|photo: Elena Seibert
Born and raised in New York City, Aidan Donnelley Rowley is a graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School. Her new novel, The Ramblers (Morrow, February 9, 2016), focuses on three Manhattanites struggling to find themselves during one life-changing Thanksgiving week. Rowley is also the author of the novel Life After Yes. She contributes to the Huffington Post and is the founder and curator of the popular Happier Hours Literary Salons. The middle of five sisters, she lives in New York with her husband and three young daughters.
On your nightstand now:
The final two books of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels; I've been blazing through this singular and gripping account of friendship over time. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; I'm somewhat obsessed with its characters and their dark, deeply human world. The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick, which a friend just gave me over lunch. The petite but profound Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which my nine-year-old is reading for her book club. I host literary salons in my home once a month, called Happier Hours, so I'm constantly devouring novels and memoirs to find authors to feature; the bedside stack gets precariously high at times.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I have such vivid and fond memories of my mother reading me this colorful book, of her long fingers flipping the bright pages, the joy I felt in finding the tiny mouse in each scene. Growing up, I shared one big hunter green bedroom with all four of my sisters; we called it the green room. Looking back, I have no doubt that "the great green room" served as inspiration. A full circle treat: I've loved reading this classic to each of my three daughters, who've been known to say it's their favorite, too.
Your top five authors:
Such a tricky one because I find that I'm still catching up. I wasn't a bookworm as a child and have become an avid reader only pretty recently, but I certainly have a burgeoning list of favorites, which includes E.B. White, Donna Tartt, Claire Messud, Jhumpa Lahiri and Anna Quindlen.
Book you've faked reading:
I love this question! I don't think I've actually faked reading a specific book, but rather feel that I've faked reading many books. For some reason my therapist might be able to help me figure out, I'm always under the impression that everyone but me has read absolutely everything, but acknowledge that this likely has far more to do with some ineffable deep-seated intellectual insecurity than reality. Somehow, I didn't read The Great Gatsby until I was 26 and on my honeymoon. I devoured it poolside with a cocktail in hand.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I love nothing more than to devour a good book and then tell the world about it and sometimes wonder if I'm an over-evangelizer (nope, not a word), but I've decided there's no such thing. Books are windows into ourselves and the world, and there's nothing better than stumbling upon a gem and sharing it with others. One book I adore that I've told many about is Devotion by Dani Shapiro. Her prose is hauntingly crisp; her self-reflection, keen.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I love buying books for the cover. One of my all-time favorite things to do is to wander into a bookstore (Book Culture on the Upper West Side is my go-to) and allow myself to get lost. I go where my eye leads me, often to certain color combinations and particular images. A few years ago, I stumbled almost hypnotically toward The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I thought: What is this book and what does this rainbow mean? It took me a few moments to piece together that this was a book by an author I'd long admired, but in this instance, it was the cover that grabbed me.
Book you hid from your parents:
Maybe it's because I was an unrelenting rule-follower as a kid, the good girl of good girls, or maybe it was because, with five kids racing around, our home was wonderful chaos and we Donnelley girls could pretty much get away with anything without having to hide it, but I never hid a book from my parents. Over Thanksgiving, my older sister did tell me a funny story about finding 9 1/2 Weeks on my mother's bedside and stealing it to read while she was home babysitting our youngest sister. My mother caught her and snatched the book away and even took it to the restaurant with her to keep it out of my curious sister's hands. I smile at this story because my mother is a voracious reader of serious books, and also because I've yanked my own novels from the hands of my newly reading daughters because of the sex scenes inside.
Book that changed your life:
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. My late father read me this book during summertime when I was a little girl. He was a philosopher and I remember how we cried together at the ending, how we talked on a porch swing about Wilbur and Charlotte, humans and nature, life and death. Many years later, Dad gave me a first edition of the book, which I will always treasure, and on my 30th birthday--my best friend's wedding day--which fell only a few months after Dad's death, she gave me an inscribed copy of the book with a note in the front flap that said she hoped I would read it to my own girls, as Dad had to me. I read the book to my firstborn more than a year ago and she and I are reading it to her little sisters, seven and almost five, now.
Favorite line from a book:
"Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self-pity." from Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. I'm intrigued by the idea that life can turn on a moment, that a single instant can change everything, for better or worse. Another line I love, from Melville's Moby-Dick, which I happily slogged through in both high school and college: "It is not down on any map; true places never are."
Five books you'll never part with:
I recently sifted through my library to pull books to donate and found that this task was both easy and hard. Easy: the baby name books, law school textbooks, outdated Writer's Market. Harder: the beleaguered, dog-eared-to-death philosophy books from college. Think: Hegel, Descartes, Plato, Spinoza. I kept them as evidence of a former self. I will never part with my two treasured copies of Charlotte's Web; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, to which I turn when snagged in my writing; Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp because I've had my own complicated love story with alcohol; and Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk, a brilliant, almost feral memoir that helped me make sense of Dad's death more than any other book.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Here Is New York by E.B. White. My husband gave me the tiny book (along with David Levithan's novel The Lover's Dictionary) one Valentine's Day. I read it in one gulp at a Manhattan coffee shop, which was so fitting. I was born and raised in this town, and am now raising my own daughters here, and no other author has captured this magical place like White did. The book has come to mean a great deal to me and served as a primary inspiration for my novel The Ramblers.