The Library is excited to share exclusive author interviews. Each author has a highly anticipated book coming out and will share their thoughts on reading to both escape and confront reality in challenging times.
Patricia Jackson | Mayonn Paasewe-Valchev
John E. Stith | Dan Hanks | Stefan Bachmann | Wen Jane Baragrey | Traci Chee | Kim Johnson
Amelia Diane Coombs | Jordyn Taylor | Chelsea Ichaso | Roseanne A. Brown | Adiba Jaigirdar
Forging a Nightmare
When I want to escape reality, I go old school. The Inferno by Dante Alighieri. It has had such a profound impact on my writing. For a less academic escape, True Knight by Susan Dexter. Knights, swords, romance, magic, and horses!
My go-to book when I need some life-coaching is Warrior of the Light by Pablo Coelho to be promptly followed by Way of the Bow. The former has actually saved a few of my students’ lives. Great mindfulness resources.
I have to plan my reading time or I don’t get any, especially when I’m writing. As an English teacher, I spend a lot of time reading: discussion posts, short essays, and research papers, which empties my mental gas tank. Add to this, I am also a Creative Writing teacher, and the reading duties really cut into my personal reading time. My students produce at 1000-5000 words a week. Multiple that by 47, plus writing recommendation letter and editing college entrance essays for seniors...it’s a lot to get through.
My reading time is chaotic because I am a finicky reader. I’ll confess it. I am a very visual person, so if the author does not ride the unicorn or land the dragon (or the Millennium Falcon) at my mental doorstep, I’m not going. The pandemic has exacerbated this, raising the bar, because when the need for escape arises, the books must really get the job done and take me away.
Academic reading has its purpose to teach and for the reader to learn. It does not always stretch the boundaries of creativity or innovation, depending on the field. Reading for pleasure takes the weight of reality off and lets the mind of the inner child wander across forgotten histories or unexplored starscapes, where one can ride unicorns or battle the monsters that lurk between Heaven and Hell—all before going to sleep. All in a day’s good work.
My gift to the reader is simple. It’s okay to not fit in. You were never meant to exist in a boxed category that has, in many cases, been imposed on you by a society that does not really know the real you and has judged or labeled you without your consent. Be you! If you cannot run, walk. If you cannot walk, crawl. If you cannot crawl, scream at the top of your lungs to let the universe know that you are here and will be counted! Your only obligation to the world at large is to be a better person than you were the day before. That’s it.
Not at all. Because people need to escape and cannot always leave the house, they are departing reality through books. Now more than ever. Books are gateways. Easy, portable teleportation devices to other dimensions. Audiobooks are more popular now than ever before. Though listening to an audiobook while driving, for me, would definitely count as distracted driving. I get so lost in the story.
A hologram of a barn with horses and ponies munching hay? A cat warm on my lap and a dog by my feet. Is that too much to ask while I read in perfect harmony with the universe? Well, maybe it is too much to ask ... right now. As for digital libraries, I may already be in the eye of the hurricane. My taste in reading is like my taste in music. How I feel dictates what I want to read, and I may be reading several books at a time. Having my iPad handy is an easy way to keep an entire library with me wherever I go. What would make it perfect is a digital assistant, customized to my tastes to make suggestions, offer opinions, answer questions, and even read to me when the moment calls for it. We are very close to that.
My fave bookstore is right down the road from the high school where I teach. BAM or Books-A-Million in York, PA, where you can snuggle up with a good latte and a nice book!
The Leopard Behind the Moon
I keep my all-time favorite books on a special bookshelf; these are books with characters, plots, and prose that captivated me and provided an escape from reality. Here are the first ten books on my special shelf (wish I could list them all): The Great Gatsby, Things Fall Apart, White Teeth, The Remains of the Day, The White Tiger, Crime and Punishment, The Witches, L’Assommoir, The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born, and Invisible Man.
The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates. It opened my eyes to the many ways we disempower women and the implications of doing so. The stories in the book are heartbreaking—tales of women dealing with great adversities—but the book is also encouraging because it offers solutions. Many years ago, I read Wangari Maathai’s book, The Challenge for Africa, and it’s one of my favorites because it outlines the many challenges facing the continent of Africa and suggestions for creating a more promising future; it’s an honest look at the realities and problems of Africa. The Artist Way by Julia Cameron is my go-to book for facing the realities of the artist's life and overcoming creative challenges.
More disciplined. I had a daily reading quota of 30-50 pages a day, which allowed me to read about two books a month, sometimes three. I was also a member of a library book club, which was wonderful because I was introduced to great books I wouldn’t have selected on my own, such as Our Twisted Hero by Yi Munyol, which apparently is a common read in South Korea, but I had never heard about it.
Scattered. For a while, my nightstand and writing desk carried stacks of books I started but never finished and books waiting to be read. I felt distracted by the pandemic and found it difficult to focus on many days. I finally decided to release those unfinished books back to their respective bookshelves and start afresh by focusing on one or two books at a time, which feels more manageable.
Reading is fun! It’s a way to continue grooming your imagination and broadening your thinking. Reading helps us remember the patterns of life: that good days follow bad days. Cinderella didn’t remain the servant; she married the prince. And yes, I know, stories don’t always end well, but overall, I’m encouraged when I read. Books fill me with compassion and hope and courage. When I read a great story, I find myself marveling at the boundless creativity of humanity; how far our imaginations can stretch. In times of turmoil and confusion, reading is often where I find stability, understanding, and balance.
My hope is that The Leopard Behind the Moon will help children suffering from a loss feel understood. I hope the book will spark rich conversations about the many sources and forms of grief. But more than anything, I hope the story will fill readers with delight and wonder as they traverse a magical journey with three friends aiming to accomplish something spectacular and heroic.
I don’t think so. Writers will continue to write, publishers will continue to publish, and readers will continue to read. And I think booksellers will continue to find creative ways to engage readers virtually. We need community to help quell the isolation and loneliness many of us are experiencing during the pandemic, and books are a great way to connect with others. We help by continuing to read and by using books to connect with others.
I’m imagining a website designed to simulate a real-life library. It would include a Virtual Circulation Desk with options to chat with a librarian, a Readers and Writers Room featuring virtual lectures and writing sessions, and even a Virtual Snack Room where I could order snacks from local delivery services.
Readers can buy my book by visiting mayonn.com/books.
There is nothing I love more than a great story about time travel. I can recommend you movies (The Terminator, Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married) TV shows (Misfits, 12 Monkeys, Dark, Doctor Who) and books (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Kindred). I’m beyond excited to have a new entry in this genre to read, John E. Stith’s Tiny Time Machine. Read his interview below and then pick up a copy of the book from the Library (or buy it from his favorite bookstore online)!
And let me know if I left out your favorite time travel story...
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
TINY TIME MACHINE
One of my favorite escapes is WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams. It transported me to a place where rabbits must flee a development project that's about to destroy their habitat. It has all the drama, the pathos, the character growth, the tension, the narrow escapes, and the triumphs of other great fiction. But with rabbits.
One great place to look is 10% HAPPIER: HOW I TAMED THE VOICE IN MY HEAD by Dan Harris. It's part self-help, part autobiography, a good demonstration that we're never too old to learn new tricks or to find new ways to enrich our life.
I grew up as a voracious reader, focused mostly on science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries. Love of reading is what enticed me into writing. But one of the unhappy ironies of writing, for me, is the result that I have less time for reading. At most, I now read two or three books a month, sometimes less. The technological change since I was young is that now I read more ebooks than print books. I love the feel of books, but I also acknowledge the ebook advantage of being able to always have the current book with me no matter where I am. Especially if it's a large book.
Paradoxically I'm reading less, now that it seems like I should have more free time. Instead, I'm consuming more news and spending more time communicating with friends, with some of that communication taking place during MMORPG gaming.
Reading provides sheer enjoyment. Story-telling is as old as we are. In stories, we can share vicariously in the struggles and triumphs of others. We learn empathy by being dropped into the point of view of someone experiencing hardship or disappointment. We get the cathartic satisfaction of seeing someone overcome terrible odds and say to ourselves, "Maybe I could do that." We learn to dream and to dream big.
Most of all, enjoyment. I hope they grow to love my characters as much as I do, that they can laugh with them, commiserate with them, see themselves or see their own potential in them. Along the way, I hope readers find some food for thought, to maybe see some aspect of our world in a new light. I hope they laugh, they gasp, and they come back to the bookshelf saying, "More, please."
Our independent bookstores are the weakest link in the chain. Love of books often outweighs the raw need to maximize income. Their margins are thinned by the growth of so many alternatives competing for our free time. Readers can help by patronizing their favorite independent bookstores, buying books for themselves, gifts for others, and gift cards for the future.
It would be complete, containing all my favorite books, not just the ones I've located so far. It would have room for growth--my growth--by including books that I haven't been ready for yet, but may be ready for next year. And inside every volume, like a bookplate, would be a handy insert listing all the books that author has produced, telling me all the author's pen names, collaborations, and listing all the books and magazines they have contributed to.
My website and blog are at http://www.neverend.com . I'm most active on Facebook where I have a professional page in addition to a personal page. The personal page is where I share my favorite photos of wildlife and tame life and recommendations for books, movies, and TV.
Hooked on Books is my favorite independent bookstore here in Colorado Springs. Friendly, knowledgeable staff, wonderful owners. Just the thing for the plague years. Or zombies. Or princesses, starships, self-sacrifice, laughter, robots, trolls, and mad scientists.
This one is for the readers who love adventure, genre mashups, and the kind of escapism that makes you completely forget where you are. In this interview, Dan Hanks writes that with his book Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire he wanted to give readers fun. That's a gift we could all use this year, I think! And he definitely hit the mark. When I first opened up the book, I meant to just skim a few pages and then the next thing I knew I was blinking back to awareness fifty pages later. And as soon as I was back in my world, I wanted to go back into the one Dan had created. It’s like Indiana Jones but better (the reader doesn’t have to squirm through old school racism, sexism, and colonialism to enjoy the adventuring). The only problem is that now I have a taste for adventure and don’t know what to read while waiting for the next Captain Moxley book!
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire - which actually came out on 8 September!
Normally an epic fantasy would be the kind of place I'd want to escape to, but it's been a heavy year so I've been preferring lighter reads. The Saturday Night Ghost Club (Craig Davidson) is wonderful, short and bittersweet, and took me right back to the innocence of childhood. But if you want a fun adventure that's pretty far removed from our current reality (and hopefully it stays that way), you can't go wrong with Fury from the Tomb (S.A. Sidor). That's just a joyful, funny, exciting ride from start to finish.
The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas) blew me away with its immediacy and power, all set within a context we've sadly become even more familiar with in 2020. It has a lot to say about our current reality and does it so well it'll stay with you long after you've put the book down. It's also the only book I can remember that made me laugh out loud. Which sounds strange considering the seriousness of the subject matter, but Angie Thomas is such a great writer she was able to weave in some very human - and very funny - moments in the midst of the horror.
Honestly, it hadn't been great for a while. I used to devour books when I was younger, but it dropped off when I had kids and suddenly had to choose between writing time or reading time (and writing time usually won). However, I made amends late last year when I got together with a couple of friends and we created the OcTBR Challenge - which is all about dedicating the month of October to trying to read as much of your TBR pile as possible! After that it picked up a little and I found a bit of a reading routine.
Weirdly... it's been better! I think it's partly because I decided I needed even more of an escape this year, but I've also had a lot of requests to blurb upcoming books, which forced me to relearn how to read fast again. I'm definitely going to keep this going now. (Probably.)
Not everyone enjoys reading of course (my youngest struggles with it and prefers finding his stories in films), but I think if you do, then reading for pleasure can be a key element of surviving this ridiculous world. It can be an escape, a break from routine, an adventure. You can find forever friends and even fall in love. You get to personally experience a whole other life from someone else's point of view. It's basically magic! And who doesn't need magic in their lives?
Yes, ESPECIALLY in 2020, because it has been A Year, impacting us all in many different and serious ways. So if reading has ever brought you pleasure, I think this is absolutely the year to ensure you make time for it.
Fun. That was always the intent. To entertain and provide a few hours of fun. That's it.
It's tricky, because in some ways the pandemic has caused publishing to change its ways for the better. I think others have mentioned the benefits of events going virtual and I definitely found that with my launch. Yes, it was disappointing not to be able to have a book launch in an actual bookstore, but doing it online meant it was accessible for so many more people - both live and after the event. So that's been good and I hope we continue to pursue these more accessible aspects of what we do, especially when it comes to events and conferences.
However, in terms of getting our books into the hands of readers, I do think there is cause for concern and we need to try and help. It's been a tough time for us all, but obviously with fewer (or no) people being able to browse libraries or bookstores, that's really hit hard for a lot of people in the process - especially the booksellers. The big online store who shall not be named will be fine, but if you've ever enjoyed simply browsing a bookstore in person, picking up interesting looking books, gazing at covers, and getting excited about a purchase or two... well, it's time to show that physical bookstore your love. Perhaps order a book for collection or ask if they do delivery or maybe buy a book from them as a gift for someone for Christmas? Every little will help keep these wonderful places in our towns during and after the pandemic.
I love being able to browse bookshelves. Give me an actual virtual bookshelf (or ideally hundreds of them), full of wonderful looking books I can scroll along and 'pick up' to have a closer look at if I fancy it, and I'll be sold. :)
My wonderful local bookstore is Bay Tree Books in Glossop, UK. This is where I first got to sign copies of my book and the owner, Sarah, has been wonderfully supportive. You can order from them via the (also wonderful) bookshop.org here: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/baytreebooks
You might have read one of this week’s author’s many fantasy novels (click here to see them all!). His latest, Cinders and Sparrows, came out in October and is my personal favorite type of fantasy - the kind that has witches! In this interview, he describes how books can offer both safety and danger and makes the case that readers can confront reality by reading fantasy!
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
CINDERS AND SPARROWS hit shelves on October 13th!
I'm reading two 2020 releases right now and loving them both: COO by Kaela Noel is so charming and cozy, and THE FOREST OF STARS by Heather Kassner is a gorgeously written fable. I also recently read and loved the eerie and enchanting PIRANESI, which is Susanna Clarke's new book for adults.
All of the above! I think that's my favorite thing about fantasy (or in the case of COO, gently altered reality): they trick you into thinking they're about magical circuses, or ghosts, or children being raised by pigeons, but they're as much about important human questions as any nonfiction or issue-driven story, only dressed up differently. Fantasy absolutely allows us to face reality, and helps us make sense of it.
Increasingly spotty. I buy so many books, and I'm not a fast reader, so they tend to pile up. I did become a regular audiobook listener in 2019, though, which I heartily recommend to anyone who's experiencing a reading slump. Nothing beats a paper book for me, but audiobooks have really helped with the number of books I've been able to finish this year.
Slightly better than the year before, weirdly! I'm not sure if it's because of quarantine or the audiobook habit, but I finished my Goodreads challange months early this year which was very satisfying.
Doing things because they bring joy is always necessary. And there are so many practical benefits to reading, too, so if it makes you happy on top of increasing your attention span and reducing stress (according to science; they may not have read some of these books...) then I can't think of a compelling reason *not* to read for pleasure.
Also, books give us a lens into the lives of others, their feelings and struggles and hopes. We're given the opportunity to identify and empathize with strangers, and sometimes that lens becomes a mirror and we see ourselves in a new light, too. To be told that you matter and so does everyone else is a vital message, especially during difficult times when we might be prone to forget it.
I grew up in Switzerland, and for several years I didn't speak the language and was painfully shy. Books were a safe place where I could explore the world in ways I wouldn't have dared do in real life. I try to write all of my children's books with ten-year-old Stefan in mind. With CINDERS AND SPARROWS, I hope readers find a sense of adventure in the dark halls of Blackbird Castle, and a cozy sanctuary, too, that they'll delight in its spookiness and secrets, and will discover a friend in Zita, who is brave and kind, but also uncertain and lonely at times. (I also hope the book scares them a little bit. Ten-year-old me loved that.)
I don't think we should worry, but I do think there are some great, simple ways to promote books and reading, and that those things are more important and appreciated now than ever: supporting independent bookstores and their passionate, knowledgeable booksellers is so important at the moment; ordering from bookshop.org is a great way to do so where pick-up isn't possible; using social media to talk about the books we're reading and loving makes a big difference, too, especially now that in-store browsing is limited and discovering new books is harder. Posting a picture of your TBR on Instagram, tweeting your enthusiasm and tagging the author, or reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads are all so helpful and appreciated.
I think my dream virtual library would look like a garden, with the books hanging from willow branches, or hidden in thorn bushes, or nestled among mossy stones. You return a book by burying it, and eventually it sprouts again from the end of a twig.
At my website, stefanbachmann.com, on twitter, @stefan_bachmann, and on instagram, @stefanbachmannwrites.
I live overseas, so I don't have a local bookstore to recommend, but I was born in Colorado and whenever I'm back I LOVE to go to Tattered Cover in Denver, Boulder Bookstore, and Powell's in Portland, Oregon.
Our next author’s book missive has been sent to us all straight from Australia! Her middle grade novel, What Goes Up, is a fantastical story about a girl (perhaps fairy…) who constantly attracts trouble and is therefore expecting the satellite that is expected to crash into earth to hit her house like a bullseye. In this interview, Wen Jane Baragrey writes about creating art during the pandemic, how reading feeds our imagination and hearts, and offers hope from her corner of the world, of a life after lockdowns (can you imagine that?!)
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
My favorite book for the past few years has been The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. It's a world I love returning to and imagining myself as part of Luna's story.
The 10 pm Question by Kate DeGoldi. This is one of my all-time favorite books and it's by a New Zealand author. Frankie is the most relatable character and seeing through his eyes is an experience we can all benefit from.
Quite similar! I listen to audiobooks a lot, especially when cleaning, cooking, doing art, or before I fall asleep. Those were things that I spent a lot of time doing before and during the pandemic.
Busy! I'm an artist as well as an author. During the pandemic, I've found it a lot easier to concentrate on art than writing, so, I've listened to a lot of audiobooks while drawing. That has been wonderful escapism, and my library's audiobook collection has kept me going!
A book allows us the opportunity to build unique worlds inside our heads. Reading feeds our imaginations and grows ours hearts. I think that's tremendously important for all of us and for our futures.
For 2020 especially - escapism. I think we all need another world to escape to at times, and whenever I write anything, it's usually an escape for me, and I hope it is for my readers too. My book's main character, Robyn, has a huge imagination and way more determination than is healthy, sometimes! Reading characters like her helped me find those things in myself when I was growing up, so I hope some of my readers manage to find something of themselves in Robyn, too.
What I am hoping for the last months of 2020 is having a little less to worry about. Here, in Australia, the pandemic is under control (for now) and aside from wearing masks, our lives are returning to normal. I say that to offer hope that things really can be the same again, because during those months and months of lockdown, I wondered if that would ever be possible. So, I want you to know that they can! Meanwhile, publishing and books will continue so long as we all need them and support them. Read, share, join in online events, and talk to others who love books! Don't be afraid to send an email or message to your favorite authors, too! We love to hear from our readers and it can honestly be the inspiration we need to sit down and get typing!
OOooh! Something that could recreate the sounds and cosiness of a real library with an endless catalogue of books to lose myself in! I have made great use of my libraries audiobook and ebook collection during the pandemic and I could browse the catalogues for hours trying to decide which books to check out next!
I'm going to pick Boulder Bookstore because I know my agent shops there! We moved here to Australia from New Zealand right before the pandemic shut everything down, so I've only had the chance to shop online since the pandemic began. I've yet to discover a favorite bookstore. I'm searching now, though!
Traci Chee is a wildly intelligent author who is a friend and favorite here at the Mill Valley Public Library. Last year she visited our middle school book club (revealing hidden puzzles in her novel to members) and recorded an episode of our Eight Books That Made Me podcast (revisiting her childhood favorites). Her latest book, a YA novel about Japanese Internment, has been longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Check out her Youtube series where she talks about her research—including hunting down a picture of her grandfather the day he was evicted from his home in Japantown, San Francisco, when he was sixteen.
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
WE ARE NOT FREE was just released on September 1!
I’m obsessed with the sci-fi worlds of Parker Peevyhouse (THE ECHO ROOM, STRANGE EXIT). These books are otherworldly and enigmatic, with tightly-coiled plots packed full of surprises—they’re the kind of books that lure you in and quickly become page-turners as you try to figure out exactly what’s going on and how all the pieces fit together. Highly recommended for the puzzle lovers and curious minds!
I just finished WE ARE NOT FROM HERE by Jenny Torres Sanchez, about three teens running from Guatemala to the US, and reading it feels like walking along the edge of a knife—precarious, perilous, brutal. I love it because it feels like the kind of book that has the potential to open up your reality, revealing new perspectives that can broaden and deepen your world.
Sporadic. Sometimes I’d read a book a day. Other times, particularly when I was on deadline, I wouldn’t read anything but a short story or a few poems before bedtime.
Sporadic! There’s so much going on, so much to worry about, so much to do and adapt to, that it’s been pretty hard to focus. I’ve been trying to go easy on myself by reading only what feels right at the time, freely abandoning books mid-read if they’re no longer right for me, and not being too hard on myself on the days where binging my comfort-watches on TV is about as much as I can handle.
I think there are a lot of benefits to reading. It can expose you to new ideas and new perspectives. It can cast familiar things in a new light. It can be a great distraction or even an escape from reality! Currently, my reading ebbs and flows between books about activism and social justice to sci-fi to cozy mysteries, and I just try to pay attention to what’s best for me at what time.
So… I have to confess here that history was never my favorite subject in school. Don’t get me wrong! I still did all the assignments and still got A’s on my report cards, but I just couldn’t understand why memorizing these old names and dates and facts should matter to me. But as I researched and wrote WE ARE NOT FREE, I came to realize that history isn’t just a bunch of old names and dates and facts. It isn’t stale, and it isn’t dead. The incarceration happened to real people—people I know, young people like my grandparents were, young people like you could know right now, today—and I hope this book reminds people that history isn’t just history. It’s deep and rich and all around us. We are still living this history, and that means we still have the chance to change it for the better.
Oh gosh, here are so many things to worry about in 2020—I don’t necessarily want to add more! What I will say is that this year has made me think a lot about what’s valuable to me. Fresh air. Human connection. Social justice. And yes, books! It’s those things that I’ve been pouring my time and energy into: going on walks, spending socially-distanced time with family and friends, finding ways to support organizations like Black Lives Matter or Tsuru for Solidarity. If, like me, you’re finding books are important to you right now, you can borrow them from your local library, buy them from an independent bookstore or from Bookshop.org, attend virtual events, join or start a book club, and generally push your favorite books into the hands of your family and friends!
I love a physical book, so if I had a dream virtual library, it would all be channeled into a single, technologically advanced physical book that could essentially download and become any book in my digital library, complete with pages that I could turn and mark up as needed!
This next book is the reason why I started Wild About Authors. The coolest thing about being a librarian is that we start hearing buzz about books before most other readers. Let’s call it literary gossip (Girl, have you heard about this book coming out in three months? I know someone who read an Advance Reader’s Copy! They said it’s going to be hot, so order it before it sells out, girl, etc.). But the second coolest thing is getting to let everyone know about a book you’ve been freaking out about for months when it’s finally available at the Library, wrapped in a crisp plastic cover, all barcoded, labeled, and ready to go. Oh, how we love to curate our book displays and talk up a book while shoving it sweetly into your hand, making sure you don’t leave the building without checking it out. But we can’t do that at the moment, so we need to find other ways to let you know when we’re really excited about a book. Hence, this author series. If only I had a way to make sure you checked the book out ...
This is My America is about a teenage girl who writes to an organization called Innocence X every week, trying to get them to help save her father, an innocent Black man on death row. The book also examines how a town’s racist past can haunt the present (relevant to all of our interests, yes?). I’m so excited to read it that I bought my own copy (the book comes out July 28th), so there’s one less person waiting in line to read a library copy!
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
Reading often was sporadic and in cycles depending on work and what I’m writing. On average two books a month, mostly related to the genre in which I write or non-fiction.
I have been a voracious reader since I have found it challenging to find inspiration or time to write consistently, while managing working remotely and having my children at home. I also made a commitment to utilize the space where I can’t write, to read and support as many debut books as possible. Now I have been averaging two books a week.
Reading is a beautiful opportunity to use your imagination, develop your empathy skillset, and entertain yourself. I find reading gives me new perspectives regardless of the topic. Even in Fantasy and Sci Fi you can find relevant issues to consider or expand possibilities. Now more than ever reading in our current climate is not only important for pleasure, but to expand what we are reading. We live in a society that is incredibly diverse, yet still filled with discrimination. As a young person I did not have a lot of books that reflected my experiences, but I found a way to connect to the stories. I would encourage people to read from perspectives that are different than there’s. Empathy is the key to resolving so many of our problems. We also are in stressful and challenging times, being able to escape into a book can be healing.
I wanted to center the story around an amazing family, a teen with remarkable friends, and provide a much needed look at complex issues around race, justice, and the brokenness of our prison industrial complex. I hope readers rip through this thrilling story, then read again to picture themselves as Tracy. Jamal. Corinne. James. Quincy. Tasha. Dean. Every character, with each of their threads and experiences. Everyone has a role, and sometimes it takes reading from another perspective or a closer look at the issue. It’s a rich story that I also hope leaves readers inspired and ready to voice for change.
Publishing has needed to change for a long time. The current pandemic has provided evidence that innovation can happen. I’ve never felt closer to authors than I do right now. I have been able to engage with authors via live Instagram sessions, attend multiple conferences as a viewer, and join in Zoom sessions with booksellers. Previously there would be a large financial investment to be able to have access to authors. But there are some challenges for publishing, especially for the staff that make books possible. It’s also especially difficult for debut authors who do not have a following already eager for picking up their next book, so they have to rely on readers taking chances. One of the largest impacts though are to our libraries and bookstores that are critical places that readers get access to books and expand their reading. Being able to navigate a brick and mortar location can be such an eye opener to readers. There is a way book lovers can help, and that is by pre-ordering debut books or purchasing books for people in their community. They can support their local bookstore to ensure those precious places stay open past the pandemic, and they can request books at their libraries. Then leave a review and share out on social media.
I love libraries with staircases, so my dream virtual library would make me feel like as I searched for a book I was still able to pass through hallways and virtually "climb" stairs to get to next levels. Like creating my own little avatar that allowed me to shop online and I could possibly bump into other shoppers where we could chat online about our book recs.
Instagram and Twitter: @kcjohnsonwrites
I’m first in line to read the library copy of our next author’s book. So all of you rom-com lovers will have to wait until I’m done to get your hands on it (sorry, not sorry)! The good news is I’m a fast reader so you won’t have to wait too long. It’s been a heavy day (week, month, etc.) out in the world so it’s the perfect time to revel in some romance, some banter, and a fantasy life where we can hang out in bowling alleys in beautiful San Francisco (will we ever share rented shoes again?)
Keep My Heart in San Francisco is about a girl who has to save her family’s bowling alley if there’s any hope for them to stay in the city (we all know making it in the Bay Area ain’t easy and rent ain’t cheap). Her cute ex best friend comes along to help her out and then...we’ll all have to read to find out how it all goes down!
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
Any fluffy YA contemporary romance or adult rom-com! They are such sweet escapes from reality.
Right now, I can't stress the importance of reading books (fiction and nonfiction) from Black authors. There are so many fantastic Black YA debut authors this year (Leah Johnson, Roseanne A. Brown, Bethany C. Morrow) as well as new classics like Angie Thomas, Tiffany D. Jackson, and Nic Stone.
Before the pandemic, I was reading a lot of YA and keeping up with new releases within my age group and genre. I'm in a debut group for my release year, and we were swapping ARCs pretty consistently until February of this year.
I’ve been leaning into comfort and escapist reads lately. I reread the entire Harry Potter series during the first two months of quarantine, for example! Now I’ve been reading a lot of adult rom-coms, because all those fluffy feel-good vibes are much appreciated right now.
I think people should always read for pleasure, especially during stressful times. Reading gives us an escape, but also a portal to someone else's world and viewpoint. Books that can offer an escape and foster empathy give us the best of both worlds.
Oh gosh, so many things?! But if I had to boil it down, I really hope it entertains readers while educating them about mental health and stigma.
Publishing will always be volatile on the author’s side. There's very little stability! The pandemic definitely hasn’t helped that aspect. I wouldn’t say book lovers need to worry, necessarily. But it’s more important now than ever to support authors—especially debut authors—and indie bookstores.
Oooh, I don't know! Since I've lived almost exclusively in small apartments the last eight years, I've mostly purchased virtual copies to cut down on space. Right now, I'm just dreaming of the day when I can have a massive library a la Beauty and the Beast. A gal can dream!
It’s a bit of a summer bummer but, for the safety of all, we’re staying as close to home as possible these days (well, I am, anyway!). Forget about hopping a plane to Paris, it will be a long time (j’espere…) before I’m even allowed to while away the time in a café in the Bay Area, sipping an espresso and nibbling a croissant thinking about the city of lights. Luckily, with a bit of magic known as reading, I can travel there anytime I want.
I can also travel back in time.
When I open up The Paper Girls of Paris, I will walk into a story with history, romance, and mystery. Maybe I’ll even learn to make croissants or macarons to create a Parisian vibe while I’m reading. I hope you’ll do the same, but first, read my interview with the author! Jordyn Taylor talks about the struggle to find escape in books these days even though reading for pleasure is more important than ever and her dream virtual library.
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
There's a young adult book that came out this year that's literally called The Perfect Escape, by my fellow 2020 YA debut author Suzanne Park. It's a hilarious rom-com featuring a zombie survival competition. I listened to the audiobook a couple of months ago, when I was dealing with the challenges of adapting to life in quarantine, and it brought me many much-needed laughs.
I'm currently reading Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. I'm working to educate myself on anti-racism and how to be a better ally in the Black Lives Matter movement.
I've always read multiple books at once. At any given time before the pandemic, I'd have a physical book to read at home, as well as an e-book to read on my commute (or on the cardio machine at the gym—getting lost in a book makes the time fly!).
Like many avid readers I know, I struggled to focus on reading at the start of the pandemic. It was frustrating, because reading has always been an escape for me, and all of a sudden it wasn't working anymore. Then, for the first time in my life, I downloaded an audiobook (the very excellent All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban), and it turned out to be exactly what my brain needed! Now, when I want to read, I put on my mask, go for a walk, and listen to an audiobook. I'm currently listening to The Best Laid Plans by Cameron Lund—it's delightful.
Reading lets you explore new worlds and meet new characters all from the comfort of your home, library, or other favorite reading spot. It's a powerful experience! That's always been the case—and it's always been the reason I love to read—but I think more people are harnessing that power now, when they need a little escaping from reality.
The Paper Girl of Paris jumps back and forth in time between Alice, a girl in the present who inherits a Parisian apartment locked since World War 2, and Adalyn, a girl in Nazi-occupied France who joins the French resistance—and who also happens to be Alice's long-lost great-aunt. Readers can expect a gripping story filled with history, romance, and family secrets that slowly unfold. And I hope it leaves people with the message that it's important to stand up for what's right, even when it's hard to do.
It's so hard to know what the future holds. If you have the resources, buy books from your favorite authors—and, if possible, from independent bookstores. Bookshop.org makes it easy to find and purchase books from indie bookstores!
Is this a virtual reality situation? If so, I want to strap on a headset and be in a virtual library with shelves so high, you need one of those sliding ladders to reach the books at the very top. I'm picturing plenty of historical fiction, romance, fantasy, and non-fiction history books.
Come say hi! You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @jordynhtaylor. My website is jordynhtaylor.com.
Some might think it odd (worrying?!?) that horror is one of my go-to comfort genres. I blame it on being a young teen in the late nineties. There was the cozy thrill of Buffy on Tuesday nights, The X-Files on Sundays (before streaming when we had to watch things week-to-week and record shows on VHS if we ever wanted to watch them again). My friends and I packed into opening-night movie theater crowds (that would be today’s horror, right?) to find out what you did last summer or what was wrong with the faculty.
While the teen horror genre popped on screen back in the day (Scream! The Craft! I STILL Know What You Did Last Summer!), it wasn’t much of a thing in books. YA fiction wasn’t really a thing at all yet. Today there are shelves of teen horror for readers who crave a little thrill and a little escape. I’ve been excited for Little Creeping Things for months. Even the title is evocative—you can feel the scares crawling up your neck. It’s got accidental (?) murder, town bullies, fire, suspense, and creepy messages from a stranger. Curl up in your favorite reading spot and have at it!
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo is my favorite fantasy, and one I return to when I want to be swept up into a completely different world.
I guess it depends on what reality you're facing, but The Girl With All the Gifts by Mike Carey is a haunting read if you're looking for a book about a pandemic.
I read a lot and widely before the pandemic. I love thrillers (adult and young adult), YA fantasy, horror (adult and YA), and middle grade in all genres. Usually, I would read a bit at the end of the day and a lot on weekends.
I've struggled to read during the pandemic. In the beginning, I had trouble focusing with the kids being home all day and with the constant influx of information regarding the virus. Now it's more about time for me. In addition to my writing, I have three kids to homeschool, and sometimes I'm too worn out at the end of the day to keep my eyes open. I've found that the right book really makes a difference for me now, more than ever. It has to be something that truly feels like a break and a reward from everything.
There's nothing like the feeling of joining a character on an adventure in a book. I see the excitement when my kids get completely absorbed in a series and keep coming back to me, asking for the next book. You feel it in the disappointment when a series or a book ends. Why are you disappointed? Because you were enjoying the experience (even when the adventure had you terrified or deeply moved). Things are very different now, and very difficult for many, but reading can still provide this enjoyment. There's nothing wrong with diversion during times of crisis; in fact, it can be healthy and necessary.
I hope Little Creeping Things provides a fast-paced, twisty mystery, that readers will enjoy trying to solve alongside the main character, Cassidy.
Like many industries, publishing has been affected by the pandemic, and is constantly taking steps to evolve with the situation. That said, books are still being acquired and released by publishers. People still need books and can still purchase them. One way book lovers can help is to support local indie bookstores, many of which are struggling to stay afloat. You can buy online or over the phone, and many indies will ship to you or offer curbside pickup.
My dream virtual library would never have holds on any of the books I want! Also, there would be coffee. I'm not sure how that would fit in virtually, but since this is a dream library, there would be gourmet coffee.
We're told as children not to judge a book by its cover. Sidestepping the metaphorical meaning, it is good advice about literal book covers as well. I’ve handed more than one novel to a skeptical reader saying, “ignore the hideous cover, the book is fantastic.” But, like many, I am susceptible to beauty.
Weeks and weeks ago when flipping through book reviews, I was struck by the cover of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. It’s stunning—a beautiful, dark-skinned black girl who looks powerful and soft, against a background of swirling emerald green, gold, and silver. Not even a little bit guilty, I skipped the other book descriptions to read that one first. A YA fantasy inspired by West and North African mythology? Oh la la. Two teens from opposing families who are supposed to kill each other, but then maybe fall in love? Oh la la la. Magic, adventure, romance, and the fight against oppression? Oh la la la la. Into the cart it went.
I’m not the only book obsessive who wanted to read this book. It came out June 2nd and is already a bestseller headed for a second printing. Enjoy her interview below where she talks about balancing reading for pleasure and reading to learn.
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. This book is rich and decadent, in a world unlike any I have ever read before.
SLAY by Brittney Morris. This book gives an unflinching portrayal on what it means to be Black, and how there is not one set experience within our community.
I used to average a book or so a week! I mostly read YA because it is my favorite age category, but I have recently been branching out into both MG and adult. My favorite genre in all categories is fantasy.
Nowadays, I'm lucky if I average a book a month. It saddens me, because I feel my writing gets stronger the more I read, but it's just so hard to carve out time when so much is demanding your attention.
Reading for pleasure is more important than ever, because books allow us to connect with one another, which is vital when we've lost so many vital forms of human connection. But even more important than reading for pleasure is reading to learn. We are in a decisive moment in our nation's history in regards to racism, police brutality, and injustice, and now is the time for people from every background to learn about the more uncomfortable parts of our past so we can all fight for a better future. A great book to start with is How to Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi.
I hope my book helps readers realize that all the things they hate about themselves are often their greatest strengths. Also that a lot of the institutions we've been told are impossible to change rarely are, and that positive change is worth the fight.
The best thing book lovers can do right now is to keep buying books, ideally from their independent bookstores. Not only will this help local small businesses, they will show the publishers there is still an audience for books even with the world changing so rapidly around us. And if they can't afford new books, they can always request their library buy them! This gets these books in the hands of even more readers.
My dream virtual library would be any library app where I can save my place while browsing! I adore Libby, but it has infinite scrolling, and if I'm an hour deep into book searching and then accidentally close the app, I have to start all over. It's a small problem, but a very annoying one.
Readers can find me online on both Twitter and Instagram at @rosiesrambles. I'm usually talking about social justice, cartoons, or Star Wars. Come say hi!
I’d planned to go to Ireland this April—a second chance at a trip I’d missed when studying abroad in London. One I’d fantasized about for over ten years. Then the pandemic happened and that was that. But as an obsessive reader I’ve always known that if you can’t walk into a place by stepping off a plane, train or automobile, you can do it by walking into a book. I don’t know when I’ll get my third shot at Dublin, but that’s where Adiba Jaigirdar lives and all of us can travel there by reading her new book.
The Henna Wars hits a unique sweet spot—a story that offers both escapist fun and food for thought. It’s a romantic comedy about a Muslim girl named Nishat who competes with a beautiful girl over who is the best henna artist at school. In the past few weeks, books on race and antiracism have sold like hotcakes across the country. As a librarian and book believer, I love that so much. But many of these books are the type of fiction that will make you cry or the type of nonfiction that will make you feel like you’re taking a class (no shade, I love crying and I love school). We need to read those books, but as a woman of color, I also think it’s important to learn about other cultures and backgrounds by reading their joy. A book like The Henna Wars can offer us the escape of a cute, sweet romance while also exploring issues of race, homophobia, and identity. And, like Adiba says, queer teens of color deserve to read happy stories about themselves.
I hope you enjoy Adiba’s interview below. She has eloquent and inspiring thoughts about reading to escape and to learn and the role of publishing in Black Lives Matter.
-Natalie McCall (Head of Youth Services)
Late To The Party by Kelly Quindlen.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
My reading life was pretty active pre-pandemic. I usually read quite a lot, about 50-100 books a year ranging a lot of different genres.
A lot less active than before. In the 4 months since lockdown in Ireland, I've read significantly less. I've also been less varied in my reading. Most of the books I've found myself picking up are either romance-centred, or thrillers. Both of those genres are a form of escapism for me. I've found it increasingly difficult to pick up any book that has heavier or darker themes. Or even when I have picked them up, I've found it difficult to actually finish reading them.
People should read for pleasure because it can be a way to escape into another world during a difficult time. Reading can definitely help manage anxiety. I also think at this time so many of us are in lockdown. We don't have many opportunities to venture out into the outside world, or to even communicate in meaningful ways with our peers. Reading can sometimes be about living vicariously through different characters, and can help us experience some of the things we're currently missing out on because of the pandemic. Of course, right now there's also the Black Lives Matter protests going on in the US but also around the world, to get justice for the Black people who have been murdered at the hands of police officers. Because of that, I think it's also important that non-Black people are reading to educate themselves, to learn, and to confront the reality of something that they may not have to deal with. I definitely think reading is different now. Whether you're reading to educate yourself or for escapism, it feels a little more deliberate somehow.
I hope that when readers pick up The Henna Wars they can have some form of escapism. At the end of the day, it's a rom-com and it's all about all the different types of love in the world, whether this is the cute girl in your class, your family, or your friends. I also hope that readers can learn more about race and racism, and how actions like cultural appropriation can be deeply harmful and dehumanising. I hope that queer readers of colour can see a reflection of themselves in the pages of my book and realise that they deserve happiness, support, and love.
I think they can worry about it, because publishing will inevitably change because of the pandemic, and it should change because of the BLM protests. Book lovers can help by supporting independent bookshops whenever they can. They are going to be hit hardest by the pandemic, and they have also been doing so much to support authors during this difficult time. Book lovers should also ensure that they are pushing for diversity in publishing. That they are specifically buying and reading books by Black authors - not just the ones that will educate them about police brutality or racism, but the books about Black kids going to prom, falling in love, going on adventures, coming of age, celebrating who they are as Black kids. Make sure publishing knows that you want books about Black people by Black writers, and you want them to be about everything, the good, the bad, and everything in-between.
It would be really diverse, and all of the books would be by writers of colour.