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Riot Asks: Lauren Groff

Novelist Lauren Groff has an MFA in fiction from The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly,  Ploughshares, and others, as well as in the anthologies Best American Short Stories 2007 and Best American Short Stories 2010Pushcart Prize XXXII, and Best New American Voices 2008. A story will be included in the 2012 edition of PEN/ O. Henry Prize Stories.

Lauren’s first novel, The Monsters of Templeton, published in February 2008, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection and bestseller and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers. Her second book, Delicate Edible Birds, is a collection of stories. Her second novel, Arcadia, was released in March 2012.

She lives in Gainesville, Florida with her husband and two sons.


BOOK RIOT: What are you reading?

Lauren Groff: Right now? The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore–but to be honest, I’m on page four. I started reading it while I was waiting for your call!

I usually have four or five books going at the same time. Among them right now is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Genius of the World by Alice Leach. I’ve also got a stack of, like, 15 New Yorker issues, copies of The Atlantic, Harper’s, et cetera.

I do occasionally blurb. This year has been really hard, because blurbing comes after my own work and my teaching. However, I do want to get to other people’s books, so I do finish everything I start. It’s almost pathological; it’s a respect thing. I’m such a narrative junkie. I don’t have a TV because I get sucked into narratives, even in reality shows like Top Chef!

BR: Which book do you wish you had written?

LG: Oh, there’s so many! OK, Middlemarch. I read and re-read it about a billion times a year. Speak, Memory. A Visit from the Goon Squad. Any poem by Elizabeth Bishop. I walk through my life in love with books. Any book that I have in hand, I’m in love with for the moment. Currently I’m infatuated with Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Meghan Mayhew Bergman.

BR: Which book do you recommend over and over again?

LG: Again, Middlemarch. Whenever anyone asks me for a recommendation I have to do a scramble because Middlemarch overwhelms everything in your experience. George Eliot has this deep and pervasive wisdom. I think when you have a transporting reading experience it’s sometimes because the author is so wise and all you want to do is spend time in that author’s presence. The reason I come back to Eliot is because I feel I’m coming back to this wise sensibility that I want to be a part of; I want to be in companionship with this generous person. Marilynne Robinson and her work feel similar to me. Both of these authors are so learned, have this beating intellectual curiosity.

BR: Who are your greatest influences as a writer?

LG: As a child, I read a lot of fairy tales–the really gruesome ones. They were formative for me. Until I got to college, I read everything, without a lot of discernment. I think that’s a really good thing for a child to do. I don’t think my parents always realized the extent of what was in the books I read, because they kept buying them for me! I was an incredibly shy child, with an overbearing older brother–I would read so I wouldn’t have to get involved in anything. For example, one summer I just read everything by James Fenimore Cooper. Then, when I finally escaped to college I fell in love with Milton.

BR: Which book do you re-read regularly?

LG: Right now my sons are little boys, so I read a lot of movie tie-in books. However, I have a family policy of always buying each child at least one book when we go to an independent bookstore. I love I Want My Hat Back and anything by Mo Willems. Unfortunately, Knuffle Bunny also taught one of my sons “bonelessness,” a trick he now pulls when I’m trying to get him from the car to the house.

BR: Describe your reading nook/corner.

LG: We have reading nooks all over the house; our house is full of little soft places with books beside them because I don’t think I could read anywhere else. I have rocking chairs everywhere; it’s a very old Southern house with a beautiful front porch where we also read.

BR: Has a book ever utterly disappointed you? How?

LG: There are books that are so wonderful in my memory, but then when I re-read them, they’re no longer so terrific. Tess of the D’Urbervilles was not as mind-blowing when I went back to it recently as I’d thought it was, which was really strange to me because I go back to Dickens often and sometimes he blows my mind even more–sometimes his books are almost devastatingly different.

BR: Which book has changed your life?

LG: Books like Eating Animals and The Omnivore’s Dilemma made me eat differently. When it comes to fiction, every book that I read changes my life in incremental ways that I probably wouldn’t be able to name on the spot–but I know that these incremental ways push my work towards a different place.