Sunday, November 1, 2015

Q&A with Elisabeth Egan

Elisabeth Egan, photo by Beowulf Sheehan
Elisabeth Egan is the author of the new novel A Window Opens. She is the books editor at Glamour, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Self, Glamour, and The New York Times Book Review. She lives in New Jersey.

Q: Some reviews of your book have discussed the theme of "leaning in" as it relates to your main character, Alice, and her experiences balancing work and family. How do you see this issue, and were you thinking of Sheryl Sandberg's book as you wrote A Window Opens?

A: I was definitely thinking of Lean In when I started writing A Window Opens. I found her message so inspiring—but it made me wonder, what happens when there’s a complicating factor in your life—a sick parent, a kid who’s really struggling in school, a cross-country move—that temporarily sidelines your own ambition.

Of course, long before we were all leaning in, this was just called life. Things come up and you have to deal with them. You want to deal with them in some cases, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t committed to your career. I wanted to show how Alice navigated these rocky shoals, sometimes gracefully and often not-so-gracefully. 

Q: The novel explores the conflicts between traditional and newer methods of selling and reading books. What do you hope readers take away from Alice's situation?

A: I hope readers just take a moment to realize, we’re in this interesting moment where reading is concerned: we have all these options available to us (books on paper, books on a screen, books in serialized form, long-form journalism coming at us from multiple top-notch outlets)—and yet, the physical object of a book still matters. It still has a place in the world, and I think it always will.

I also think we’re lucky to have choices; my hope is, they’ll make us read more.

Q: How did you come up with the book's title, and what does it signify for you?

A: I’ve always loved the expression “When a door closes, a window opens,” and I knew I wanted an optimistic title, if that makes any sense.

When I happened upon this one, I was thinking of my first college roommate, who insisted I take the desk by the window because she knew I wanted to be a writer. Over the course of the next 20 years, whenever I lost my footing as a writer, I thought of the view from that window, and the faith of this stranger-turned-friend that I would someday make her gamble worthwhile. 

Q: How have things changed in the book review field over the years, and what do you see looking ahead?

A: I love how book reviews are less formal than they used to be—you can put a little more of your own voice and opinion into them, and you no longer have to hide behind this “expert voice.” You’re a human being writing about a book, and these are your thoughts. 

Looking ahead, I see more and more outlets for books coverage—hooray!

Q: What can you say about your next book?

A: My next book is about a long friendship, and it takes place on Long Beach Island, which is on the Jersey Shore. Can you think of a recent novel set on the Jersey Shore? Neither could I! 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: A window really does open! I believe that.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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