Curtis Sittenfeld Has Been Reading Alice Munro for 15 Years
The Author of You Think It, I’ll Say It on the Books in Her Life
Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest book, You Think It, I’ll Say It is available now from Random House.
What was the first book you fell in love with?
When I was about six, I was endlessly fascinated by a picture book version of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The premise is that a king locks away his 12 daughters in a bedroom every night, yet every morning, they’re exhausted and their shoes are worn out. So where could they be going? Spoiler alert: A trap door in the bedroom leads to an enchanted underworld where they cross gold and silver forests and a sparkling lake to dance all night with princes. I loved, and still love, pretty much everything about this fairy tale: all those sisters! all those secrets! I’ve spent a lot of my life, and my own fiction, wondering whether the mundane daily world we usually experience is all there is or whether there are hidden layers and experiences and identities for all of us.
Name a classic you feel guilty about never having read.
So many people I respect love Middlemarch. And it’s even worse than my not having read it—I started it and didn’t get very far. If this mitigates the situation, I did read and love Rebecca Mead’s literary memoir My Life in Middlemarch.
What’s the book you reread the most?
I’m not a huge rereader because (see above) there are many books I haven’t yet read. But Alice Munro’s stories are so rich and complex that they merit rereading for me, and the story of hers I’ve read the most is probably “The Albanian Virgin” in the collection Open Secrets. Sometimes I reread her stories because the plots are complicated, and I read the first time to get a handle on the plot and the second time more to enjoy her insights about people. I also find that as I get older, it’s different to read a Munro story in my forties that I first read in my twenties. Even if I liked it 15 years ago, I now identify with her portrayals of motherhood or marriage in a much more visceral way.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
I love Mohsin Hamid’s novels—The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Exit West—because they’re so smart and funny and earthy and warm, AND I’m incredibly impressed by how tightly written they are. They’re all in the range of 200 pages. I aspire to write a novel that’s that short yet also feels like it’s exactly the length it should be instead of feeling incomplete. Similarly, I’ve been enjoying The New Yorker stories of Joseph O’Neill, which have that richness and aliveness even though they’re only about four magazine pages. How does someone do that?!
What’s the new book you’re most looking forward to?
As it happens, Joseph O’Neill has a story collection coming out in June called Good Trouble. I also learned recently that the British author Jessie Burton has written a YA retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses called The Restless Girls. I have a lot to look forward to, huh?