A neuroscientist who favors familiar places

Tali Sharot said when she finds an author she likes, she reads everything she can find. Tali Sharot said when she finds an author she likes, she reads everything she can find. (Michael Lionstar)
By Amy Sutherland
Globe Correspondent / June 19, 2011

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In her new book, “The Optimism Bias,” scientist Tali Sharot explores the human urge to believe things will work out, even when all signs point otherwise. Sharot has a PhD in psychology and neuroscience from New York University and is a research fellow at University College in London, where she lives. She reads at Brookline Booksmith this Wednesday at 7 p.m.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading “The Easter Parade” by Richard Yates. I’m drawn, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, to books that explore the human condition or psyche. He does it very well.

What else draws you to a book?

I’m mostly drawn to fiction in this century and mostly to places I know. It’s not very imaginative of me. I like this book because it takes place in New York, where I’ve lived.

Other familiar cities that you like to read about?

I’m from Israel. I do read some novels by Israeli writers, probably not as much as I like because it’s not as easy to get my hands on.

Do you have a favorite Israeli writer?

I have to say no. I don’t read enough Hebrew. As a kid I read mostly in English as well. That was one way I kept up with the language. At school I was taught in Hebrew. At home it was half English and half Hebrew because my father is English.

Do you have a time in your life when you read the most?

When I was writing “The Optimism Bias,” during those two years I read any popular science or psychology or social science that I could get my hands on. “Connected” by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler was an interesting one. It looks at how your social network affects you in ways you wouldn’t think about. For example, if a friend of a friend gains weight, you’re more likely to gain weight even if you don’t know that person.

What are your reading habits?

Late in the evening, when I’m traveling or if I’m on the beach, which doesn’t happen often enough. My family in Israel lives seven minutes from the beach, so I try to visit a few times a year.

What’s up next?

I’m going to try “Revolutionary Road” because I’m liking “Easter Parade.”

Do you tend to stick with an author?

Yeah, until I get fed up, I read everything I can find.

Who are other authors you’ve done that with?

Paul Auster in my early 20s. And Evelyn Waugh. My favorite was “Brideshead Revisited.” For Paul Auster, “Moon Palace.”

Do you reread books?

Yeah. “The Buddha in Suburbia” I’ve read a few times by the Indian writer, forget his name. I should remember it. I went to see his reading in London a few months ago. Hanif Kureishi.

What was he like?

He wasn’t what I expected. He seems like anyone else, but you kind of expect him to be different.

When or where have you read the most?

In high school we used to guard the school. It was hours sitting at the gate. That’s one place where I read quite a bit. The other place was in the Israeli army. Some of the duties involved again sitting and waiting. In those instances I’d usually read.

What did you read?

I read Freud’s [case study of his patient] “Dora.” I probably didn’t understand most of it, but I tried.

What do you read for a sheer pleasure?

Most of it is sheer pleasure. Even if I chose a novel that talks about some kind of mental illness, it is for pleasure. If I’m not engaged, I just stop. I have a lot popular psychology books that I started and didn’t finish but don’t ask me to name which ones.

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