It is such a pleasure to have my daughter Mary join me for this month's book talk. Mary is a life-long lover of books, so much so that she decided to go into publishing upon graduating from college. I am always looking to her for good read suggestions. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for this month's chat!
What books are currently on your nightstand?
For a long time, the only books on my nightstand were The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. I started the series in January 2017 and the wonderful village of Three Pines captivated me through May 2018. I teared up as I finished the final book out both because of how emotionally invested I was in the conclusion of Glass Houses and because I had no idea what I could possibly pick up next that would satisfy my heart, mind, and soul in the same way.
Luckily, I’ve found my way back to The Soul of an Octopus, Sy Montgomery’s bestselling non fiction novel that explores the consciousness of an octopus.
What book first got you hooked on reading as a child?
This one is easy and will come as no surprise to my mother, the curator of this whimsical blog. I count myself as extremely lucky to have been born as part of the Harry Potter Generation. When I was ten years old, my mom brought home Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and my life was changed forever. That might sound like an exaggeration, but never before had I devoured a book as I did this one. Now, I am a children’s book publicist and many of the authors I work with remind young readers during events that it just takes one book to get you hooked for life. Well, J.K. Rowling hooked an entire generation of readers for life on a series that encourages, compassion, ambition, and kindness in equal measure, and I think we’re all better for it.
How do you choose what to read?
Most of what I read is for my job. As a book publicist, I am assigned a number of titles to work on each year, booking media and events to help draw readers to the book. I’m lucky enough to read books by authors like Katherine Applegate, Ann M. Martin, Marissa Meyer, and Jennifer Mathieu before they reach shelves and also have the true delight of reading manuscripts by debut authors. There is nothing quite like introducing a promising debut author to booksellers, librarians, teachers, and young readers.
Which genres are you drawn to and which do you avoid?
Growing up, my favorite genre was Fantasy, but lately I’ve been on a bit of a Mystery and True Crime kick, thanks in large part to Louise Penny and the podcast My Favorite Murder. There really aren't any genres that I avoid, I'm interested in all of them!
Do you reread books? Which ones and why?
I reread Harry Potter whenever I have a chance. The books help me reconnect with my childhood, a time when I didn’t impose any limits on what I thought was possible. I had no trouble believing that three eleven year olds could defeat a cave troll together and then grow up to defeat the most evil wizard of the age. We could all stand to remember how much we’re capable of, and there’s nothing better than children’s literature to help me remember that most of what I think I cannot accomplish is simply because I’ve forgotten the courage that comes naturally with youth.
If you could be a literary character, who would it be?
I would either choose Anne of Green Gables or Ginny Weasley. Anne because it is a gift to have imagination and Ginny because she is as fierce as they come. Besides, they are also both redheads, just like me. : )
Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? What about their writing appeals to you?
While I can’t claim to have read everything J. R. R. Tolkien has written, I can claim what I think is a very impressive collection of Lord of the Rings. My older sister, Kate, brings me back the series from every country she visits (and where she can find the books!) My last count was twelve languages! It’s so much fun to see how different countries design the cover and interior. Beyond satisfying my insatiable need for as many Tolkien editions as I can get my hands on, it has also always been fun to picture my sister picking the books out for me during her travels near and far. I’m sure most will agree that books make for the best collections, especially when the collection is built by friends and family.
Most recently, I read the entirety of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series and recommend it to everyone I meet. Her books make me feel more tender toward the world, even while they describe brutal murders! Quite a feat.
Which three authors (living or dead) would you invite to join you for dinner and why?
Louise Penny, J.K. Rowling, and J.R.R. Tolkien because they all helped shape who I am today.
Is there a book that you often recommend to others?
What book or books would you recommend to a parent whose child is a reluctant reader?
Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s Treehouse Series is perfect for reluctant readers. The book is heavily illustrated, completely hilarious, and subtly educational. The New York Times profiled Andy earlier this year and captured his brilliant humor beautifully.
Mary Van Akin is a lifelong reader, thanks to Harry Potter. Now, she is the Associate Director, Publicity at Macmillan Children's Publishing Group where she's lucky enough to spend her days bringing readers to great books. For lots of book recommendations and cat pictures, follow her on Twitter at @mvanakin. Mary lives in Brooklyn, New York.