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How to Read Like Some of Your Favorite Writers

The Atlantic Wire just posted the most recent installment of their always fascinating Media Diet feature, and this week’s subject is none other than self-proclaimed “reading junkie” Margaret Atwood. The Canadian literary diva reveals that “she [doesn’t] like news too early in the day,” reads before bed even though it has been known to give her nightmares, and subscribes to too many magazines — most of them literary. While we find these details fascinating, we’re always more interested in combing through the column to find out what books our favorite writers are reading. Click through to find out what’s currently on Atwood’s bedside table, as well as some other reading suggestions culled from recent contributors in the archive.

Margaret Atwood

“I just finished two books by Janet Malcolm. She’s an investigative reporter who works a lot for The New Yorker but she seems to specialize in the area of literary modernism and associated fields. One of the books is In the Freud Archives and the other one is Two Lives — about what really was behind some of Gertrude Stein’s more impenetrable writings. Gertrude seems to have made a comeback but I think Janet Malcolm may be part of that. She writes very well. She wrote a book on Chekov that’s very good, and one called The Silent Woman about Sylvia Plath. One of her motifs is the impenetrability and unreliability of biographies, and especially of autobiographies, which rather puts one off writing such a thing.”

Ayelet Waldman

“The most recent book that I’ve read that I just adored was The Free World, by David Bezmozgis. It was just a world I had never even thought about. Who knew that all these Russians were stuck in Italy in the 1970s trying to get to America? It’s fabulous.”

Jennifer Egan

“Reading fiction is purely fun for me — and luckily it’s also something that feeds the work I do. Yesterday I finished Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m about to start Jessica Hagedorn’s Toxicology, which I’ve heard great things about. I think the last thing I read that got profoundly under my skin was Emma Donohue’s Room, which I read a couple of weeks ago. I thought about it as I read a news story (in the Times, of course!) about the guilty plea by that couple in California who kidnapped an 11-year-old girl, Jaycee Dugard, 20 years ago. They imprisoned her in the backyard and she had two daughters by her captor before she was discovered. Because of Room, I read the news story with a sense of resonant personal knowledge that I’ve never felt about those stories of captivity before. The feeling reminded me of why fiction is critical to me — more than nonfiction, and I say that as a journalist! Nonfiction expands my knowledge, but fiction broadens my experience. Reading the news story, I thought: I’m so glad to have read Room.”

Gary Shteyngart

“I loved the David Mitchell book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. He’s a great writer. And Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying. Vendela Vida is great, I’m reading her new book The Lovers … What’s on my reading list? I don’t know where to begin. Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector. Maybe the new William Gibson book Zero History. I already read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, it was wonderful.”

Malcolm Gladwell

“In the evening, before going to sleep, I read books. Right now I’m finishing up the Keith Richards autobiography. The great test of any memoir is that the author’s life has to be more interesting than the reader’s life. He passes that test with flying colors, although the bar is rather low in my case.”

Terry McMillan

“I try to read one novel at a time because it’s too much like channel surfing otherwise, and not fair to the writer. If I’m not loving the book 50 pages in, I’ll put it down and start reading something else. I recently finished and loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer. I’m starting Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and then The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow. I’m also reading short stories by Jean Thompson called Do Not Deny Me and The Best American Short Stories 2009, edited by Alice Sebold. Short stories are easier to read when I’m writing a novel, which I’m just about to dive into.”

Susan Orlean

“I read every night in bed for about an hour. I read a lot of fiction and I always have at least one book going. Right now I’m reading In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin — I’ve read it before but I’m teaching it this semester at NYU — and Mary Karr’s Cherry. I just finished Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout.”

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