In Kate Christensen’s newest novel, “The Last Cruise,” a 1950s vintage ocean liner makes one final voyage to Hawaii, and what starts out as an adventure in nostalgia for the passengers eventually becomes a very modern ship-of-fools tale. Christensen is the author of six previous novels, including “The Great Man,” which won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, as well as two food memoirs. She lives in Portland, Maine.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
CHRISTENSEN: I’m deep into “Kudos” the third book in Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy. I think it’s the best one of the three. I feel as if she taught me how to read the books. The first one I was kind of puzzled by, which is what happens when someone does something new. By the third one I knew exactly what she was doing. I’ve read all of her books. She’s one of the writers I pounce on as soon as she writes a book.
BOOKS: Who else is on that list?
CHRISTENSEN: Next time Min Jin Lee publishes a book I’ll pounce on it like a feral animal. Likewise with Hanya Yanagihara. I will read anything Alexandra Fuller writes. “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight,” which is about her childhood in Africa was such a pleasure to read. I have a few books on my plate. Once I finish “Kudos,” I will dive back into “Women Talking” by Miriam Toews, which I have started. I also have the thriller “The Cutting Season” by Attica Locke and the memoir “Journey into the Mind’s Eye” by Lesley Blanch.
BOOKS: How do you pick which books you read?
CHRISTENSEN: I read reviews. I also know a lot of writers. I love to read novels by people I know. Two examples of that are Lily King’s “Euphoria” and Jessica Anthony’s “The Convalescent.” Reading a book by someone you know as opposed to a stranger has a kind of alchemy.
BOOKS: Can you read fiction while you are working on your own?
CHRISTENSEN: I really like to read detective novels while I’m writing a novel. They are far enough away from what I’m doing. I love series. I love falling in love with a detective. I started with Agatha Christie, of course, and then moved on to Dorothy L. Sayres. Then I discovered Janet Evanovich, Sara Paretsky, and Sue Grafton. I’ve read all of those. Now I’m in the market for a new series. I think detective writers are really funny and really astute about human nature. When I’m writing I feel as if those books are nourishing. They are like ham sandwiches, delicious and kind of good for you but really fun.
BOOKS: Do you read a lot about food?
CHRISTENSEN: I can’t think of a book about food I haven’t read. My favorite is Julia Childs’s “My Life in France.” She wrote about mastering the art of French cooking but also about her love affair with her husband and being a tall, loud girl in France. That book made me cry to my surprise. It’s really about how your life changes when you fall in love and settle down and that’s what I had done.
BOOKS: Did moving to Portland, Maine, from New York City change your reading habits?
CHRISTENSEN: I started to read with less anxiety. In New York City I was hyper aware of the writers around me who were my age, but when I came up to New England I started rereading the writers who made me want to write. Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth,” Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” and a whole bunch of mid-20th century English writers, such as Margaret Drabble
BOOKS: Do you collect books?
CHRISTENSEN: I love old food books. I don’t dare go to the bookstore Rabelais in Biddeford because I will spend all the money I don’t have. The other kind of book I buy is anything about Maine such as Annette Jackson’s “My Life in the Maine Woods” and Louise Dickinson Rich’s books. They are memoirs about living in the Maine wilderness. They are the happiest books I’ve ever read.