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Category: Archive

Page Turner: Ann Napolitano

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

What is your latest book about?
“Within Arm’s Reach” charts the emotional life of three generations of an Irish Catholic family in New Jersey. Shaken reluctantly into self-examination by the unexpected pregnancy of its youngest member, Gracie (an advice columnist who finds it difficult to live by the advice she gives), the McLaughlin family is forced to confront ghosts of both past and present, and to reappraise its values in a world of rapid change.
Narrated through six first person accounts — the pregnant Gracie, her sister Lila, their parents, their matriarchal grandmother, and a family outsider with a curious connection – this first novel displays an acute sensitivity to the almost geographical emotional distances that can exist between those bound together by family.
An honest tale of interconnected lives, “Within Arm’s Reach” shows us that the “ties that bind” are a source of both solace and of pain – at once a curse, a lifeline, an irritant and a cure — they are ultimately unavoidable and indelible.

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
My ideal writing routine is to write five or six days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a break for lunch. I like to write while sitting on a couch. I don’t write at a desk, because if I’m at a desk then I feel like I’m working. On the couch with my laptop on my lap, I can trick myself into thinking that writing a novel isn’t proper work (it’s all about mental games).

What advice to you have for aspiring writers?
I think the best advice is to write and read every day. Read great writing, and force yourself to be disciplined about writing yourself. I attended the Creative Writing graduate program at NYU, which certainly was helpful, but I don’t think it’s necessary. My writing teacher in college told us that we should become writers only if there was absolutely nothing else we could do. I pretty much believe that. It’s a hard road, and very few fiction writers make a living with their craft. You have to write because you love it, and because it is something you feel you have to do.
I’d also recommend to any young writer that they find a few good, trustworthy readers. The most valuable thing I got out of graduate school was a friendship with two other young writers, Hannah Tinti (“Animal Crackers”) and Helen Ellis (“Eating the Cheshire Cat”). We started meeting once a week, outside of school, to read and critique each other’s work, and we’ve now been meeting weekly for 10 years. Their feedback is completely essential to my writing process.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure?
“Charming Billy” by Alice McDermott; “A Widow for One Year” by John Irving; “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck.

What book are you currently reading?
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathon Safran Froer.

Is there a book you wish you had written?
“A Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin.

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Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by?
“Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides. I worried in the beginning of the novel that he wouldn’t be able to pull off such a taboo subject (hermaphroditism), or that it would overwhelm the book. But it’s a beautiful story told through several generations of one family, and I couldn’t put it down.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
John Irving.

What book changed your life?
“The Ambassadors” by Henry James.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
The seaside in County Wicklow.

You’re Irish if . . .
You know all the words to “McNamara’s Band.”

(Ann Napolitano will be reading and signing books tonight, Wednesday, July 6, at 7 p.m. at Borders, Paramus, 230 Garden State Plaza, off Rt. 17 or Rt. 4. Tel: 201-712-1166.)

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