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Alice Hoffman on Fairy Tales, Olive Kitteridge, and the Best Psychological Novel Ever

Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s new books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.

At this point in the calendar, we’re closer to Christmas than Halloween, when it’s become ritual of sorts to watch the 1998 movie Practical Magic, starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as sisters descended from a long line of witches. (But really, any time is a good time to read about the dark arts, ancestral curses, and healing spells.) It was based on Alice Hoffman’s 1995 novel of the same name, and since then, she’s written two prequels on the Owens clan, The Rules of Magic (2017) and the recently published Magic Lessons (Simon & Schuster).

Alice Hoffman on Fairy Tales, Olive Kitteridge, and the Best Psychological Novel Ever

Magic Lessons: The Prequel to Practical Magic

The author, who is based outside of Boston and has written more than 30 novels, three works of short fiction, and eight children/YA titles, dreamed of marrying Paul McCartney when she was 16; has a Polish sheepdog named Shelby (@mizindependentshelby); says her favorite time of day to write is first thing in the morning; is an executive producer on a forthcoming HBO Max pilot based on the Practical Magic books; and once worked at Doubleday but quit after lunch on her first day. She handed in her fourth and final book in the series—due out next year—and you can see her revision process here.

An oft-quoted lesson from the new novel is, “Always love someone who will love you back,” but a rule from her previous one is, “Fall in love whenever you can.” Which is easy to do when books are your objects of affection. Here are Hoffman’s.

The book that…

…shaped my worldview:

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Every 12- or 13-year-old should read it. It’s magic.

…fills me with hope:

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. If you think you know what fate has in store for you, read this book.

…I wish I’d written:

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. This haunting retelling from the point of view of Mr. Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre is simply brilliant.

…I’ve re-read the most:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. The best psychological novel ever written. It teaches you something new with every reading.

…made me want to be a writer:

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. It was the first time I realized a young girl could have something important to say.

…makes me feel seen:

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. As a teenager, I always wondered how Holden Caulfield knew how I felt.

…I recommend over-and-over again:

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Anything written by Elizabeth Strout is the best book you will read this year.

…I consider literary comfort food:

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (or anything else by this writer). These books are so charming and wise and fun to read.

…I’d want signed by the author for my library:

Beloved by Toni Morrison. This is the greatest American novel ever written by the greatest American novelist. Hauntingly beautiful.

…I’d like turned into a Netflix series:

The Changeling by Victor LaValle. A horror story and a fairy tale about loss and love that would make us tune in every week.

…everyone should read:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury is my favorite author, and this book reminds us of how important books are.

…I asked for one birthday as a kid:

I asked for Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books every birthday as a kid. I wanted all 25 in every color but especially the Blue Fairy Book.

…holds the recipe to a favorite dish:

The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins holds the recipe to my favorite dish, chicken marsala, which I’ve made for every dinner party I ever had.

…I’d gift to a new graduate:

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I still love this classic fairy tale and think everyone starting out on a journey, especially college graduates, can benefit from its truths.

…that currently sits on my nightstand:

The Island Child by Molly Aitken. A fairy tale about mothers and daughters, love and betrayal, on an island on the coast of Ireland.

Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world…

It would be The New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, because I could stay there for the rest of my life and never run out of books.

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