Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to the author of Friends and Strangers (out now in paperback), J. Courtney Sullivan.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
J. Courtney Sullivan: Angelina Ballerina.
BM: Favorite re-read?
JCS: My kids are 2 and 3. It has been one of the great joys of my life to read them (and watch them fall in love with) the books I loved as a child. The Stickybear series by Richard Hefter. Amelia Bedelia. Katie and the Smallest Bear. Madeline. And so many others. I get so excited thinking of books that will blow their minds in the years to come. Stuart Little! Harriet the Spy! I bought a copy of The Dollhouse Murders when my daughter was about six months old. Got a little ahead of myself there.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
BM: Last book you read?
JCS: A galley copy of Maggie Shipstead’s forthcoming Great Circle. It’s phenomenal.
BM: A book that made you cry?
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
JCS: No book has ever made me laugh as much as Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe.
BM: What’s one book you wish you had read during your teenage years?
JCS: The Grapes of Wrath. I read voraciously in high school, but I almost never read my assigned reading. At some point, my dad (who is a huge reader but never read what was assigned to HIM either…) decided to fill the gaps in his education by reading along with my English class syllabus. I remember him starting a conversation about The Grapes of Wrath over breakfast one morning. I went along with it for quite a while before he said, “Wait, you haven’t actually read it, have you? You should! It’s amazing!”
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
JCS: Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
JCS: Moby-Dick. I used to take part in the annual marathon reading at Housing Works in New York, and every year I’d tell myself that by next time, I’d have the whole thing read.
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
JCS: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Anything by Sue Miller.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
JCS: Daughter of Earth by Agnes Smedley.
BM: Favorite book of the 21st century?
JCS: There are so many…Middlesex. Girl, Woman, Other. Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Americanah. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine… If forced to pick just one, it would probably be Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
JCS: The exception to my “no required reading” rule in high school was this one amazing course on the feminist novel. I read A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley for the first time in that class and it remains one of my all-time favorites.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
JCS: Ramona Quimby, Age 8.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
JCS: Anxious People by Frederik Backman would be great. I loved that book. The characters are so well-drawn. My husband and I read Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here at the same time this past year. We both loved it. He could not stop talking about how Aubrey Plaza needed to play the lead in the TV version. We both got slightly obsessed with the idea. She would be perfect, right?
J. Courtney Sullivan is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Commencement, Maine, The Engagements, and Saints For All Occasions. Maine was named a Best Book of the Year by Time magazine, and a Washington Post Notable Book for 2011. The Engagements was one of People Magazine’s Top Ten Books of 2013 and an Irish Times Best Book of the Year. It is soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon and distributed by Fox 2000, and it will be translated into 17 languages. Her latest novel, Saints For All Occasions, was named one of the ten best books of the year by the Washington Post, a New York Times Critic’s Pick for 2017, and a New England Book Award nominee. Courtney’s writing has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, New York magazine, Elle, Glamour, Allure, Real Simple, and O: The Oprah Magazine, among many others. She is a co-editor, with Courtney Martin, of the essay anthology Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists. In 2017, she wrote the forewords to new editions of two of her favorite classic novels—Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. A Massachusetts native, Courtney now lives in New York with her husband and two children.
J. Courtney Sullivan’s Friends and Strangers is out now in paperback from Vintage