Isabel Allende, the best-selling, Chilean-born author, starts a new novel every Jan. 8. “You caught me organizing my writing casita,” she says. This year she won’t get much of a start before she has to leave for her book tour for “Ripper,” her first ever crime novel. The Harvard Book Store brings her to town from her California home for a reading at 7 p.m. on Jan. 28 at the First Parish Church, Cambridge. Tickets are $5.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
ALLENDE: I’m reading Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch.” I love it, but I just began it. I was just away for a month and read five books in the “Dr. Siri” crime series by Colin Cotterill. His stories are set in communist Laos in the 1970s. Everything is funky, nothing works, and there’s nothing to eat. The main character is a 74-year-old coroner who feels spirits.
BOOKS: Do you usually read crime fiction?
ALLENDE: No. I read detective novels when I started researching for my book “Ripper,” but it isn’t my genre. My husband [Willliam C. Gordon] writes them so he reads them.
BOOKS: What were some of your other favorite reads of 2013?
ALLENDE: “The Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini, “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey, “Brooklyn’’ by Colm Tóibín, and “Confessions of a Falling Woman” and “The Madonnas of Leningrad” by Debra Dean.
BOOKS: Is there any kind of place or subject you tend to read about?
ALLENDE: No. I’m drawn to the writing. There are some Alice Munro stories in which I don’t care for the plot or the people, but I love the writing so I read them. Of course I do read Latin American writers. I read everything Mario Vargas Llosa writes. I just ordered a memoir by Rosa Montero from Spain. It is supposed to be magnificent.
BOOKS: Is there a Latin American writer that was influential for you?
ALLENDE: Gabriel García Márquez and the other writers of Le Boom, which started in late ’60s and ended around mid ’80s. I belong to the first generation of Latin American writers who grew up reading other Latin American writers. Before then, you could only get an author’s book in his home country, nowhere else. Distribution was very bad. Then a Barcelona publisher started publishing these Latin American voices and exporting them back to Latin American. That’s why I could read Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, and other writers.
BOOKS: How old were you when you started reading American writers?
ALLENDE: Much later in my life. My English was poor until I moved to California. I started reading almost exclusively American writers about 1997. Back then I couldn’t get books in Spanish. Now it’s easier.
BOOKS: Did you feel like you had to catch up on American writers?
ALLENDE: No. I never feel I have a duty to read something. I read because I love it like I love chocolate. I don’t read a book because everyone else likes it. If I don’t like a book I drop it. I give away all my books.
BOOKS: All of them?
ALLENDE: Every Jan. 7 I clear out all the books I’ve read in the past year and take them to a hospice. I already have five boxes full in the car, and I’m not done. The only books I have are some novels that I will never be able to get again, which are mostly in Spanish, signed books, and first editions. My husband has a collection of classics in beautiful leather covers, but I don’t think he’s read any of them.
BOOKS: Are there any books you’ve kept with you as you moved from country to country?
ALLENDE: I do have a few books just for sentimental reasons. One is the collected works of the poet Pablo Neruda in Spanish. Another is a political book that opened my eyes when I was young and still living in Chile, “Open Veins of Latin American” by Eduardo Galeano. Also, I always have a very old edition of the works of Shakespeare in Spanish on my nightstand. My stepfather gave it to me when I was 9 years old. That was the first time that anyone treated me like an adult, like a person who could understand something.
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