Author Curtis Sittenfeld, whose latest book Romantic Comedy is out April 4, on the books that have shaped her life and writing.

Across her eight books, Curtis Sittenfeld probes the personal and political, exploring the ways these spaces intersect to complicate our lives and loves: the unwritten code of elite high schools in Prep; the inner life of a First Lady who resembles Laura Bush in American Daughter; the economics of dating in Eligible; and an alternate universe for Hillary Clinton in Rodham.

Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis Sittenfeld
| Credit: Colin McPherson/Corbis/Getty; Random House

In her own words, her latest, Romantic Comedy, which is out April 4, "explores and makes fun of the phenomenon of talented, but somewhat ordinary, Saturday Night Live men dating gorgeous, world-famous, super-talented female celebrities who are guests on the show." The novel follows Sally Milz, a writer for a sketch comedy show called The Night Owls. Sally is irritated when her friend and fellow writer, Danny Horst, begins dating Annabel, a gorgeous actress who hosted the show. But when pop music sensation Noah Brewster signs on to host the show, in which Sally has written a sketch mocking Danny's dating choices, she's caught off guard when sparks fly between her and Noah.

While preparing for the release of Romantic Comedy, Sittenfeld took a minute to reflect on the books that have shaped her, from Elizabeth Bennet to The Boxcar Children.

My favorite book as a child

"There's a lot of possible answers to this, but I really loved the first Boxcar Children. I don't know if the series didn't yet exist when I read it or if it existed, and I didn't know it, but I only ever read the first one and loved it and was obsessed with it. I didn't know there were more until maybe 20 years later or something, by which point it felt like the moment had passed."

The Boxcar Children (Boxcar Children #1) Paperback – September 1, 1989 by Gertrude Chandler Warner (Author), L. Kate Deal (Illustrator)
'The Boxcar Children'
| Credit: Scholastic

The book I read in secret as a teenager

"Bodice rippers. I went to boarding school and every time I flew from Cincinnati where I lived to Boston, which was the closest city to my school, I would buy a bodice ripper in the airport. Every time I flew to school, and then every time I flew from school to home, but since I was reading them on an airplane, I would not say that counts as a secret. I had a particular favorite book that I would say does not hold up politically."

The book I loved in school

"I really loved Pride and Prejudice, which I read for the first time as a junior in boarding school. I did love it enough to write my own version of it [in Eligible]."

Pride and Prejudice (Ambry Classics) Paperback – August 13, 2021 by Jane Austen (Author), Kerry van der Vinne (Introduction)
'Pride and Prejudice'
| Credit: Ambry Press

A book that changed my life

"The Perfect Wife by Ann Gerhart, which is a biography of Laura Bush. I was intrigued by Laura Bush because I was a Democrat, but she was such a reader and champion of books that I thought there were interesting contradictions in her life. I read that biography and that confirmed that there were interesting contradictions in her life. So then I wrote my own Laura Bush novel."

The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush Paperback – April 8, 2005 by Ann Gerhart
'The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush'
| Credit: Simon & Schuster

The book that cemented me as a writer

"Sam The Cat by Matthew Klam. When I was in graduate school at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, which I entered in the fall of 1999, Klam was often published in the New Yorker. There was something so alive about his stories and so frank or candid and refreshing. I loved those stories. I actually applied to be the writer in residence at St. Alden's School in Washington, D.C. in part because I knew he had done it, and I thought, What's good enough for Matthew Klam is good enough for me."

Sam the Cat: and Other Stories Paperback – May 29, 2001 by Matthew Klam
'Sam the Cat: and Other Stories'
| Credit: Vintage

A book I've read over and over again

"I'm not that big a re-reader, just because there's like so many books in the world, but I do re-read, Alice Munro's short stories and especially her collection called Open Secrets."

A classic you're embarrassed to say you've never read

"Unfortunately, there's a lot to choose from. I read about 200 pages of Anna Karenina and I loved what I read. I would say the reason I didn't finish is that I had a baby who didn't take naps then. But it's not really a good excuse because that baby is now 14."

A book people would be surprised to learn I love

"I have this book Romantic Comedy coming out, which explores and makes fun of the phenomenon of talented, but somewhat ordinary Saturday Night Live men dating gorgeous, world-famous, super-talented female celebrities who are guests on the show. Based on the premise of my book, it might seem like that phenomenon is very annoying to me. In fact, I love it, so it's Colin Jost's memoir A Very Punchable Face. It's very charming and funny. And he doesn't seem to hold anything back."

A Very Punchable Face: A Memoir Paperback – July 13, 2021 by Colin Jost
'A Very Punchable Face: A Memoir'
| Credit: Crown

A book I wish I'd written

"I'm reading a book right now that's outrageously great. It's coming out in June. It's called Everything's Fine by Cecilia Rabess. It's a first novel about a conservative white guy and a more progressive Black woman who went to undergrad together and didn't really like each other, and then end up working at Goldman Sachs together and actually are attracted to each other. It is so good. A huge proportion of it is dialogue, and the dialogue is amazing. It's a very smart book about very smart people. I had no idea that I wanted to read a Goldman Sachs-set book, so that was astonishing to learn. But it's an amazing book."

Everything's Fine Hardcover – June 6, 2023 by Cecilia Rabess
'Everything's Fine'
| Credit: Simon & Schuster

The first book you read that defined the genre or style you have as a writer

"I read the Best American Short Stories in the summer of 1992, which was the summer before my senior year of high school. I did feel like, 'Oh my God, this exists?! Lorrie Moore exists and Charles D'Ambrosio exists!' They have this specificity of language and experience and this incredible intelligence. That was very electrifying to me. I ended up being the guest editor of the Best American Short Stories in 2020, which was a really special full circle moment for me. I do think the world opened up for me reading this anthology of different voices with that literary sensibility."

My favorite literary love story

"Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Not to be too self-referential, but I found it really hilarious that I believe, based on reading the acknowledgement, that McQuiston used the same Hillary Clinton biography by Carl Bernstein, which is called A Woman in Charge, that I used for research for Rodham. Both those books do feature a powerful female politician, so I guess it's not surprising, but they're pretty different books. I thought McQuiston's book was really charming and romantic and optimistic."

Red, White & Royal Blue: Collector's Edition: A Novel Hardcover – October 11, 2022 by Casey McQuiston
'Red, White & Royal Blue'
| Credit: St. Martin's Griffin

The last book that made me laugh out loud

"It's kind of a strange answer. I quite recently read The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken, which is a memoir-ish novel about her mother, who recently died. It's not inherently funny material by any means, but McCracken has such a dry way of seeing things and is really funny about writing and hypocrisy and the intersections of writing and hypocrisy, that it is often a funny book."

The last book that made me cry

"The Kathryn Schulz book Lost & Found, which is a memoir of her father dying and her meeting and falling in love with her now wife. It's very poignant, in both directions."

My literary hero

"Alice Munro."

The last book I gave as a gift

"I actually give books very often. I gave the story collection No One Gets Out Alive, and it's short stories that are all set in Alaska. It's very interesting and sharp and depicts various subcultures, including, frankly, a rich, white version of Alaska in many of the stories. But it's people doing physically risky things in remote areas and often being very casual about the risks they're taking There's also a lot of emotional drama. It's a very smart book, too."

No One Gets Out Alive: A Novel – April 28, 2015 by Adam Nevill
'No One Gets Out Alive'
| Credit: St. Martin's Press

The first book I bought with my own money

"It might have been a Lois Duncan book. I adored Lois Duncan, and I probably started reading her when I was about nine or 10."

The book I'm reading now

"Well, Everything's Fine, like I told you. I'm probably two-thirds of the way through. I do not intend to always be reading so many books at once, but I'm also reading Evie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes."

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