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6 books that inspired Elizabeth Strout

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author recommends works by John Updike, Ira Byock, and more

Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge and My Name Is Lucy Barton. Below, she names six books that inspired her as she wrote her new novel, Oh William!, in which Lucy joins her ex-husband on a major road trip.

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan (2015).

This novel is a fictionalized account, brilliantly done, of F. Scott Fitzgerald's last years in Hollywood. I have no idea how or why, but reading West of Sunset caused me to feel the presence of Fitzgerald as I was working on all three of my Lucy Barton books. It is a mystery, but writing is. Buy it here.

First Love by Ivan Turgenev (1860).

I had read this novella many years ago, but re-reading it brought some weird impulse to write Oh William! Again, it's impossible to explain, but 16-year-old Vladimir Petrovich's infatuation with the young woman his father is secretly having an affair with got under my skin in a new way. Buy it here.

Apeirogon by Colum McCann (2020).

You might think this was a strange choice of a book to help me write Oh William!, because it's the story of a friendship between two men in the Middle East. But the writing is so gorgeous, and McCann's eye for detail so breathtaking, that it helped me get once more inside the head of Lucy Barton. Buy it here.

The Collected Stories of William Trevor (1992).

This is my go-to book. I pick it up at least once a month and re-read stories in it. It seems a perfect companion to my Lucy Barton books because the stories are about ordinary people with quiet inner lives. In Trevor's stories, there is so much love for the characters, no matter what any of them are doing, that you feel his concern for them all. Buy it here.

Dying Well by Ira Byock (1997).

This is the first of three books that Byock has written about the process of dying and how it can be done better. Something about this comforting book helped me as I was thinking about the later years of Lucy's and William's lives, even though they're not dying. Buy it here.

My Father's Tears by John Updike (2009).

These quiet stories are exquisite, and they helped me understand aging men as I wrote Oh William! Again, it is more the tone of these stories than the subject matter that helped me as I worked. Buy it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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