Do you distinguish between “commercial” and “literary” fiction? Where’s that line, for you?
I’m not sure I know how to draw that line. I’ve read complex commercial fiction with gorgeous writing and I’ve read “literary” fiction with pedestrian plots. Sometimes it’s simply the publisher’s decision how to label a book. If they give it an abstract cover and pages with deckled edges, they signal to readers: “This book is literary and important.” And if a literary novel becomes a best seller, doesn’t that make it commercial?
How do you organize your books?
Other than my medical and forensic textbooks, which I keep in one particular bookcase, my book collection is completely unorganized. If I read a book and think it’s a keeper, I put it wherever there’s room on any of the shelves scattered around my house. And yet, weirdly enough, if I ever need to find that book years later, I know exactly where it is. I also know if someone’s moved it.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I’m agnostic, yet I keep the Bible, the Quran and a book on Jewish literacy on my shelf.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
“Chinese Cuisine: Wei Chuan’s Cookbook,” by Huang Su-Huei. I received it as a wedding gift decades ago, and that beloved, grease-splattered copy is still on my kitchen shelf.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was obsessed with the Nancy Drew mystery series, not just because it was a genre I loved, but because Nancy was the ultimate role model for a young girl. She was clever, fearless and she drove her own car! Later, as a teenager, I read and reread Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
If you were to write something besides mysteries, what would you write?
If I have a burning desire to write something, I’ll just write it — whether there’s a market for it or not. I’ve written science fiction (“Gravity”), historical fiction (“The Bone Garden” and “Playing With Fire”) and now I’m at work on an espionage novel. I’d hate to reach the end of my life and think: “If only I’d written that one book I was dreaming about…”
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?