From ‘Rest and Relaxation’ to refreshing research

Ottessa Moshfegh is the author of the bestselling novel “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” the tale of a young woman who spends most of a year sleeping as she essentially searches for happiness in hibernation. The prize-wining novelist grew up in Newton and now lives in Los Angeles. Her novel will be published in paperback this week.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

MOSHFEGH: I’ve been reading a lot of research about the war in Afghanistan for a project I’m working on. That happens to be for a screenplay, but I’m tending to write novels that require more and more research so I’m reading more history and nonfiction than novels. I can’t say I’m not absolutely enjoying it. It’s refreshing to read what’s true.

BOOKS: What are you reading as research for your next novel that you would recommend?


MOSHFEGH: Julia Flynn Siler’s “The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown.” It’s absolutely fascinating. Also “Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915” by Thomas J. Schlereth. That book totally blew my mind in how shifts in society, culture, technology, and labor worked together to change reality for so many people. I will keep that book for the rest of my life because it was so interesting. I also read “The Peony Pavilion” by Tang Xianzu, which is a classic in Chinese theater from 1598. It is one of the strangest texts I’ve ever read but incredibly beautiful. 

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BOOKS: Do you read nonfiction just for yourself too?

MOSHFEGH: The only break I’ve taken between projects was after I finished “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” during which I read mostly about spirituality and Buddhism. What most impacted me was Robert Svoboda’s books about the Aghori (ascetic devotees of Shiva). I had never read a book that so profoundly described the phenomenon of the weirdness of existence. I think I read it twice.

BOOKS: What’s the last novel you read?

MOSHFEGH:Stones in the Sea” by Fu Lin. It’s from the early 20th century but the novel reads like a contemporary first-person narrative. It’s a love story about a young man who falls in love with a woman who is a servant in his father’s court. 


BOOKS: What are some the books you’ve had for the longest?

MOSHFEGH: I’ve kept all my Cormac McCarthy books. They are ruined because I love them so. I have two books by Jean Stein, who was a close friend. I worked on one of her books. I have “American Journey” about Robert F. Kennedy and “Edie,” her book about Edie Sedgwick. I will never let go of those. At one point I owned and read every book Anne Tyler wrote. The book I held on to, is one of her first books “A Slipping Down Life.” It’s one of her weirdest.

BOOKS: When you studied English in college, which classics were your favorites?

MOSHFEGH: Somehow I managed to avoid getting really into the classics. I don’t know how it happened. For a minute I got very excited about Edith Wharton. I thought, “How did it take me this long to read her?” She’s amazing and a genius. But I grew up reading experimental fringe stuff. The reading list for my high school was amazing. 

BOOKS: Who were the experimental writers you read?


MOSHFEGH: Gordon Lish and the writers who he published in the journal The Quarterly. The big one I got turned on to was Gary Lutz. At this point not everyone is enamored with him but they forgot that he took the short story into a place of masterful sophistication. He made it miraculous. 

‘I’ve kept all my Cormac McCarthy books. They are ruined because I love them so.’

BOOKS: What will you read next?

MOSHFEGH: Hard to say. For my research I ordered ten books on opium, ten books on women in China, ten books on Chinese healing herbs. I have five books about the earthquake in 1906 and all this stuff about early homosexual culture in San Francisco along with books on the Gold Rush. You read one book and it makes you want to find something else out. 

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at