August 09, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

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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