The Thrive Questionnaire//

Author Jane Smiley Shares the 4 Books That Changed Her Life

Plus, how she handles email and the first thing she does when she wakes up.


When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Jane Smiley: Get into the hot tub (which is on an outside deck under the trees) with a book and two tiny pieces of Walker’s Nonsuch Toffee and one tiny piece of dark chocolate (for medicinal purposes, as everyone knows).

TG: What gives you energy?
JS: Writing.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
JS: Not being a perfectionist

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
JS: So many! Early life: David Copperfield—showed me I could enjoy literature (not just Nancy Drew). Late youth: Our Mutual Friend—showed me that writing was worth trying. Grad School: The Icelandic Sagas—gave me a mission, to write The Greenlanders. Mid-life: The Heptameron—Re-educated me on the nature and origins of the novel.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
JS: Across the room, face down. It is not allowed to say anything—all notification sounds silenced. I like it for the camera, and the chance to take instant pictures of things you might miss without it, like rainbows.

TG: How do you deal with email?
JS: Write, send. I don’t get enough email to be overwhelmed.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
JS: Back into the hot tub with the book.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
JS: End of a term of teaching—too much travel, too much to read, no time to work on my own projects, but I love my students and my colleagues (UC Riverside) so no big deal.

Jane Smiley is the author of sixteen adult novels, five YA novels, one picture book, and five volumes of non-fiction. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for A Thousand Acres. Her most recent work is a trilogy, The Last Hundred Years, which was published in 2014 and 2015.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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