Do you make a distinction between “commercial” fiction and “literary” fiction? Where is that line for you?
I am not sure how to draw this line. I have read complex commercial fiction with beautiful handwriting, and I have read “literary” fiction with pedestrian plots. Sometimes it’s just the publisher’s decision how to label a book. If they give it an abstract cover and pages with rimmed edges, they point out to readers, “This book is literary and important. And if a literary novel becomes a bestseller, doesn’t that make it commercial?
How do you organize your books?
Other than my medical and forensic textbooks, which I keep in a private library, my book collection is completely disorganized. If I read a book and think it’s a keeper, I put it wherever there is room on one of the shelves scattered around my house. And yet, strangely enough, if I ever need to find this book years later, I know exactly where is it. I also know if anyone has moved it.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I am an agnostic, but I keep the Bible, the Quran, and a book on Jewish literacy on my shelf.
What is the best book you have ever received as a gift?
“Chinese Cuisine: Wei Chuan’s Cookbook,” by Huang Su-Huei. I received it as a wedding present decades ago, and that beloved, fat-splattered print is still on my kitchen shelf.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors mean the most to you?
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 smart, fearless and she drove her own car! Later, as a teenager, I read and re-read Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
If you had to write anything other than mysteries, what would you write?
If I have a burning desire to write something, I will just write it – whether there is 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 working on a spy novel. I would hate to reach the end of my life and think, “If only I had written this book I dreamed of …”
Disappointing, Overrated, Just Not Good: Which book did you feel like you liked and didn’t like? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing it?