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    On the hunt for arresting writing

    Elena Seibert

    Critically-acclaimed, best-selling writer Anita Shreve grew up in Dedham, attended Tufts University, and started writing fiction while teaching high school English in Reading. In her new novel, “The Stars Are Fire,” Shreve took her inspiration from a disaster in Maine in 1947 when nearly 20,000 acres along the coast went up in flames. She will read from her book at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 4 at Wellesley Books.

    BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

    SHREVE: Richard Russo’s “Trajectory,” his short story collection coming out in May. I’m just starting Colson Whitehead’s “Underground Railroad.” I’m also rereading a novel I love, Kate Atkinson’s “A God in Ruins.” Sometimes I read for pure pleasure. Other times I read to see what made a book wonderful. Then I’m so captivated by the story I forget that I wanted to know how it was done.


    BOOKS: What else have you found worth rereading?

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    SHREVE: I just reread “The Line of Beauty” by Alan Hollinghurst. It is absolutely gorgeous. I saw it on my bookshelves and thought that’s a book I can sink into. It’s a portrayal of a young, gay man in England. You don’t know whether you like him at the beginning or not.

    BOOKS: How do you pick which novels to read?

    SHREVE: What I’m looking for is arresting writing, not beautiful writing, and you can tell on the first or second page if it will pan out. An example of that is “Mothering Sunday” by Graham Swift. I just can’t recommend it enough.

    BOOKS: Do you have an all time favorite book?


    SHREVE: It’s been the same for a very long time, “The Transit of Venus” by Shirley Hazard. It demands to be read slowly. I assigned the first five chapters to a creative writing class at Amherst College. They were befuddled by it. I read the first chapter out loud to them, and then they got it. They had been reading too fast.

    BOOKS: What has been the hardest book for you to get through?

    SHREVE: I’m probably one of four people in the country who feel this way. I could not get through Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” When I was in college you weren’t even a person if you didn’t at least carry it with you all the time. People are going to shake their heads.

    BOOKS: Do you also read nonfiction?

    SHREVE: I have one on my bedside table, “The Art of the Con” by Anthony M. Amore. It’s about art forgery, which I’m interested in. I do read nonfiction, but it’s a ratio of about 35 to 1. I read a lot of it for research. A lot of those, especially the ones about World War I, I would have read for pleasure too.


    BOOKS: Which books have you read about World War I you would recommend?


    SHREVE: “Testament of Youth” by Vera Brittain, who lost her fiancé, her brother, and all her friends in the war. There is one about the armistice, but beautifully written: “The Great Silence” by Juliet Nicolson. I’m pulling it off the shelf because I might reread it.

    BOOKS: Do you own any books with special significance?

    SHREVE: Little Blue Books, these cardboard-covered volumes that are the size of a generous notecard and filled with stories. Those were pretty much the only books we had in the house when I was a kid. I left a few coloring marks inside. I’m sure my father wasn’t happy about that.

    BOOKS: When do you read?

    SHREVE: I don’t think I’m capable of falling asleep at night without reading. Once on a book tour I arrived at a motel and realized I’d forgotten my book. It was 7:30 p.m. and nothing was open in the town. I went to the desk clerk, and asked, “Do you have anything someone left behind?” It was half of the novel “Report to Greco” by Nikos Kazantzakis. It was fabulous. But I would have thought any was book fabulous. When you are desperate, you are desperate


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