Instead of promoting her latest novel, "Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.," on a national book tour, author Joyce Carol Oates is spending her summer in one place, her house in Princeton, N.J., working ("mostly on a new novel") and seeing a few people "at a social distance."
"I live 4 miles outside town in a semi-rural area, which is ideal for walking, running and bicycling. (Ordinarily, I would be visiting upstate New York, Saratoga Springs, as well as a friend who lives in Santa Fe ...)," wrote the author via email. Oates has penned more than 70 books, including novels, short story collections, poetry volumes, plays, essays, and criticism, including the national bestsellers "We Were the Mulvaneys" and "Blonde."
Oates' newest book, "Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.: A Novel" (released June 9), takes a look at contemporary America through the prism of a family tragedy: when a powerful parent dies, each of his adult children reacts in startling and unexpected ways and his grieving widow in the most surprising way of all. Oates's latest novel is an exploration of race, psychological trauma, class warfare, grief, and eventual healing, as well as an intimate family novel in the tradition of her bestselling "We Were the Mulvaneys."
She has yet to do a virtual book tour for her latest work, she said. However, Oates will be joining the Spencertown Academy Arts Center's 15th annual Festival of Books virtually to discuss her book with writer Daphne Kalotay, whose latest novel is "Blue Hours." The talk will be held at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6. Registration is required.
"I have been interviewed via Zoom by bookstores and journalists. Granted that the medium is somewhat awkward, the conversations usually go well and there is an opportunity for people to introduce their pets at the conclusion of a session. (My Maine Coon, Zanche, is particularly photogenic and has grown accustomed to hearing admiring murmurs when she is lifted to view.)" She added, "Until the real can take the place of the virtual, the virtual will have to do."
Oates has received the National Medal of Humanities, National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, National Book Award and PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize several times. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.
Oates took a few moments to answer a few questions about her favorite books via email ahead of her virtual stop in the area:
Q:What is your favorite book? The one you go back to time and again?
A: I don't have a favorite book, but I do often look into Emily Dickinson's "Collected Poems" — such exquisite work, one can read and reread the poetry through a lifetime, and always discover new meanings.
Q:Who are some of your favorite contemporary authors that should be on our readers' reading radar?
A: I don't name contemporaries since many are my friends — too many to name. Plus, former students ...
Q: Name some of your favorite family-drama driven novels.
Q: What is your go-to news outlet for keeping up with the ever-changing current events?
A: Various on Twitter, primarily the Washington Post and The New York Times; on TV, MSNBC and CNN (Anderson Cooper)
Q: What is the best book you read recently and couldn't put down?
A: I've recently reread D.H. Lawrence's "Women in Love" (with a book club), but certainly was able to put this massive novel down between readings.
Q: What's your favorite children's book?
A: Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland, and Alice Through the Looking-Glass"— a gift to me at age 9 from my beloved grandmother.
Q: What books are currently on your nightstand?
A: "Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir" by Natasha Trethewey; "Lovecraft Country" by Matt Ruff; "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis" by Giorgio Bassani and several novels by Brian Moore, since I am rereading much of his fiction.