Chasing after the Weird and the Wild

Photo by Kristin KozelskyPhoto by Kristin Kozelsky
The Boston Globe
December 21, 2018
By Amy Sutherland

Prize-winning writer Lauren Groff never imagined she would move to Florida, and, once she had, never expected to stay. But she has, and her adopted state is the muse of her acclaimed short-story collection, “Florida,” which was nominated for the 2018 National Book Award for fiction. Groff, who also won a Guggenheim Fellowship this year, will migrate north to colder climes this winter to work on a novel as a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Cambridge. She’ll speak at 4 p.m. at the Knafel Center on March 13.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

GROFF: I’m in the midst of this tetralogy by Yukio Mishima, “The Sea of Fertility.” I read the first book, “Spring Snow.” It’s incredibly romantic and strange. I also just started a recent Granta, and Anne Carson has a piece in it. I think she’s a genius.

BOOKS: Are you partial to series?

GROFF: I’m not, but for some reason I’ve been wanting the deep immersion. It’s like binge-watching shows, but I feel too guilty to binge-watch shows so I’m binge-eating stories.

BOOKS: What do you like about Anne Carson?

GROFF: She does something new every time she sits down to write something. The one I read over and over again is “The Glass Essay.” It’s a short read. If you are standing in line in the post office you can read it. 

BOOKS: Have you been known to read books in line at the post office?

GROFF: I read books everywhere. It’s a good way to avoid talking to people you don’t know. I’m an introvert. If you look serious and studious people don’t come up to you and talk to you.

BOOKS: What are some of your favorite times to read?

GROFF: I get up early to work. I often have trouble getting going so I need a spark. Most mornings I read a few hours to generate ideas. I’ll reread Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe,” Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” anything that is talking to me under its breath. In the afternoon I do my business reading for blurbs and contests. Then at night I read for pure fun. My job is 89 percent to be a reader. Then the final 11 percent is to write.

BOOKS: What kind of fiction tends to inspire you?

GROFF: I love the weird stuff. The loose, baggy monsters like Henry James talked about. I go back to Deborah Eisenberg. She writes perfect short stories that flip out into wildness so often. Joy Williams also does that a lot. So does Grace Paley. Poets, like Terrance Hayes, inspire me on a constant basis as well as the weirdness of the past, like Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy.” Almost no book is weirder than that. I also love Cervantes’s “Don Quixote.” It’s this wonderful brilliant disaster, the best disaster ever written.

BOOKS: How many books do you read a year on average?

GROFF: This year was tough. There are times I can’t read, depending on my writing, my depression, and what else is going on in my life. This year I’ll maybe hit 200, which is low. Most years I’m close to 300. It’s my job.

BOOKS: Are there classics you return to?

GROFF: I try to read George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” once a year. I don’t know why I read “Robinson Crusoe” over and over. There’s some comfort in the coldness of the narration. I reread the Brontës. I don’t feel the need to reread Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, probably because they are already so vivid in my head, and I don’t want to besmirch those images.

BOOKS: When did you first read “Robinson Crusoe”?

GROFF: In college and it startled me. Then I immediately read the Elizabeth Bishop poem, “Crusoe in England.” I really respond to writers speaking across decades and centuries to other writers. I think it’s one of the joys of reading.

BOOKS: What are you reading next?

GROFF: I’m almost finished with a novel that I can’t talk about other than to say it’s almost finished. So I’ve started reading for the next thing, but I can’t tell you what I’m reading for that. I’m so superstitious. Maybe if we talk again in five years I can let you know. 

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