My favorite childhood books
The Wizard of Oz series. Those stories are such a wild and unpredictable protofeminist mythological fever dream. What’s not to love? Also, as a restless farm girl myself, I identified, big-time.
The book I enjoyed most in school
In third grade, a thoughtful teacher introduced us to The Phantom Tollbooth. I think school reading pretty much peaked right there.
A book I read in secret
I am a child of the 1970s, so my secret reading was — and could only ever have been — that thrillingly wicked mixed classic cocktail of Forever and Flowers in the Attic.
The book that cemented me as a writer
I love that you think I’m cemented as a writer.
The books I’ve read over and over
The only things I can go back to forever and ever, without tiring, are certain poems. Walt Whitman will always be there. Also, Sharon Olds, Jack Gilbert, Seamus Heaney, Hafiz, Tennyson, good old Mary Oliver. I suppose this is because reading poetry is like listening to music, and you never get tired of your favorite songs.
A classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read
God help me, but it’s Ulysses. I’ve tried a dozen times, but I’ve never gotten past the opening pages. I feel like I’m being punk’d whenever I try to read post-Dubliners James Joyce. I always want to look up from the book and ask everyone in the world, ”Seriously?! You guys are seriously following this?”
A book I’ve pretended to have read
The Bible. (I have skimmed it, though. I really like the Psalms part.)
A book I consider to be grossly overrated
Having written a book that many people consider grossly overrated, I feel the only polite thing for me to do here is to gently dodge the question. (I am deeply sympathetic to authors who get pegged as overrated. We are a brotherhood of the apologetic and the abashed.)
The books I wish I’d written
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Also, its follow-up, Bring Up the Bodies. Also, everything Hilary Mantel ever wrote before she turned her attention to the 16th century. But I would have as much luck building the great pyramids as writing books like that. All you can do in the presence of such singular genius is to bow down in wonder.
The novels people might be surprised to learn I love
I don’t think people would necessarily peg me as a Martin Amis fan, but oh, how I adore that beautiful, savage, brilliant misanthrope. I’ve read London Fields several times, and also The Information. I thought Lionel Asbo was so nasty and delicious that I would sometimes look up from the page and say aloud with a happy grin, ”Oh, no, Martin — no, you didn’t! How dare you? I love you!” I’ll take Martin Amis in any form, at any time.