Stuck in the Middle with You by Jennifer Finney Boylan

We were thrilled to sit down with Jennifer Finney Boylan and ask her a few questions about reading, writing, and her new book, Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders.

Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Packing for Mars, says “No other memoirist I’ve read so perfectly blends intimacy and witty remove, soul-searching and slapstick, joy and pain. As a child – or as a reader – one could not ask for a wiser, warmer, more engaging companion than Jennifer Finny Boylan.”

As always, you can read it first on Read It Forward: Stuck in the Middle with You hits bookshelves on April 23, 2013.

Read It Forward: What is on your nightstand right now?

Jennifer Finney Boylan: I am reading three books simultaneously right now, which is a thing I tend to do in mid-winter. Two long ones from the 19th century: The Brothers Karamazov, by Dostoyevsky, and Little Dorrit, by Dickens. And a short one from 2013: the novel The Dinner, by Herman Koch.

RIF: What do you use as your bookmark?

JFB: I have a bookmark that was given to me by one of my favorite independent bookstores in the country, the Tattered Cover in Denver. After a reading at that bookstore in 2008, they gave me a bookmark with my initials engraved on it. Thanks, Tattered Cover!

RIF: Who is your writer crush?

JFB: I don’t think there’s any secret that I have a longtime friendship with novelist Richard Russo; the changes that that friendship went through as part of my transition from male to female are well-documented in my memoir, She’s Not There (which, by the way, now comes out in a new 10th anniversary updated edition, being published simultaneously with Stuck in the Middle with You). That friendship began as one between two men; it eventually became one between a man and a woman – and there were moments when it was awkward, to say the least. But over time, Russo and I have regained our earlier unguardedness with each other – in some ways we are almost back where we started.

My other crush, as a fiction writer, is on Jennifer Egan, whose Visit From the Goon Squad I feel is one of the most inventive and brilliant novels I’ve ever read. She’s wonderful.

RIF: What is one book for adults that you read as a child and loved?

JFB: The earliest “adult book” I remember reading was Moby Dick. I think I read it when I was ten. A lot of the intriciacies of that book went completely over my head, of course. But then, that is one of the great things about reading when you’re a child – you’re completely forgiven for just wanting to know, “When are they going to get back to killing that whale?”

The other book that made an impression on me was Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. I would call that an adult’s book. What I remember specifically was that Charlotte died at the end of the book. I was completely unprepared for that. I might have been eight years old. I remember lying in bed and weeping. It was the first time a book had brought me to tears; I did not know that literature was capable of that. It also was the first time I understood, on a personal level, how cruel the world can be. The people that love us, who save our lives, who spin webs that say HUMBLE and RADIANT and SOME PIG – are the same ones who have to leave us, when the time comes, so that life can go on.

RIF: You have two teenage sons whom you write about in Stuck in the Middle With You. If you could choose one book as required reading for them, what would it be?

JFB: Required reading for my sons? They are good readers, so I am not sure what’s missing from their lives. I can tell you that our family never let go of the “book at bedtime” ritual – we used to spend the last hour of the day reading a book out loud to them. And so the whole family would sit there, together, in our house in maine, usually between 7 and 8 o’clock, and listen to a story read aloud. We kept that going unitl the boys hit high school – we’d still be doing it, I suspect, had the sheer amount of homework not piled up so high that they no longer had that free hour after dinner. But I think it’s one reason our family has stayed so close, and maybe one reason that we have weathered so many changes so well – we have been brought together and sustained by our shared love of stories. I think parents should know that reading books together does more than just celebrate the power of storytelling, and make their children more literate. It makes our hearts grow larger. The gift of Story is the gift of love.

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