In Mallory Ortberg’s newest, “The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror,” classic fairy tales are given a modern twist, which makes them all the darker. These yarns are as creepy as the pieces in Ortberg’s previous book, “Texts from Jane Eyre,” are funny. Ortberg, who is transitioning and now also goes by the name Daniel, was the cofounder of the much loved and now defunct website “The Toast” and writes Slate’s “Dear Prudence’’ advice column. Ortberg will read from “The Merry Spinster’’ March 23 at 7 p.m. at Harvard Book Store.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
ORTBERG: I’m rereading “Love in a Cold Climate” by Nancy Mitford. I think her comic novels are up there with Robert Benchley and P.G. Wodehouse’s, which, I realize, is a bold claim. I’m also working through “A Favorite of the Gods” by Sybille Bedford, who wrote comedies of manners in the 1950s and ’60s, and I’m finishing Nicole Chung’s memoir “All You Can Ever Know,” which comes out later this year.
BOOKS: Is humor something you look for in your reading?
ORTBERG: It’s not a prerequisite, but some of my favorite writing tends to come from folks who always find the joke in the plot, like Wodehouse or Barbara Pym. I love authors who have a native sense of fun. I feel that way about Stella Gibbons too. I think her best book is “Nightingale Wood.”
BOOKS: How long have you been a Wodehouse fan?
ORTBERG: I started reading the Wooster and Jeeves novels when I was 12 and I was done for. My dad got me “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves” and “Right Ho, Jeeves.” He figured it was time. He was right because 12 is a perfect age to start reading Wodehouse. I later got into his Psmith novels.
BOOKS: Did growing up in a religious household influence you as a reader?
ORTBERG: Oh yeah. One of my favorite books as a kid was the Marvel Comics version of “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” When I was a teenager my dad and I went to Boston Market every week and read Kierkegaard together. If you can combine Boston Market and Kierkegaard you are doing all right.
BOOKS: Who are your favorite classic authors?
ORTBERG: When it comes to rereading, you can’t beat the Brontës. I usually reread Charlotte’s “Villette” once a year. Each time I feel like I have been laid low by a violent illness, which is a great way to feel after reading a book. I could reread William Blake all the time. A lot of my favorite people hung out in the 18th century. I also go back to Evelyn Waugh and Pym a lot. “Excellent Women,” one of the best novels of the 20th century, is about the rich inner life of an overlooked, single woman in the 1950s.
BOOKS: Has anyone ever sent you a question about reading for “Dear Prudence’’?
ORTBERG: Once somebody tried to pass off half of the plot of “Brideshead Revisited” as a question. I recognized the fountain scene. I hope someone tries something like that again. It was delightful.
BOOKS: Do you have any reading habits?
ORTBERG: I read in the shower. I have done that since I was seven or eight years old. I find showering to be very boring, but you have to do it pretty regularly. You can perform most ablutions one-handed. I hold the book in my left hand out of water. Obviously when I wash my left arm I have to throw the book out. So I usually read pretty sturdy books that can take being chucked because I don’t want to break the spine.
BOOKS: What are some of the longest books you have read?
ORTBERG: This is hilarious. “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough. I read it a long time ago. I remember being wildly into it. I also read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon,” which I hated. I threw it across the room. Thinking about it now makes me mad again. But I think there’s value in finishing books that you don’t like. When I read “Pamela” by Samuel Richardson I felt like I’d be reading it for the next 100 years. Eventually I began to inhabit that world and pace. I was like, “Yes, tell me another terrible thing that happened to you, Pamela.”
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