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‘Reading is part of my job,’ and more writing advice from author Katie Kitamura

Our November pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This,” is Katie Kitamura’s psychological thriller “A Separation.” Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here and see all the previous book club selections here.

"A Separation." Credit: Riverhead Books

Credit: Riverhead Books

Since “A Separation” was published in early 2017, author Katie Kitamura’s novel has been named to at least a dozen best-of-the-year lists. Critics have marveled at her writing, in which the book’s narrator, a woman searching for her missing (and estranged) husband in Greece, is described as “detached and cool” and “observant, taut… almost unhinged.” Kitamura says “A Separation” began with a feeling, which she let guide her — and also with a whole lot of reading.

Below, Kitamura shares her writing routine (much different now that she’s a mother), her favorite childhood book (it’s actually a series) and the best writing advice she’s received.

1. What is your daily writing routine?

I used to wake up early and get the day’s writing done in the morning. I have children now, and the morning is spent packing lunch and doing the school run. By the time I get to my desk, there are emails and there is admin to attend to. I write when I can, and that’s fine. I’ve become better at sitting down and jumping directly into the work. There used to be a lot more ritual and routine – making tea, tidying my desk, therapeutically browsing the internet, I can’t remember what else. Now I write in a pile of books and papers and children’s toys and I don’t stop to notice the chaos.

2. What is your favorite childhood book?

Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” books. The experience of reading those books as a child was profoundly transporting and profoundly private. When I think about my childhood, what I remember and what I feel most nostalgic for is that abiding sense of privacy. I read the books more recently and they reminded me of the power of the imagination, of how the act of imagining alternative realities is also the act of imagining change. Their lessons carry over into adulthood.

3. What is something you’ve seen, watched or read that you think is overlooked and deserves more attention?

Growing up, I read the English language canon. To read the books my parents read as children and young adults, to read their canon, I had to read in translation. That was central to my development as a writer – the understanding that canons are mutable, that to read your own history you sometimes have to read across a divide. I wish translated fiction was read more widely. I wouldn’t be a writer if it were not for literary translators and their work.

4. What is the best piece of writer’s advice you’ve received?

To read. That sounds obvious, but it’s useful to be reminded that reading is part of my job as a writer, and that it should be taken as seriously as the act of writing itself. There are very few good writers who are not also good readers.

5. Can you describe the moment you knew you wanted to write this particular book? And when did you know it was over?

I was on the beach in Gerolimenas, the Greek village where the novel is set. This was probably a decade ago. I remember looking up and having an almost supernatural sense of a story lurking in the landscape. I’m not in the least bit mystical about process, but I grabbed hold of that feeling and let it guide me toward the novel.

As for when I knew the book was over – I will adhere to the old adage: books are never finished, only abandoned. Every time I do a reading, I find sentences that I want to change. I would keep editing forever, so at a certain point someone has to take the book away from me.