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Novelist, insomniac

Nichole Bernier: novelist, insomniac

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Ajournalist by training, Nichole Bernier never saw fiction in her future, until she started making up characters in her journal. The Wellesley resident reads from her first novel “The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.” on Martha’s Vineyard at Edgartown Books at 5 p.m. today and at the Old Aquinnah Town Hall at 5 on Tuesday.

BOOKS: Have you been buying books while on tour?

BERNIER: I’ll be amazed if I sell enough of my own books to even out what I bought. On my last stop I bought a lot of books for the kids and got “The Cloud Atlas” by Liam Callanan, “The Sandcastle Girls” by Chris Bohjalian, and “Imagine” by Jonah Lehrer. That was right before the controversy broke about his making up quotes. I was going to give it to my husband for his birthday. Not now.

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BOOKS: What are you reading now?

BERNIER: “The Age of Terror” by David Plante. It takes place in the Soviet Union just before its dissolution. I’m researching that era for my next book. I just finished “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn and “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward. I wish I had read that last one last year when I read “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers because both deal with race and the hurricane. I tend to go with themes. I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed right after I read Dani Shapiro’s memoir “Devotion.” What I love about those books is their raw honesty mixed with lyrical writing.

BOOKS: Any novels that led the way for you from journalism to nonfiction?

BERNIER: “Crossing to Safety” by Wallace Stegner. It takes a clear-eyed unsentimental look at how our strengths and weaknesses become more forgiving and less brittle over the decades. I read it in my 20s and then again in my 30s and 40s. My husband and I met on a blind date. He volunteered that was his favorite book, which helped lead the way to a second date.

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BOOKS: Any books you read while you were an English major that still stand out?

BERNIER: Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” That’s my all-time favorite short story. “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad was almost the undoing of me. I love Doris Lessing and Margaret Atwood. It’s funny because the kind of a dystopian books they’ve written aren’t usually my thing but when I read one that’s far out of my daily realm I find it intriguing. Like “Age of Miracles” by Karen Thompson Walker, which I read this summer and loved. Another favorite in that realm is “The Silent Land” by Graham Joyce. It’s a fascinating surreal book and a quick read.

BOOKS: You seem to read a fair amount for someone with five kids.

BERNIER: I am a serial reader. I will tell you my secret shame. Having all these kids I worried my brain was turning to mush so I designed a book-data program with fields for title, author, era, things like that. It helps me recall a book in a way my aging brain cells no longer can. Also I can recommend a book to someone, say, if they are interested in World War II. I can look in my database and find “The Report” by Jessica Francis Kane.

BOOKS: How do you read as much as you do?

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BERNIER: I don’t sleep a lot. When I have insomnia I embrace it and read on my iPad in bed or do essay writing. Luckily, my husband is a heavy sleeper.

BOOKS: You must read out loud to your kids. Any favorites?

BERNIER: “The Day the Babies Crawled Away” by Peggy Rathmann. It’s very lyrical and rhythmic. And “Giraffes Can’t Dance” by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees. The rhythm sounds like Squeeze’s song “Cool for Cats,” so we sing the lines to that. The kids have never actually heard the book read because we always sing it.


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