Book Brahmin: P.J. Tracy

P.J. Tracy is the pseudonym of the mother-daughter writing team of Patricia (P.J.) Lambrecht and Traci Lambrecht, winner of the Anthony, Barry, Gumshoe and Minnesota Book Awards. Their first four novels, Monkeewrench, Live Bait, Dead Run and Snow Blind, have become national and international bestsellers. They both live in rural Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis. P.J. Tracy's newest is Shoot to Thrill, which Putnam will publish next Thursday, April 29.

On your nightstand now:

Traci: LaRousse Gastronomique and assorted cookbooks; Practical Homicide Investigation Checklist and Field Guide by Vernon J. Geberth (don't worry, nothing to do with the cookbooks); Middlesex; and an ancient, moldering edition of Sherlock Holmes Detective Stories.

P.J.: If I had a nightstand, The Pocket Book of Verse would be on it. As it is, nightstandless, that book is always on my desk, or very close to it. I love the gentle rhythm of poetry, the spare use of words and cadence that is both impassioned and soothing, especially when read aloud. But no one except Dr. Seuss will want to sleep with you if you read poetry aloud in bed. Two husbands; no nightstands. But hope springs eternal.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Traci: Grimm's Fairy Tales--that brilliant volume twisted my psyche and turned me into the homicidal maniac I am today.

P.J.: Lad, a Dog. Seriously.

Your top five authors:

Traci: That's always changing, but my top five of all time (or at least most influential to me): Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, J.D. Salinger, Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.

P.J.: Edgar Allan Poe, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Nelson DeMille and, yes, Stephen King.

Book you've faked reading:

Traci: Crime and Punishment. Who hasn't faked reading that? Actually, I read part of it in Russian and it made a lot more sense than it did in English, especially since my Russian isn't that great.

P.J.: Dr. Zhivago, which was a college assignment not for me, but for a boyfriend who tricked me into doing his work. So there you have it. I did it for love. Boy, was I stupid, which goes a long way toward explaining Lad, a Dog.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Traci: Anything Shakespeare. Whoever he or she really was, they caressed and manipulated language magnificently and turned reading into a visceral experience. He/she/they also had a great sense of humor.

P.J.: Atlas Shrugged.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Traci: I can't think of one. I am attracted to covers, like crows are attracted to simple, shiny objects--glossy, foil-embossed covers with very spartan artwork, in my case. But in the end, the flap copy is what sells me.

P.J.: Not one. In a way, I miss the old leather-bound novels with their plain covers, usually darkly colored, that always made me think the book was hiding a great secret. I discovered some great stories within those covers that never gave you a hint of content, that I might not have read had they worn a glossy cover.

Book that changed your life:

Traci: Catcher in the Rye. It was so dark and so funny all at once, just like life. It is a great example of the necessity of contrast in art, and made me want to write even more than I already did.

P.J.: I have come to believe that the literature, the stories that influence our lives, are not so much a measure of our particular appreciations, as the times and places we have inhabited. Reading Atlas Shrugged on my way to my first year in college was an epiphany. I knew of hiding under my grade-school desk so I would not be fried by the atom bombs sure to fall; I knew the Russians would destroy the world for the simple satisfaction of seeing those who did not share their beliefs annihilated. But I knew nothing of philosophies and ideologies that existed beyond the teachings of a tight family history in my own country, and this novel, more than any other, showed me another world. Open the door, look inside to another place, where people are not so different after all. I found the human family in that novel, and for the first time in my life, felt connected.

Favorite line from a book:

Traci: It's a tie:
Byron: "If I laugh at any mortal thing, 'tis that I may not weep."
Stephen King (Christine): "Take a flying f*^& at a rolling donut."

P.J.: "Let us begin." These are the very unremarkable words that slipped unbidden into my mind the moment I read this question. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what book contains that line, and it's driving me crazy. They were the last words of that elusive novel--maybe The Stand--and the words themselves seem ordinary and uninspired, and certainly not beautiful in the literary sense. Perhaps not even memorable. And yet there they were, lurking in the back alleys of my mind after all these years, because they are the natural and hopeful end of any story.

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

Traci: The Shining. I read it when I was way too young for the material, and it was the first (and last) book to scare the living bejeezus out of me, which I really enjoyed.

P.J.: Lad, a Dog. What else?

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