January 2021

Shelf Life with Kristin Hannah: Wherever she goes, a bookstore awaits

Interview by
“We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and our first stop in every new town was the library.”
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The bestselling author of The Nightingale—whose new novel, The Four Winds, is one of the biggest releases of the season—shares a look at her book-loving life.

What are your bookstore rituals?
Wow. In all my years of talking about books, this is a question I have never been asked before. And I definitely do have bookstore rituals. It begins, of course, with the window. I’m always interested in what books are displayed in the window of a bookstore, so I guess my ritual begins before I even open the door. Once inside, I head straight to the fiction new releases. From there, I move leisurely toward the current bestseller bookcase and then to the staff recommendations. By now, I usually have an armful of books, but I can never leave without checking out the children’s section and browsing through the history section. After that, I could head anywhere.

Tell us about your favorite library from when you were a child.
Honestly, my favorite library belonged to my mother. She was an avid reader and collected books of all kinds. I remember her tall stack of Book of the Month titles. I spent years perusing her shelves and choosing books and allowing her to choose for me. One of my favorite memories of childhood is talking about those books with my mom. Afterward, of course, she introduced me to our local library and helped me to get my first library card—my passport to other worlds. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and our first stop in every new town was the library.

While researching your books, have you ever made an especially surprising discovery among the stacks?
I have spent many hours in both libraries and bookstores—new and used—in my research. The one that comes to mind right now is the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. I spent many wonderful hours there, wearing white gloves, reading the handwritten firsthand accounts of Ms. Sanora Babb, a young woman who worked at the Farm Security Administration migrant camp in California in the late 1930s. Her words were a gold mine of information.

Do you have a favorite bookstore or library from literature?
Oh, so many! The first that comes to mind, of course, is the magical Hogwarts library. Who wouldn’t want to lose themselves among the stacks there? And then there’s the equally magical Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s remarkable novel The Shadow of the Wind. More recently, I found myself enraptured by Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, in which a library becomes the catalyst for looking at one’s own lost lives and untaken chances.

Do you have a “bucket list” of bookstores and libraries you’d love to visit but haven’t yet?
Doesn’t everyone? How much time do we have? My bucket list of libraries is topped by Trinity College Library in Dublin. I used to dream of going there as a girl, and I’ve never lost the hope that I will visit it someday. Honestly, I love bookstores and libraries everywhere. I try to visit them whenever and wherever I am traveling.

What’s the last thing you checked out from your library or bought at your local bookstore?
I checked out a book last week, a memoir written by a female journalist that I couldn’t find in print anywhere. The last thing I bought at my local bookstore was actually about five minutes ago. I called my local indie bookseller and ordered a copy of Caste.

How is your own personal library organized?
My research library, which is extensive because I’ve been writing novels now for close to 30 years and I rarely get rid of anything I’ve read, is organized by topic. My fiction library is a glorious, beautiful mess. The only way I find anything is because I peruse it so often that I practically have each shelf memorized.

Bookstore cats or bookstore dogs?
I am a cat person, but I love any animal curled up in a bookstore.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of The Four Winds.

Author photo by Kevin Lynch

Get the Book

The Four Winds

The Four Winds

By Kristin Hannah
St. Martin's
ISBN 9781250178602

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