A Life of Books: Anna Hogeland, author of The Long Answer

Anna Hogeland may be the only literary fiction debut author of 2022 with an MSW and and MFA. She has a private practice as a psychotherapist in addition to writing The Long Answer. Her debut is a heartbreaking mediation on grief, friendship, and pregnancy with a nuanced understanding. She tackles heavy issues with careful thought and precision. It’s a memorable story that provides a voice to one often overlooked and misunderstood in media.

Debutiful asked Hogeland to answer our recurring A Life of Books questionnaire so readers can get to know her better.

Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?

The one that had the most impact on me was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It was the first novel I remember feeling really absorbed by, and I read it many times; the content felt so adult to me, there was sex and alcoholism and an honesty about love and life I hadn’t felt in children’s literature. And, of course, I strongly identified with Francie’s desire to become a writer.

Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?

I strongly believe children should be encouraged to read whatever draws their attention, no matter the content. That’s not to say some books shouldn’t be read with discussion and context from adults in their lives, but the more ideas and words children are exposed to, the more intelligent and informed they become. When my teachers discouraged me from reading books that were “too old” for me, I just wanted to read them even more. I give my parents a lot of credit for not censoring what I read as a child. My two-year-old daughter is already a very curious reader–or at least is interested in the covers–and I’ll read aloud whatever she brings to me from the bookshelf. Lately she’s been loving the cover of Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill, because she thinks it looks like “Mama doing yoga.”

Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?

I was a terrible English student in high school! I honestly don’t remember finishing any book in its entirety; I could only love books I found on my own. My English teachers would be shocked to learn I became a writer. I do remember being assigned The Odyssey and just reading the summary online; I finally read it for the first time a few years ago and loved it. 

What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?

I loved this book called The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons when I was a young teen, a story of forbidden love set in 1941 Leningrad. I opened it up recently, and it read more like YA than the engrossing epic I remembered. I didn’t want to read it again all the way through, I loved the memory of it so much! 

Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?

So many! I will try to list just a few. I am always turning to Alice Munro, Elena Ferrante, and Virginia Woolf for anything I write. I was also inspired by autofiction books in which the narrator-persona is not the central character, books like The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, the Outline trilogy by Rachel Cusk, and more experimental novels like Thomas Bernhard’s body of work and Eleanor, or, the Rejection of the Progress of Love by Anna Moschovakis. The architecture of my book was most directly influenced by the beautiful novel The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald. 

What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?

I reread the Neopolitian quartet by Elena Ferrnate while writing The Long Answer, and I was totally swept away, somehow as much as I was on my first read. I thought, my books will never have the effect on readers that hers just had on me, and that’s okay!

What have you been reading / do you plan to read during your debut book tour?

I haven’t had much childcare lately so I’ve been unable to find the time or attention to read or write, which has been really difficult. As a serviceable substitute for now, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts, anything from “This Jungian Life” to “Unruffled,” a parenting guidance show hosted by Janet Lansbury. I’ve also been revisiting some theory, mostly Emerson and Winnicott and Melanie Klein, which has been a delight.

And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words!

novel – with images!

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