Between the lines with Caroline Leavitt (Q&A w/ event details)

Caroline Leavitt will present her new novel, Cruel Beautiful World, at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison next Wednesday evening, October 19th, at 7:00 p.m., where she will appear alongside Gayle Forman (Leave Me). This event is free and open to the public; registration is preferred and can be completed online or by calling the store at 203-245-3959. Copies of both authors’ books will be available for purchase/signing. Location: 768 Boston Post Rd.


Today, I am honored to be joined in cyber conversation with Caroline Leavitt.

Caroline is the author, most recently, of the critically acclaimed novel, Cruel Beautiful World (Algonquin Books). A New York Times and USA Today bestseller, her previous works have included Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You, as well as eight other titles. Caroline teaches writing at UCLA and Stanford online, has private clients, and is a book critic for People, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Boston Globe. She is married to writer Jeff Tamarkin; they have a teenaged son and make their home in New Jersey.

Author Caroline Leavitt.

Praise for Cruel Beautiful World:

“Set in the same tumultuous period as Woodstock and the Manson family murders, Caroline Leavitt’s astute family drama in Cruel Beautiful World is as vintage as a pair of bell-bottoms and as timeless as the bond between sisters. Leavitt (Is This Tomorrow) perfectly captures the essence of the teen years adults tend to look back on fondly through the lens of nostalgia, reminding the reader of the uncertainty, insecurity, naive expectations and broken dreams that came with growing up. Deeply resonant and quietly powerful, Cruel Beautiful World has the heart-pounding moments of a thriller and the heart-warming moments of a perfect coming-of-age story. In her 11th novel, Caroline Leavitt weaves an absorbing story of family, love and tragedy set at the dawn of the 1970s.”—Shelf Awareness

“For fans of Emma Cline’s bestselling debut, The Girls, Caroline Leavitt’s Cruel Beautiful World offers another opportunity to spend time in the wild, off-kilter America of the late 1960s, the period when peace-and-love idealism began to curdle into something far less wholesome, a period reigned over in the collective imagination by Charles Manson. Leavitt’s title — and lovely period book cover — get it just right. Cruel Beautiful World is a page-turner — recommended reading for those reveling in the current literary ’60s revival.”—Newsday

Cruel Beautiful World hits the sweet-spot between popular and literary fiction with finely honed writing, complexity of character motives, and enough guilt and secrecy to sustain the page-turning suspense.”—New York Journal of Books

From the publisher:

Caroline Leavitt is at her mesmerizing best in this haunting, nuanced portrait of love, sisters, and the impossible legacy of family.

It’s 1969, and sixteen-year-old Lucy is about to run away to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy’s default caretaker for most of their lives, Charlotte’s youth has been marked by the burden of responsibility, but never more so than when Lucy’s dream of a rural paradise turns into a nightmare.

Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty, and explores what happens when you’re responsible for things you cannot fix.


Now, Caroline Leavitt reveals a few pages from the book of her life …

John Valeri: As a child, did you wear your literary lust loud and proud or were you a closet bibliophile?

Caroline Leavitt: Oh yes. Loud and proud. I learned to read at 4 and my ridiculous school wasn’t happy about it. They asked my mother not to give me more books because I was getting too far ahead of the other kids. She was furious and went out and bought me more books!

JV: What book(s) were you likely to be caught keeping company with under the covers?

CL: As I kid, I liked to terrify myself so much that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I read Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, and these fabulous old horror novels of my father’s like H. P. Lovecraft. I still like to, actually …

JV: What are you reading currently & what is your initial impression?

CL: American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin. It’s fascinating and funny and sad and it makes you wonder—did Patty Hearst really buy into being Tanya or was she coerced? Toobin gives no answers, but I think she bought into it.

JV: What one book do you always recommend when asked?

CL: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. The most devastating, moving novel I’ve ever read. It made me realize what is possible in writing.

JV: Which of your own books would you suggest to readers & why?

CL: Cruel Beautiful World. Because it’s so deeply personal.

JV: Is there a book or author that readers would be surprised to know you’ve read and liked?

CL: Ha! Jacqueline Susann and The Valley of the Dolls! Really wonderfully trashy and entertaining. Come on, how can you not love this? And the movie was even more trashy and entertaining!

JV: Who is the one author that would, or did, make you weak in the knees upon meeting?

CL: If I could meet Ann Patchett or John Irving, I would be totally weak in the knees. Though I have a handwritten letter from Irving that I can happily recite from memory because I’ve reread it so often.

JV: Has there been an “I’ve made it” moment in your career?

CL: When I heard I made the New York Times Bestseller List. I kept thinking it was a mistake.

JV: What is your greatest literary ambition?

CL: I just want to be able to keep being published. That is such a gift.

JV: Fill in the blank: John B. Valeri / Hartford Books Examiner is _____.

CL: … going to publish a novel that will knock everyone’s socks off!



With thanks to Caroline Leavitt for her generosity of time and thought.

Be sure to revisit on Monday for a “between the lines” Q&A with Gayle Forman.

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