Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Lauren Belfer

Lauren Belfer's debut novel, City of Light, was a New York Times bestseller, as well as a number one Book Sense pick, a Barnes & Noble Discover Award nominee, a New York Times Notable Book, a Library Journal Best Book, and a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. City of Light was a bestseller in Great Britain and has been translated into six languages. Her second novel, A Fierce Radiance, was named a Washington Post Best Novel of 2010 and an NPR Best Mystery of 2010.

Belfer's new novel is And After the Fire.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
When I’m writing fiction, reading fiction is almost impossible for me. My mind seems to rebel against entering other fictional worlds. Instead, I find myself rereading the same nonfiction books over and over, discovering in them some mysterious combination of reassurance and guidance.

As I’ve worked on And After the Fire, two nonfiction books have been on my desk for several years now: The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal, and The Lost, A Search for Six of Six Million, by Daniel Mendelsohn. I was rereading these books again this morning. My copies are stained from spilled tea. They’ve become swollen with humidity and with dog-eared-pages. Virtually every page of The Lost is now turned down, to bring my attention back to some vital point that sparked my imagination. The Lost haunted me as I wrote And After the Fire, even though, superficially at least, my novel and this family memoir have little in common.

The Hare with Amber Eyes has fewer pages turned down, but only because it’s stuffed with yellow post-it notes to mark the passages that seared into me. Sometimes I feel like ripping out all the notes and starting over, but I stop myself, because I don’t want to lose the kernel of a thought or feeling that once captured my attention. I felt myself living in this book often as I wrote And After the Fire. The story of the netsuke (small Japanese figurines) collected by de Waal’s family, and their journey through history, parallels, for me, the journey of the fictional Bach cantata in And After the Fire.

On my night table are two nonfiction books that have no relationship to my own work, books I’m reading simply for pleasure. The first is Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, by Mark Vanhoenhacker. I used to be a nervous flyer, but Vanhoenhacker’s evocative lyricism, as well as his clear-eyed explanations of the technical aspects of flying – of what keeps a plane from falling out of the air – have cured my anxieties. Cured my anxieties about flying, that is. My other anxieties are still flourishing.

And finally, I’m reading Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies, by Alexandra Harris. This extraordinary book examines how English weather has influenced English writers, artists, and architects. I was astonished by Harris’s description of the use of glass in Elizabethan architecture, of country homes with wide windows designed to glitter in the sunlight. “Buildings wore their lights like diamonds,” Harris says. How I wish I could write like that!
Visit Lauren Belfer's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Fierce Radiance.

My Book, The Movie: A Fierce Radiance.

The Page 69 Test: And After the Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue