Isabel Allende on Harry Potter, Dostoyevsky, and the Gift of Reading
The Author of In the Midst of Winter on the Books in Her Life
Isabel Allende’s new novel, In the Midst of Winter, is available October 31.
What was the first book you fell in love with?
In my early childhood I lived in my grandfather’s somber house, where my mother found shelter with her three babies after her husband abandoned her. It was the 1940s, at the end of the Second World War, in Chile. We, children, were mildly neglected, as most children were at the time. No one read to us, our Mom was depressed and the nanny was illiterate. Early on an uncle taught me to read and for my fifth birthday gave me a book of Nordic fairy tales with gorgeous illustrations which I practically memorized. To this day I dream of snow princesses, ice castles and villains turned into bears.
Name a classic you feel guilty about never having read?
As a teenager the only books available in my grandfather’s library were the classics. At 17, I was reading mythology, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and many others. (I would discover Jane Austen much later.) I savored every page of War and Peace and managed to struggle through most of Dostoyevsky, but not Crime and Punishment: I have never been able to pass page 30.
What’s the book you reread the most?
I keep rereading Pablo Neruda’s poetry for inspiration and metaphors, also to recover the richness of my native Spanish language, which I tend to forget because I have lived in English for the last 30 years. I also reread Kathleen Norris, especially Cloister Walk, because it nourishes my soul. Secretly I envy the Benedictine way of life.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
I wish I had written Harry Potter because it got millions of kids all over the world to read. I had gone with my three young grandchildren on a safari in Africa and instead of watching the wildebeest migration or the herds of elephants, they were engrossed in a fat book. I picked it up and got hooked immediately. My first thought was why had I not come up with such a fabulous idea!?
What’s the new book you’re most looking forward to?
I have so many books on my night table waiting to be read that I am not looking forward to new ones. I get most of my reading from my local bookstore, Book Passage, in Marin County. They select for me the books I should read as soon as they are published. I am really looking forward to one book only: the one I will write next year. It will be an ambitious historical novel that I am researching right now.