Recently The Millions posted a bookish-themed questionnaire to spoof on The New York Times 36-question interview that was designed to help strangers fall in love. Well. Who am I to turn up a well-designed questionnaire, especially one that gives me the chance to talk about books.
1. What was your favorite book as a child? Who can ever choose just one? I’d have to go with Anne of Green Gables because she was the first character who made me feel like I was understood, like I was okay. I can’t tell you how many times I read and re-read those first two books and watched the mini-series.
2. What’s the last really good book you read? I’ve been stuck in a rut of not-really-good books lately, so I’d have to go all the way back to Erik Larson’s Dead Wake about the final crossing of the Lusitania during the beginning of World War I. Larson’s non-fic accounts are more readable than most writers’ fictional tales: fact.
3. Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why? Fiction, far and away. Although I love a good non-fiction account, I prefer to lose myself in make-believe. I’m insatiably curious about many things that I will never get away from non-fiction for long, but when it comes to story arcs and the amount of time I’m going to spend with a book – there is so many more possibilities when you remove the boundaries of facts and rules and has-to-bes.
4. Do you finish every book that you start? If you don’t, how do you decide when to stop reading? Absolutely not. I used to be a DNFer – Do Not Finish-er – but then I realized that even if I read every free minute I had, I would never be able to even dent the pile of books I’d like to read. So I decided to free up some precious time by not wasting it on poorly written stories. Funnily enough, I also decided not to waste time on people who treated me (or others) poorly. Do not suffer fools, you guys. As far as when I know it’s time…I just know. I give a book probably about 50 pages. I don’t want to run too soon (I never would have finished Carey’s Girl with All the Gifts otherwise, and I ended up loving that story!), but I generally have a good sense about the level of writing by the time I’m that far in.
5. List your 10 favorite books in four minutes or less. Write it down because you’ll revisit it at the end. Oh god! Um… King’s Dark Tower series; Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery; It by King; Beloved by ToMo; David Bradley’s The Chaneysville Incident; Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood; The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield; and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shafer.
6. Do you reread books? Which ones? Of course! That’s half the fun – you already know what’s going to happen, so you can slow down and enjoy it. Sometimes you catch new, subtle little things you’ve missed; sometimes it’s just nice to visit old friends. Then again, it’s always maddening when the story doesn’t magically expand, and when you realize all over again that you can’t shake your characters out of the book to come play with you, no matter how much you want to make it so.
7. Do you read poetry? Why or why not? I have been on more of a poetry kick lately, especially the fiery-burny-lusty ones. But as a whole, I’m not much into poetry, for the same reasons I don’t like short stories as much as novel-length ones: I like to unpack as much as I can. I want a story chock-full of characters and adventures and the whys and whens. There are 1000+ page books that haven’t been long enough for me. Glimpses are such a tease!
8. Do you remember the first “grown-up” book you read? I started reading so early that it’s hard to decide what counts and what doesn’t. Chapter books? Books a grown-up would pick up for themselves, without agenda? Books meant for an older crowd? The Anne books were certainly advanced, but they weren’t the first. Hmm… I suppose one that sticks with me was a Sunfire romance [read: romantic and kissy-kissy with suitors but no bodice-ripping] that for some reason ended up on the 5th grade Scholastic order form. My mom let me order it when I was in 2nd grade. Even better – I still have the book and read it from time to time. It’s not the worst story. Though still maybe not for 2nd graders!
9. Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Stephen King. Joe Hill. Agatha Christie. Toni Morrison. Lots of newer, younger authors whose backlists aren’t deep enough yet for me to consider it an eyebrow-raising feat.
10. How often do you read books that are more than 100 years old? I try to read as many classics as I can. I’ve read enough that I had a hard time finding a book I hadn’t yet read for the Read Harder challenge item, “Read a book published before 1800.” (No, I still don’t know what I’m reading for that.)
11. Is there a type (or types) of book you never read? I’m super picky about fantasy and sci-fi. Most romances are ridiculous and I can’t do them. I hate Westerns.
12. How do you choose what to read? I’m a really organic reader. My TBR is vastly, wildly diverse, but what I read next really depends on what crosses my path – what books I find at the library, something from the clearance rack at my used book store, a book someone has insisted I read, a new book from a day-of-publication author… I’m trying to be more systematic and on-purpose, but it’s so hard when you’re a reader on a budget!
13. What’s more important to you: the way a book is written, or what the book is about? The three most crucial things to me are Voice, Character, and Plot. And usually – usually – in that order. The feel, the sound, the lushness and quirkiness and truth of the way the book was written is then by far more important. Voice can make me care about a “what” I normally wouldn’t think about. I could be reading about something I would normally be all over, but if I’m not feeling it, there’s no way I’m going to get through a book.
14. What author, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with? Stephen King. I’d say there
might be are could maybe, possibly be Misery-esque type plans all mapped out in a hidey-hole in the back of my brain, but that might get me pre-meditation if they were ever executed. So I won’t. Toni Morrison is also high, high, high up on this list. And maybe Stephen Fry to balance it out. Three very different writers, all completely and utterly fascinating to me.
15. If you could hang out with a literary character for the day, who would it be? All of them. I’d need to hang out with all of them all at once. I can’t pick just one!
16. If you could be a literary character, who would it be? GOD, with the hard questions! Probably the version of Miss Havisham from Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde. More than slightly mad, in all the best ways. Knowledge of the bookish world, able to hang out with nearly anyone literary, and a sneaky spy who jumps out of planes. Me to a T, right?!
17. Have you ever written a fan letter to an author? I chat with several via social media, but never in a SQUEEE! I LOVE YOU, JOEY MCINTYRE! kind of way. It’s never been like that. (Um…ignore the references to my Misery-esque type plans, wouldja?)
18. Is there any book that, if I professed to love it, you would be turned off? Is there any book that would impress you in particular? Not gonna lie – if you love Ayn Rand, I’m going to judge a little. I mean, I’ll hear ya out, but it’ll be an uphill battle to convince me your fight is for right. Want to impress me? Toni Morrison. Junot Diaz. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. I mean, mentioning Stephen King – okay, not just mentioning but being able to thoroughly discuss – will make me smile and earn you points, but mention someone a little less mainstream. Someone you need to read on purpose.
19. Is there a book you feel embarrassed about liking? Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I shouldn’t feel embarrassed, but I do. It helped me through my divorce; it had meaning and weight during a very specific point in my life. But it’s earned a rep as a wishy-washy self-help book for whiny upper-class first-world white girls. So, um…yeah.
20. Are there books you feel proud of liking or having finished? Ayn Rand. Les Mis. I’ve read most of Shakespeare. Tristam Shandy. Generally anything most people haven’t read. Or things you don’t think I would have read. I like challenges – because I smote them. Mwa ha.
21. Have you ever lied about having read a book? In a pinch, but I’ve found that generally bites you in the booty, so I try not to.
22. Do you keep track of the books you read? Obsessively. Me and organization and books? Are you kidding?! I track them on Goodreads, a Google spreadsheet, and a journal. We can’t risk losing twelve years of data, now, can we?
23. How do you form opinions about what you read? I constantly think about what I’ve read, how it relates to the world, reshifting thoughts and opinions as I read new books and relationships change – everything is always shifting, isn’t it? I talk about what I read with everyone around me – friends, fellow readers, social media groups. I research what I’ve read and compare reviews. All the while, turning it over and over and over in my brain. It’s one of the best parts about reading, honestly.
24. What authors do you think are overrated? Underrated? JFranz is by far over-rated. He can write – The Corrections was incredibly crafted – but I don’t think he should be knighted the way media (and his own self) have done. He is not the best of all modern times. Sheesh.
25. Do you ever read self-help books? Very, very occasionally, and usually if I’m performing a very specific kind of research. Like when I was trying to save my marriage. Or process my divorce. Or learn about blended families. I’m generally not a fan.
26. What’s a book that shocked you? Is it odd that nothing comes to mind, or does it say more about the magnificence of my imagination and elasticity of make-believe when I’m reading? Books are more likely to infuriate me than shock me.
27. If you could force every person you know to read one book, what would it be? Stephen King’s Dark Tower.
28. What book would you recommend to me in particular? This kind of needs a specific interviewer, doesn’t it? Go ahead and ask me, though, and I’ll give you an answer. I love picking books for readers!
29. What books/authors have you been meaning to read for years? Why haven’t you read them yet? David Foster Wallace. He scares the shit out of me.
30. What kind of book do you consider “a guilty pleasure?” Stephen King is good comfort reading. Gratuitous YA. The few romances. The Outlander series. Cheap thrillers and crime procedurals. Mysteries. Re-reads. None of them are “wrong” to read – they’re just not as purpose-ful as other reading could be.
31. Has a book ever changed your mind about something? All the time. My mind is constantly changing, even if the swing isn’t as great as the question seems to imply.
32. If you were terminally ill, what book or books would you read? Uh…the same ones I read now? Although I would hope nothing depressing.
33. Do you have any passages of poetry or prose committed to memory? Can you recite something to me? I can recite passages and quotes of all sorts. I know T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Wastelands and a lot of Emily Dickinson the best.
34. If you could change anything about the way you read, what would it be? I would be able to read more purposefully, more diversely, if I had an unlimited book budget.
35. Was there any time in your life when you felt as if a book guided you in a profound way? Very, very much so.
36. Return to the list you made at the beginning. What titles, if any, would you change after our conversation? Ha! I wondered why I would need the list. Nothing changes after this particular conversation, but my list changes constantly the more I read.
Okay, dear readers. Your turn. What are your answers? And which of mine surprised you (or not) the most?