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Alice Hoffman: Books become part of you


In Alice Hoffman’s “Faithful,” two characters debate whether life is more like a series of linked short stories or like a novel. They don’t agree on which but do on the importance of fiction. Hoffman, who lives in Cambridge, reads from her new novel at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at Harvard Book Store.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

HOFFMAN: I just finished Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” which I think is a work of genius. I’m going to get on a plane tomorrow, and I want to read Melanie Benjamin’s “The Swans of Fifth Avenue.” It’s a new novel about Truman Capote and the women he was involved with in New York City, including Babe Paley.


BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?

HOFFMAN: I’m a really eclectic reader. My sorrow is I used to read all the time and now, as a writer, I don’t have the time to read. I feel like my eyes are killing me at the end of the day and that I shouldn’t use them.

BOOKS: Do you have any pet peeves about books?

HOFFMAN: I hate it when people tell me the end of the story because my mother always read the last page of a novel first to see whether she wanted to read it. It was a strange reading habit.

BOOKS: What books have had a big effect on you?

HOFFMAN: Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” was extremely important to me. So was reading Toni Morrison for the first time. When I read Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” that was the first time I felt my mind blow open. I thought that book was speaking to me. I was 12 or 13 when I read that. I read everything on my mother’s bookshelves. I read Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” all of Shirley Jackson’s books, which I loved. I read “The Group” by Mary McCarthy. It had tons of sex in it, or so I thought at the time.


BOOKS: Do you have any favorite authors who would surprise people?

HOFFMAN: Most people know that Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. I love science fiction but especially his because it’s so humane. In “Faithful,” he is discussed a lot. The characters read “The Illustrated Man.”

BOOKS: When did you first read his work?

HOFFMAN: I read everything of his when I was 12 or 13, and I think that’s the most effective time to read Bradbury. He built such a moral world, where you have to make decisions and grow up.

BOOKS: Aren’t you also a fan of novels with time travel?

HOFFMAN: Yes. One of my favorites is “Time and Again” by Jack Finney. It takes place in Manhattan and goes back and forth between 1882 and the 1950s. It’s really a cult book.

BOOKS: Do you read fairy tales?

HOFFMAN: I love fairy tales and feel very affected by them. What I like about fairy tales is the language and the matter-of-fact way of introducing magic, where it’s accepted that a fox could talk or a gate could just appear in a wall. I think fairy tales are so psychological. They are like a journey to the woods and the many ways you can get lost. Some people say it’s not a good idea to read fairy tales to anyone under the age of eight because they are brutal and raw. When I was a kid I often felt that kids’s books were speaking down to me, but I never felt that way about fairy tales. They are bloody and scary, but so is life.


BOOKS: Do you still have books from your childhood?

HOFFMAN: I have nothing from my childhood. I think you carry those books with you. It’s like in Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” Books are outlawed in this future society so people become the book they love by memorizing it. I feel as if when you love a book it becomes a part of you whether you have it on your shelves or not.


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