Skip to main content

Kate Atkinson: By the Book

By September 7, 2018No Comments

Source : The New York Times

The author of the forthcoming novel “Transcription” recoils at the idea of a literary dinner party: “I would never invite writers. They’re so competitive.”

What books are on your nightstand?

“The Silence of the Girls,” by Pat Barker, which I’ve just finished. A very good, very raw rendition of the Trojan War from the point of view of the women.

Circe,” by Madeline Miller, which I’ve just started and which in some ways seems like quite a good companion to the Barker.

A new book, “Operation Columba: The Secret Pigeon Service,” by Gordon Corera.

And an old book, “Evidence in Camera,” by Constance Babington Smith, the story of photographic evidence during World War II. The latter two are for research for a novel. (I’m not writing about pigeons.)

And they may not be books but there are a lot of back issues of The New Yorker as well. Few things make me happier than a New Yorker cartoon.

What’s the last great book you read?

Well, that depends on your definition of “great.” The last “great” book I read was probably a rereading of “Pride and Prejudice.” The last really good book was “A Far Cry From Kensington,” by Muriel Spark, also a reread.

What classic novel did you recently read for the first time?

Elizabeth Taylor’s “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.” Is that a classic? It should be anyway. I’ve spent the last year or so catching up on books by British female authors who had slipped below my radar, one way or another, or who seem to have been unfairly neglected. Barbara Pym for another, but also some unread (by me) backlist of Penelope Fitzgerald and Anita Brookner. I’ve developed a real taste for this “quiet” kind of writing. I feel, sadly, incapable of it myself. Fitzgerald’s “Human Voices,” about the BBC in wartime, has become one of my all-time favorite books and was a big influence on “Transcription.”

What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?

I tend to avoid fiction if I’m writing it. I avoid good books and writers I admire in case they make me feel deflated about my own writing, and I avoid mediocre books (I get sent a lot) because they make me feel deflated as well. I tend to read nonfiction when I’m writing, usually research. I read less and less fiction these days. I hold Netflix responsible.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

Sleep, sleep and more sleep.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams,” by Matthew Walker, is immensely readable and has made me attend much more to my need for sleep, although it unfortunately made me paranoid about my lack of it. I now try very hard for eight hours a night, something I previously thought was only for the weak.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

The death of animals. I have never recovered from the death of Ginger in “Black Beauty.” Not joking.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I don’t avoid anything as such; I’m willing to give most things a go. But I don’t read much romance or sci-fi, and I tend to read very little crime these days. I don’t like all those “women in jeopardy” novels either, and there seem to be an awful lot of them.

How do you like to read? Paper or electronic? One book at a time or simultaneously? Morning or night?

Paper, simultaneously, several at a time, night, trains, planes, cars.

How do you organize your books?

Very badly.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

A lot of books about nutrition. I’ve been obsessed for years.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

“The Adventures of Augustus” — it’s a book within a book, in my novel “God in Ruins.” My British publishers made a special little edition as a gift so it looks like a real book. Which it is in my head, of course.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

Heroes: Ratty and Mole in “The Wind in the Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame; Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”; and Christopher Tietjens in Ford Madox Ford’s “Parade’s End.”

I thought long and hard about villains and realize I don’t really have any. I don’t think I rate characters by their morality.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

Voracious. All my childhood books stick with me and still continue to influence me today. “The Wind in the Willows”; Lewis Carroll; all of E. Nesbit’s books; Susan Coolidge; Richmal Crompton’s “Just William” — all were profoundly important one way or another.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

“Debrett’s A-Z of Modern Manners.”

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Oh, lord, I would never invite writers. They’re so competitive.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

Many, many, many. All of which shall be nameless.

Whom would you want to write your life story?

Absolutely no one. If I was alive I would arrange to have them killed and if I were dead I would come back and haunt them. I can’t think of anything more horrible.

How do you decide what to read next? Is it reviews, word-of-mouth, books by friends, books for research? Does it depend on mood or do you plot in advance?

It’s fairly random. One book tends to lead to another.

What do you plan to read next?

The Overstory,” by Richard Powers. I’ve had it in proof for ages but just haven’t got around to it. And “The Lunar Men,” by Jenny Uglow, again for research. And anything I can find on Hokusai.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.