Well, it’s that time of March when I am totally brain-dead, so I’m going to use today to re-do a post I originally wrote last March: a copy of the New York Times “By the Book” questionnaire format. These particular questions come from the March 21 interview with Fran Lebowitz, but (much less clever and erudite) answers are, of course, my own.
What books are on your night stand now?
I just finished reading “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline yesterday, which I loved! I’m not a video game player, but I found the futuristic world and the action/adventure plot line very compelling, even though it wasn’t the best written thing I’ve read recently. I am also sloooooowly working my way through “Hidden Figures” although I’m finding it quite dense and less narrative than I expected. Finally, I’m re-reading two books I’m currently teaching, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.
What has your postelection reading looked like?
A lot of dystopia! It’s actually mostly because I am teaching an elective called Dystopia, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy, but I’ve been reading and watching more of that, to be honest.
What’s the last great book you read?
“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. My Goodreads review explains: “This is an important book for our current social and political climate, but that’s not the only reason I recommend you rush out and read it. This is also a beautifully crafted book, from Whitehead’s imagery and poetic prose, his characters, the pacing of the plot, even the very structure of the book itself. This is a work of Literature, and it deserves to be read.”
What’s the best classic novel you recently read for the first time?
I don’t know that it’s a “classic” but I read “Bodega Dreams” by Ernesto Quiñonez (which came out in 2000) last summer. It’s a retelling of “The Great Gatsby” set in Spanish Harlem, and I really enjoyed it. Quiñonez borrows liberally from Fitzgerald’s story but definitely made it his own, and I liked how he used a lot of the original language, even, to update the story in meaningful ways.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
I loved “The Books of Rachel” by Joel Gross when I was in high school. It’s an epic saga of a Jewish family across major times in world history, following the women in the family all named Rachel. As a young Jewish girl in New Hampshire, that book spoke to me.
Whose opinion on books do you most trust?
My friends, most of whom are English teachers or librarians. My students – I love discussing books with them. I like to use Goodreads to see reviews, and I’m in a couple of online book groups. I also tend to peruse the NYT and Amazon “best of” lists in December/January to see what’s popular or well-reviewed.
When do you read?
Every day during school; I’ve got reading time built into my Creative Writing class every day and in my American lit class twice a week, for 15 minutes at a time. Also, at night, when I don’t feel like watching TV or grading/planning, usually a couple of nights a week. A lot on the weekends while my toddler is napping.
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I love dystopia (which is why I’m teaching the class!) and light sci-fi/fantasy (not heavy duty epics or high fantasy or very tech-y stuff). I like stories with human substance, things that make me laugh. I’ll read just about every genre, I think, though I avoid straight-up romance (like bodice-rippers), detective novels, military stuff. And I don’t read a ton of nonfiction, though I’m trying to diversify that a bit.
How do you like to read? Paper or electronic? One book at a time or several simultaneously?
Paper! I’ve tried doing ebooks and I don’t love it. I enjoy the feel of paper, the weight of the work. And mostly I read one book at a time but right now with re-reading new books for teaching, I’m juggling.
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
I stuck through it until the end, but I HATED “The Girls” by Emma Cline. Overwrought, trying too hard, pretentious. It was super-hyped and I did not like it, and it took me forever to slog through (because I was only reading one at a time last summer) and so I wasted four weeks trying to finish it.
What do you plan to read next?
“The Inexplicable Logic of My Life” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I loved “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”, plus he spoke at my school earlier this month and he was magic. Everything he said about writing and its place in the world I just wanted to bottle up and save forever.