Anne Whitney Pierce reads fiction because the real world is enough reality


PIERCE: I just caught up with all the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels. That was quite a ride. One of my daughters is a big reader, and she gave me some books to read, “A Little Life,” by Hanya Yanagihara, which was wonderful, and “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides. I also read Jennifer Egan’s “The Candy House.” I was so blown away by her earlier book, “A Visit From the Goon Squad.” I don’t think her newest book measured up to that. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?

PIERCE: I loved all those long books with endless conversations and introspection. That was the kind of reader I was even in my teens. I loved the Brontës and George Eliot. I majored in French literature in college so I was reading Stendhal and Thomas Hardy, the old-fashioned soap operas. That is what I love.

BOOKS: Do you read largely fiction?

PIERCE: I do. The real word is real enough for me. I love that sense of getting lost in a novel. There are times when you have more time to get lost in a book than others. When I had three kids who were close in age that was a great time to read short stories.

BOOKS: What contemporary short story writers do you read?

PIERCE: I always go back to Alice Munro. There’s no one better. She doesn’t write sagas per se but her whole body of work is a saga of rural Canada. She also wrote me a nice letter so I’m very thankful to her. My mother dared me to send her my stuff. I did and she wrote me back, which was extraordinary.

BOOKS: Do you always finish books you start?

PIERCE: I can’t think of a book I wouldn’t finish. I guess if I’m 50 pages into a book and it hasn’t pulled me in I might stop. Generally if I read a fair part of a book I want to get to the end, not only as a reader but as a writer. I want to see how the writer works things out. I finished [Jonathan] Franzen’s “The Corrections,” which was pretty brilliant, and “Freedom.” After “Freedom,” however, Franzen lost me as a reader.

BOOKS: Did growing up in Cambridge shape you as a reader?

PIERCE: Only to the extent that I was encouraged to read. After school we went to the library. You’d ride your bike down there. It was early ’60s. You had a wire basket on your bike and filled it up with 10 library books. Cambridge is a place still imbued with this academic aura. I’m sure that played a role.

BOOKS: Do you have a favorite book to give as a gift?

PIERCE: “Little Fur Family” by Margaret Wise Brown is my favorite children’s book to give to young families. In terms of adults’ books, I recently gave someone Elizabeth Strout’s linked story collection “Olive Kitteridge.”

BOOKS: What is the best book you were given as a gift?

PIERCE: A friend gave me a French copy of Stendhal’s “The Red and Black,” which her grandmother, an amateur bookbinder, had bound. It is absolutely beautiful. My father-in-law gave me a signed edition of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

BOOKS: Do you keep all your books?

PIERCE: I’ve been trying to cut down on my books. Summer is when I do some purging. I consider if I will ever want to read this book again or if my children or grandchildren will. Sentimental value really hinders the process. But if I saved all the books I’ve had in my life I’d have no room for me.

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

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