25 Women to Read Before You Die

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David Ebershoff

Describe your latest project.
In one sentence: The 19th Wife is a novel about polygamy in the United States in the 19th century and today. In a few more sentences: The 19th Wife is about Ann Eliza Young, the so-called 19th wife of Brigham Young. In 1875 Ann Eliza divorced her husband, apostatized from the Mormon Church, and set out on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. At the same time, The 19th Wife is about Jordan Scott, a young man who grew up in a polygamous community in present-day Utah. Excommunicated when he was 14, Jordan must now return to his hometown to figure who killed his dad. The 19th Wife is a historical novel entwined with a modern-day murder mystery, and maybe it's even a little more than that.

  1. The 19th Wife
    $5.50 Used Hardcover add to wishlist

    The 19th Wife

    David Ebershoff
    "[An] exquisite tour de force....[E]ssential reading for anyone seeking understanding of the subject." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    "Great fun to read with its enticing characters, swift dialogue, and neatly structured plot, Ebershoff's sensitive and topical tale...provides much food for thought..." Booklist (starred review)

  2. The Danish Girl
    $16.00 New Trade Paper add to wishlist

    The Danish Girl

    David Ebershoff
    "[A] profound and beautifully realized love story." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  3. Pasadena: A Novel
    $4.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    Pasadena: A Novel

    David Ebershoff
    "[A] rich blend of California history in a well-mastered plot that maintains an enduring element of surprise." Booklist
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
David Mitchell, who has redefined the novel's potential in the 21st century. Start with his masterpiece, Cloud Atlas, but then go read everything else. (Full disclosure: I'm David's editor. And by the way, David will have a new novel out in late 2009 or early 2010.)

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
The final paragraph of Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. Its vision of despair and regret is so painful and complete I can hardly read it without my throat clamping up.

Oh, Carrie, Carrie! Oh, blind strivings of the human heart! Onward onward, it saith, and where beauty leads, there it follows. Whether it be the tinkle of a lone sheep bell o'er some quiet landscape, or the glimmer of beauty in sylvan places, or the show of soul in some passing eye, the heart knows and makes answer, following. It is when the feet weary and hope seems vain that the heartaches and the longings arise. Know, then, that for you is neither surfeit nor content. In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.

How do you relax?
I watch tennis. I'm generally not available during the two weeks of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Yes, although my literary hero, Joyce Carol Oates, didn't know it. I grew up devouring Joyce's novels and stories. When I was in college, and for a few years after, I consumed her backlist: By the North Gate, A Garden of Earthly Delights, Them, Marya, American Appetites, You Must Remember This, Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart, Black Water — to name just a few. Her often desperate, brutalized heroines became my friends. There was (still is) something comforting and unsettling about opening one of her books and feeling the overwhelming rush of her prose and storytelling. She is one of our greatest writers; as honored as she is, I believe she's still underrated. And so you can imagine how I felt when, several years ago, I got a job teaching in the creative writing department at Princeton, where Joyce teaches. One evening she invited me to a party at the house she shared with her kind, intelligent, devoted husband, Ray, who sadly died earlier this year. Their house is an attractive, understated modern house on a beautiful wooded lot outside Princeton. When I walked in I felt as if I already knew the house. A similar house appears in American Appetites; in that book, a woman falls (is pushed?) through a plateglass window exactly like the one near Joyce's buffet. Yet, despite the violence of that scene, and of so many others in Joyce's books, I was struck by how peaceful the house was. Many people marvel at Joyce's extraordinary energy and creativity. When I was in her soothing house, and saw her with her loving husband, I began to understand how Joyce does it: quite simply, she sits down and gets to work.

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
I was once giving a reading, at Princeton, in fact, in a lecture hall to about 200 people. Afterward, many people came up to say hello, and a handsome, older gentleman, well dressed in a wool blazer and tightly knotted tie, shook my hand and smiled warmly. He held up a small piece of paper folded in half and said, "This is for you. Read it later." And he swiftly slipped it into my coat pocket. He politely thanked me for the reading and wished me all the best, and I said the same. Afterward, when I finally had a free moment, I pulled out the piece of paper and read it. In very neat handwriting it said, "You have no talent and you know it and you should go home now."

If you could have been someone else, who would that be and why?
I would have loved to have been a professional tennis player. Feel free to beam me into the body of Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Steffi Graf, Venus Williams, Monica Seles, or Martina Navratilova. Each is a champion for different reasons, but they share one trait: deep compassion for others.

Make a question of your own, then answer it.

Q: A two-parter: What are the best and worst things about a book tour?

A: The best part is meeting readers who care passionately about books. Everyone's life is so busy. If someone makes the effort to come to a reading, he or she is probably an especially devoted book lover. And I love meeting people like that. The worst part is the inevitable fear, in the hours leading up to the reading, that no one will show up. And so as I embark on the book tour for The 19th Wife I'm excited but also terrified.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Five Great Gay Books from before Gay Meant Gay:

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Edward II by Christopher Marlowe

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Billy Budd by Herman Melville

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

÷ ÷ ÷

David Ebershoff is the author of two other novels, Pasadena and The Danish Girl, and a short story collection, The Rose City. His fiction has won a number of awards, including the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Lambda Literary Award, and has been translated into 10 languages to critical acclaim. Ebershoff has taught creative writing at New York University and Princeton and is currently an adjunct assistant professor in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. For many years he was the publishing director of the Modern Library, and he is currently an editor-at-large for Random House. He lives in New York City.


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