Booking Through Thursday: Interview Me!

:: When you re-read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before ::

  1. What’s your favorite time of day to read? I can’t say that I have one. I read when I have the opportunity.
  2. Do you read during breakfast? (Assuming you eat breakfast.) I don’t really eat breakfast, but I do read on the bus in the morning on the way to work. If I am eating alone in a restaurant, I will read.
  3. What’s your favorite breakfast food? (Noting that breakfast foods can be eaten any time of day.) I guess it would be bacon. Love good bacon.
  4. How many hours a day would you say you read? If I am really into a book, I might read it all day, but on average, I’d say one to two hours.
  5. Do you read more or less now than you did, say, 10 years ago? Much more. I know there’s no way I read anything close to 50 books in 2001, for instance.
  6. Do you consider yourself a speed reader? Not really. I have learned to read faster than I used to, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a speed reader at all.
  7. If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I would like to fly. I think flying would be so cool. First, it cuts down on travel time because you aren’t bound by roads. Second, you’re flying.
  8. Do you carry a book with you everywhere you go? Only if I suspect I will have time to read. I bring one back and forth to work so I can read on the bus. I always bring one if I think I’m going to wait, but I don’t bring one to, say, the grocery store.
  9. What KIND of book? Whatever I’m reading at the time. Lately it’s been my Kindle.
  10. How old were you when you got your first library card? I honestly don’t know. I think maybe second or third grade, but I couldn’t say for sure.
  11. What’s the oldest book you have in your collection? (Oldest physical copy? Longest in the collection? Oldest copyright?) Another one I have no idea about. I do have a dinosaur book that I have owned since I was in second or third grade. That’s probably the longest in the collection. I am not really a book collector.
  12. Do you read in bed? Pretty much every night.
  13. Do you write in your books? Sometimes. Depends on the book. I highlight notes in my Kindle a lot. I only rarely write in paper novels, but I almost always write in professional (education) books I read.
  14. If you had one piece of advice to a new reader, what would it be? Read what you like. Don’t worry that other people don’t like it or think it’s not “good” literature. It’s more important to find enjoyment in reading than to allow someone’s opinion of what you read turn you off all the good books you could be enjoying. At the same time, be open to reading books you might not think you’re necessarily interested in. You might find you like them.
  15. What question have I NOT asked at BTT that you’d love me to ask? (Actually, leave the answer to this one in the comments on this post, huh? So I can find them when I need inspiration!) I have had a blog post in the hopper for some time about literary crushes, but I haven’t ever finished it. Maybe I would if it were an official BTT prompt.

photo credit: » Zitona «

Mary Novik

Mary Novik: Author Interview

Mary Novik
Photo © Janet Baxter

I recently connected with writer Mary Novik, author of the novel Conceit, on Twitter, and she graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me.

I noticed that the story of John Donne’s vision of Ann with a dead child appeared in the book. I tell this story to my students when we study “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.” What is one thing you wish your own English teacher had taught you about John Donne?

I would have loved to have known that, as a young man, John Donne sowed his wild oats with great abandon. Instead, my English instructors presented Donne as a devout husband and as a writer of holy sonnets. Sure, many of his best poems fall into those categories, but he also wrote seduction poems to women other than his wife, Ann. Knowing he was a bit of a lad rounds him out and makes him more intriguing. Although I’d admired his more sedate poems for years, it wasn’t until I discovered one of his racy elegies that I decided to write Conceit.

You have said you chose Pegge Donne because so little was known about her, so she aroused your curiosity. What do we know about her aside from Donne’s mention that she had the pox? For instance, were you able to find records for her family, such as the names of her children and grandchildren (the name Duodecimus kills me!)?

Donne only mentions his daughter Margaret in two letters, one about her baptism and one in which he announces “Pegge has the pox”. That was one of the triggering facts for Conceit. Smallpox could cause hair loss, scarring, and even death. My imagination ran riot. How would a fifteen-year-old in love with a family friend, the fisherman Izaak Walton, react to her hair falling out? Pegge’s personality began to take shape around this dramatic episode. Church and court documents only tell us the bare minimum about Pegge: her marriage, names of her children, her death. Duodecimus (which means “twelve”) was the real name she gave her youngest son. From that odd fact I came up with the idea that she was eccentric like her father and had twelve children like her mother. Did she identify with her mother? Did she read her father’s love poems? On it went, fact mingling with fiction, until I had my own Pegge, the main character of Conceit.

I enjoyed meeting up with the likes of Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren in the novel. Some people might consider it coincidental, but I felt it showed the connectedness of humanity. In some ways, this book seemed to be about the ways in which we are all connected to one another and are important to one another—and it reminded me of Donne’s Meditation XVII in which he says, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.” I was wondering if you could discuss the influence of this work of Donne’s on the novel.

Meditation XVII is so powerful that people often think it’s poetry, but it’s actually one of the twenty-three prose meditations in Devotions, which Donne wrote when ill and in a spiritual crisis. He was an amazing prose stylist. Today we think of priests as rather stuffy, but Donne’s sermons (like “Death’s Duel”) have wild, obsessive imagery. I was very influenced by Donne’s writing when I was working on Conceit. It’s been called a woman’s novel but, looking at it now, I would agree it’s also a meditation about humanity and evolving personal relationships in the 17th century. Although most marriages are arranged, John Donne and Ann More are so feverishly in love they elope, sacrificing their worldly status. Later, Donne arranges safe marriages for his daughters, but Pegge’s turns out differently than expected. In Conceit, this dance between men and women is often narrated by men. Two of my favourite chapters are “Virtuoso,” in which Pepys aches with pity for his wife, and “Unbuttoning,” in which William struggles to understand Pegge and the mysteries of human love.

One of the things I admired about this book was the way you brought life in the seventeenth century into vivid relief. Many historical novels throw in a few trenchers, some stays, and an archaic word here and there, but otherwise have people walk and talk like we do. I didn’t forget for a moment that I was reading historical fiction because I felt immersed in another time. It also occurred to me that it must be difficult to capture another time period and yet still help the modern reader along. How do you think writing historical fiction like Conceit is different from other kinds of fiction?

When I was writing Conceit, I was totally immersed in the characters. I’ve visited London many times, but if Pegge is walking along a street, I try to show it through her eyes not mine. What has changed since she was last here? Where is she going, and why? I don’t want to gawk like a tourist at things Pegge won’t notice. Too much description of, say, the lack of hygiene will kick the modern reader out of the story. I want the reader to smell, hear, and taste as my character does. An example is the scene in which Pegge runs along Fleet street and counts the taverns she passes. I used the names of taverns that actually existed, but she’s just a kid, counting them off because she’s racing home, her gown flying, to hide in her bedchamber before her father discovers she’s been out late at night.

Do you have any advice for writers?

Start with something short, like stories! Send the stories out to periodicals. Take workshops. Form a writers’ group. If you decide you absolutely have to write a novel, be prepared to throw everything at it, time, money, energy, for about five years. Do it only if you absolutely must. Don’t rush. Don’t try to figure out everything in advance or take the most straightforward path. And don’t just tell the story: let your characters talk to one another and reveal it for you. When that happens, you’ll know they have come alive on the page, full of passion and surprise. That’s the most glorious feeling.

Thank you very much, Mary!

You can read my review of Conceit here. You can follow Mary Novik on Twitter, and be sure to check out her website.

Interview with Jenny from Take Me Away

Happy Book Bloggers’ Appreciation Week! I will catch up with the festivities soon, I promise. Meanwhile, I interviewed Jenny who blogs at Take Me Away as part of the BBAW book bloggers’ interview swap, and I’m so happy to have found a new blog to read! My questions and her answers appear below.

  1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
  2. I live in Central Florida with my husband and dog. I work as a social worker and am also doing an internship as a mental health therapist, so I’m pretty busy! And I love to reading and blogging. That’s pretty much it!

  3. How did you choose the title for your blog?
  4. I wanted a name that was somewhat unique and that described what books were for me. I called it Take Me Away because that’s what I feel books do… whether it’s that I’m “literally” being taken away to another state, country, etc. or just that I’m being “taken away” from real life, stress, etc. In that sense, reading is an escape for me!

  5. What made you decide to start a book blog?
  6. A few years ago I joined and started playing in the games forum. It was fun getting to “meet” so many other readers. There were a couple people on there who had book blogs and that was when I first learned of them. I thought it sounded like fun to write about the books we read. Plus, I tend to forget about books shortly after reading them, even if I love them (LOL), so I thought blogging would be a good way to document my thoughts that I can look back on and remember.

  7. I see you have participated in several reading challenges this year, including the Brontë one I did as well. Can you talk about which one is your favorite and why? Why do you do reading challenges? What do you like about them?
  8. This is sort of a funny question for me…. see, I join challenges with the caveat that they will not stress me out—they’re more something I strive for. So it’s almost like the challenge is there and I join them but then don’t think much about them. In reality, I don’t ever choose books to read for challenges… it’s more like I read whatever and when that challenge ends I figure out how much of what I read fits in that category; though I’ll admit it is fun when I know a book I’m reading will meet the requirements for a challenge. If I had to pick a favorite I would say either of the “imprints” challenges like the Amy Einhorn one or the Reagan Arthur one… I think the ones that have the most eclectic choice of books to choose from are my favorites. Or the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die one because I feel like I’m reading some good, important books!

  9. Do you set a rhythm or schedule for updates? If so, what?
  10. On a regular/good week I was aiming for 2-3 book reviews. I’ll substitute some type of bookish topic for a review if I have something to say. But lately my reading slowed down considerably (August was a rough reading month) so my posts were much more sporadic. I’m just now starting a new feature where on Fridays I am posting a review of a short story from an anthology of short stories that appeared in The New Yorker. So I think I will aim for 1-2 book reviews/posts other than that each week. And I pretty much try to separate all my posts by 2 or 3 days. I currently have 5 book reviews ready to go whenever I want to post them, but this is by far the most I’ve ever had prepared at once!! Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up though.

  11. What is your favorite genre to read and why?
  12. I am truly an eclectic reader. I have favorite genres but even with those I feel like I have to make a departure from them every once in a while. I really enjoy women’s fiction, contemporary fiction of all types, literary fiction, and mystery/thrillers. Even with mystery/thrillers, though, I prefer the ones that are more literary in nature. I really like reading books that make me think about an issue and/or that can lead to interesting conversations. But then I also like fun, fluffy books every once in a while too!

  13. Do you have a favorite book? Or a shortlist of favorite books? If so, what is it/are they and why?
  14. Ahhh, my favorite books change all the time! Currently, I say my favorite is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. For a long time Wuthering Heights was my favorite. Strangely, one of my favorite books is Daughter of the Forest (the first in the Sevenwaters trilogy). I say strangely because I typically am not a fan of that genre! But I’ve read that one 3 or 4 times. I really loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Shanghai Girls both by Lisa See. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb was absolutely fantastic and I considered it a favorite too but I’ve only read it once and haven’t had a chance to read it again to confirm it’s still a favorite. Some of my favorite “fluffier” books are Jemima J by Jane Green and Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. I know there are so many other great books out there, though, that will become a favorite that I just haven’t had a chance to read yet!

  15. Do you use book blog reviews when trying to decide whether or not to read a book? What about Goodreads, Amazon, or the like?
  16. Yes and no. If I see a book in the store that looks good and I haven’t heard about it before, I may buy it without looking into reviews. But definitely when I do read reviews for books I can be swayed into buying/reading a book as well as talked out of it. I sometimes use the user reviews at, but for reviews I usually refer to book blogs.

  17. Can you talk about Throwback Thursday, the book meme you created?
  18. I created Throwback Thursday because most book blogs tend to focus on newer books and/or books that are only just now being ready by the blogger. But most of us have been readers for years and have extensive lists (physically or not) of books we have read in the past that still deserve recognition! I used to do the meme weekly but after a while had difficulty keeping up so now I have it on a mainly monthly schedule. I love talking about and remembering older books that I’ve read though!

  19. Who is the coolest author you ever met?
  20. Hmmm, coolest author…. I went to a luncheon/reading once for Jodi Picoult. There were so many people that even when having books signed we couldn’t really talk, but she sounded really intelligent when she gave her speech at the luncheon and was really nice. I met Kristy Kiernan at a local signing and she was sooooo incredibly nice and personable. I really liked her a lot. I can’t remember if there are many other authors that I’ve really had much of a conversation with (ahh hope I’m not leaving anyone out!!) I think Lauren Oliver is an awesome person based on her blog, and I have met her (at BEA), but my interaction with her was very short.

  21. Who are your favorite book bloggers?
  22. Oh, another very difficult question because I have so many! Jennifer with Crazy-For-Books who I consider a good blogging friend of mine… Michelle at Red Headed Book Child as well. The New Dork Review of Books is one of my favorites, as is The Five Borough Book Review. Those are seriously just a handful though because I have a loooong list of favorite bloggers! (I’m new to your blog but I’m really loving it too!) =)

Thanks Jenny for letting me interview you and for the opportunity to learn more about you! You can read Jenny’s interview of me at her blog.

Booking Through Thursday on a Saturday

Maybe once I get back into the swing of things at school—this was our first week back—I’ll abide by the posting schedule I set for myself. What I don’t want to do is let my blogs go weeks or even a month or more with no posts, like I have done in the past. I didn’t get my Booking Through Thursday post up on Thursday, and indeed, I didn’t even look at the prompt until today, but it is one that I liked and want to answer even if I’m late.

1. Favorite childhood book?
Rascal by Sterling North. I really wanted a raccoon.

2. What are you reading right now?
The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (DailyLit), and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None right now. I kind of owe them some overdue book fees, and I have been avoiding them until I can get myself together enough to pay.

4. Bad book habit?
Hmm… maybe that I don’t use the library as much as I should and wind up spending too much money on books. To my credit, I do try to save up for when I receive my Amazon Associate payments.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Well, I don’t have anything checked out, but my kids have their own cards, and none of them owe the library money, so I took Maggie to the library and we checked out a bunch of books about the Salem witch trials as well as some books about art for Dylan and some Junie B. Jones books and Amber Brown is Not a Crayon by Paula Danziger.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
Yes, I love my Kindle very much.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I usually have three going at once: one on DailyLit and two others so I can pick between them based on which one I feel like reading. I don’t know if I could juggle more than that.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Yes. I know I read more because I’m conscious of wanting to update with my reviews. In terms of what I read, probably not a lot except that sometimes I will choose a book because of other book bloggers’ reviews when I might not otherwise have heard of the book or been interested in it. I also never used to read more than one book at at time.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer or perhaps Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. No, Charity Girl.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Hard to pick, but I loved A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Help by Kathryn Stockton, and The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Not often. Someone on Goodreads said to me that I “have an amazing ability to choose to read books that you’ll love.” I am pretty sure it was a dig because I often rate books 4 or 5 stars. I just don’t pick too many books that I wind up feeling like I was sort of ambivalent about or don’t enjoy very often. Sometimes I do, but for the most part, my gut tells me I will either like it or not, and I’m right about it a lot of the time. So I tend to stick with what I like.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Now there’s the rub. My comfort zone is pretty darned big. I like lots of genres. I like classics, contemporary fiction, fantasy (sometimes), nonfiction, poetry, literary fiction, children’s and YA, and historical fiction. I don’t tend to like mysteries as much, and I’m not sure why. I love Sherlock Holmes stories. I just don’t think to read them. I might actually like them more if I tried them. I don’t really go in for sci-fi much, though I am a huge Star Trek and Star Wars fan, so you’d think I would. I don’t really like some kinds of fantasy. I have discovered over time I have to be careful what I select in that genre. I don’t care for romance novels. I have tried those in the past, and I think writers like Nora Roberts are better than some others in that genre, but I am not crazy about them in general.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Yes. It doesn’t bother me to read on the bus. I do have more trouble reading in the car.

14. Favorite place to read?
At home in bed. I like to curl up.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I lend books. Sometimes they don’t come home again, but most of the time they do. I prefer to share and expose people to a good book than worry about not getting books back.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Never! That’s awful!

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
Yes, if they’re professional reading or textbooks. Not really novels. However, I do annotate and highlight books on my Kindle because it doesn’t feel like I’m ruining them.

18.  Not even with text books?
I actually mark up professional reading books more. I especially like it when they have wide margins so I can write in them. I wrote all over Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
I can only read in one language, so I’m going to have to say English.

20. What makes you love a book?
Characters that are so real and so well-developed and so likable that I wish I knew them in real life.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
Great characters, great language, thinking that the person would enjoy it.

22. Favorite genre?
Hard to pick. I’m not sure I really have one, but maybe historical fiction.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
I should probably give mysteries more of a go.

Favorite biography?
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
Oh, I forgot this was a genre when I was answering the questions earlier. I have read one. Do I read them regularly? No.

26. Favorite cookbook?
The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book: Celebrating the Promise Limited Edition (proceeds go to breast cancer research and familiar check cover is pink and white instead of red and white). I love everything about it: the ring binding, which makes it stay open when I’m cooking; the great recipes for buttermilk-brined fried chicken, pepper-lime chicken, French onion soup, and so many others; the help sections.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
The Help.

28. Favorite reading snack?

Anything! Chips, popcorn, fruit, whatever. I’m not picky.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
Hmm… the only thing I can think of that comes close to answering the question is The Da Vinci Code or perhaps The Rule of Four. I certainly turned the pages with The Da Vinci Code, but it got so much press, and it ultimately wasn’t that well written, and then I discovered how shoddy the research upon which Dan Brown based his book was (Holy Blood, Holy Grail), and it became kind of a frustration of mine that the book remained so popular. I never touched another of his books despite the fact that the students are continually recommending Angels and Demons to me. With The Rule of Four, it was more like the book got attention for being like The Da Vinci Code and then when I read it, I was really disappointed. I felt the authors’ youth showed, and ultimately, it just didn’t do anything for me.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I actually don’t read a lot of critics, so I’m not sure. I would tend to say that I probably don’t agree with them a whole lot because I tend to give way too many good reviews.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I have mixed feelings. For instance, if someone recommended a book, and I didn’t like it, I feel bad. That’s how I felt after The Meaning of Night and Charity Girl. Because I like the people who recommended it, I really want to like the book. If I don’t have that sort of emotional investment, however, I don’t feel bothered at all.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
I think I would like to read in Hebrew because there is so much of it around my school, and it would be nice to know what some of it says. Sometimes I can pick out enough French or Spanish to get by, but not Hebrew.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Well, just because of when I read it, it was Gone with the Wind. I read it in 7th grade. It was my first grown up book. It was intimidating at over 1,000 pages in paperback. I’d never read anything that long. It took me two weeks at a time when other books usually took a couple of days. It was also two weeks of reading whenever I could: at school waiting for class to start, at lunch, at home, in bed, on the school bus, etc. I was really proud when I finished because it was so long and it was considered an adult book.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
It’s going to have to be something like War and Peace or Proust. I’ll probably never read books like that. Although, I did read Moby Dick, and I was nervous about that one.

35. Favorite Poet?
Percy Bysshe Shelley.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Depends on whether I owe them money. I try to limit myself to one or two because I often need more time than typical checkouts and sometimes even renewals give me to read. I feel too much pressure.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
I can’t say the exact number, but I am sure I’ve done it.

38. Favorite fictional character?
Severus Snape. Although I love Una Spenser from Ahab’s Wife a great deal.

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Darth Vader, though he’s not really from books. The best villain in books is probably Bellatrix Lestrange. I did name my cat after her. She’s more interesting to me than Voldemort, who is kind of one-dimensional.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
I brought my Kindle so I didn’t have to narrow anything down last time. Light fare that I don’t have to concentrate on too much.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
Can’t be more than a few weeks because it makes me go crazy.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
John Berendt’s book about Venice: The City of Falling Angels. I loved Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I’ve read that one a couple of times at least. I just couldn’t get interested in City of Falling Angels.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
My kids and my husband. The television.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Hmm. Even though I do have my problems with them, the Harry Potter films.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Their Eyes Were Watching God. I think the acting was fine, but they made some pretty unnecessary changes. Why, for instance, did they need to underscore the title so much by having Janie say it so often? She never says it in the book. It comes in when the hurricane hits and the narrator says it. Also, Halle Berry, who is gorgeous I love her, was not Janie. Michael Ealy was, however, Tea Cake. The book is just so lyrical and beautiful, and you can’t capture that kind of beauty or lyricism on film all the time. Although I felt like Brokeback Mountain did, so it’s possible. I don’t know why they couldn’t do it better justice, but they didn’t.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
Oh, I’m sure it was insane, but probably not more than about $100.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
I do that sometimes, but not a lot.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Half-way is pretty far for me to go and stop. It would have to be pretty bad. I can’t think of anything. I’d probably plow through at half-way.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Ha ha! Organized? They’re stuffed willy nilly on shelves in no order at all. On my Kindle, however, they’re in nice, neat folders.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
Keep them. I don’t know why. I don’t re-read too many of them.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Maybe the Stieg Larsson books because I’m just not sure I’d like them.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
Memnoch the Devil when Lestat drank blood from Jesus’s neck. I have a high tolerance for sacrilege, but I actually threw that book against the wall, sulked for a while, picked it up, and finished it, and really, really hated it. I gave her a couple of chances after that—read Merrick, tried to read but didn’t finish Blackwood Farm or Blood and Gold, but honestly didn’t really like a book after The Tale of the Body Thief, so I’ve given up on Anne Rice.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
The Sun Also Rises. I had little experience with Hemingway when I was assigned this book in college, but I found I really did like it quite a lot. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it at all when it was assigned.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The most recent one was The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox. It honestly has a lot of the ingredients I like in a book: a bit of mystery, a Victorian setting. Just didn’t gel for me.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
I have given myself permission not to feel guilty for enjoying books. Life’s too short.

I would actually love to see your answers to these questions, too, so consider yourself tagged even if you don’t do Booking Through Thursday.