Curtis Sittenfeld is the bestselling author of five novels: Prep, The Man of My Dreams, American Wife, Sisterland, and Eligible. Her books have been selected by The New York Times, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and People for their “Ten Best Books of the Year” lists, optioned for television and film, and translated into thirty languages. Her short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Esquire, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Slate, and on “This American Life.” A graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Curtis has interviewed Michelle Obama for Time; appeared as a guest on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” CBS’s “Early Show,” and PBS’s Newshour; and twice been a strangely easy “Jeopardy!” answer.
We recently had the chance to connect with Curtis to ask her some questions and get to know more about what makes a book great, along with what she’s reading and watching when she’s not, of course, writing.
Girly Book Club: How did you get into writing and what inspired you to write your first book?
Curtis Sittenfeld: I wrote from the time I knew how–the age of six or so. I’ve always loved stories because I feel like they’re a distilled and more interesting than usual version of life. My first novel, Prep, is about a girl who feels out of place at a fancy boarding school. It’s not autobiographical, but I did attend boarding school and knew even as a teenager that the specificity of the environment would make an excellent setting for a novel.
GBC: What makes a book great, in your opinion? What elements does a great story possess?
CS: It’s a combination of factors and the way they intersect–if we’re talking about fiction, I’d say external events mixed with emotional honesty mixed with insights about human nature. And adeptness with language never hurts.
GBC: What are you doing if you’re not writing?
CS: Reading, grocery-shopping, wasting time on Twitter.
GBC: Name your favourite bookshop in the world.
CS: I love Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa (where I worked in 2001) and also Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri.
GBC: Physical book, e-book, or audiobook? – and why.
CS: For fiction, I prefer a physical book–I like to see the words all laid out on the page, see the paragraph breaks, etc. Not that I’m at all dorky! I like to listen to audio for non-fiction, especially if I’m doing research for a novel. I’m just sort of receiving details in that state.
GBC: What was your favourite book as a child?
CS: I loved The Boxcar Children–the very first one rather than the rest of the series, which I didn’t know about. I was fascinated by the children’s independence and resourcefulness, and I thought living in an abandoned boxcar sounded delightful.
GBC: We’re always on the hunt for our next great read. Recommend us a book to add to our TBR pile!
CS: Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob is terrific. It’s a graphic memoir about growing up, parenthood, the 2016 election, race in America, and a lot of other big and small topics.
GBC: What is one movie, TV series, or podcast that you’re loving right now?
CS: I thought Shrill was great–my sister Jo and I kept texting about each episode as we watched.