16 Facts About Christopher Pike's Books

Lucy Quintanilla
Lucy Quintanilla

In the ‘90s, it felt like every teenager had their nose buried in a Christopher Pike novel. That might not have been far from reality: In his three-decade career, the author has sold millions of books, with plots ranging from teens framing friends for their deaths to teens traveling through time to teens who were actually ... dinosaur people?! Read on to find out behind-the-scenes stories about, and the inspirations for, some of Pike’s most popular books. (The author doesn't do many interviews, so many of these revelations come directly from writings on his official Facebook page.)


Before he was a YA horror author, Pike—who had wanted to be a writer since high school—was painting houses and doing computer programming. He tried his hand at sci-fi and mystery without much luck. Initially, he tried to sell a book called The Starlight Crystal (unrelated to his later novel) that he claimed “was a mess,” recalling that he’d sometimes glue pages of his manuscript together to see whether anyone actually looked at it and would have the book returned in the same state. Then he tried selling a book called Seasons of Passage with similar results.

“I got tons of rejection [letters] for six years before I got an offer on one of my books, Slumber Party,” the author wrote on his Facebook page. “That was an exciting day.” Slumber Party was published in 1985; Pike’s second book, Weekend, came out the next year.


Pike’s real name is Kevin Christopher McFadden; he took his pseudonym from a Star Trek character. “When Slumber Party was about to be published, they asked if I wanted to use a pen name. I blurted out Christopher Pike on the spur of the moment,” the author recalled. “I liked having a short last name—easy to remember for future fans. I had no idea that Star Trek would still be around years later and that the character of Christopher Pike would be brought back” in J.J. Abrams's 2009 and 2013 films.


Pike's road to publishing his first book was convoluted. On Facebook, he recalled going to a writer’s conference where he met an agent named Ashley Grayson. "He was just starting out as an agent; he was willing to read The Starlight Crystal," Pike wrote. "Ashley felt Starlight was a mess but he thought I had talent." Eventually, Grayson called Pike with an interesting opportunity: Write two chapters for a “line of teen books that dealt with the supernatural.” The chapters were ultimately rejected; "the editor in charge of the series thought my book was too good for his series," Pike wrote. Grayson then sold the chapters to Jean Feiwel at Avon, who soon left for Scholastic to head up the publisher's preteen and YA divisions. Avon lost interest in the book, but Grayson, undeterred, took it to Feiwel at her new job. She commissioned a whole novel, which she named Slumber Party.

Around the same time, Feiwel noticed that the book Ginny’s Babysitting Job was a top seller for Scholastic, and hired Ann M. Martin to write “a series about a babysitters club.”


“At first I was trying to write [a] story that could sell to a new YA supernatural series. So at first the story had a supernatural aspect,” Pike wrote on his Facebook page. The plot was initially much more complex: “The burning of the two girls was originally caused by pyrokinesis—the ability to start fires with the mind,” he said. “The young girl ... was the one with the ability and it would occasionally flare up when she got upset. But she didn’t know she had the power, not consciously, although her older sister did. Of course her older sister had long ago been a victim of the power, although it had been my hero’s fault the young girl had accidentally used it.”

Feiwel asked to see the book without the supernatural elements, and Pike had to do “a ton of fresh plotting. Yet I think it turned out well.” In the published book, a group of teenagers on a ski weekend discover that one of them might be responsible for a fire that, years earlier, had disfigured one of the girls and killed her sister. “Slumber Party is short and simple but I think it works,” Pike said. “I wrote it in my parents’ house. In my old bedroom.”


For his second book—which he originally called Sweet Hemlock and was also written in his parents’ house—Pike found inspiration in a high school friend named Candice who was blind and on dialysis. “I can’t recall what triggered her condition but we became better friends 10 years after high school, and it was she who inspired me to use the idea of having a main character with failed kidneys,” he wrote. “Like the character in Weekend, Candice was hoping for a transplant but sadly she died before she could get one.”


In Chain Letter, a group of teens who committed a crime begin receiving letters from a mysterious person called the Caretaker who is determined to make them pay for what they did. Pike wrote that “I learned how to isolate people psychologically” in the book. “The gang is surrounded by their family and friends but no one outside their small circle can help them because they can’t reveal their secret. ... What made the book work is how the chain letter forced the characters to do things that embarrassed them. To be humiliated, as a teenager, can be the worst thing in the world.”

When it came time to pen the sequel—which Pike wrote because he was “offered a lot of money, and I wanted to keep my publisher happy”—the author knew he couldn’t do the same thing as the first book, so he added a supernatural element to the game. “But because of my situation at the time, I was forced to write the book in less than a month,” he said. “I regret I didn’t spend more time on it. I would have made it longer—I had many more scenes with the demon girl and our two heroes in my head.”


There was a lot that Pike didn’t like about 1988’s Gimme A Kiss. The ending, in particular, he felt “was too rushed. Also, I was never sure if the main idea worked—that the villain could be so stupid as to think … Well, I won’t say it. But if you’ve read it you know what I’m talking about,” he wrote. “Fall Into Darkness was in many ways a rewrite of Gimme A Kiss. If you study the plots you can see how they overlap. Also, I had the lawyer in Fall Into Darkness mention Gimme A Kiss in court—indirectly. I think I was trying to send you guys a message.” Pike noted that “I took time on Fall Into Darkness and crafted it carefully. Looking back, I would have made the court scenes more realistic but otherwise I’m happy with the book.”


In Fall Into Darkness, Sharon is on trial for killing her friend Ann. But as it turns out, Ann faked her death and framed Sharon. Kelly Faircloth at Jezebel sums up the plot:

“[A]s we learn in whiplash-inducing flashbacks interspersed between courtroom scenes, Ann deliberately faked her own death on a mountaintop campout, to punish Sharon for supposedly driving her beloved younger brother Jerry to suicide. But! As Ann learns when her scheme goes horribly awry and she's left stumbling around a national park in the dark, it wasn't really her idea at all. In fact she's been manipulated by her gardener/classmate/childhood friend/total sociopath Chad into the plan. Chad killed Jerry, it turns out! Because Chad knows he and Ann are meant to be—if only she hadn't gotten engaged to Chad's brother, Paul. And then, when she tries to escape, Chad kills Ann! And THEN he tries to kill Sharon, after she escapes the murder charges, finds Ann's body and realizes what he's done.

“It's a glorious sh*t show and I cannot believe kids were reading these books.”

Fall Into Darkness was adapted into a TV movie starring Tatyana Ali and Jonathan Brandis in 1996, and Pike was not a fan. “I hated it,” he wrote. “It was my first introduction to Hollywood. What a learning experience! The production company ... swore to me when I sold them the rights they would stick to the plot. When I saw an early draft, I flew into a rage. There were no court scenes! A third of the book takes place in court. That’s what made the story work—the switching back and forth from the night of the murder to the day of the trial. Foolish me, I immediately stormed down to LA with my lawyer to scream at them. They promised to rework the script and swore I’d get to go over it with them when they had another draft. Two months later I heard they were shooting the film. They never called until after the film was on TV and was a hit. They wanted to option Chain Letter. You can imagine what I told them.”


Midnight Club was written because a young woman who was dying in a hospital in the Midwest told me about a club they had at the hospital called The Midnight Club,” Pike explained. “They would meet at midnight to discuss my books. She asked me to write about them. I said I would but I couldn’t have them discussing my books. The idea grew from there. Unfortunately, none of them were alive when I finished the book.”


“For me, Remember Me was a gigantic leap,” Pike wrote. “I knew when I was writing it that it was special and when I finished it—I was high as a kite for weeks. I knew I had finally written something beyond me—a book that would last forever.” The author said that it didn’t even feel like he wrote it; it was his first time writing in the first person, and he also had no idea what was going to happen next, “when in all my other books I knew where I was headed.”

Pike recalled that when he penned the book’s final words, “I want people to remember me,” things got spooky: “Someone tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Goodbye, we’ll meet some day.’ This absolutely happened. I jumped so high I almost hit my head on the ceiling.” He felt that “it was like a person was done telling me their story and they were moving on. Like they were saying goodbye and thanks.”

The book resonated. Pike recalled that his editor at the time, who had just lost her mother, was so moved by the book that she cried. She wasn’t the only one: “Over the years thousands, tens of thousands, of people have written to tell me how much it meant to them.”


Scavenger Hunt (you know, the book where the kids are actually dinosaur people) was inspired by two high school students on a scavenger hunt who came into the record store where Becky, his crush, worked. “I had such a ridiculous crush on Becky, and damn if she didn’t have a boyfriend. I remember how pathetic I acted around her the moment I met her,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Hi, my name’s Kevin, Christopher Pike. I’m a famous writer.’ She never let me live down that remark.” Becky inspired Pike’s next book, See You Later, which the author said he wrote “to impress her so she would go out with me.” (Eventually, after she’d broken up with her boyfriend, they did date, but their relationship didn’t last.) “See You Later is obviously about soulmates,” Pike wrote. “Whether we believe in them or not I think we’re all looking for that perfect person we’re supposed to be with … See You Later does not work as a tight well plotted book. The plot line is rather weak in places ... But the book still has magic. It works because it creates a profound feeling. I felt for the main character. I wanted him to find love, I wanted him to be happy. Maybe I identified with him too much, I don’t know. The ending of the action is weak. But I feel the last few pages were beautiful. That’s mostly what I remember about the book, and the line, ‘It began with a smile …’”


“[Attila] The Hun was supposed to have said, ‘Bury me deep,’ when he was struck down. I thought it was a cool title for a ghost story,” Pike wrote. “I think it’s obvious from reading the book that I have scuba dived off Maui. I love Maui, I love all the Hawaiian islands, and I wanted to see if it was possible to tell a ghost story in a sunny modern hotel rather than in a dark and stormy castle. Bury Me Deep was another big seller. It got on the New York Times list. But I was never happy with the book. Once again, I felt the ending was weak. To me the book had no mood, no deeper power. It’s a quick read, sure, but I don’t think it touched anyone.”


The sequel would have taken place at the characters’ 10 year high school reunion. “It was going well. But the file was accidentally destroyed when I was out of the country,” Pike wrote. “Oh well, maybe one day we can revisit Michael and Jessica. But I can tell you this much—they were already married and divorced when the sequel started. But still very much in love… [It] could make for an interesting story.”


He also drew the Apartment 3-G comic for a while—the strip was initially drawn by his father—and more than 100 covers of The Hardy Boys Casefiles.


It’s probably because his little sister is named Ann. “She is very dear to me,” he wrote on Facebook.


The piece, titled “Nameless Fear Stalks the Middle-Class Teen-Ager: Perhaps It Is the Fear of Boredom” and published in The New York Times in 1993, wasn’t kind. Writer Ken Tucker wrote that Fear Street series author R.L. Stine and Pike were “the Beavis and Butt-head of horror, reducing the fright fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley to a succession of helpless girls, vulgar pranks and sniggering scares. ... Most of these books seem to be textbook examples of how not to tell a story.”

Tucker wasn’t enamored with the authors’ writing style, either: “Indeed, maybe the grisliest horror in these books is their prose,” he wrote. “As a stylist, Mr. Pike makes Stephen King read like Vladimir Nabokov. The Immortal features one character with ‘balding gray hair.’ Another ‘seemed to be scholarly in a way with alert green eyes and messy brown hair that the sun was swiftly turning the color of the sand.’”

Tucker’s thoughts didn’t seem to matter to readers, however: Pike’s books were frequently bestsellers. He continues to publish in a number of genres today. “I’m working on WAY too many books,” he wrote on his Facebook page in May. “I have so many stories half formed on my computer—I wish I had a few bodies to write with.”

25 Famous Authors' Favorite Books

David Cheskin-Pool/Getty Images
David Cheskin-Pool/Getty Images

One key to being a good writer is to always keep reading—and that doesn't stop after you've been published. Here are 25 authors' favorite reads. Who knows, one of these books might become your new favorite.


American writer Ernest Hemingway
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Papa Hemingway once said "there is no friend as loyal as a book," and in a 1935 piece published in Esquire, he laid out a list of a few friends he said he would "rather read again for the first time ... than have an assured income of a million dollars a year." They included, he wrote, "Anna Karenina, Far Away and Long Ago, Buddenbrooks, Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, War and Peace, A Sportsman's Sketches, The Brothers Karamazov, Hail and Farewell, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Winesburg, Ohio, La Reine Margot, The Maison Tellier, Le Rouge et le Noir, La Chartreuse de Parme, Dubliners, Yeats's Autobiographies, and a few others."

It wasn't the first reading list he'd made; just a year earlier, Hemingway had dashed off a list of 14 books for an aspiring writer who had hitchhiked to Florida to meet him. It included a few of the same books above, plus two short stories by Stephen Crane.


Joan Didion
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In an interview with The Paris Review in 2006, novelist and creative nonfiction scribe Joan Didion called Joseph Conrad's Victory "maybe my favorite book in the world ... I have never started a novel ... without rereading Victory. It opens up the possibilities of a novel. It makes it seem worth doing."


US science fiction writer Ray Bradbury
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Sci-fi author Ray Bradbury's favorite books, which he discussed during a 2003 interview with Barnes & Noble when he was 83, are somewhat unexpected. Among them, Bradbury said, were "The collected essays of George Bernard Shaw, which contain all of the intelligence of humanity during the last hundred years and perhaps more," books written by Loren Eisley, "who is our greatest poet/essayist of the last 40 years," and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick: "Quite obviously its impact on my life has lasted for more than 50 years."

The books that most influenced his career—and are presumably favorites as well—were those in Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter: Warlord of Mars series. "[They] entered my life when I was 10 and caused me to go out on the lawns of summer, put up my hands, and ask for Mars to take me home," Bradbury said. "Within a short time I began to write and have continued that process ever since, all because of Mr. Burroughs."


George R.R. Martin
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It's probably not surprising that Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin has said that J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which he first read in junior high, is "still a book I admire vastly." But he recently found inspiration in a newer book, which he recommended in a Live Journal entry: "I won't soon forget Station Eleven," he wrote. Emily St. John Mandel's book about a group of actors in a recently post-apocalyptic society, he said, is "a deeply melancholy novel, but beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac … a book that I will long remember, and return to."


The Atlas statue in New York City seen from below
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"The very best I've ever read, my favorite thing in all world literature (and that includes all the heavy classics) is a novelette called Calumet K by Merwin-Webster," Rand wrote in 1945. The book was famous then, but if you haven't heard of it, allow Chicago magazine to outline the plot: "Calumet K is a quaint, endearingly Midwestern novel about the building of a grain elevator ... It's a procedural about large-scale agricultural production." If that sounds like something you'd want to check out, you can read it for free here.


Author Gillian Flynn
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When Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn was asked about her favorite books in a 2014 Reddit AMA, she called out her "comfort food" books—the kind "you grab when you're feeling cranky and nothing sounds good to read"—which included Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None and Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song.


Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov
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During an interview with a French television station in the 1950s, the Lolita author—who wrote all of his own books on note cards, which were "gradually copied, expanded, and rearranged until they [became his novels]," according to The Paris Review—shared a list of what he considered to be great literature: James Joyce's Ulysses, Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Andrei Bely's Petersburg, and "the first half of Proust's fairy tale, In Search of Lost Time."


English novelist Jane Austen
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The author of classics like Pride and Prejudice and Emma was herself a voracious reader of books, poetry, and plays, including The Corsair by Lord Byron, Madame de Genlis's Olimpe and Theophile, and The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe. A clear favorite, though, was Samuel Richardson's book Sir Charles Grandison.


Mark Twain
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In 1887, Twain responded to a letter from Reverend Charles D. Crane, a pastor in Maine, which likely asked for Twain's recommendations for both young boys and girls as well as the authors' favorite books (Crane's letter, unfortunately, is lost). Among his favorites, Twain said, were Thomas Carlyle "(The French Revolution only)," Sir Thomas Malory's King Arthur, and Arabian Nights, among others. He also included his own B.B., which he said was "a book which I wrote some years ago, not for publication but just for my own private reading."


Meg Wolitzer
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The Interestings author loves the novel Old Filth by Jane Gardam. "It's a thrilling, bold and witty book by a British writer whom I discovered rather late," she told Elle in 2014. "I can't say I've read anything else like Old Filth, which stands out for me as a singular, opalescent novel, a thing of beauty that gives immense gratification to its lucky readers."


Author Erik Larson
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The acclaimed author of The Devil in the White City calls The Maltese Falcon his "all-time personal favorite":

"I love this book, all of it: the plot, the characters, the dialogue, much of which was lifted verbatim by John Huston for his screenplay for the beloved movie of the same name. The single best monologue in fiction appears toward the end, when Sam Spade tells Brigid O'Shaughnessy why he's giving her to the police."


A studio portrait of American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (
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In 1936—four years before his death—Fitzgerald was living at the Grove Park Inn in North Carolina. After he fired a gun as a suicide threat, the inn insisted that he be supervised by a nurse. While under Dorothy Richardson's care, he provided her with a list of 22 books that he deemed "essential reading." It included Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, The Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan, Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, and Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.


Award winning writer Edwidge Danticat visits Capitol Hill, October 21, 2015.
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This MacArthur Fellow and award-winning author of Claire of the Sea Light, The Dew Breaker, and Brother, I'm Dying told Time.com that her favorite summer read is Love, Anger, Madness, by the Haitian writer Marie Vieux-Chauvet. "I have read and reread that book, both in French and in its English translation, for many years now," she said. "And each time I stumble into something new and eye-opening that makes me want to keep reading it over and over again."


Irish playwright and author Samuel Beckett
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Winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature and author of Waiting for Godot, Beckett was always a private individual, even after garnering acclaim for his writing. In 2011, a volume of the author's letters from 1941 to 1956 was published, giving the world a glimpse into his friendships and reading habits. Beckett wrote about many books in his correspondence: He described Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne as "lively stuff," wrote that his fourth reading of Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane caused "the same old tears in the same old places," and that he liked The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger "more than anything for a long time."

15. R.L. STINE

R.L. Stine
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In a 2012 piece for The Washington Post, Goosebumps and Fear Street author R.L. Stine praised Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, calling it "one of the most underrated books ever. Bradbury's lyrical depiction of growing up in the Midwest in a long-ago time, a time that probably never even existed, is the kind of beautiful nostalgia few authors have achieved."


Author Amy Tan
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The Joy Luck Club author Amy Tan's favorite piece of classic Chinese literature is Jing Ping Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase), penned by an anonymous scribe. "I would describe it as a book of manners for the debauched," she said in a 2013 interview with The New York Times. "Its readers in the late Ming period likely hid it under their bedcovers, because it was banned as pornographic. It has a fairly modern, naturalistic style—'Show, don't tell'—and there are a lot of sex scenes shown. For years, I didn't know I had the expurgated edition that provided only elliptical hints of what went on between falling into bed and waking up refreshed. The unexpurgated edition is instructional."


Author J.K. Rowling
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For her favorite book, Harry Potter and The Silkworm author J.K. Rowling (she wrote the latter under a pseudonym) went with a classic: Jane Austen's Emma. "Virginia Woolf said of Austen, 'For a great writer, she was the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness,' which is a fantastic line," Rowling said, according to Oprah.com. "You're drawn into the story, and you come out the other end, and you know you've seen something great in action. But you can't see the pyrotechnics; there's nothing flashy."

One of her favorite books as a child was The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit, whom Rowling called "the children's writer with whom I most identify … The Story of the Treasure Seekers was a breakthrough children's book. Oswald is such a very real narrator, at a time when most people were writing morality plays for children."


Maya Angelou
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The poet and author had a number of favorite books, including Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, the Bible, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. "When I read Alcott, I knew that these girls she was talking about were all white," Angelou told The Week in 2013. "But they were nice girls and I understood them. I felt like I was almost there with them in their living room and their kitchen."


US author Lydia Davis
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Reading John Dos Passos's Orient Express was "a turning point for me," award winning novelist Lydia Davis said in 1997. "That was one of the first 'grown up' books that made me excited about the language."


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The Tropic of Cancer author wrote an entire book that, he explained in the preface, "[dealt] with books as a vital experience." The Books in My Life included an appendix titled "100 Books Which Influenced Me Most." Classics like Wuthering Heights, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Les Miserables, and Leaves of Grass all made the cut.


US novelist John Steinbeck
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One of the Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden author's favorite books later in life was Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, but his first favorite book was Le Morte d'Arthur, a collection of Arthurian tales by Sir Thomas Malory, which Steinbeck received as a gift when he was 9. It was a major influence on the author's writing, and ultimately led to The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, which Steinbeck hoped would be "the best work of my life and the most satisfying." He had completed just seven chapters of the book when he died in 1968; it was published posthumously eight years later.


Wild author Cheryl Strayed
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When the author of the bestselling memoir Wild set off on her journey up the Pacific Coast Trail, she only had room to take two books. One was a book of Adrienne Rich's poetry, The Dream of a Common Language. She had already read it enough times to almost memorize it in its entirety. Explaining in Wild the choice to bring along the extra weight in her pack, she writes:

"In the previous few years, certain lines had become like incantations to me, words I'd chanted to myself through my sorrow and confusion. That book was a consolation, an old friend, and when I held it in my hands on my first night on the trail, I didn't regret carrying it one iota—even though carrying it meant that I could do no more than hunch beneath its weight. It was true that The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California was now my bible, but The Dream of a Common Language was my religion."

At one point during her arduous hike, she considers burning the book to save weight in her pack, as she did with other books she read along the trail. "There was no reason not to burn this book too," she writes. "Instead, I only hugged it to my chest."


Author Joyce Carol Oates speaks onstage
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In a 2013 interview with The Boston Globe, the prolific author Joyce Carol Oates revealed Dostoevsky as one of her favorite authors. When asked for her all-time favorite book, she said:

"I would say Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, which had an enormous effect on me. I think young people today might not realize how readable that novel is. The other book that I worry no one reads anymore is James Joyce's Ulysses. It's not easy, but every page is wonderful and repays the effort."

In honor of the publication of her latest book, Dis Mem Ber in June 2017, Oates also shared her current reading list with The Week. It included Anthony Marra's books A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Tsar of Love and Techno, Atticus Lish's award-winning Preparation for the Next Life, Whitney Terrell's Iraq War novel The Good Lieutenant, T. Geronimo Johnson's satirical Welcome to Braggsville, and the time-travel sci-fi novel Version Control by Dexter Palmer.


George Saunders speaks at The 2009 New Yorker Festival
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In 2014, Saunders—one of the most famous short story writers of our time—detailed some of his favorite books for Oprah Winfrey's O magazine. On the favorites list for the author of bestsellers like Tenth of December and Lincoln in the Bardo?

Tobias Wolff's In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (a book that convinced Saunders to study with Wolff at Syracuse University, where Saunders still works today), Michael Herr's Vietnam memoir Dispatches, Stuart Dybek's short story collection The Coast of Chicago, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, and several classics of Russian literature—Isaac Babel's The Red Calvary, The Portable Chekhov, and Nicolai Gogol's Dead Souls.


Author/activist Judy Blume
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In 2016, beloved author Judy Bloom shared some of her favorite books with The Strand, a bookstore in New York City. Madeline, the classic children's book by Ludwig Bemelmans, she explained, was "the first book I fell in love with at the Elizabeth [New Jersey] public library." She wrote:

"I loved it so much I hid it so my mother would not be able to return it to the library. I thought it was the only copy in the world. To this day I feel guilty. It was the first book I bought for my daughter's library when she was born."

For professional inspiration, she turns to Philip Roth's Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral. "It never fails to amaze me," she writes.

This article first ran in 2015.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine


Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of wine. Here, Tilar J. Mazzeo, author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma, spills some of the best. Here are a few things you might not know about wine.

1. Digital eyes are everywhere in today's vineyards.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like army bases—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. 

2. Modern vineyards also bury a lot of cow skulls. 

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. Ferocious foliage is a vintner's secret weapon.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. Roses in a vineyard are the wine country equivalent to the canary in the coal mine. 

Vintners plant roses among their vines because the flowers get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. Birds of prey help protect the grapes.

Glasses of red wine and charcuterie
iStock/Natalia Van Doninck

Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. Small bugs become big problems in wine tasting rooms.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bug-eating predators are fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. Wine needs to be filtered. 

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. (Unwanted compounds in the wine bind with the fining agents so they can be filtered and removed.) Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. Wine is ever so slightly radioactive (that's a good thing).

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. MRIs can determine the fine from the funk.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. Wines can be aged instantly.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.