There’s something voyeuristically thrilling about knowing what other people’s reading habits are. The Reader is a brief interview inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, which was itself inspired by a 19th century party game. We ask readers, writers, publishers and book-lovers everywhere (including our own staff) to answer eleven questions about the books they love, what they have been reading and their literary habits.
Eleanor Catton was born in Canada and raised in New Zealand. She wrote her debut novel The Rehearsal when she was 22 years old. First published in New Zealand by Victoria University Press, The Rehearsal went on to receive international prizes and acclaim, including a longlisting for the 2010 Orange Prize. It has now been translated into twelve languages. Eleanor Catton holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she taught creative writing as an adjunct professor in 2010. She now lectures in creative writing at the Manukau Institute of Technology in Auckland. Her second novel, The Luminaries, is due out in August. (Photo © Robert Catto)
What are you currently reading and how did you discover the book?
Per Pettersen’s Out Stealing Horses, which was recommended to me by a friend.
Who are your favourite writers and what do you love about them?
I find this such a difficult question to answer, because I love so many writers for such different reasons and in such different ways. In my research for The Luminaries I read a lot of Victorian and Edwardian fiction, in order to absorb nineteenth-century style, and also a lot of mystery and crime, in order to absorb techniques of suspense, revelation, and plotting. Of the first group, Tolstoy, George Eliot, Henry James and Wilkie Collins are the dearest to my heart; of the second, James M. Cain. I love writers with quiddity and empathy. When a writer has quiddity, you think “Nobody could have written this but you.” When a writer has empathy, you think “How do you know so much about the world beyond yourself?” The most pleasurable reading experience, for me, is one where I am humbled by both a writer’s imaginative talent and a writer’s imaginative heart.
What books are on your bedside table?
Per Pettersen’s I Curse the River of Time; Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind; Nabokov’s Speak, Memory; and Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House.
What is your favourite book to film adaptation?
Mildred Pierce, directed by Todd Haynes, with Kate Winslet as Mildred. Also the BBC adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie, and BBC adaptations generally.
What book have you re-read the most and why?
It’s a tie between The True Confession of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi, and Goodnight, Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian, two books I re-read constantly as a child and as a young adult. But I can’t answer why! I re-read them because I loved them, and I loved them because I re-read them.
Who is your favourite literary character?
What book have you always been meaning to read but still haven’t got around to?
Which three writers would you have over for supper?
It would be interesting to invite three writers from three different eras of literary history. Let’s say Cervantes, Tolstoy, and Virginia Woolf—at least if they didn’t get along with me, they would surely be curious about one another.
What would you cook them?
Something that could be prepared hours earlier, so I wouldn’t miss any part of the conversation.
How are your books shelved and organised at home?
I recently shifted house and took the opportunity to divide my books generally into categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays. The fiction is divided into “books I want to see every day” (which are in the lounge) and “books I don’t want to see every day” (in the hallway).
What is your favourite literary quote?
‘No one must be humiliated’ –Chekhov.
We’re looking forward to Eleanor’s new novel The Luminaries – keep your eyes peeled for it on the shelves in August!
To view an archive of previous interviews, follow this link.