Curtis Sittenfeld: ‘Alice Munro expanded my sense of what’s possible’

The book I am currently reading
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah, a short-story collection that’s just so deft and knowing and perfect.

The book that changed my life
Shortly before the pandemic, I read Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve thought of it every day since.

The book I wish I’d written
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusionby Jia Tolentino. These essays about contemporary life, the internet and everything else are blazingly smart and rigorous.

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
Anything by Alice Munro. She expanded my sense of what’s possible with her emotional precision and sophistication, the rich inner and outer lives she gives her (often rural and overlooked) characters, the scope of her plots, and the sharpness of her intelligence.

The book I think is most underrated
I had never heard of the story collection Bobcat by Rebecca Lee until a writer friend recently gave it to me. The stories have a very weird sensibility that I loved.

The book that changed my mind
I didn’t think I needed to read a nonfiction account of a white American man’s two years in the tiny African country of Lesotho … but the completely charming Everything Lost Is Found Again by Will McGrath proved me wrong. He accompanied his medical anthropologist wife, teaching maths while she conducted research, and the tone of his quasi-memoir is irresistibly warm, funny, curious and self-effacing.

The last book that made me cry
Good Talk by Mira Jacob, a graphic memoir about coming of age and raising a biracial son around the time of the 2016 US presidential election, is incredibly poignant and powerful.

The last book that made me laugh
The novel Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher is written entirely in the form of letters from a hilariously disgruntled English professor.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
The list is long, but Middlemarch is somewhere near the top.

The book I give as a gift
There’s a tiny box set of charmingly illustrated rhyming books by Maurice Sendak called The Nutshell Library. It makes a delightful baby present.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
I think my readers have the most affection for Prep, which was published in 2005. I get a particular kick out of hearing from adult women who first read it when they were 13 or 14 and have grown up along with my novels.

My earliest reading memory
Lying in bed, finishing EB White’s Charlotte’s Web, and feeling enthralled and devastated.

My comfort read
People magazine – celebrity and non-celebrity news that’s juicy enough to hold my interest but tame enough not to make me feel dirty afterwards.

Help Yourself by Curtis Sittenfeld is published by Doubleday (£8.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

The Guardian

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