BOOK PERSON | Vol. 1
Survivalist children's fiction + Calvino
I meant to put this newsletter together last week, but I was captivated by a very good book: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, which combines all of my favourite things (idiosyncratic narrators, forbidding landscapes, mysterious murders, astrology) into one mesmerizing story that sidelined me for three evenings.
But this isn’t about my book recommendations, though I have them, and I need only the mildest encouragement to spill them. BOOK PERSON is an excuse to ask other people about their reading habits. I always want to know— were you emotionally maimed by reading Where the Red Fern Grows as a child? Did you ever try to impress someone by pretending to read Infinite Jest? (I don’t believe anyone has ever actually finished it.) Don’t you agree that The Secret History is a perfect novel?
None of those exact questions will appear in these interviews, but you are welcome to tell me your answers. I am very interested.
BOOK PERSON will appear in your inbox weekly, until I run out of people willing to entertain my lengthy interrogations. Each one will be unique to the reader. I invite you to treat it like a horoscope, and seek out either personal meaning or a pleasurable diversion as you see fit!
Here is our first edition, courtesy of my dear friend Claire Atkin, who endorses survivalist children’s fiction and everyone’s favourite Italian surrealist.
Where do you read at home?
In order of frequency: bed, couch, table, floor (when I’m stretching).
What’s your favourite bookstore in the world?
Beacon Books in Sidney, BC. Sidney is sometimes called a “book town” although I don’t know who actually calls it that. It has a population of 12,000 and nine whole independent bookstores.
What time of day do you do your best reading?
Evening. I often try to read in the afternoon, but a lot of the time I end up accidentally having a nap.
What book is next to your bed right now?
I have two: The House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, and Thinking Like Your Editor.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, which is about a child whose plane crashes on his way to see his father up north. Armed only with a hatchet, he survives for weeks in the forest. At nine years old, I also happened to own a hatchet and decided that I would definitely be able to do the exact same thing. One night, I packed up a bag with oat cakes, rice milk and my raincoat, and decided to wake up at 3:00 am to escape to the woods near our home. I never did miraculously wake up that night and finally found my raincoat weeks later.
What did you read most avidly as a teenager?
I loved Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow. My favourite quote was, “Remember, the enemy’s gate is down.” So profound! Later I found out that every nerd on the planet had the same favourite quote.
What character in fiction do you most strongly identify with?
Tamora Pearce’s Alanna excited me so much as a kid. She had a twin brother who didn’t want to be a knight so she switched with him and secretly took his place while he became a monk. She dealt with a lot, including learning to socialize with a bunch of frat boy knight bros, and then she was like, surprise bitches, I have boobs and I’m here to kick ass, and that was so fun for me when I was in middle school.
(Ed. note: this is also the plot of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and, importantly, the Amanda Bynes cinema classic She’s The Man.)
What is the funniest book you have ever read?
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby is a devastatingly funny book. It’s shocking, then funny, then uncomfortable, then funny, then sad, and then funny again. I was on a plane once and really needed a glass of water and then started crying from laughing and it was a dehydration disaster.
Generally speaking, I'm interested in books you love, but I am also desperate to know: What’s a widely-praised, critically-acclaimed book that you hated?
Sophie’s World. I finished it and kept it on my bookshelf for years just thinking about how much it bored me.
Is there a place you dream of visiting, now that you've read about it?
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is wonderful. Later when I went to Venice I was happy to have his fantastical descriptions to make it more magical than it really was.
Has a book ever sparked an obsession with a niche subject?
My Side of the Mountain made me obsessed with knowledge I should collect for when I inevitably went to live alone in a tree stump in the forest.
What's your favourite vacation read?
I generally read the heftiest books on vacation because that’s when I have the brain power. This year’s vacation read was Network Propaganda, about the architecture of the right-wing propaganda network. My favourite vacation read was Crime and Punishment.
Which book do you give most often as a gift?
Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves. The English version is better than the American version because it contains a story called The Married Couple. I don’t know why the American publisher omitted it. One year I had my cousin in London send me multiple copies for my friends and me just so we could read that one sweet short story.
For the readers:
Now here is a question for you, courtesy of Claire: What is a book that best represents a unique experience that you’ve gone through?
I immediately thought of Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation, which perfectly captured what it’s like to sit up all night with a newborn baby: “There is a story about a prisoner at Alcatraz who spent his nights in solitary confinement dropping a button on the floor then trying to find it again in the dark. Each night, in this manner, he passed the hours until dawn. I do not have a button. In all other respects, my nights are the same.”
I want to know your answer— leave it in the comments below!
If you know a BOOK PERSON, please send them my way so I can pry into their shelves. All preferences welcome!
Young Claire would definitely be the spunky and determined protagonist of a favourite childhood novel series.
What book best represents a unique experience I’ve gone through? The singular comic series WENDY by Walter Scott. I’ve suffered all of Wendy’s indignities as a unformed person living in Montreal, just trying to fit in. I never needed that last drink.