In Garth Risk Hallberg’s best-selling 2015 novel “City on Fire,” New York City is a major character. Hallberg will discuss the links between the modern social novel and the modern metropolis at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Knafel Center at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. The event is free.
BOOKS: What kind of books do you like to read?
HALLBERG: I read a lot of work in translation. This year I’ve been interested in Javier Cercas, a Spanish writer. I started with “The Anatomy of a Moment,” a nonfiction book about when Spain’s democracy almost fell apart in the early 1980s. It’s a brilliant mediation on the messiness of democracy. That seemed highly relevant this fall. Then I started to read Cercas’s novels. This is also the year of Christopher Isherwood for me. His is a canonical name, but I don’t know many writers my age who have delved into his catalogue. I read “Goodbye to Berlin” and “Mr. Norris Changes Trains.’’ I loved “Goodbye to Berlin” the most.
BOOKS: Are novels about cities a draw for you?
HALLBERG: I love books that build worlds but am happy to read books that build characters. My favorites are ones that build both. I’ve been on a Faulkner kick. Over the past 15 years I’ve worked my way through all the big Faulkners, so I’m down to the next tier. I read “Go Down, Moses,” which has that famous story “The Bear” in it. Whenever I take time off from Faulkner and come back to him I’m reminded what a powerhouse he is.
BOOKS: What are you reading now?
HALLBERG: I’m reading Javier Marías “Your Face Tomorrow” trilogy. He’s another great Spanish writer. I recently finished Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, “Born to Run.” I’m a rabid fan. His writing style almost tracks with his songwriting style as it changed over time. He writes about the ’70s in the shaggy-dog kind of way of his songs then. As the memoir gets toward the age he is now, the writing becomes more planed down.
BOOKS: Do you ever read something lighter?
HALLBERG: The Springsteen was good for that. When my imagination muscle burns out I often turn to nonfiction. In Maine, I picked up Bryan Burrough’s “Barbarians at the Gate” about the RJR Nabisco and Philip Morris merger, which is delicious. Another guilty pleasure is reading cookbooks. I got “Deep Run Roots” by Vivian Howard, the star of PBS’s “A Chef’s Life.” It’s this big, beautiful Southern cookbook with a lot of storytelling.
BOOKS: Where do you like to read best?
HALLBERG: We take the kids to Maine in August, and that’s when I get my best reading done. Picking what I’m going to take every year is delicious torture. I start with 20 books, and I have to edit the pile to five. This year I took Tove Jansson’s beautiful “The Summer Book” about a little girl spending her summers on the Gulf of Finland with her grandmother.
BOOKS: Have you ever been in a book club?
HALLBERG: At 11 or 12, I joined the library’s mystery book club. I was the youngest person there by 40 years. I found the adults talked about books in a way I hungered for. Reading was a balm for my sense of isolation but also perhaps created more isolation. I was 11 and reading all of Sherlock Holmes and wanting to talk to someone about them. But I thought I might get beat up if I did that or if I wore my deerstalker hat to school.
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