Beth Gutcheon is the author of Still Missing, More Than You Know and Leeway Cottage, among other books. Her ninth novel, Gossip, was published by Morrow on March 12, 2012. Gutcheon lives in New York City with her husband and her attack poodle, Daisy Buchanan.
On your nightstand now:
To be clear, my nightstand is a sturdy side table in the living room where I read after everyone else is in bed. It's stacked pretty high, but the books in current rotation are Claire Tomalin's Dickens, for pleasure, and Simon Sebag Montefiore's Jerusalem, for research for a new novel and also for fun. I'm a fan of his novel Sashenka. Also, Rembrandt's Eyes by Simon Schama because we're going to Amsterdam next month. They're all pretty fat; someone should make a book derrick.
Favorite book when you were a child:
All the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. (I disdained the ones by Ruth Plumly Thompson, who carried on after he died, though I read them when I ran out of real ones.) The only one I didn't love was The Wizard of Oz, perhaps because it's so overexposed, but also it seems more programmatic than the rest. Anything with the Nome King in it gave particular joy.
Your top five authors:
Austen, Dickens, Willa Cather, Scott Fitzgerald and Evelyn Waugh.
Book you've faked reading:
Gone with the Wind when I was 12 and my best friend was mad for it while I was still caught up with the Black Stallion books. Being unmasked in this fraud was so painful that I read GWTW immediately to recover my dignity, and then was of course in thrall to it for years myself.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Book of Ebenezer LePage by G.B. Edwards. It was published posthumously in 1981, the author's only completed work; the story of an old man on Guernsey looking back on his life and, oh, the language! Every page is vivid and wry and chewy and makes you want to move to the Channel Islands. It goes in and out of print, but is currently in, as a New York Review of Books classic. Also, The Assault by Harry Mulisch, a story that begins with a disgusting act of moral cowardice in occupied Holland during World War II, with a circular structure in which each chapter reveals something new about what happened until by the end it brings you around to see that the initial event was entirely different from what it looked like. Brilliant.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Cookbooks and garden books always pose a danger. I bought Of Gardens by Paula Deitz for the most ethereally beautiful cover ever, but then I accidentally also read it. Lovely inside, too.
Book that changed your life:
Great Expectations. I'd been hooked on Dickens since reading David Copperfield in eighth grade, but GE was the thunderclap one. The ending is so stunning, the last thing you are expecting, and yet you can easily see that you'd been set up for it from the opening scene. It showed me what a miracle of craft that kind of devastatingly satisfying storytelling is, conceived as a whole from the ending forward, with the machinery in plain sight, yet unseen until the author wants you to see it.
Favorite line from a book:
To be honest, the first line of Pride and Prejudice: "It is a truth universally acknowledged," etc., but everyone must say that. Here's a random one from Dombey and Son, about witnesses signing the church registry after a wedding: "All the party sign--Cousin Feenix last, who puts his noble name into a wrong place and enrolls himself as having been born that morning." It always makes me laugh, yet it's such a throwaway, like thousands of such moments in Dickens.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
If I have to choose one, I guess Brideshead. But wait--what about My Antonia, or The Great Gatsby, or any Jane Austen at all?
Books you are most looking forward to:
Anything from Elizabeth Strout. Olive Kittredge is a marvel, but I love her earlier two novels even more. Also, Hilary Mantel's sequel to Wolf Hall. Wolf Hall is such dazzling historical fiction, psychologically contemporary but not anachronistic. I love her describing an angry Ann Boleyn as looking as if someone had knitted her and pulled the stitches too tight.