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Novelist & relisher of powerful narratives

Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand

laurie richards for the boston globe

Elin Hilderbrand

Novelist Elin Hilderbrand writes her books where many readers ultimately read them — on the beach. Each day she packs her beach bag with notebooks and pens and heads for the surf and sand. Her newest is “Beautiful Day,” set in her hometown and muse, Nantucket Island.

BOOKS: What kind of books do you like to read?

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HILDERBRAND: I always read contemporary literary fiction, the best stuff I can find. Right now I’m about halfway through “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer. I’ve read all her books. I don’t think this is widely known, but she writes about sex really well, not only sex sex but the differences between the sexes. I just finished “Life after Life” by Kate Atkinson, which I loved. I prefer novels by women. The thing I’m always looking for is a driving narrative. It drives me insane when books don’t have one. Those just put me to sleep, but because I’m a very nerdy reader I will always, always, always finish a book no matter how bad it is. I also keep all my books, every one since I began seriously reading at 18. I have thousands. But when I moved recently I made a big old pile of the ones I hate. I took all those books, like 100, to the “Take it or Leave it” at the dump. There are always people standing around waiting for stuff there. As soon as I put the books down they were basically gone.

BOOKS: What’s the longest book you didn’t like that you forced yourself through?

HILDERBRAND: Abraham Verghese’s “Cutting for Stone.” I hated it. I love Ann Beattie, but her last book, “Mrs. Nixon,” was a horrible snooze. It took my entire summer to finish it because I didn’t want to read it, so I never picked it up, plus I’m a slow reader.

BOOKS: Is there a change in the kind of books you read in the summer?

HILDERBRAND: One of things I do in winter and fall that I can’t do in the summer is go back and read classics. I recently read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Beautiful and the Damned,” boring, boring, boring, and George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.” I have Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” in my pile, but I would never read it in the summer because that requires a lot of concentration.

BOOKS: Why do you think that is, that many readers avoid heavier books in the summer?

HILDERBRAND: In the summertime, when you read outside there are a lot more distractions. When you label a book a beach book, which is what I write, that’s one that is engrossing enough it can withstand a lot of distractions but is easy enough to read that you can put it down and pick it up. People think my books are beach books because they are often set on Nantucket, but really it’s because they move quickly enough they can withstand a lot of distractions.

BOOKS: What do you consider good beach books?

HILDERBRAND: J. Courtney Sullivan’s novel “Maine” is a perfect beach book. “Where’d You Go Bernadette” by Maria Semple. A lot of it is written in e-mails so it is very fast-moving. Anything by Anna Quindlen or Anita Shreve. Jane Smiley, too. I love Penelope Lively, which is funny because she’s older and English.

BOOKS: What do you have on your upcoming pile?

HILDERBRAND: “Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld. I loved her last book, “American Wife.” I also have “This Is How You Lose Her” by Junot Díaz and “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton, which my mother recommended.

BOOKS: Do you always know what you will read next?

HILDERBRAND: When I said I’m a nerdy reader, I’m so nerdy I have a list. I don’t deviate. I don’t go to a store and see something that jumps out at me and think I’ll read that next. It goes on the list.

Amy Sutherland

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