BOOK PERSON | Vol. 23
Darren Barefoot endorses giving up on books you don't enjoy and would probably give you a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
This past week I read the first half of Mutual Aid by Dean Spade, as recommended by Megan, but also I spent most of my free time watching Mare of Easttown. I got my second COVID vaccine on Monday, a joyful event that quickly flattened me with flu-like symptoms: chills, fatigue, headache, self-pity. My usual prescription of ibuprofrin and prestige television made me feel better, and by Tuesday evening I was back to normal, but then I had to finish the show.
This week’s BOOK PERSON is Darren Barefoot, a digital strategist who I have followed on Twitter for years and who was kind enough to respond when I last did a call for avid readers. I also really appreciate when readers is willing to be specific about books they didn’t enjoy. Let’s all embrace the Dina Del Bucchia literary troll approach! Read on for a delicious blend of horror, fantasy and contemporary lit.
Describe your literary tastes.
I'd say maybe the core is what I might describe as "middlebrow" fiction, with occasional dipping into genres like fantasy and science-fiction.
What is your favourite bookstore in the whole wide world?
I lived in the south of France for a few years. In the neighbouring village of Le Somail, there is a surprisingly large used and rare bookstore called Le Trouve Tout du Livre. It's in a very charming old building along the canal and has a remarkable assortment of old books and maps. Here is their hokey website.
What draws you in while reading?
As somebody who grew up on C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and the like, I'm definitely looking for an engaging and original story. I love books that surprise me—with their language, with their plotting, with their form.
What’s your method for keeping track of what you read?
I'm an unreliable user of Goodreads, so there's that. I also consume a lot of my books on audio, so my Audible library is often my most reliable source for what I've recently read.
What are the last five books you read?
What's the best book you read last year?
I really enjoyed The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. She's a great storyteller and has richly-realized characters. It's set quite close to where I live, and there's a particular joy in recognizing a place you know well in a book. I loved a previous book of hers, Station Eleven.
What book is next to your bed right now?
Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Were you a big reader as a child?
What's your favourite book that no one else you know has ever read?
This goes back to my childhood, but there's this book called The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall and Erik Blegvad. I don't think it was a popular book, but what's notable about it is that the protagonist is named "Muggles." I named a childhood cat after the character. I was subsequently shocked to find the name meaning something else entirely, thanks to J.K. Rowling.
Have you ever felt betrayed by a book?
I stop reading books all the time. In my view, life is too short to keep reading or watching something that you're not enjoying. A recent example is a "hard" science fiction book, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. I gave up on that, because the author seemed far more interested in orbital mechanics than human relationships. Another one Ready Player One and Armada by Ernest Cline. They're beloved, but I think they're both terrible: flimsy, derivative and full of stock characters.
What's a book that you've changed your opinion on over time?
Not a particular book, but I have increasing respect for funny writers. The great ones make it seem effortless but I think it's very challenging.
Have you ever lied having read a book to impress someone?
I definitely start books that I want to have read because of their prominence in the culture. I often abandon them because it feels too much like eating my vegetables, reading because "it's good for me." The most recent of these was Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It's obviously an extraordinary accomplishment, but not for me.
What's your comfort read?
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is such a rollicking, wry adventure of a novel. I've probably read it ten times.
What book would you give someone if you wanted them to really understand you?
The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. I read his first few novels at a very formative time in my life, and I saw a lot of myself in the particular, vaguely-compulsive observation of our world's minute details. I sometimes think of his phrase "my interesting-smelling knee", in quite a lengthy description of how he learned to tie his shoes.
What book are you most excited to read next?
I was blown away by Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet and Judith (curiously, called just Hamnet in most markets other than Canada). I think it's a minor masterpiece, so I'm looking forward to reading some of her other novels.
What's the best (or worst) book-to-movie adaptation you can think of? (Thanks to Joy for this question!)
The most loyal adaptation I've ever seen is Of Mice and Men from 1992. It's beautifully acted by Gary Sinise (who also directed) and John Malkovich. I refuse to watch the apparently-terrible adaptation of Stephen King's The Gunslinger starring Idris Elba.
Is there a book you've been meaning to read, but just haven't gotten around to it yet?
There are lots of books that seem culturally pertinent to the moment, which I feel like I should read but haven't yet (and may never). One of those would be Barack Obama's A Promised Land.
What's the last book you devoured as fast as you could read it?
I have a lot of affection for Lev Grossman's Magicians series. I was going on a walking holiday in Cornwall and saved the third book for that trip. I definitely walked further than I planned for a few days so that I could listen to that audio book more quickly.
What's the most romantic book to give as a gift?
One that the other person will love. When we were first dating, I gave my now-partner a copy of Virginia Woolf's Flush, which is an imagined biography of Woolf's cocker spaniel. My partner really liked Virginia Woolf, so this seemed like a fun choice. We're still together, so I guess I didn't ruin things with my book selection.
Is there a place you dream of visiting, now that you've read about it?
Having read A Gentleman in Moscow, I'd like to go have a drink at the Hotel Metropol.
Have you ever read a book about your hometown?
I grew up in the same neighbourhood as Douglas Coupland, so, it was kind of thrilling to read several books (most memorably Girlfriend in a Coma) set in and around the West Vancouver neighbourhood where I'd lived. I would say that they're a very real depiction of the experience of growing up in a tony Canadian suburb.
What is a book that makes you hopeful for the future?
Weirdly, The World Without Us. A lot of my work is on climate change and for environmental causes, so it was reassuring to understand how quickly the Earth would "forget" about the vast majority of human machinery. It will be forever changed by us, of course, but we're very much a blip in the planet's geological lifetime.
Free-for-all: tell me about a book you love that didn't make it into your answers above.
I really enjoyed Omar El Akkad's American War. It's such a great example of how all great futuristic books are really about the present.
Speed round: What pairs best with…
… celebrating your COVID vaccine? The Passage by Justin Cronin (or any number of other post-apocalyptic plague novels).
… a summer afternoon at the beach? In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson.
… a snow day? The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed by John Valliant.
… a park blanket and a picnic? Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
… a really fancy hotel room, plus room service? The aforementioned A Gentleman in Moscow.
Have you used the VPL personalized recommendation service, What Should I Read Next? After several people recommended it, I tried it out; the recommendations were 90% things I had already read, but since I enjoyed them all, I consider it a strikingly accurate service. If you haven’t given it a whirl yet, try it out and let me know what they suggest for you!