Curtis Sittenfeld: ‘Sweet Valley High is not respected – but I found the books riveting’

The American Wife author on The Snowman, Saturday Night Live and her lifelong love of Alice Munro

My earliest reading memory
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, a picture book I pored over while waiting in an auto body shop for my mother’s car to be fixed. I think I was four.

My favourite book growing up
I loved books that made the world seem mysterious and enchanted, such as The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.

The book that changed me as a teenager
The summer I was 16, I read the two annual anthologies The Best American Short Stories and The O Henry Prize Stories. The voices were so alive and varied in scope. Fun fact: I grew up to be the 2020 guest editor for The Best American Short Stories.

The writer who changed my mind
Last summer, I read Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America by Alec MacGillis. It’s a meticulous, devastating indictment of Amazon’s effect on individuals and communities. It prompted me to stop shopping at Whole Foods, which was bought by Amazon in 2017.

The book that made me want to write
I devoured series such as Sweet Valley High and The Girls of Canby Hall. These are not respected books (whatever that means), but I found them riveting, and I still aspire to read and write books that are unputdownable.

The author I came back to
I first read Raymond Carver as a teenager and found his stories too emotionally and linguistically spare. A few years later, when I taught his stories to undergraduates, I gained a new appreciation for how their ostensible simplicity made them accessible to my students – and I saw that they were far more complex than I’d realised.

The book I reread
I’ve been reading and rereading Alice Munro stories for more than 30 years, and her insights about romantic attraction, marriage, parenthood and friendship hit me differently as I age.

The book I discovered later in life
I recently listened to the brilliant and sometimes scathing essay collection Thick by the sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom. It’s a comment on the sped-up nature of the internet (and Twitter specifically, where Cottom is very active) that I felt like I read this after everyone else – but apparently it was just published in 2019!

The book I am currently reading
Minor Feelings: A Reckoning on Race and the Asian Condition by Cathy Park Hong. Hong was the year behind me in graduate school; she was “in” poetry, and I was “in” fiction. In addition to finding these essays thought provoking, I enjoy observing the life trajectory of someone I kind of knew a long time ago.

My comfort read
Essay collection/autobiography hybrids by comedians, especially those who have been on Saturday Night Live, tend to be poignant but also reliably funny. I’ve enjoyed Bossypants by Tina Fey; Yes Please by Amy Poehler; I Am the New Black by Tracy Morgan; A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost; and I recently bought Girl Walks into a Bar by Rachel Dratch.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld is published by Doubleday (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply.


Curtis Sittenfeld

The GuardianTramp

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