The New York Times Book Review does a weekly Q&A with writers called By the Book, and last week author/actress/producer Mindy Kaling was interviewed. I’m already a big fan of Mindy Kaling, from her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? to her work on The Office and The Mindy Project. She’s smart and funny and talented; but Kaling’s answers to last week’s By the Book made me appreciate her even more. For example, I didn’t realize that she named her character on The Mindy Project for writer Jhumpa Lahiri. I also love that the logo for her production company is a girl reading under the covers with a flashlight.
The questions in By the Book vary slightly from week to week, but they always give you great information about the author being interviewed. My husband challenged me to answer the same questions, so here goes (hopefully the NYT won’t mind). I challenge other bloggers to take these questions and answer them too!
What books are currently on your night stand?
Literally, Time and Again by Jack Finney, a gift from my mother, and Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, which I mean to reread before the next season of the show. Of course my Kindle is on the nightstand as well, and that has piles of books on it.
Who is your favorite novelist of all time?
In the classical sense, Thomas Hardy. I fell in love with Return of the Native when I was hating life as a senior in high school. My favorite contemporary novelist might be Diana Gabaldon, although it’s impossible to name just one.
Whom do you consider the best writers — novelists, essayists, critics, journalists, poets — working today?
My list would include Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell. But some of the best books I’ve read in the last few years were debut novels, including books by Jenni Fagan, Carol Rifka Brunt, Hannah Kent, and Celeste Ng. I can’t wait to see what else these authors write.
And who are the funniest writers — in TV, film, books, online?
Two of the funniest writers I’ve read recently are Jenny Lawson and Caitlin Moran. I love Amy Schumer’s comedy show and her movie Trainwrecked. I also enjoyed Felicia Day’s new book and The Guild.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading?
I like literary fiction the best, and after that I like to read historical fiction, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy. I really like books that are hard to categorize, like the work of David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood.
What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
I have a ton of books by Larry McMurtry. I’m not a reader of Westerns, but I grew up in Arizona and McMurtry used to come in regularly to the bookstore where I worked. I fell in love with Lonesome Dove and went on to read a lot of his books, like Buffalo Girls and The Berrybender Narratives.
If you belong to a book club, tell us about it. If you don’t, tell us what your ideal book club would be like.
Book clubs drive me crazy because you always end up reading something you didn’t really want to read, and most people in the club aren’t there for the books as much as the socializing. My ideal book club would take the book discussion part pretty seriously, and maybe people could have some choice in what they read. That’s the great thing about online book clubs, you have so much to choose from — although there’s less wine involved.
Who’s your favorite fictional hero or heroine?
Going back to Thomas Hardy, my favorite heroine has always been Eustacia Vye from The Return of the Native. I realize she’s terribly unlikable, but I gravitate to unlikable characters. I sympathize with them.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite books and authors?
As a child I wanted to get lost in books, and that’s what I did most of the time. To some extent, books were a refuge from my social anxieties. My favorite books were about fantasy worlds, like the Oz series, Mary Poppins, and Pippi Longstocking. I also loved Frances Hodgson Burnett, E.B. White, and Judy Blume.
Have you ever gotten in trouble for reading a book?
No, my parents believed children shouldn’t be told what NOT to read. My mother told me a story about my sister being told by a librarian she couldn’t read a Judy Blume book, probably Forever. That didn’t go over well. My parents had shelves and shelves of books and everything was fair game. I read a few things before I was ready for them, but I do think kids understand books at the level they can handle. It’s why books change every time you read them.
I do worry sometimes about what I miss by having my head stuck in a book so much. When I was a kid reading was really a way of escaping. If I had kids I’d want them to love books, but also be better able to deal with the real world.
Whom would you want to write your life story?
Obviously no one’s going to write my life story, but I thought this was a fun question. If I was really important I’d want David McCullough, who I think is the best nonfiction/biography writer out there. I also love Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and if I were a historical figure I’d love to be written by Sarah Vowell.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
I’m doing pretty well on my classics list, but Les Miserables is on that list, and I’ve never read Faulkner. But I can’t say I’m terribly embarrassed about that.
What do you plan to read next?
Next on my list is Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, which I’ve been meaning to read for a year now. I’m also looking forward to the new books by Mindy Kaling and Jenny Lawson.
Those are my answers! If you were asked the questions in By the Book, how would you respond?