Author Ayelet Waldman on All-You-Can-Eat Donuts and the Best Jane Austen

It’s hard for me to contain my excitement at having New York Times best-selling Ayelet Waldman here on The Ball. Ever since I read LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS, I’ve been a fan of her writing. She is not afraid to challenge her readers with her nonfiction, and yet she welcomes them in with her poignant fiction. I devoured her most recent novel, LOVE & TREASURE, in a weekend.

Love and Treasure by Ayelet WaldmanAs Joanne Wilkinson from Booklist describes LOVE & TREASURE: “Classics scholar Jack Wiseman, in the last throes of pancreatic cancer, entrusts an enamel locket to his granddaughter, imploring her to find the rightful owner. It’s the only thing he’s ever asked of her. During WWII, Jack had been a soldier in charge of storing the possessions found on ‘the gold train,’ which contained the accumulated wealth of Hungarian Jews who had been shipped off to concentration camps. The contents were all meticulously accounted for. But who was there to receive them? The responsibility weighed heavily on Jack, not least because of his involvement with Ilona, a survivor whose shockingly black sense of humor both upsets and entrances him. As Waldman takes us back to Hungary, first in the aftermath of the war, then to the years preceding it, she evokes what it feels like to have your identity and your community stripped from you and how impossibly foolish it can be to think your personal destiny is within your control. With its complicated politics and moral ambiguity, this provocative novel tells a fascinating story.”

Here is what Ayelet had to say about books she loves, her advice to writers, and the talents she wishes she possessed.

Talk about one book that made an impact on you.

Can I talk about one book that made an impact on me this week, or today? I read so much. It’s really all I do other than take care of my kids. Well, that and watch TV. Oh, and there’s the writing, I forgot about the writing. But other than all those things, reading is my primary occupation. I read for hours of every day, sometimes for an entire day, if the kids are busy and the husband out of town. I read mostly fiction, and mostly straight up literary fiction, though I dabble in genre and in narrative nonfiction.

I keep a log of everything I read on my website, mostly because I have such a dreadful memory I’m always wondering if I read something. But there are definitely books that stick out, books I read and reread. For example, a year rarely goes by that I don’t reread PERSUASION by Jane Austen. Fuck all y’all who say it’s her worst book. I adore it and reliably sob (and giggle) my way through from start to finish.

I just read a novel by my friend Yael Goldstein Love that hasn’t been published yet. It’s call THE AFTER, and it’s among the best novels I’ve ever read. Seriously.

Where do you love to be?

Right now, and I type this, I’m in our summer house in Maine. I feel very guilty, because we capitalized on the crash and the resulting economic devastation to buy a house in the Maine woods where we spend our summers. I have a little studio in the woods in which I work, and the rest of my time is spent hiking or biking, reading out by the pond, or tromping out to the ocean and staring at the waves. There’s nothing else to do – no movie theaters, the world’s worst internet (I actually mean that literally; I’ve been in parts of rural Africa with better internet). There are no obligations. My calendar is delightfully empty. It’s my happy place.

Which talent do you wish you had?

I wish I was one of those women who had a huge amount of trouble keeping weight on. Like, if I didn’t gorge on donuts and ice cream I’d drop pounds. I have a couple of friends like that. They spend their days grimly choking down desserts. I’m green with envy.

Also, I guess I’d like to write as well as Zadie Smith.

I’m trying to decide what I’d do if a genie in a bottle told me I could have one of those talents but not the other. Literary genius vs. a lifetime of all-you-can-eat donuts. Honestly, it’s a hard choice.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

There is no muse, so don’t bother to wait for it. The key to being a writer is not to try to “be a writer.” Just sit your ass down and do the work. Write a (thank you, Annie LaMott) shitty first draft, and then rewrite it over and over again. That’s what it means to be a writer.

What is the best perk of your job?

As a working mother, the thing I value the most is flexibility. If my kids need me, I can be there for them. That’s why I became a writer, it’s the characteristic of the job I’ve most given thanks for over the years. That said, it can be hard to prioritize your work when the only person forcing you to get it down is you. Writing is hard, and parenthood a really compelling kind of procrastination. It takes tremendous discipline to make yourself do the work.

Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why that person?

My husband is my first, last and best reader. We read and edit one another’s work over and over again. It’s one of my great delights.

Author Ayelet Waldman

Connect with Ayelet on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at

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This article has 2 Comments

  1. Love Ayelet’s frank, funny answers. And what writer doesn’t pose those genie-in-a-bottle questions to themselves? Genius or donuts. Tough one!

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