Jill Lepore : The historian whose new book is ''If Then,'' reads a lot for Harvard Classes : ''Reading for teaching is a little eating a meal and trying, afterward, to write up a recipe for every dish.

What books are on your nightstand?

Olga Tokarczuk, ''Primeval and Other Times'' ; Zadie Smith, ""Intimations : Six Essays.'' And, for essays I've written in the last few months, I've got stacks of books on pandemics and loneliness and policing and race relations commissions and Kent State and the history of democracy.

But during the plague, honestly, I've been mainly listening to audiobooks. Raymond Chandler's stories as radio drama. The Audible edition of ''World War Z.'' Pulp.

I've been working on a podcast for the last year and trying to learn everything i can learn about that form of storytelling., as a matter of history, so, if I'm out walking, I listen.

Though, to be fair, this started a long time ago when someone gave me an iShuffle or whatever that thing was called, that thing you wore around your neck on lanyard, and I was teaching ''Triistram Shandy'' that semester so I ordered the audiobook and then, by mistake, I listened the to the whole thing on on shuffle play. Without realizing it. Only later did I come to understand this is what Sterne wanted! In 1767!

What's the last great book you read?

''Blindness,'' by Jose Saramago. I read it for New Yorker essay I was writing on novels involving plagues. ''Achingly beautiful'' is a cliche, but it ached and it was beautiful. Since then, during what really does feel like an epidemic of blindness, it keeps haunting me, stalking me.

Are there any classics that you only recently read for the first time?

I only fairly recently read the Updike ''Rabbit'' books. Also : Dante, a few years ago for a class.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

People could  find a particular book on my shelves? I sure can never find what I'm looking for.

What is  the most Interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

There's a line in Eddie Glaude's brilliant new  book about James Baldwin where he quotes Baldwin, in an unpublished draft of an essay, talking about how the 20th century begins ''with the smashing of the  clock...............and reaches its terrifying climacteric with the smashing of the atom.''

I love that. The 20th century : the atrocities, the techno-swagger. Do people other than historians  have most and least favorite countries? I don't know. I just love how that captured what most distresses me about the 20th century : the smashing.

Have your reading tastes changed over time?

Good grief, yes. I can picture the ages of my life by the poetry I was reading, at each stage. The Adrieene Rich years! 

I suppose that, when I was younger, I read much more contemporary fiction than I do now. Then there was a long stretch where I read mainly 18th-century fiction. I suppose then 19th century fiction. 

Then there was a long decade where, like most parents, most of my reading that wasn't for work involved reading children's books. ''Nate the Great.'' I Elise Broach! Day and night. Chica-chica-boom-boom.

How do you organize your books?

People organize their books? At best, I might know which room in the house a book might be in.

Whom would you want to write your life story?

No historian can possibly wish to be the subject of biography.

The World Students Society thanks The New York Times.


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