Off the Shelf: Peter Geye

The secret reading lives of local authors revealed

Text reads "MnSpin" beside the shape of Minnesota filled with the image of with a vinyl record.

Peter Geye, author of Northernmost, talks about Hemingway, writing his way across America, and the inseparability of reading and writing.

Peter Geye portrait - photo credit: Michael Lionstar

Part of the joy of gifting books is that you later get to share impressions of the book with the person who you gave it to.

- Peter Geye

What’s your latest book, and can you share your Twitter pitch (in 140 characters or less)?

Northernmost, which tells two stories separated by more than one hundred years and brought together again by a woman’s journey of self-discovery. There’s lots of ice and snow and you’ll spend as much time in the Arctic as you will northern Minnesota.


What book inspired you to be a writer?

Well, many books have inspired me to be a writer (especially a better writer!), but the book that set the whole thing in motion was Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. It’s true that there are many reasons Hemingway doesn’t stand the test of time, but it’s also true simply true that this book found me at an impressionable time in my life, and made an enormous impact on my life. For that I’m grateful.


How do you read – paper, e-book, audio?

Absolutely and without exception on paper. I sometimes listen to audio books when I’m in the car for long periods, but I usually end up buying the paper book, too, and rereading it as soon as I can. Often right alongside listening to it!


What book do you constantly share/gift?

I give lots of books as gifts, but it’s rarely the same book twice. Part of the joy of gifting books is that you later get to share impressions of the book with the person who you gave it to. What’s the fun in having one conversation over and over again if you could have a dozen different conversations?


Where do you write and where do you read?

I do most of my writing in my home office, which is as much a sanctuary (in our home with five kids) as it is a place to conduct my business. But I’m able to write almost anywhere and almost anytime, and if I’m traveling or vacationing, I can adapt without hesitation.

Same with reading, though my favorite place is also in my office. I have a big, soft leather chair that’s delightful to sink into with a good book. I also love to read in airports and on planes. Maybe someday we’ll all be able to travel again!


What book coming out this year are you most excited to read?

So many books to look forward to this year! Noopiming by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson looks amazing and stylistically daring. Everything Like Before by Kjell Askildson is exactly my kind of book. It’s published by Archipelago Books, which is also the American house for another of my favorite writers with a new book out this year, Hanne Orstavik’s The Pastor. I can’t wait to get my hands on Kazuo Ishiguro’s new book, Klara and the Sun. It sounds so wonderfully strange. Last one I’ll mention is Whereabouts by the inestimable Jhumpa Lahiri. She’s never written a bad word.


Name one author whose books you never miss.

Jesmyn Ward.


What are you working on now? How is it similar to/different from work you’ve done in the past?

I’ve lots of ideas in the queue, and hate talking about what I’m working on because I so often don’t know how to describe it until it’s finished. But I think it’s safe to say I’ll mostly be writing family stories for the rest of my life.


What do you want to see more of in contemporary writing?

I love books in translation. I love historical fiction. I love regional novels that hold peculiar places in high esteem. I’d take more of any of those!


Write or read? Pick one.

Well, you can’t write if you don’t read, so maybe this is an impossible question to answer? Setting aside this fact, and if I’m being honest, I’d say I derive more pleasure from writing than I do from reading. But I’d be impossibly unhappy if I couldn’t read new books.


What’s the last book you checked out from the library?

Pretty recently I checked out North Country, which I then went ahead and bought. I often do that.


Order Peter Geye’s most recent novel “Northernmost” from Magers & Quinn.

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