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11 Quick Questions for Jennifer Weiner

Author uses biking to visit book fans and to find peace

Author Jennifer Weiner

Cipriani Mecchi

New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel may be titled The Summer Place — and be preceded by That Summer and Big Summer — but she shrugs off the “beach read” label. With more than 15 million copies of her books in print in 36 countries, “beach reads” or not, she clearly resonates with readers. She’s also a big fan of bicycling, using it to get around her hometown of Philadelphia and to get to almost all of the stops on a book tour.

When we last chatted you were working in a cloffice. Still there?

Actually, during the pandemic my little house-updating project was turning the closet office into an actual tiny little office. They carved a little nook, so now I have even another door I can close, which is excellent, but, no, I’m still in the closet, still working in the closet.

 

I thought by now you’d have a proper office?

I always remember this story that Stephen King told in his book about writing [On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft], where he talked about becoming successful and buying this ginormous desk and having it up in the center of the room and then just ending up becoming addicted to various substances and being a total jerk to his family. Saying kind of like, “I had to organize my priorities so that it was a smaller desk in the corner of the room, and the big room went back to being a family room.”

The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner book cover

Simon & Schuster

So success hasn’t changed you?

Well, I’ve gotten very spoiled with nice hotels. I can tell you that, but I hope that I had good values going into this and that I continue to be a reasonable human being. I’m looking at my husband and thinking he’s going to roll his eyes at that, but so far no eye rolls. So that’s good.

 

Speaking of husbands, you’ve been divorced and remarried. Is this the fairy-tale ending of your books?

It’s interesting. It’s been a rough couple of years for me and everyone else on the planet. My mom died last spring, actually on Mother’s Day, which I give her a lot of credit for. I mean it was just like, Thanks for that, Fran. Even people who are lucky enough to love their jobs and love what they are doing and find some success doing it, you still have losses. You still have parents who get sick or who die.

 

Why the biking book tour?

I always loved biking. I always was a very avid cyclist. When I was a kid I’d ride my bike to go places. When I moved to Philly and didn’t know anybody, I joined the bicycle club here. That's how I learned my way around the city and its environs and met lots of people. Then I had kids, and you can’t really leave the house for three or four hours at a time when you have children — the authorities frown. When COVID happened and every gym in the world was closed, I started riding my bike again, and I rejoined the bicycle club. It kept me sane. It got me outside. I got exercise. I got to see people to whom I was not related. I just loved it, and I’ve just been doing it a lot ever since then. More ever since my mom died, because it’s one of the things that helps me deal with it all.

 

What inspires your stories?

It’s really just paying attention to the world around me, listening to people, reading the paper, talking to friends, talking to my family, talking to my daughters. At this particular moment, if you’re a woman in America, there have to be lots of things you’re thinking about, lots of things you’re worried about, lots of stories that present themselves. At least that’s how I’m feeling right now.

 

Maybe a more serious book next time?

I think humor is a great tool in terms of sending a message and having that message be received and appreciated and palatable. Nobody wants to sit down with a summer book and feel like they’re reading a polemic, but, yes, I definitely think there is some very serious, scary stuff happening right now, and I think that even people who write beach reads have a responsibility to address some of it.

 

Before the 'beach read' label, it was 'chick lit.' They don’t say that anymore?

We all aged out of “chick lit.” It’s frustrating because they’re always calling women’s books something. It used to be “chick lit;” then “beach reads” became the term of art; then domestic fiction, commercial fiction, women’s fiction. I always wonder why do the books by men get to just be “books”?

 

Author Jennifer Weiner sitting on an outdoor bench

Andrea Cipriani Mecchi


 

You’re 52. Was turning 50 hard?

I guess this is maybe one of the upsides about never being the quote unquote pretty girl — you don’t have to worry so much about losing your looks or whatever if you always had to depend more on your personality. So, no, I’m actually really OK with getting older, except I’m really aware as each year passes that I’ve rounded the turn more and I’m then halfway there. It makes you think about how much time you have left and what really matters and what you’re going to do with that time.

 

Do you remember the first book(s) you fell in love with?

So many. I remember The Narnia books. I remember reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and thinking I’d never encounter a protagonist who felt so much like I felt. I remember reading Judy Blume’s books and feeling the same.

 

What’s the most important life lesson you want to give to your two daughters?

It’s something my mom used to talk about. She used to say, “I don’t want you kids to be happy.” Obviously that would be great, but what she wanted for us was for us to be able to fail and make mistakes and screw things up and bounce back from it and be able to keep going. That’s something important I hope my daughters heard from me and will be able to take away. No one expects them to be perfect, and obviously they’re going to get things wrong. They are going to screw things up, and all of that is OK as long as they find a way to do better next time and keep going.

 

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