No snob about popular fiction

Hans Canosa

Gabrielle Zevin is the rare writer whose adult and YA novels have both been bestsellers and critical hits. Her newest, “Young Jane Young,” is for adults and follows how a young intern’s affair with a congressman wreaks havoc on the lives of all concerned. Zevin will read from her new book at 7 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 19 at Brookline Booksmith.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

ZEVIN: I read Amor Towles’s “A Gentleman in Moscow,” which I really loved. It was the perfect thing to read on [a book tour] because it’s in a hotel the whole time. The perfectly wrong thing to read was Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less,” which I loved, but it’s one of the most realistic depictions of an author’s life on the road. It made me feel slightly depressed. I also read my first Louise Penny mystery, “Still Life.” Her books are so wildly popular. I’m always drawn to reading what’s widely popular. I didn’t expect such a solid discussion of art in this slightly cozy mystery. Now I’m making my way through Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet. I wonder whether the reason you see so much critical regard for them has to do with that they are works in translation. It may give them a weight they might not have if they were by an American author.


BOOKS: How often do you find popular books disappointing?

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ZEVIN: They are never disappointing because I’m not reading them to love them or hate them. I sometimes find writers become very disconnected from popular fiction, which I don’t think is useful if you are working in popular fiction or fiction in general. I read these things because books exist in a continuum. Also, as a reader I’m more interested in participating in this strange hobby that we have.

BOOKS: What have been some of your most recent great reads?

ZEVIN: I felt totally absorbed in “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara, but I also felt a lot of it was problematic. It’s funny how you can read something ravenously though you know it’s problematic. I want books with big things, big feelings, so it felt messy and enormous. I didn’t love “Here I Am” by Jonathan Safran Foer when I read it, but I found that I’m still thinking about it many months later. I want novels to make me mad. We act as if it’s a binary: You liked it, or you didn’t. Sometimes I don’t care about that. I loved how ambitious that book is and all the strange places it went. A book from a few years ago that I loved was Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation,” which read like a poem.

BOOKS: What other kind of books do you read?


ZEVIN: I sometimes really enjoy art monographs. Someone gave me “A Girl and Her Room” with photos by Rania Matar of girls around the world in their bedrooms. I loved that. I loved Richard Barnett’s “The Sick Rose,” a monograph of medical illustrations, such as drawings of typhus symptoms. Its fascinating to think of illness in that way. I love to buy Taschen’s economy line. It’s brilliant that they have essentially these starter art books for $15.

BOOKS: Given your partner is a filmmaker, do you own a lot of film books?

ZEVIN: When we moved from New York City to California we made a big donation to the [Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center] because we had some obscure books on film. For instance, for a while I was writing a script about a Nazi film star. One of the books we had was “Tainted Goddesses” by Cinzia Romani about Nazi film stars. We winnowed our collection, but we still have his favorite book, “The Making of Kubrick’s 2001,” this cheap, mass-market paperback. We have two copies. He was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household so he wasn’t allowed to see movies, but he read this book, and it made him know he wanted to be a filmmaker. That book has magical properties.

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