|photo: Marion Ettlinger
Emily Gray Tedrowe, who lives in Chicago, is the author of the novels Blue Stars and Commuters. Her novel The Talented Miss Farwell was recently published by Morrow. She earned a B.A. from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in English literature from New York University. She has received an Illinois Arts Council award as well as fellowships from the Ragdale Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Sewanee Writers Conference. A frequent book reviewer for USA Today and other publications, Tedrowe also writes essays, interviews and short stories.
On your nightstand now:
I'm about to start N.K. Jemisin's The City We Became, and I can't wait to dive into this hugely loved magical sci-fi novel about New York City, where I was born. I'm also reading--and thoroughly enjoying--Scott Spencer's new novel An Ocean Without a Shore. I'm a Spencer fan from way back and am happy whenever he has a new book out.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Any one of the delightful Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Montgomery, a classic series about a young writer's coming of age in turn-of-the-century Minnesota. I checked these out so many times from my childhood library that my library card number was stamped over and over on the slip attached to the back page.
Your top five authors:
Alice Munro, whose stories and novel Lives of Girls and Women are at the very center of my reading heart. Toni Morrison: Beloved was one of the first literary novels I chose to read on my own, and it changed a lot for me; I've been slowly working my way through her collection of essays The Source of Self-Regard, with all gratitude for what she gave us. Louise Erdrich: I've been stumping for Erdrich to get the Nobel for several years now--she's an American literary treasure. Carol Shields, whose charming and gutting novels (and stories) are a touchstone for me. Elena Ferrante, whose Neapolitan Quartet was perhaps the single greatest reading experience of my life.
Book you've faked reading:
Honestly, I don't think I ever have. I've surely faked knowledge (or tried to) in many other arenas, but when it comes to reading, I'm perfectly comfortable with what I have and haven't.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Patrimony, Philip Roth's tender clear-eyed memoir of his father's life, illness and death. There is a scene where he recounts cleaning his father after a bathroom accident that is one of the most loving, humane and beautifully direct passages I've ever read.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Problems, a short story collection by John Updike. As a child, I was obsessed with this book on my parents' shelf because of its cover image of a geometry math question and accompanying text: "During the night, A, though sleeping with B, dreams of C. C stands at the furthest extremity or (if the image is considered two-dimensionally) the apogee of a curved driveway, perhaps a dream-refraction of the driveway of the house that had once been their shared home...." As an adult, when I found an early edition of this book, I bought it right away, still entranced by the design.
Book you hid from your parents:
When I was about 12, I fell hard (though briefly) for the novels of Jean Auel. I was fine with my parents seeing me read The Clan of the Cave Bear. But the next several in the series? Yeah, I kept those copies under the bed… when I wasn't reading all about Ayla and her discovery of "The Pleasures."
Book that changed your life:
My copy of Emily Dickinson's Collected Poems, given to me by my mother when I was a girl. Even at a young age when I didn't understand much of what was in the poems, I knew somehow that they were important to me, and that reading and literature in general would be a big part of my life. On several pages, you can find my childish handwriting with notes and questions, underlined words, and lots of !!! and *** where I highly approved of what Dickinson was up to.
Favorite line from a book:
How can anyone not adore the last sentence of George Eliot's Middlemarch? It's a beautiful tribute to Dorothea Brooke, and to the power of quiet lives, and to the moral value of literature itself. "But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Susan Choi's Trust Exercise, which I finished in a state of awe, and then immediately turned back to page one to read again.
Your most recent book-adjacent purchase:
I'm glad you asked! This week I proudly snapped on a new phone case featuring a logo and design from the Chicago Public Library. I'm a heavy user at our local branch, and was delighted when I discovered it's possible to buy CPL merch to help support my favorite city institution. My teenagers think I'm a complete dork.