For Emily St. John Mandel, it’s always fiction, no matter the genre


MANDL: Dear. I really like to live with lots of books. So my apartment looks like a bookstore. Everything is lined with shelves. It’s kinda calming for me.

BOOKS: Do you prefer paperbacks or hardbacks?

MANDL: I rock back and forth. If it’s an author I like, I get the hardback. I also meet authors just by browsing paperbacks. I recently read a book that I discovered that way, Michelle de Kretser’s novel, “Scary Monsters.” These are two surprising and well-written novels that deal with issues related to racism.

BOOKS: What are you currently reading?

MANDL: It’s a little impractical for travel, but “The Book of Form and Void” by Ruth Ozeki. It’s not just a hardcover book, but it’s like 550 pages. It takes up half of my bag. I loved his previous novel, “A Tale for the Time Being”. No one writes like her.

BOOKS: What was your last best read?

MANDL: A first novel that reads like an autofiction, “C’est pas rien”, by Courtney Denelle. There is a lot of talk about homelessness and alcoholism, but there is such hope. He renders these gruesome subjects with such a light touch that you even find yourself laughing out loud.

BOOKS: What are your tastes in fiction?

MANDL: As I get older, I’m always surprised at how little gender matters to me. Until a few years ago, I would have said I would never read horror, but I loved Dan Chaon’s “Ill Will.” I read it twice. I wouldn’t describe myself as someone who reads westerns either except I’ve read “Ridgerunner” by Gil Adamson. It was quite spectacular. I try to let go of these ideas about what I do and don’t read and just embrace the good books.

BOOKS: Do you read non-fiction?

MANDL: I read 99% fiction. I rarely read memoirs. “Days of Fear” by Daniele Mastrogiacomo, which recounts the time when he was kidnapped by the Taliban, is astounding. It ruined the genre for me. Unless something like this has happened to you, you have to be a really compelling writer to write a memoir in my opinion.

BOOKS: When did you start reading science fiction?

MANDL: When I was a teenager, that was all I read. I started to diversify a bit. I remember receiving a copy of “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje for my 14th birthday. I loved it so much that it’s one of those books that I will never read again because I don’t want to ruin this great experience of reading it the first time.

BOOKS: Do you make a point of reading Canadian writers?

MANDL: Not really. It’s a very nationalistic literary culture in Canada. Every bookstore there has a shelf labeled Canadian Novel. There is this constant, not unreasonable fear of being culturally subsumed. I understand that, but I don’t care where an author comes from.

BOOKS: Who is your favorite contemporary speculative writer?

MANDL: I should say Jeff VanderMeer. I found the “Ambergris Trilogy” extraordinary.

BOOKS: When you started as a writer, was there a book that was decisive for you?

MANDL: “The Executioner’s Song” by Norman Mailer was extremely important in shaping my style. He’s really random as a writer, but this book is just a marvel of lucidity. It changed my way of writing for good.

BOOKS: What do you do if you don’t know what to read?

MANDL: I have a lot of books, so if I’m not sure what’s next, I like to go out and look at my bookshelves and see if anything speaks to me. If that doesn’t work, I go to the last book I read and take the next book.

BOOKS: What are you going to read next?

MANDL: I have an event at a bookstore in Washington, DC, and my goal is to purchase Jennifer Egan’s new novel, “The Candy House,” which just came out.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Saving Penny Jane” and can be reached at [email protected].


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