In her latest novel, Alternate Side, Anna Quindlen expertly dives into the tensions in a tight-knit neighborhood and a seemingly happy marriage that are exposed by an act of violence. A provocative look at money, class, and self-discovery, this newest book showcases Quindlen’s acute eye and observant grasp on the snap and crackle of modern life.
Recently, she spoke with Read It Forward about her awe at all things Alice McDermott, her book club drawn from some of the all-time great female protagonists, and the kids’ book classic she can recite verbatim.
Featured image: Lorenzo Gritti
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What’s the book on your bedside table?
Between the Grant and the DaVinci biographies I got a bit backed up, so it’s the newest Alice McDermott, The Ninth Hour. Here’s how it works for me with Alice McDermott: the book is published and the same day, I buy it. Then I read it and have a momentary spasm of enormous envy, and then a wash of enormous admiration. She's one of the great novelists of our time.
What’s the one book you tell everyone to read?
I am such a crank about recommending books, and my recommendations change over time. But I consistently tub-thump for The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, which is really three novels that must be read together. Galsworthy didn’t deserve that Nobel—though he was certainly more deserving than Bob Dylan since he actually produced literature—but it’s puzzling why this masterful study of the permutations of love has gone out of fashion.
Name three characters from literature or authors (dead or alive) that you’d want in your ideal book club?
Easy peasy: Elizabeth Bennet, Lily Bart, Jo March. We can talk about how absurd it is that Pride and Prejudice was rejected by the first publisher who took a look, and how Lily is so much better than the people who surround her in The House of Mirth. I would have to hold back from telling Jo to marry Laurie in Little Women, but other than that, it would be a gabfest.
What word do you love and why? What word do you hate and why?
Flabbergast is a pretty great word because it sounds like what it means. I hate the word opinionated. It’s a word that's only used for women, and it means having strong opinions when you ought not to have them. Feisty is bad, too—another one used only for strong females.
What’s the one book you read as a kid that has stuck with you?
What’s the one book that never fails to delight or inspire you?
Every year our family reads A Christmas Carol aloud on Christmas Eve afternoon. Luckily there are five chapters, and five of us. It’s not the best Dickens—that’s Bleak House—or even the most engaging. But hearing it read aloud, I'm struck anew by something rich and resonant about it. I get to read the last chapter, and I always seize up a bit at “God bless us, everyone.” Sappy, but true.
Favorite independent bookstores from around the country?
Picking a favorite indie store is like choosing your favorite child—but I do have a warm spot for Rainy Day Books in Kansas City. The people there, and the readers, have been really, really nice to me.
What’s the last book you read on a long flight?
The problem on a long flight isn't reading, it’s finishing. I was once flying to San Francisco and ran out of book somewhere over Nebraska. Total freakout. I read the airline magazine twice, and a copy of USA Today that one of the flight attendants gave me from cover to cover, even the sports section. It’s why I love the iPad. As God is my witness, I will never be bookless again!