it on time because it’s long. So I started listening to it while I was doing the dishes. I ended up feeling like I gained something by listening to the book.


BOOKS: Is there a classic you couldn’t or struggled to finish?

KALOTAY:War and Peace.” I tried to read it and couldn’t. Then a friend told me the book was bad luck. Then I thought I couldn’t read it. At some point it was the right time, and I made it through. I broke the spell.

BOOKS: Did you have any bad luck?

KALOTAY: No, but I was really nervous the whole time.

BOOKS: What’s in your to-read stack?

KALOTAY: I have Kamila Shamsie’s “Best of Friends,” which I bought after hearing the novelist read from it, and Binnie Kirshenbaum’s “Rabbits for Food,” which sounds like dark humor. A friend gave me this beautifully illustrated book, Mike Unwin’s “Around the World in 80 Birds.” Another friend gave me a new translation by Sophus Helle of “Gilgamesh.” My friend said it changed his life. I don’t know what he meant by that but maybe it will change my life, too.

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