Reading with... Rebecca Stead

photo: Faye Bender

Rebecca Stead is the author of When You Reach Me, which won the Newbery Medal and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction; Liar & Spy, which won the Guardian Prize for Children's Fiction; and Goodbye Stranger, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book for Fiction. She lives in New York City with her family and can be found on Twitter. The List of Things That Will Not Change is available from Wendy Lamb/Random House Children's Books.

On your nightstand now:

From the Desk of Zoe Washington (a middle-grade novel by Janae Marks), Alone with All That Could Happen (a book about writing by David Jauss), War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (I'm auditing a class at Columbia), the Horn Book and the New Yorker. I like to have a range of choices at bedtime.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was very young, I loved Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban, which is the first book I remember reading to myself.

Later, I loved Judy Blume, Norma Klein, Paula Danziger and stories about kids like me--preferably sensitive, apartment-dwelling kids with divorced parents.

Still later in childhood, I fell for science fiction and fantasy--Robert A. Heinlein's Red Planet was a particularly special one for me.

Your top five authors:

A true "top five" feels impossible, but some of my greatest reading joys were brought to me by Alice Munro, Junot Díaz, George Saunders, Jhumpa Lahiri and Kazuo Ishiguro.

If you're guessing that I love short stories, you're right. A beautiful, intimate short story makes me feel closer to the world.

Book you've faked reading:

War and Peace. And I was really determined to read it! (See above.) I can't seem to get past part 1. I will keep trying.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard. I have never read another book as uncompromised as this novel about a young boy's experience in the Warsaw Ghetto. I didn't cry at all while reading it, and then found myself utterly swamped about 10 minutes after I finished.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I can't think of one!

Book you hid from your parents:

I didn't hide it because I was allowed to read anything, but I'm part of the first Forever... (by Judy Blume) generation. I knew the page on which a certain thing happened and lent my book to fifth- or sixth-grade classmates, who may have hidden it from their parents.

Book that changed your life:

I felt changed by Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. It enlarged me, somehow, and made me feel like a different kind of reader--a reader who could jump. I read it in high school and wrote my senior paper on it. I would not, however, want to reread that paper now.

Favorite line from a book:

"Which, of course, Mrs. Bobbin knew. Better than the duchess." It's the last line of William Steig's Brave Irene. I love that book and I'm always moved by the ending because it confirms what you knew all along, which is that Irene's heroism is all about her love for her mom, not the duchess.

Five books you'll never part with:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Drown by Junot Díaz
So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
Alice Munro's Selected Stories

All are subtle, complicated, beautifully crafted and, for me, hugely affecting. This is what inspires me as both a reader and a writer.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Either A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle or Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. But there's a catch: I want to read them again for the first time as an 11-year-old. I believe in the semi-magical childhood-reading window (yes, I just invented that). I love books now, of course, but the experience of reading books as a child was powerful in a way I can't recapture as an adult.

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