Announcing our Top 20 Books of 2022

Marisha Pessl biography

Author Biography  | Interview  | Books by this Author  | Readalikes

Marisha Pessl

Marisha Pessl

Marisha Pessl Biography

Marisha Pessl, the author of Special Topics in Calamity Physics was born on October 26, 1977 in Clarkston, Michigan.  Her mother, Anne, a schoolteacher, was raised in Brazil and Venezuela, and her Austrian father was a mechanical engineer for General Motors.  Her parents divorced when she was three and she and her sister, Elke (named after Elke Sommer) were brought up by her mother, visiting her father in Austria once or twice a year.  When she was three her family moved to Asheville in Western North Carolina.  According to her publisher's bio, as a middle and high school student she had "more extracurricular activities than Imelda Marcos had shoes", including horseback riding, ballet, tap-dancing and jazz lessons, community theater, drawing and painting classes, music and voice lessons, and tutors for Math and French - despite all of this enrichment "she really just wished she were cheerleading". 

For 17 years, her mother read aloud to Marisha and Elke every night before bed, covering "a fair chunk of the Western canon".   On leaving school she studied film production at Northwestern University in Chicago, before transferring to Barnard College at Columbia University as a Junior, from where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English Literature and a minor in playwriting.

In 2001 she started to write in her free time while continuing her day job as a financial consultant in the Mergers & Acquisitions group of Price Waterhouse Coopers.  Then her boyfriend (who she married in 2003) moved to London, and she went too, which gave her the opportunity to write full-time  She created spreadsheets for her characters, carefully laying out the clues and refusing to show the manuscript to anyone (she says that she hates criticism).  She finished in 2004 and sent a letter to Jonathan Franzen's agent, Susan Golomb, writing "It is a first novel unlike any you will read this year .... a funny, encyclopedic and wildly ambitious literary tale about love and loss, youth and yearning, treachery and terror."  Susan Golomb was convinced, and not long after sold the rights for "6-figures" (the exact sum Pessl correctly refuses to name) at auction.

She and her husband lived in a loft in the Tribeca area of New York. When asked why she chose to write a mystery she replies, "I love the circuitous routes a character has to take to find the truth, and surprise endings."

Marisha Pessl's website

This bio was last updated on 05/30/2016. In a perfect world, we would like to keep all of BookBrowse's biographies up to date, but with many thousands of lives to keep track of it's simply impossible to do. So, if the date of this bio is not recent, you may wish to do an internet search for a more current source, such as the author's website or social media presence. If you are the author or publisher and would like us to update this biography, send the complete text and we will replace the old with the new.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Interview

Marisha Pessl discusses her first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which is structured around the syllabus of a Great Works of Literature class, and what inspired her to write it.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is your first novel. What was the inspiration for this very original story? How and when did you begin writing it?
I began the book when I was twenty-four and, until I moved to London, lived something of a double life working as a financial consultant during the day and writing at night, sometimes all night. Given my tendency to fall asleep at my desk, my dazed and often nonsensical answers to my boss’s questions, I do think my coworkers suspected I was up to something—but were too afraid to ask what it was!

In terms of a germinating idea, I began with character—Blue’s voice first, then Gareth, the dynamic of father and daughter. Where I grew up in North Carolina, many children were home schooled, and I always found that so unusual and mysterious: what it would be like to have your parent quite literally your teacher, how powerful yet isolating it might be. On one hand, to have a gifted, multilingual professor tutoring you privately every day would be tremendous; intellectually you’d be leaps and bounds ahead of the other students. And yet you’d miss out on that very American, Sixteen Candles schooling: the cliques, the cheerleaders, the plays, the P.E., Friday...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Marisha Pessl at BookBrowse
Neverworld Wake jacket Night Film jacket Special Topics in Calamity Physics jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Marisha Pessl but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Margaret Atwood

    Margaret Atwood

    Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, and grew up in northern Ontario and Quebec, and in Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Night Film

    Try:
    Stone Mattress
    by Margaret Atwood

  • Ava Barry

    Ava Barry

    Ava Barry was a script reader for Bold Films and Intrigue Entertainment, and an editorial assistant for Zoetrope: All-Story, Francis Ford Coppola's literary magazine. Windhall is her first novel. She lives in Australia. (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Night Film

    Try:
    Windhall
    by Ava Barry

We recommend 33 similar authors

View all 33 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    Bewilderment
    by Richard Powers
    In 2019, Richard Powers won the Pulitzer Prize for The Overstory, a sprawling novel whose characters...
  • Book Jacket: I'm the Girl
    I'm the Girl
    by Courtney Summers
    YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest...
  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Izquierdo
    by Rubén Degollado

    A masterful debut that weaves together the lives of three generations of a Mexican American family bound by love, and a curse.

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.
Who Said...

It is always darkest just before the day dawneth

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.