I wish I could read electronically. It would make my bag a lot lighter! But I find it impossible to read on screens. These days I read several books simultaneously. I take myself to a cafe near my home to read during the day whenever I can. And always, late at night.
How do you organize your books?
Fifteen years ago, my husband, who is also a writer, and I moved from apartments to an actual house, with an actual library. In fact, the library was what sold us on the house. We alphabetized our thousands of books, and we also organized according to genre: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literary journals — back issues of The Paris Review, Grand Street, Tin House, Granta, One Story and Antaeus take up a lot of space, but we have the space.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I’ve been reading vintage medical books lately, as research into the cultural history of reproductive medicine. For example, Wilfred Finegold’s 1964 tome, “Artificial Insemination.”
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
I don’t remember who first gave me Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “The Sabbath.” Nor who gifted it to me the second time, nor the third. I do remember that the third time was the charm, and now I reread Heschel each year as a reminder to slow down, that time is a cathedral.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was a read-under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight kid. I was an only child, and books were my companions and my salvation. Judy Blume’s “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” was the book that pierced my sense of otherness and made me realize that I wasn’t alone or unique in the way I felt about myself and the world.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
“Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” by Mo Willems. It’s a children’s picture book and doesn’t have very many words.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Virginia Woolf had a complex, fascinating relationship with Sigmund Freud, who introduced her to the idea of ambivalence, and gave her a narcissus as a gift. I’d like to sit back and watch the two of them go at it, with Leonard as a referee.