Curtis Sittenfeld has been grabbing our attention for a while. She landed on the scene with Prep, the boarding school novel that adolescent dreams (and nightmares) are made of, then followed it up with The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, and the Cincinnati-based, laugh-out-loud retelling of Pride and Prejudice, aptly titled Eligible. We can’t wait for her short story collection—You Think It, I’ll Say It—to land next year (until then, her stories in the New Yorker are tiding us over). We chatted with Curtis about the books she gifts to friends, the adjective she loves to hate, and the author whose work keeps calling her back.
Featured illustration: Lorenzo Gritti; Author Photo: © Jerry Bauer
What’s the book on your bedside table?
I’ve been reading The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman. I think it came out four years ago, and I’ve been thinking to myself, how did I take four years to read it? It’s so well written and smart.
What’s the one book you tell everyone to read?
Most recently, it is Euphoria by Lily King. Many people, on Twitter and in real life, have pulled me aside and said thank you so much for the rec. It’s basically a retelling of an episode in the life of Margaret Meade. It’s really well written, really well researched, really well structured. You feel like you’re inside the story. Everything about it is perfect.
Name three characters from literature or authors (dead or alive) that you’d want in your ideal book club?
I have good writer friends who live in other cities—I wish I could meet them for lunch every three weeks. A good friend of mine is named Susanna Daniel. One of her novels is called Stiltsville, and the other is called Sea Creatures. I have another writer friend named Emily Jeanne Miller—her novels are called Brand New Human Being and The News from the End of the World. And then there’s Shauna Seliy. She wrote a book called When We Get There—that’s an incredible, beautiful book. At one point, Emily, Shauna and I lived in D.C., and we’d have lady-writer lunches. This was at least 10 years ago, so I sort of yearn for that time. It’s nice to have friends who can harshly critique your manuscript, but also be gentle to you as a person.
What word do you love and why? What word do you hate and why?
I love the word “brouhaha,” ’cause how can you not? And I don’t like the adjective “compelling.” I feel like it’s a fake, smart word that doesn’t really mean anything.
What’s the one book you love to give as a gift and to whom do you give it?
I’ve given Bossypants by Tina Fey. It’s a fairly light but smart read. If I have a friend who’s going to be in the hospital, or has to go home for a funeral or something like that, it becomes hard to find books to give people. Bossypants is a really fun, engaging book that doesn’t insult your intelligence. And actually, Yes Please by Amy Poehler is very similar. It has some really good wisdom about life. If only to be the baloney in the Tina Fey–Amy Poehler sandwich, metaphorically.
What’s the one book you read as a kid that has stuck with you?
I really loved the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I have a copy from my childhood that’s falling apart—it’s like an article of clothing you love so much you can’t wear—and then I have a newer version that I actually read to my kids.
What’s the one book that never fails to delight or inspire you?
I don’t frequently reread, but I will reread certain Alice Munro stories. They are just so rich and complicated; there’s always something for me to take away. I read some of her stories before becoming a parent, and it’s interesting to read her depiction of motherhood now that I am a mother. As you age, you’re a different reader than you were, so you see different things than you did before. But Alice Munro, I feel like she is this bottomless well.
If you could only read one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I would probably say literary fiction.