My Life in the Books: Hilma Wolitzer
Hilma Wolitzer’s first short story appeared at the age of 36, and her first novel arrived eight years later.
She has taught in several US college writing programs and is a recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts scholarships, as well as an Academy of Arts and Letters award.. His novels include An available man, the doctor’s daughter, and Hearts.
His collection of stories from 1966 to 2020, Today a woman has gone mad at the supermarket, is published by Bloomsbury on Thursday.
The books at your bedside?
The latest issue (and some of the previous ones) of Granta; Matrix by Lauren Groff, Why didn’t you just do as you were told? by Jenny Diski, and War and peace, accompanied and gently informed by Tolstoy together by Yiyun Li. Other books have probably slipped from my nightstand, only to be discovered one day among the mites under the bed.
The first book you remember?
Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi. As a child, I experienced a total suspension of disbelief when reading. Puppets could certainly become real, and my own dolls had secret and animated lives. I was delighted with the scary parts of Pinocchio and by the possibility of transformation.
Video of the day
Your book of the year?
Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet. I think this actually came out last year – the weather seems so smooth lately – but it still resonates strongly and is worth re-reading. O’Farrell’s feat is daring: to imagine Shakespeare’s marriage and parenthood in such persuasive emotional detail. Her interpretation of the plague that claimed her son’s life is heartbreaking and oddly relevant.
Your favorite literary character?
Jane eyre is a precocious and enduring heroine due to her resilience and capacity for love. I was also happy to see Mr. Rochester’s first wife, the vaguely drawn madwoman in the attic of Charlotte Brontë’s novel, come to life palpably in Jean Rhys’ novel. Wide Sargasso Sea.
A book that changed your life?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Austen gave me two essential gifts: a historical perspective on the place of women in society and proof of the literary value of domestic life.
The book you couldn’t finish?
At 14, in our high school English class, we were taught to read [George Eliot’s] Silas Marner, which I went through and found unbearably boring. I should probably try again at 91, but there are so many other books and so little time. In retrospect, I would have liked to have been given the place of Eliot Middlemarch instead of.
Your Covid comfort reading?
Poetry mainly, by Rita Dove, WH Auden, WB Yeats, Philip Larkin, Lucille Clifton, Hilda Raz, Robert Hayden and Billy Collins, among others. Sometimes I open random poetry books for a quick dose of courage and solace, like others do with the Bible. Auden said that “poetry doesn’t make anything happen”, but he was referring to the big political world, not the individual heart.
The book you are giving away?
Mrs Pont, by Evan S Connell. This is a brilliant portrait of an upper-middle-class family from the American Midwest in the 1930s, told in brief passages that are dark, hilarious and moving. The often infuriating eponymous Mrs. Bridge is a product of its time, but the novel feels timeless. I hope he will never be exhausted.
The writer who shaped you?
I have been influenced and inspired by a number of writers including Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Alice Munro, Ralph Ellison, Henry Green, Elizabeth Bishop, Nathanael West, EB White, and Grace Paley. This list could go on and on, and I’m sure I will immediately regret omitting some names.
The book you would most like to be remembered?
My most recent, Today a woman went mad at the supermarket, because it reflects the arc of my whole life as a writer.