The author of Nicotine – this month’s featured book – cult novelist Nell Zink shares her reading secrets with us…
When superstar novelist Jonathan Franzen champions your writing, it’s pretty cool – whether you’re a fan of his work or not. Meet Nell Zink – the cult writer whose three novels to date have been critically acclaimed by everyone from The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement to the Financial Times and the New Yorker, to namedrop just a few of the names to have praised her. Not forgetting Franzen, of course.
A sharp, cynical writer who tackles gender, sexuality, politics, race and everything in between – with an original, creative pen, Nell Zink’s books pull no punches. As for literary success? She published her first book – The Wallcreeper – aged 50, and hasn’t looked back since. And that prodigious talent? Try writing a book in just three weeks. Other fun facts? Zink has has taught herself French and lived all over the world – currently residing in Germany. She’s that cool girl you’d love to be friends with – here’s how Nell Zink reads…
Why and when do you read?
My reading falls into two categories—information-seeking and pleasure. It’s not the same as nonfiction and fiction. I might read a book of anthropology that really interests me, followed by a novel I hate. A novelist has to keep up with the competition. I spend most of my time reading in one way or another, if you count reading my own prose while I’m writing it. I never get on a train without a book.
What about reading at home?
There’s a pile of books next to my bed, but lately I’m like everyone else, spending a lot of time with online newspapers. The political situation is fascinating. Right now I especially enjoy books that convey the sense that “this too shall pass,” without being too dark—things like the diaries of Andre Gide.
I often read and write in bed, and I never really dress until I go out. Not that I own leisurewear or anything. But the shorts I wear at home are too short for public consumption, and at home I lounge around in wimpy pseudo-brassieres that don’t really do anything. At home I look comfortable, and surely not very good.
I have a one-track mind, so playing music when I’m concentrating on something else just wastes electricity!
Reading drinks and snacks?
I remember as a kid reading something C.S. Lewis wrote—I think it was in Surprised by Joy—about how the most pleasant activity in the world is eating while reading a book. At the time I had a habit of stealing oatmeal cookies from the family supply, always trying to eat so few that no one would notice any were missing, which involved taking very small bites and stretching out the process as long as possible. I would eat them in bed, reading Tolkien or Dumas or Anthony Hope, and I was very sure that C.S. Lewis was right. At some point I figured out the connection between cookies and crumbs, so these days I eat and read at a table. But since few books these days will lie flat, whatever I’m eating, I’m usually reading Le Monde diplomatique.