Pack Up the Moon author Kristan Higgins talks The Hobbit, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and the books of her life
Kristan Higgins knows just how to pull at readers' heartstrings.
The bestselling author, who's known for her heartfelt romance novels and her poignant women's fiction, is ready to make her devoted audience cry once again with her latest novel Pack Up the Moon, out June 8.
The novel is a complex examination of grief, following married couple Josh and Lauren as they wrestle with Lauren's impending mortality. When Lauren finds out she's dying, she decides to leave Josh one letter per month to help lead him through his first year without her.
Following the plan she left for him, Josh surmounts obstacles as varied as throwing a dinner party for family and friends to getting rid of their bed to visiting a psychic medium to kissing a woman who isn't Lauren. As his grief ties him in knots, Josh learns to make room for new experiences, laughter, and relationships, learning that happiness is rarely a linear path.
In honor of Higgins' new release, we called her up to learn what books have helped her get through tough times in her life, what the sexiest book she's ever read was, the book that truly changed her life, and more.
My favorite book as a child
I could name probably 1,000 books that were my favorite book as a child because all I did was read. But I would probably say Mandy by Julie Edwards, who is also known as Julie Andrews. It's so great that Mary Poppins wrote a book. It's a story of an orphan, little Mandy who lives in a very lovely orphanage, and she finds a tiny abandoned house that she starts fixing up and cleaning and dreaming about. It's also about keeping secrets and how damaging that can be, how they can put distance between you and the people you love, and about having a purpose in life, and how important that is, no matter how old you are.
A book I read in secret as a teenager
Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I was about 12 years old. I was sleeping over my grandma's house, and I see this tome on her night table; it was probably four inches thick. So I swiped it, it had a really interesting cover, and I went down to the cellar, and I read about half of it before she found me. In a rare moment, she yelled at me. She said, "You are not old enough to read that." I said, "It's too late Gram, I know everything now." Because we're a Catholic family I always say we make babies, but we don't talk about making babies. My birds and the bees talk took place in pitch black as my mom woke up in the middle of the night, and gave me about three sentences with information. So, I appreciate that Kathleen Woodiwiss filled in all those gaps.
My favorite book in school
I've always been a reader, and I loved everything from Beowulf to Gatsby, but the one that leaped to mind was Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I was 14 when I read it, and it was so full of longing and yearning, and there was this darkness to it, and a sense of duty. It's a love triangle about this man, has disabled wife and her caregiver, who is also the woman's cousin. And this idea of freedom and love are worth anything. And the price to that philosophy.
A book that changed my life
The Hobbit because I had never been so transported by a book as I was by this one. The imagination, the world building, the coziness of the Shire, Bilbo's pantry filled with cakes. It was that idea that an ordinary person could be the hero and save the day. That made it really special to me because, in my own mind, I was an invisible child in some respects. I was no trouble for my parents; I was a good but not great student; I had a couple of friends but I wasn't the most memorable kid in my own life. So this idea that you didn't have to be the smartest, strongest, bravest person to be the hero really affected me. I wouldn't try writing a book for another 20, 25 years at that point but The Hobbit really sank into my bones, in a way that no other book had until that point.
A book I've read over and over again
That would be The View From Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman. She is the modern day Jane Austen as far as I'm concerned. She's funny, she's so smart, and this book is filled with humor and sisterly bonds. Love, loss, reinvention. I've loved every single one of her books but this one the spine is falling apart because I've read it so many times.
A book I've pretended to have read
Anything by Ernest Hemingway. I'm a woman, so I have issues [with him]. Big Two-Hearted River, I remember that was assigned in college, and I tried. I really did. But it was like Nick is camping, Nick is making coffee, Nick is fishing, Nick is camping again. And I just found it really boring and repetitive.
A book people would be surprised to learn I love
The Shining by Stephen King. It is one of the most heart-wrenching father-son stories I've ever read. All of that was gutted from the movie, but in the book, there's this constant battle between Jack and the demons, his own demons at the hotel, but also the good side is his love of Danny. I also love the way Stephen King can draw up terror in a reader, he hooks you with the slightest little tug and in two pages your heart is pounding and you're looking for your mother. He's a master of creating an emotional response for readers, and I just find that book a real masterpiece.
A book I consider grossly overrated
I hate to trash another author, but Twilight. I just didn't get it. I gave it a shot. I read it with an open mind and heart; I didn't know anything about it. And I don't think I made it three pages in.
A book I wish I'd written
From a purely monetary point of view, I would say Harry Potter. I don't know that I have an answer for that, because when I read a book that I really love that's not my go-to response. I do try to learn from the author, but I'd never say, "I wish I had done that" because either I can't because I don't have the talent or the time or the scope, or I didn't [do it] for a reason. One of my favorite books is Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, and I love that book with all my heart. It's one of my top three books of all time, but I would never be the person who could do all that research and have a story, but I'm really glad she did. And sometimes I get fan mail for that book because our names are similar.
My favorite literary love story
This one's a little obscure, but it would be Second Nature by Alice Hoffman. I love her books. I love that magical realism, and this is literally a book about a boy raised by wolves. You think like, "How absurd," but she makes you believe, and the love story between this boy Stephen, who is now a man, and the woman who saves him from a psychiatric institute is really beautiful and really moving.
My book boyfriend
Atticus Finch [from To Kill a Mockingbird], hands down. I don't even think there's another choice.
The sexiest book I've ever read
Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan. She just writes the most beautiful, lyrical love scenes, and they're so important when the characters finally get together. They're not just sexy; you fall so in love and just want to be in that moment. She's the queen.
The best book I've read about grief
It's funny, I've read a lot of books about grief and dying. I've always been sort of a maudlin person. I'm Hungarian, and that's what my people do — we like to think about death and cry. And eat dessert. So I would say, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. He was a doctor, and he's a physician who's a very gifted surgical resident, who's has been tapped by the wand of greatness, and in the last year of his residency, he finds out he has stage four cancer. It's a memoir; it's so heartfelt and beautiful and he contemplates all the great questions. At the same time his wife is having a baby. It's just such a beautiful important story; I think everyone should read it.
The last book that made me swoon
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, which is not a romantic book, in any sense of the word. It's a grueling and beautiful and brutal book, but when the heroine finally allows herself to see herself as the great, beautiful, strong, important woman that she is — and that's shown through her connection with the male protagonist — it's so beautiful and so important. It's like all her life has been leading up to seeing herself in this way. And so, when it happens, it's just gorgeous.
The last book that made me laugh out loud
This Is Going to Hurt. That's another doctor memoir; it's by Adam Kay, and he is a junior doctor in Great Britain's National Health System. It's so hilarious. It's so irreverent, both about himself, the patients, the doctors in charge of him, that I think I laughed on every page.
The last book that made me cry
Where the Crawdads Sing. That's also a book about grief and loneliness, and it's so intense and beautifully written. It's a very improbable situation that a little girl is left to raise herself in the marshes of North Carolina, but it's so beautiful and so moving. That little girl is such a wonderful protagonist, and you ache with her and you cry over her, and you want to take her home and give her a nice hot supper and clean sheets.
My favorite movie adaptation of a book
I love the movie Jaws. I'm a Cape Cod-der. I think that's proof that a movie can be better than the book, as long as you have Roy Scheider in it. I read it as a kid, and then, I also saw the movie. It's like an annual thing to rewatch Jaws, and it really holds up. Unlike the book, it's got funny moments, and they streamline the plot in the screenplay.
The writing I am proudest of
Pack Up the Moon is probably the most important book that I've written because it is about life and death and love and loss. I don't believe that you ever recover from a loss. You either become slammed into the earth by it and stuck or you learn how to carry it. And you get stronger and stronger; not that the burden gets lighter but that you get stronger. I wanted to write, almost like a how-to book and how do you get over one of the greatest losses you can experience. In this book Josh loses Lauren. They know it's going to happen, and it's a book about their love, and how she's going to help him come to terms with his being a widower. And it's about how you can get to this point in life where you say, even though I have a terminal illness and I know my life will be much shorter, I'm going to have the best year ever. I really loved that idea that you can be so full of happiness and joy, without being really sappy, but you can just make that decision of, "This is the hand that was dealt to me and this is what I'll do with it."