Do you have a guilty pleasure book?
No: I think all reading is good reading and no one should feel guilty for anything they take pleasure in reading.
What is your favorite genre? Which do you avoid?
My favorite genres are literary fiction, historical fiction, science fiction/fantasy, horror, short stories, graphic novels, and medieval mysteries. One of my undergrad majors was Spanish, so I also love Spanish and Latin American literature. Russian literature is one of my favorites, too. I do enjoy nonfiction – mostly history, comedy, memoir, and cookbooks – but prefer fiction.
I don’t actively avoid any genres, but it would be rare for me to pick up a Western or a romance.
What is a book that you’re afraid to read?
This is such a good question. I avoided reading Moby Dick in high school, both the novel and the CliffsNotes, so that one is up there. I’m also a little afraid to tackle James Joyce’s Ulysses and Robert Bolaño’s 2666 (both of which are on my bookshelf).
What is a book you dislike/hate that everyone loves? Do you remember the last time you put down a book without finishing?
I’ve only ever read the first Harry Potter book, and given J.K. Rowling’s recent public transphobia, won’t read the rest. No offense to my library colleagues who love HP, but it’s never been my thing.
I am extremely stubborn when it comes to finishing books, so it’s rare for me to put one down before finishing, even if I’m not particularly enjoying it; I’ll “hate read” it until the end. Case in point: I recently read The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox on the strength of a rave review in Slate. I wanted to like it so badly because it ticked all my boxes: arcane libraries and book history! A mysterious unburnable scroll! Fantasy and faeries and Norse mythology! I could never really get into it but finished all 600+ pages anyway because I felt like I had come too far to quit. I totally buy into the fallacy of sunk costs when it comes to finishing books.
But just yesterday I did in fact put down a short story collection by Helen Oyeyemi called What is Yours is Not Yours - not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because soon after I started it, I realized I’d already read it.
What book is currently sitting on your nightstand?
My Kindle. I usually have a few different books going on there at once, but as of this writing (early May), I am currently reading:
The Only Good Indians: A Novel / Stephen Graham Jones
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue / V.E. Schwab
The Last Day / Andrew Hunter Murray
When No One is Watching / Alyssa Cole
Something That May Shock and Discredit You / Daniel M. Lavery
The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories / Danielle Evans
What’s the last great book you read? The last book you recommended to everyone you know?
I’ve kept track of every book I’ve finished since 2018, so it’s easy to look back and figure this out! The standout books I’ve read in the last year are:
Binti / Nnedi Okorafor
Hamnet / Maggie O’Farrell
Memorial / Bryan Washington
Nickel Boys / Colson Whitehead
Mexican Gothic / Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Vanishing Half / Brit Bennett
The City We Became / N.K. Jemisin
The Mirror and the Light / Hilary Mantel
There are a few books I recommend over and over to people:
Uprooted / Naomi Novik (fantasy)
Crosstalk / Connie Willis (science fiction) - I describe this one as “rom com meets Black Mirror”
The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (science fiction)
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson (nonfiction)
I also recommend short story collections frequently, since people don’t have to invest too much time if they don’t like the writing. My favorite short story writers are Jim Shepard, Karen Russell, Hilary Mantel, N.K. Jemisin, Helen Oyeyemi, Paul Tremblay, Ted Chiang, and Joshua Ferris.
Are there any classic novels you read recently for the first time?
I love Shirley Jackson, but I am embarrassed to say I only read The Haunting of Hill House for the first time last year.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, what, where, how).
Nothing on my schedule, big mug of tea, snuggled in bed or on the chaise, and cuddling with one or more of my cats.
Do you have a favorite book no one else has heard of?
One of my favorite books I’ve reread several times is a Russian novel by Mikhail Bulgakov called The Master and Margarita, in which the Devil comes to Soviet Russia to prove that he exists (no one believes him). I think a lot of people have heard of that one, though – I made Books without Borders read it a few years ago! - so another one that I loved that didn’t get a ton of attention is The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan. There are 4 copies in the HCPL system, though. It would probably make a great Books without Borders read!
Which writers – novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets – working today do you admire most?
Margaret Atwood, Helen Oyeyemi, N.K. Jemisin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Neil Gaiman, Stacey Abrams, Ibram X. Kendi, Daniel M. Lavery.
What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?
Most recently? Probably Allie Brosh’s new book of comics, Solutions and Other Problems.
I’ve been rereading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series over the last few years and always laugh at his books. Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, is one I have reread a few times and recommend a lot: it’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I’m also reading The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor, which is very funny and often makes me laugh.
But I think the book I’ve laughed hardest at is Don Quijote. I took a semester-long class on the novel as required for my Spanish major and read it in the original Spanish. It is flat out hilarious.
What’s the most interesting thing that you learned from a book recently?
"Recent research suggests that, in terms of their DNA, fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants...” - from Mushroom: A Global History by Cynthia D. Bertelsen. I am absolutely fascinated by mushrooms and other fungi.
Runner up: the executioner who guillotined Marie Antoinette was named Henry Sanson. Six men in the Sanson family were all executioners. Henry’s father, Charles-Henri, had executed Louis XVI earlier that year, but hated it so much he left the family “business” to his sons. Here’s the dark humor/macabre fact I love about this: “The heir apparent to the Sanson dynasty had been Charles-Henri's youngest son Gabriel, but he had died in 1792 when he accidentally fell from the scaffold while displaying a severed head to the crowd.” That delicious irony is from a book titled Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days by Will Bashor (available in Overdrive), a history of what happened to her after her arrest.
Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?
It’s kind of like food: sometimes I’m in the mood for different things! But in general, I prefer books that do both. I’m usually reading to unwind or escape, but I can get bored with “fluff” reads, so the best books reach me both ways.
What book might people be surprised to find on your bookshelf?
Great question! Probably The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Healing Journeys by Dr. James Fadiman.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
My favorites are all from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld universe: Sam Vimes, Tiffany Aching, and Granny Weatherwax. My favorite antihero is Woland (the Devil) from The Master and Margarita.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you the most?
Early, voracious, and precocious. I started reading at age 4 and as I got older I read EVERYTHING, including things that were probably inappropriate for someone my age.
There are several childhood books that will always stick with me. First, we were a Shel Silverstein house, not a Dr. Seuss house, so all the poems and illustrations from Where the Sidewalk Ends are a huge part of my childhood. We also loved Miss Nelson is Missing! - my mother did an excellent Viola Swamp voice. I vividly remember grade school books like Bridge to Terabithia and Tuck Everlasting – so many big feelings to sort through with those books! My English nana would send my brother and I books, so she introduced us to The Church Mice series of picture books by Graham Oakley and later, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾, by Sue Townsend. Finally, my sixth-grade teacher gave me a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I read that over and over: I still have my (duct-taped) copy.
Have your reading tastes changed over time?
Not really! I think I’ve always read a wide variety of genres and a healthy mix of classics and contemporary work.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
I know it’s a cliché to say Shakespeare so you can see who really shows up, but... Shakespeare (I find this article that posits Shakespeare was a woman named Emilia Bassano to be very convincing). I also think it would be very fun to party with Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
What do you plan to read next?
I recently made a very serious splurge at Brazos Bookstore, so after I finish what’s on my Kindle I’m going to dig into those reads:
First Person Singular / Haruki Murakami (short stories)
Three-Martini Afternoons at the Ritz: The Rebellion of Sylvia Plath & Anne Sexton / Gail Crowther (nonfiction)
Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures / Merlin Sheldrake (nonfiction)
Dessert Person / Claire Saffitz (cookbook)
What book would you most like to see turned into a movie or TV series that hasn’t already been adapted?
I am the worst about this because I can’t stand when books I love are adapted. It’s always better in my head. So I’m going to dodge this question and say NONE because I know I would inevitably be disappointed.
What’s the last book you read that made you cry?
It’s not unusual for books to make me cry. I think the last one to do so was probably Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. The book that’s made me cry the most is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
What’s the last book you read that made you furious?
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. I believe reckoning with and addressing the white supremacist origins of our country is one of the most urgent social, economic, and political issues facing the U.S.
Where do you find your books? Where do you look when you’re searching for your next great read?
90-95% of the books I read are from the library. I browse Libby and keep a list of titles people have recommended to me on my phone. But more often I hear about books I want to read on social media, and in magazines and newspapers, and just hop over to either the library or Libby app to place holds on them. I also tend to look at literary prize winners and short lists to see what piques my interest. And I love the ‘Best of’ lists that come out towards the end of the year: I usually request a bunch and read them throughout the following year. NPR’s Book Concierge is my favorite because it has facets you can toggle to find your favorite types of books.