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J. Courtney Sullivan: The Books Of My Life

The author of ”The Engagements” and ”Maine” talks about the books — naughty and nice — that have shaped her as a writer and a person

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What’s your favorite book that you read for school?

My favorite novel of all time is Bleak House by Charles Dickens. By now I’ve read that book 10 times, but I feel tremendously fortunate that the first time I read it was in an academic setting and not on the New York City subway at 8:30 in the morning! It’s such a special thing when you talk about a book with people who are smarter than you, which was definitely the case in my Victorian-literature class.

What naughty books did you read in secret as a kid?

Forever by Judy Blume. I reread it a few years ago, and I got to the part where we learn the boyfriend has named his penis Ralph. I could totally feel this man on the train reading over my shoulder. I was remortified.

What’s a book you wish you’d written?

Sometimes I read something that’s so fantastic it’s almost difficult to read. The most recent one would be Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. It felt like it wasn’t written by a human being but was dropped complete from the heavens. It’s extraordinary.

Have you ever bought one of your own books in a store?

No. But I come from a very large Irish Catholic family. People have asked me if I’ve been disowned for writing Maine [a novel about a large Irish Catholic family], but on the contrary…I honestly think my books would not have become best-sellers if not for the copies my extended family members purchased. They helped me sell the most Girl Scout cookies in Massachusetts one year — just the same with books, really. [Laughs]

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