BookPage staff

The Mirror 

Combining fish-out-of-water humor and historical detail, time-travel stories must deftly balance magic and reality. A bestseller when it was published in 1978, Marlys Millhiser’s novel The Mirror is now something of a cult classic, and it’s easy to see why. On the eve of her wedding, 20-year-old Shay falls through an antique mirror into the body of her grandmother, Brandy, whose life on the Colorado frontier in 1900 involves strict gender roles, physical danger and structured undergarments. In exchange, Brandy is transported to Shay’s body in 1978 and must deal with that era’s comparatively lawless (and braless) abandon. This sounds like a prosaic setup, but The Mirror is a wild ride that almost never hits the expected beats. Shay and Brandy are fully realized characters, and the details of both settings are spot on and evocative, lending a sense of reality to the novel despite its absolutely chaotic premise. Along the way, Millhiser digs up some timeless truths about mother-daughter relationships and how the women who came before us are often reflected in the ones who come after. 

—Trisha, Publisher

Nothing to See Here

My reading preferences vary widely, but I rarely gravitate toward fantasy novels whose first few pages consist of maps, family trees, timelines and other hallmarks of extensive world building. I get too overwhelmed! But I love when a work of fiction contains just a touch of the supernatural. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief if the magical or otherworldly elements are woven into the story in a way that feels effortless. Kevin Wilson’s 2019 novel, Nothing to See Here, is about two children who burst into flames when they’re upset. The kids’ newly hired nanny, Lillian, transitions from reluctant caretaker to fiercely protective parental figure over the course of the book. A note for other fantasy-averse readers like myself: If the whole catching-on-fire thing seems like too much, don’t let it deter you. You'll miss out on a delightful story that's as funny as it is moving.

—Katherine, Subscriptions

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

It may seem unusual to single out a nonfiction book for having a sprinkle of magic, but Alexander Chee’s exceptional essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, is the first title that comes to mind when I think of books with an undercurrent of enchantment. In 16 spellbinding pieces, Chee explores the stuff of everyday life—work, writing, family, activism—alongside more supernatural subjects, such as his lifelong pursuit of tarot and being tested for psychic abilities as a child. These brushes with the mystical elevate Chee’s more commonplace topics until the whole book seems to hover in that liminal space between the sacred and the profane. Suddenly, as you read about his stint as a cater waiter for William F. Buckley or his recollections of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, the sense that you’re encountering something extraordinary (that is, out of the ordinary) is heightened. Magic is all around us, Chee seems to say. Read it in the cards. Produce it with your mind. Find it in a well-tended rosebush in your own backyard.

—Christy, Associate Editor

The Raven Boys

The first time I read The Raven Boys, the first novel in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series, I was a high school junior in the midst of a reading slump. I occasionally found a book that I enjoyed, but not with the same ferocity that kept me plowing through stories in my childhood. Although I had seen fan-made content for Stiefvater’s series online, I didn’t know the plot until a friend described it to me. By the time I finished reading the first chapter, I was electrified by the prose and already attached to the characters. While I love fiction that includes speculative elements, I have a harder time feeling immersed in the worlds of high fantasy or sci-fi novels. The Raven Boys kept me rooted in reality while introducing me to Welsh mythology and women with psychic powers. These elements are expanded in the series’ subsequent three novels, but the foundational connection to the real world is never severed. 

—Jessie, Editorial Intern

The Midnight Library

In the tender reading year of 2020, Matt Haig published what a friend of mine called a “cheerful book about suicide.” I had recommended The Midnight Library to her, but she was skeptical about reading it—understandably so, as so many of us were picky about the types of books we were willing to read while riding out the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Haig has been open about his experiences with depression for years, and all of his books have explored the terrain of mental health for both children and adults. In this gentle novel, a woman dies by suicide and is transported to a special library between life and death. There, with help from a kind librarian, she is able to step into the different lives she could’ve lived, as a rock star, intrepid explorer, parent and more. It’s such a smart and empathetic story, and exactly what it needs to be: a cheerful book about depression, yes, but also about making it through.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

Sometimes the best way to understand reality is with just a hint of unreality. In these five books, fantastical elements reveal hidden or unexpected truths about our not-so-ordinary world.

The Tenth Muse

I am ready for Catherine Chung to become a household name, and I know that day is coming. Both of Chung’s novels, Forgotten Country (2012) and The Tenth Muse (2019), tell stories of female mathematicians questioning family roles and chasing down secrets. I fell especially hard for her second novel, not just because Chung is a strong storyteller (and indeed she is) but because of her narrative’s clean, chronological structure, which embodies the precision and beauty of math itself. Over the course of the novel, protagonist Katherine reflects on her childhood as the daughter of a Chinese immigrant and a white American veteran of World War II. She reckons with her place in a male-dominated field, hedges her dreams against her relationship with an charismatic older professor, attempts to solve the famed Riemann hypothesis, meets real-life scientists and mathematicians and, in the search for her family’s true history, follows the clues in an equation-filled diary. It’s quite a journey, and Chung unfurls these questions and mysteries with all the formal elegance and unequivocal truth of a perfectly balanced equation.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

The Promise Girls

One of Marie Bostwick’s novels had been on my TBR list for so long that I’d forgotten when or how it had gotten there when I finally started reading it sometime in mid-2021. By chapter five, I had downloaded the rest of Bostwick’s novels, and a new fan was born. Although I’ve loved them all, my favorite is The Promise Girls. The three Promise sisters were groomed to be artistic prodigies by their overbearing mother, Minerva. During a live televised performance, pianist sister Joanie intentionally blundered her signature piece, and Minerva slapped the girl. In the subsequent uproar, child protective services split up the family, and each sister closeted her creative pursuits and difficult childhood without much reflection. Decades later, sister Meg’s journey back from a near-fatal car crash leads all three Promise sisters to reexamine their conclusions about their upbringing and artistic abilities. Bostwick creates worlds where we can trust that, with the support of loved ones and a healthy dose of creativity, good people will prevail. Her stories have been a wonderful refuge to me during this long and arduous pandemic, and I know that many readers would find similar comfort in them.

—Sharon, Controller

Elsewhere

Gabrielle Zevin is best known for her 2015 bestseller, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, but her literary talents didn’t start there. In Zevin’s 2005 speculative novel, Elsewhere, 15-year-old Liz has been killed in a hit-and-run accident, and she wakes up on a cruise ship called the S.S. Nile that’s bound for the afterlife. When the ship arrives in Elsewhere, a place uncannily similar to Earth, Liz learns that she will age backward until infancy. Then she'll be released into a river and sent back to Earth, where she will begin a new life. Utterly distraught, Liz spends most of her time at the Observation Decks, where one “eternim” buys her five minutes of Earth-viewing time. On the brighter side, she’s taken in by her grandmother Betty, now 34, who died before Liz was born and currently works as a seamstress in Elsewhere. As Liz comes to grips with living her new life in reverse, Zevin executes a premise that’s unique and fully realized. You won’t be able to keep Elsewhere to yourself.

—Katherine, Subscriptions

Light From Other Stars

I’m someone who loves to look up at the night sky, so Erika Swyler’s second novel, Light From Other Stars, stole my heart. It’s beautifully written, easy to get lost in and powerfully heartfelt. With a light-handed approach, Swyler skillfully toes the line between factual science and science fiction to tell the story of Nedda Papas, jumping between her childhood in 1980s Easter, Florida, and her adventures aboard the spaceship Chawla decades later. Nedda’s childhood scenes introduce her father, Theo Papas, a former NASA scientist who’s reeling from the death of his infant son. When Theo creates an experiment that alters the life of everyone in Easter, Nedda and her mother form an unlikely alliance, and Nedda’s recollections of these earlier events help her solve a dire problem aboard the Chawla. Throughout this tale of time and loss, Swyler explores how people (and our perceptions of them) change, how relationships evolve, what happens to us when we die and just how far we’ll go to hold on to the ones we love. 

—Meagan, Brand & Production Designer

We Sang You Home

When I worked in an independent bookstore, a trend I noticed and loved was baby showers to which guests were encouraged to bring a book as a gift for the impending arrival. It’s never too early to start building a home library and sharing books with children! Board books are especially perfect for placing in the hands of the newest readers, because the thick cardboard pages are much harder to tear and can hold up to many readings (or nibblings). I loved sending folks out the door with Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett’s We Sang You Home, a spare, poetic meditation whose first-person plural narration encompasses many kinds of families and could be read by any caregiver, not just a birthing parent. I’ve read this book countless times and still choke up at author Van Camp’s beautiful benediction: “Thank you for joining us / Thank you for choosing us / Thank you for becoming / the best of all of us.” What an extraordinary way to welcome a tiny new person to the world.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

We love it when a great book or hardworking author cultivates a huge following, but we also love cheering for an underdog. Here are five books that we believe are deserving of the fireworks and fanfare typically reserved for the biggest blockbusters.

As the year draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the books that impressed us. We editors put our heads together and came up with a Top 40 list of books—fiction and nonfiction—that stood out from the crowd in 2010. From literary novels to memoirs to mysteries, they include established authors, new voices and a few surprises.

 
1. Room by Emma Donoghue
2. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen  
3. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand 
4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
5. Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell 
6. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart  
7. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
8. Great House by Nicole Krauss 
9. Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
10. A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova
11. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
12. The Passage by Justin Cronin
13. My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
14. Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
15. The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass 
16. Faithful Place by Tana French
17. Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton
18. The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
19. So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
20. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
21. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
22. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
23. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
24. The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee
25. The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
26. The Tiger by John Vaillant
27. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
28. The Big Short by Michael Lewis
29. Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides
30. The Line by Olga Grushin
31. How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
32. I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
33. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
34. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
35. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
36. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
37. Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans
38. Breath by Martha Mason
39. The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris
40. Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens

 

 

 

As the year draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the books that impressed us. We editors put our heads together and came up with a Top 40 list of books—fiction and nonfiction—that stood out from the crowd in 2010. From literary novels to memoirs to mysteries, they include established […]

Comedian and TV host Jeff Foxworthy moves into the realm of children's books with Hide!!!, a picture book that reminds children of the fun to be had playing outside with only their imaginations. In our Q&A, he shares why getting off the couch is important, how his daughters inspire him and whether he really is smarter than a fifth grader.

Why did you decide to write children's books?
I had always had the idea in the back of my mind that I could write a children's book. When I started hosting "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader" suddenly every kid knew who I was. My daughters said, "Dad, if you are ever going to write a children's book now is the time." I thought, "Oh this will be easy." Then you realize you are working with a restricted vocabulary. It has to rhyme, be funny and make sense. And there is an almost musical rhythm to it. After about three days I thought, "No wonder Dr. Seuss is such a big deal! This is hard!"

Hide!!! encourages kids to turn off the TV and be active with friends. Do you think kids are more likely to be couch potatoes now than when you were a kid? How can we fix this?
We really didn't have the option of being couch potatoes when I was growing up. There were only three television channels and the only kid's programming was on Saturday morning. We always played outside until we could hear Mom calling us (not by cell phone but with her hands cupped around her mouth) that it was dinner time.

I recently read an article that said that children that play outside develop better problem solving skills and have a stronger ability to work within a group. But my generation, as parents, has been so overprotective that we have taken away many of those opportunities. I'm not sure how you fix it. Sometimes I think we probably stagnate our children's emotional growth by not letting them have some separation from us.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid?
I was always a big fan of Dr. Seuss. He didn't write for adults, he wrote for kids. If he had to make up a word to make a sentence rhyme, so be it. To this day you can't find many adults that can't quote at least a few lines ofGreen Eggs and Ham. They were books you read over and over again and they still hold up decades later.

Which five authors would you like to have dinner with?
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Jamie Leigh Curtis.

Fill in the blank: "You might be a redneck kid if….."
"All of your kisses taste like peanut butter."

Fess up: are you smarter than a fifth grader?
I've said that if they didn't give me the answers that would be the shortest show on TV. We often have celebrities come on the show and play for charity. The fifth graders were trying to talk me into doing it. I told them, "It's better if everybody just thinks Mr. Jeff is an idiot than to take the test and prove them right!" 

Comedian and TV host Jeff Foxworthy moves into the realm of children's books with Hide!!!, a picture book that reminds children of the fun to be had playing outside with only their imaginations. In our Q&A, he shares why getting off the couch is important, how his daughters inspire him and whether he really is smarter […]

With more and more new writers getting published each month, it’s sometimes daunting to decide which newly minted authors to add to your reading list. From historical novels to literary fiction to mysteries that will keep you up all night, here’s a look at the best debut fiction of the season.

SUSPENSEFUL FAMILY DRAMA

The basic plot of The Swimming Pool sounds like a soap opera: A devoted wife and mother of two is murdered. Shortly after, her husband—a suspect—dies in a car accident. Seven years later, the son of the dead couple has a steamy affair. His lover? The woman who was his late father’s mistress.

Under Holly LeCraw’s spell, what could have been pure pulp is instead a passionate and suspenseful family drama and murder mystery, set during the sultry summertime of Cape Cod. LeCraw skillfully alternates between past and present, allowing the reader to observe Marcella Atkinson’s affair with Cecil McClatchey; the consequences it has on both her family and his; and her later relationship with Jed, Cecil’s son.

The aftermath of betrayal and the cost of passion loom large in the story’s background. Did Marcella and Cecil’s affair cause the death of Cecil’s wife, Betsy? Was Marcella’s temporary happiness with Cecil worth disrupting the lives of her family? Is it possible to find happiness after horrific events?

Although LeCraw’s descriptive prose is sensual and worth savoring, readers will whip through The Swimming Pool, eager to find out what really happened on the night of Betsy’s murder. At the novel’s conclusion, they’ll relish the fact that LeCraw is a debut author—how thrilling it is to anticipate what she’ll come up with next.

—Eliza Borné

BEHIND THE FREAK SHOW

To the modern thrill-seeker, the main event of P.T. Barnum’s Circus may be the strangely trained animals or death-defying stunts. The original circus, however, began with a much humbler lineup, as “A Museum of Curiosities” in New York City in the mid-1800s.

In The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, readers get an inside peek at the lives behind the freak show, home to skeleton men, oversized beasts and bearded women. But the performers in Barnum’s sideshow are real people, complete with genuine struggles, emotions, ambitions and love lives. The story’s protagonist, Fortuno, or “Barthy,” is one such multifaceted character.

After meeting a new addition to the cast, Mrs. Iell Adams, Barthy’s tiny world is widened by his own curiosity. Intrigued by her alluring look, he begins to question his own “talent,” asking himself for the first time if he has chosen his life or if it has chosen him.

Trudging through his doubt, he follows the impulses of his newfound feelings, sometimes to his own detriment, and often leaving others in the wake of his decisions. Beginning as a troubled soul who rarely stopped to dwell on the past or realize the implications of the present, Barthy emerges transformed by the twists and turns of his true self-discovery.

Bryson’s writing invites readers directly onto the showroom floor with her apt descriptions of the culture surrounding the Museum life. She’s done her digging—and it’s clear in her detailed portrait of the complexities and conflicts of a life behind glass. This is an apropos end-of-summer pick for the historian and/or the endlessly curious. Whether or not they’re familiar with Barnum and his enterprise, readers will find much to appreciate in this story about the life-transforming power of love.

—Cory Bordonaro

THE DEPTHS OF LIFE AND DEATH

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is the tangling of the fibers used for sending and receiving neural messages, particularly in the regions of the brain associated with memory. As one of the leading researchers into the biological prevention of Alzheimer’s, Victor Aaron can identify all the signs of the disease with textbook precision, but it is only upon losing his wife in a car accident that he truly begins to understand the fickle and fleeting nature of memory.

In Rosecrans Baldwin’s You Lost Me There, Victor has memorialized his marriage as picture-perfect, but when he stumbles upon his wife’s private reflections on their relationship, recorded for their therapist, he begins to realize just how incompatible his own perceptions of the relationship are relative to his wife’s. As he delves deeper into Sarah’s recollections, Victor finds himself increasingly overcome with grief as he struggles to reconcile his memories of their grand romance. With the dawning understanding that “you never know what lurks beneath people, even when they’re perfect on paper,” Victor finds he must mourn Sarah all over again.

Unrestrained yet elegant, You Lost Me There is a powerful meditation on the all-consuming nature of grief and the power of memory as both redeemer and destroyer. A novel of contradictions, it plumbs the depths of life and death, sense and sentimentality, youth and maturity—all while tackling the big quandary of how we can hold on to the past while moving forward. This is a novel for which all the romantic intellectuals of the world will rejoice, as Baldwin proves there can be such a thing as a cerebral author who writes with his heart.

—Stephenie Harrison

SECRETS OF A SCOTTISH TOWN

The post-WWII town featured in A.D. Scott’s enjoyable novel is not a happy place. The weather in this Scottish Highlands village is often dismal and the people are hidebound, which leads too often to downtrodden women, mistreated children and a reflexive distrust of strangers. Then a little boy dies. At first it’s assumed that his death was accidental, but the town is gripped by horror as it’s revealed that the child was murdered. Who could have done such a thing?

The crime is of special interest to the staff of the Highland Gazette: Joanne, the typist, married to a brute who beats both her and their children; Rob, the charming cub reporter; McAllister, the editor-in-chief; and McLeod, “the subeditor and all-around fusspot know-it-all.” As the mystery of the boy’s death grows more tangled and frustrating, it’s McAllister who finds a possible clue to solving the crime in a secret trauma he’s been nursing for years.

Scott shows us that many in the town have secrets. Some are trivial, like the secrets children keep to stay out of trouble. But some are monstrous. Scott not only captures the townsfolk’s insularity and way of speaking, but writes beautifully about the natural world that surrounds them.

Written with humor, compassion and a fine sense of tragedy, A Small Death in the Great Glen is the first in a series by this promising new author.

—Arlene McKanic

THE MULTICULTURAL EXPERIENCE

Shoko was eight years old when American bombs fell on Nagasaki; she and her family experienced the repercussions from that day throughout their lives. Her younger brother Taro grew up hating all Americans, so when Shoko decides to try to “better” herself by marrying an American GI, Taro vows he will never speak to her again.

After relocating to the States with her new husband, Shoko struggles to become an American. She is aided by a book given to her by her mother when she left Japan, How to Be an American Housewife, but still finds it difficult to fit in. Margaret Dilloway, whose own mother was Japanese, writes perceptively about the neighbors who never visit, the classmates of Shoko’s daughter, Sue, who laugh about her mother’s accent, and PTA meetings where Shoko is painfully out of place.

Years later, in San Diego, Shoko has a weak heart, and knows she may die before she has the necessary operation to repair it. She longs to visit Japan once again and reconcile with Taro—“the only one who knew me, the real Shoko.” She asks Sue (now a divorced mother of precocious 12-year-old Helena) to go to Japan in her place—to try and find her uncle Taro. Sue agrees to go, Helena in tow; their journey becomes a revelation, in a myriad of ways. Sue learns things about her mother’s culture she had never heard of, finds cousins she never knew she had and comes to realize how much her Japanese roots really mean to her—and to Helena.

In this emotionally rich debut, Dilloway delves into all familial relationships: mother-daughter, father-son, husband-wife and sister-brother—each one both complicated and enriched by the added ingredient of the multicultural experience. Readers will easily relate to her touching, often humorous story of the way unbreakable family ties can stretch over decades, and from one generation to another.

—Deb Donovan

A ROAD TRIP WORTH THE RIDE

Bill Warrington, a cantankerous old man with Alzheimer’s disease, believes he has one last shot at something. But as the story unfolds, we see that every character has one last chance to drop the baggage from their angry past. All that is a bit iffy, however, since the key to bringing about a happy ending depends on a crusty grandfather on the brink of forgetting what he was trying to achieve in the first place.

Enter Bill’s granddaughter, April, a typical teenager looking for any chance to escape her tightly wound mother. And escape she does after yet another argument at home followed by a bit of luck. As it happens, Bill is ready to hit the road for one last hurrah in his ancient Impala.

In April’s eyes, this road trip’s purpose is to fulfill her dream of making it to California to become a rock star. But Bill has a secret or two. His plans for this trip are to reunite his feuding sons and his domineering daughter, April’s mother. But as the odometer miles add up, it becomes clear to April that Bill may not be able to pull off this shenanigan with his mental stamina fading faster every day. And how is a 15-year-old, alone and far from home, supposed to handle this deteriorating geezer while helping him achieve a highly unlikely reconciliation?

Bill Warrington’s Last Chance turns out to be quite a ride for all the characters involved—and it proves that taking a chance may not turn out exactly as you had planned, but it’s darn worth a try.

—Dee Ann Grand

 

A BUOYANT BEACH READ WITH HEART

Susanna Daniel’s Stiltsville is rooted in a community of stilt houses towering above Biscayne Bay, Florida, where the author spent much of her childhood. Daniel masterfully evokes the sticky Miami heat and refreshing ocean breezes, but there is so much more to these pages than fetching seaside images. Daniel’s characters are emotionally complex and so believable that Stiltsville almost reads as a memoir rather than a work of fiction.

The book’s beating heart is Frances Ellerby, whom readers follow on a moving journey that hits all the milestones: marriage, parenthood, trying illness, burial of loved ones and the highs and lows in between. Frances shares the spotlight with her attorney husband Dennis, only daughter Margo and son-in-law—with whom she chaffs—Stuart. On the periphery are Dennis’ parents and sister, characters that aid in relaying a story of unwavering familial support and friendship.

Daniel strikes a perfect balance of wit, weakness and tenderness in Stiltsville. As Frances raises a daughter, contemplates infidelity and cares for an ailing husband, her values are challenged and ultimately defined. It is not as light as other beach reads on the market, but Stiltsville emerges wonderfully buoyant.

—Lizza Connor Bowen
 

 

With more and more new writers getting published each month, it’s sometimes daunting to decide which newly minted authors to add to your reading list. From historical novels to literary fiction to mysteries that will keep you up all night, here’s a look at the best debut fiction of the season. SUSPENSEFUL FAMILY DRAMA The basic plot […]

Although Presumed Innocent was a blockbuster bestseller, it took you 23 years to publish a follow-up. Did you always intend to write a sequel to tie up loose ends?
To be honest, I thought for many years that I never would write a sequel. I always thought self-imitation is an inherently limiting thing for a writer, and I was afraid of trying to equal a book whose success at the time depended in part on breaking new ground. [But] at this stage, I was no longer worried about constraining myself. And by now, enough time has passed that I thought many people would be curious about Rusty—starting first of all with me.

Some of the events in Innocent eerily echo Rusty’s experiences in Presumed Innocent. How do you approach these parallel circumstances but twist them so they are fresh and new?
Well, I think one of the deepest truths about life is that people are sometimes compelled for reasons they don’t understand to keep repeating the same mistakes. So I regarded the parallel circumstances as deeply revealing of the character, and full of a meaning that wasn’t as clearly there the first time around. All the characters in Innocent are informed by the experience of the first book, and are trying desperately, in a paraphrase of Ecclesiastes, not to step in the same river twice.

Often lawyers who become authors of legal thrillers have a difficult time developing a fluid writing style, but your writing has always been gripping and accessible. What is your secret?
I was a novelist before I was a lawyer, having been a creative writing fellow at Stanford before I headed to law school. As a result, I was not trying to “find” my narrative voice after my style had been shaped by legal writing. I see legal writing as a distinct and somewhat limited voice that I’ve mastered, but one that does not really interfere with the creative voice I’d found before.

Given that you are still a practicing lawyer, what drives you to write fiction that also deals with the law?
I always say that the great break of my literary career was going to law school—it was one of the most fortuitous decisions of my life. I was a lecturer in the English department at Stanford, and for me going to law school meant giving up a teaching career. But I realized I was passionate about the law and the questions it asks, about deciding right from wrong for an entire society, fashioning rules that are firm yet flexible enough to fit the multitude of human circumstances. Those questions continue to preoccupy me. The truth is that I became not only a much more successful writer when I started writing about the law, but also a much better one as well, because I was writing about things that gripped me to the core.

The law often relies on individuals interpreting laws and regulations as best they can. To what extent do you think your novels contain characters and actions that are subject to the interpretation of your readers?
Without subscribing too heartily to deconstructionism, there is a truth that every reader reads a book his or her own way. But art of all kinds also depends on creating universals; in the case of narrative, we seek to create a fully imagined individual, a character, to whose life readers have something of a universal reaction. There are great differences in nuance in terms of readers’ responses, but if there is not a common element, a book is probably not a success.

Although Presumed Innocent was a blockbuster bestseller, it took you 23 years to publish a follow-up. Did you always intend to write a sequel to tie up loose ends? To be honest, I thought for many years that I never would write a sequel. I always thought self-imitation is an inherently limiting thing for a […]

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