Considered a master of the short story, Amy Hempel will publish on March 26 her first collection in a decade, “Sing to It.’’ In these 15 stories a woman confronts the consequences of giving up a child when she was a teenager and a shelter volunteer cares for dogs doomed to be euthanized. The award-winning author teaches at Bennington College and Stony Brook University at Southampton. Hempel, who lives outside of New York City, heads to Boston for readings at 7 p.m. March 26 at Newtonville Books and at 7 p.m. March 27 at Harvard Book Store.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
HEMPEL: I’m about to read this interesting memoir, “Mother Winter” by Sophia Shalmiyev, who had a Russian mother and an Azerbaijani father. I’ve been reading books that are more assembled than written. Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets” and “The Argonauts,” Mary Robison’s “Why Did I Ever,” and Abigail Thomas’s “Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life.” I love these books more than ones written in a linear fashion. Maggie Nelson said she didn’t write the sections in “Bluets” in the order they appear. It rings true in the way memories come to us and how we experience anything. We don’t go through a given day in a linear fashion. At least I don’t.
BOOKS: How else would you describe yourself as a reader?
HEMPEL: I reread a lot. I reread Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son,” with some regularity. Those stories are never any less than they were during earlier readings, which is kind of miraculous. I also reread Sharon Olds, Jorie Graham, and Barry Hannah.
BOOKS: How long have you been a rereader?
HEMPEL: I think always. As soon as I started really reading as a kid, if something made me cry, I’d go at it and at it. Same if it made me laugh. I don’t always need to reread that much. I don’t have the time to reread “Middlemarch,” but I can read the last line and be launched into that luminous state where you rededicate yourself to writing and reading seriously. The two last lines of the story “Beverly Home” in “Jesus’ Son” will unglue me every time.
BOOKS: Which books have made you cry?
HEMPEL: A lot of Rick Moody’s work. The title story of his collection “Demonology” is devastating. Anything by Barry Hannah, who was one of the funniest writers, yet I get weepy when I read him because I miss him.
BOOKS: Is there a short story writer you wish was better read?
HEMPEL: I loved Lydia Millet’s latest, “Fight No More.” She does have a following but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have many more. My friend Julia Slavin is a riot and incredibly inventive. The best story collection I read recently is the forthcoming debut “Black Light” by Kimberly King Parsons. She is something else.
BOOKS: Do you read crime fiction?
HEMPEL: I did. I admire Tana French, Ruth Rendell, and Kathy Reichs, who wrote “Deja Dead.” I will read more when time permits. I’ve been doing a lot of prize judging, and this dictates what I’m reading.
BOOKS: How do you manage reading all the books to judge a prize?
HEMPEL: I just take time from other things — unfortunately, like exercise and sleeping.
BOOKS: Do you own a lot of books?
HEMPEL: So many. It’s every writer-reader’s biggest problem when you move a lot. The books, the books! I have a big shed behind my house, and it’s filled to the roof with boxes of books that have been in boxes for years and will probably remain in boxes for years. I rebuy books because I don’t know which box my copy is in.
BOOKS: What books do you have that might surprise people?
HEMPEL: I still have quite a collection of books on how to embroider and crochet, both of which I’m weirdly good at but haven’t done for a while. I made dozens of afghans in my time. Those books are in the shed. I don’t see the need to embroider again in my future, but those books are magic portals into a time in my life.
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