Hannah Tinti has long lived in Brooklyn, but she made her native New England the setting of her acclaimed second novel, “The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley,” now out in paperback. The novel, set in a fictional town based on Gloucester, follows a daughter’s attempt to learn the stories behind each of her father’s many bullet-wound scars. Tinti, who grew up in Salem, is also the cofounder and editor of “One Story,” a literary magazine that publishes one story a month.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
TINTI: The book on my nightstand is “Kindred” by Octavia Butler. I’m teaching a literature course at New York University so for that I’m rereading Grace Paley’s collected short stories. When I was coming up everyone read her. These days the younger kids haven’t as much, but each time they do they go bananas for her. Her voice is so powerful that there’s the sound of it in your ears.
BOOKS: What were the short stories that turned you on to the form?
TINTI: I went to Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody. I had some great teachers there, and one of them gave us the collected stories of Flannery O’Connor. I’d always read work before where the characters were people who I was sympathetic to instead of someone I wouldn’t want to hang out with.
BOOKS: How much do short stories take up of your reading time?
TINTI: I read stories all the time, mostly reading unsolicited manuscripts for One Story. I also like to read current collections. I just picked up “Her Body and Other Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado. I really loved “Homesick for Another World” by Ottessa Moshfegh. I also read a lot of nonfiction. I was a science major in college, so I love books on natural history. I read “The Invention of Nature” by Andrea Wulf. For me, studying natural history is a way of figuring out our reason for being in the universe.
BOOKS: What books have you reread?
TINTI: E.L. Doctorow’s “Billy Bathgate.” He was a teacher of mine at NYU in graduate school. I love his books, particularly the way he incorporates people and real history. “Billy Bathgate” is just beautifully structured. It has one of the best opening chapters.
BOOKS: What are your reading habits?
TINTI: I always read at night for pleasure and carry manuscripts for One Story with me to read on the subway. There was this period when reading began to always feel like work. So I started reading graphic novels and comic books.
BOOKS: Who are some of your favorite graphic novelists?
TINTI: One of the biggest is Chris Ware. He published an amazing book that isn’t really a book. It’s a weird box full of things called “Building Stories.” As far as I’m concerned it’s pretty much like Proust, the way he tells the story of people living in an apartment building and deeply thinks about what it means to be alive. I recently got a copy of “My Favorite Thing is Monsters” by Emil Ferris. Wow, what an amazing work of art. It’s sort of a murder mystery and a coming-out story and is also about art. I also have to mention Lynda Barry. She’s a visual artist and comic writer. My favorite is “What It Is,” which is part art book, part memoir, and is about what it means to be in the world and write and make images.
BOOKS: Who’s on your to-read list?
‘I love books on natural history.’
TINTI: I’d love to make my way through Proust. I’ve made my way through two of the books, but I never make it further. I made a vow that I’d make my way through one each summer, but it may be something you need to do with other people. I’ve read “Moby-Dick” three times, but I’m due for another. One of the reasons I love it so is that when I was a little girl I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved those sections when he goes into the descriptions of the whales. I ended up putting a whale in my most recent novel because of my love of “Moby-Dick.”
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