Nell Zink’s personal journey to published author has gone down in literary folklore; plucked out and pushed to the fore by American writer Jonathan Franzen, she went from relative obscurity to one of literary fiction’s most exciting voices to emerge in recent years. Since the publication of The Wallcreeper and Mislaid, Zink has gone on to carve out a fervent fan base of her own, quite apart from Franzen’s, and now the Germany-based author is consolidating her reputation as an astute observer of modern life, its hangups and contradictions, with Nicotine, a story about Penny who, after the death of her father, falls into a life on the margins. And it’s this novel that has been chosen for the inaugural Reading in Heels book club (which you can join here). To celebrate the launch, we spoke to Zink about her life in books…

Telex from Cuba – Rachel Kushner

I recently ditched a signed, paid-for copy of Rachel Kushner’s Telex from Cuba on a U9 subway bench in Berlin, but only because she hurt my feelings at dinner and worried me by quoting at length from American Psycho. She’s a disturbingly competent storyteller.

Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

There are dozens of books I’ve read more than once. I only recently started reading throwaway contemporary fiction; most of my reading until about five years ago was classics—the sort of thing they used to assign in comparative literature courses—and science fiction. The record may still be held by Gone With the Wind, which unfortunately I read something like fourteen times around age 12, but the most worn-out book on my shelves now is a pocket edition of a story collection by Robert Walser.

Blue Flag in a Bog – Edna St. Vincent Millay

When I’m thoroughly miserable, only writing helps. For mild disgust with humanity, this helps me to read. Blue Flag in a Bog is not cheerful in the least, but it distills the bleakness to something manageable.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

When I get asked what book made me want to be a writer I think of saying Little Women, in which the tomboy Jo runs off to New York to write. But her stated intent is to become a hack novelist, which turns out unworkable and even a bit degrading, and she quits to marry Professor Baer. So Little Women might be more to blame for my failure, until very recently, to “become a writer” in the sense of making a living. I’m still wary of the taint of commerce.

Cheerios Cereal Box

My mother taught me to read when I was three, using her own text and illustrations inside blank autograph books. I think the stories were mostly about bunny rabbits. The first published work I remember reading was the front of the Cheerios box. I had to ask about the word “cereal.” I remember thinking “kuh-reeal, kuh-reeal…”

Published by 4th Estate, Nell Zink’s latest novel, Nicotine, is available to buy online here.