By the Book: Slice of Life #sol19 17/31

The New York Times has a regular interview feature with writers called By the Book. (Here’s a great recent one with Laurie Halse Anderson). I borrowed this idea for a slice from The Hyphenated Life but read a few By the Book columns to gather a collection of interview questions that I liked.

What books are on your nightstand?

I’ve already written a whole slice about this, but there are different books there now. Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp’s Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids, Isabel Allende’s In the Midst of Winter, Tochi Onyebuchi’s Beasts of the Night, Weike Wang’s Chemistry, Paul Elie’s Reinventing Bach, and Carol Anderson’s White Rage.

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

Jane Austen. My desert island book would always be her doorstopper collected works, though the print is so small, I probably wouldn’t be able to read it.

What’s the last great book you read?

I rarely finish books I don’t like, so I’m happy with most of what I read. The last book I gave five stars to on Goodreads was The Outsiders, which my son and I just finished as our read-aloud. The last book I read myself that I gave five stars to was Carole Boston Weatherford’s picture book, The Roots of Rap, which has splendid art by Frank Morrison.  

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

How very many snail species there are and how very tiny they can be. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is full of interesting information about snails that you didn’t know you wanted to know.  

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Probably The Brontes Went to Woolworths, a novel published in 1940 by Rachel Ferguson, and reprinted in a Virago edition, which my mother collects.

Whose opinion on books do you most trust?

My mom knows what I’m likely to enjoy, even though it’s often rather different from what she enjoys. Most of my book recommendations come from the wonderful teacher-bloggers who participate in the kidlit version of It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Carrie, Shaye, Linda, Cheriee, and many more keep me reading. For grown-up reading, I often like books recommended on the Modern Mrs Darcy blog or podcast, What Should I Read Next. And if Rebecca Schinsky from Book Riot recommends it, I’m almost certain to like it.

When do you read?

First thing in the morning before I check my phone. Last thing at night before bed. When my students have reading time. When I find myself with an hour home alone in the afternoon. With my son after we watch TV in the evening.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

Middle-grade is my jam. But I also love picture books, graphic novels for all ages, sci-fi, fantasy, investigative journalism, nonfiction, cookbooks, literary fiction, essays. I don’t typically make time for romance, mysteries, or Westerns, though I’m open to well-written books in these genres. I’d probably have to avoid gory horror, as once an image is in my head, it’s never leaving.

How do you organize your books?

Badly. Wherever there’s room. I’ve long since run out of shelf space, and so now new books that enter have to be stacked. I used to have a photographic memory for all my books and could instantly picture any title I was looking for. Now I often can’t even remember which state my books are in. Literally. I live in South Dakota and work in Nebraska and have thousands of books in both locations.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I’ve been many different readers over my life, and I still have books from all those different selves: romance novels from early teen reading, the complete works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gore Vidal from pretentious late teen reading, Virago reprints and feminist classics from my early 20s, Restoration and 18th-century literature from my late 20s and early 30s, and a true hodgepodge of books ever since.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

Eugenides from Meghan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. The first book in the series, The Thief, is a tight and tidy Newbery Honor, and in subsequent books, the story becomes a sprawling series about the moves and matters of nations. But Eugenides is always the beating heart. I also have a soft spot for Snape.

Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

Russell Hoban’s Frances books, the Little House on the Prairie series, which is at least half the reason I thought it was a perfectly reasonable idea to move to South Dakota in my 30s, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Any book would be better than the none he obviously currently reads, but I’m going to go with something that explains how the Constitution works. Because I think he could use a primer.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Much as I would like to have a good chat with Jane Austen, I’m a shy introvert who struggles with small talk and would prefer to organize this literary dinner party for writers I’ve already met and talked to, just so I wouldn’t be too star-struck and tongue-tied. I’m going with Jason Reynolds, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

I sometimes feel this way about literary fiction for grown-ups. I need characters that feel real, plots that move, not just carefully crafted prose, and sometimes the literary fiction I try feels more like a literary exercise than a novel. I put down books without finishing them all the time, though I am also motivated to read to finish books and add them to my list, as I do like to see the numbers rise over the year.

What book do you plan to read next?

It’s impossible to say.






39 responses to “By the Book: Slice of Life #sol19 17/31”

  1. arjeha Avatar

    Love how you organize your books. I am the same way. Any open space is the perfect spot for a book. Love this format. It would be interesting to pose these questions to students and see what their responses would be.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Any and every open space! And some spaces that don’t actually look very open! I think I might try a version of this with students at the end of the semester. I’ll report back!

  2. Leigh Anne Eck Avatar
    Leigh Anne Eck

    I would say you are a well-read person from romance novels to classics! Wow! I knew you were a reader, but that really is impressive. The part that warms my heart the most is that you read with your son! Love that. With spring break here, I am hoping to get some reading done, along with some writing. And I might just have to use this idea as a slice to connect my two lives!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I hope you’re getting lots of reading done over break. And this is a fun format for a slice. I’m amazed that my son is still keen on read-aloud. He goes through phases where he drops it (“I’m too old for this”) but he always comes back to it.

  3. TammyB Avatar

    I love this book…and the post!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’d totally forgotten this was a book! Then I looked around on my shelves and guess what? I own it!

  4. edifiedlistener Avatar

    This was such a delight to read! I was so curious to read each response. Lots of books I’ve never heard of and the pleasure of all the details was great. I love this idea.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Sherri. It was a fun post to write. After I published, I kept thinking of more books I wanted to include! Always more books….

  5. learn_thru_it Avatar

    God, I love knowing what other people are reading. It is my favourite way to get to know someone. I’m stealing this post format!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Love that you stole it! I also think it’s amazing to get to know others through their reading lives. It’s always the most interesting thing to me as well.

  6. learn_thru_it Avatar

    PS I love your blog title.

  7. Juliana Ellington Avatar
    Juliana Ellington

    What a fun format for your Slice! I enjoyed this peek into your reading life! I’m so glad that you enjoyed the snail book and that you have mentioned it a few times on your blog. I think this is a very underappreciated because under-read book (and unknown?) that would please many readers.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think it would be a just right book for many as well.

  8. Amanda Potts Avatar

    I love this post. Sigh. I love all sorts of posts about books and reading. I love so many of the things you say in this post. Apparently I’m in a loving sort of mood, but I really do love this, “I’ve been many different readers over my life.” Yes. And I am putting the snail book on my list because every time you mention it I am that much more intrigued.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Ha, my mother will be so happy. She’s been book pushing hard with the snail book! I swear, that’s the best way to get her to comment on my blog: mention the snail book! I love posts about reading lives too. They never ever bore me even a tiny bit.

  9. Ramona Avatar

    My husband has been after me to do a version of this for our Christmas letter for several years. I’m just not sure that all our friends are interested in our reading life, although we do include favorite reads in our yearly update. I’m sure there are friends still wondering when I’m going to grow up and quit reading middle grade and picture books (Never!). And I love your answer to the last question.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Wow, I would love to get this kind of Christmas letter! And never is exactly the right answer to when you’re going to grow up and stop reading picture books!

  10. karpenglish Avatar

    I keep wanting to come back to my By the Book slice, after the first question took up pages and pages when I tried this before! You really do learn a lot about people when you find out about their reading. I had to cap my physical book collection at about 1500, because we ran out of places for bookcases. (Well, technically, I think we could put some more in the main part of the house, but my architect husband says if I add any more load on our 100+ year old floors, I run the risk of breaking the house. And in our basement downstairs, there is no more space for bookcases!) As a result, I’ve had to sell some of our books back to Powell’s. Bonus: more book money!!! Downside: Heart-breaking to part with the books. Like you, my books are all tied to who I was and when, and having them is not necessarily about wanting to read them again, but about keeping a record of my life.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have no idea how many books I own. I’ve had major book purges over the years and I’m always trying to hustle books out to make room for more. I give away a lot to my students now, both for their own reading pleasure and for their classrooms. It’s hard as a new teacher to begin a classroom library–expensive! Powell’s is the best. I’m trying to get to a conference there in May, and I know that every minute I’m not at the conference, I’ll be at Powell’s! I’ve had to move shelves around in my old house too because the floors just weren’t meant to handle massive book cases!

      1. karpenglish Avatar

        Darn old house floors! At the end of the summer, I decided to sort all my books and put the not yet read ones upstairs, and the ones I have read downstairs in the finished basement. That worked reasonably well, but I have a bookcase and one shelf of unread books downstairs too. I like being able to just look at the shelves and see what I could read next. After a while of them all being mixed together, the unread ones get pushed to the back of my mind and I only read the newest, shiniest ones. I have a lot of knee and ankle problems too, so with most of my books on the main floor of the house, I don’t need to send someone else down the staircase to find “the sequel to this one- it has a purple cover!” any more.

  11. karpenglish Avatar

    P.S. I listened to Tochi Onyebuchi’s Beasts of the Night on audiobook during the summer. I liked hearing all the names and African derived words pronounced as intended, but I felt like I got lost a bit at the end. Either a whole lot of stuff happened quite improbably quickly, or a lot of time passed and there were visual cues to the time jumps in the actual book, but nothing in the words that showed that leaps of time were happening. It was an odd experience, but the book has a fascinating premise and I enjoyed everything except the confusing part.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I need to get back to it. I read half, then started a couple of new things, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, just because I was in the mood for some nonfiction, and then I haven’t gotten back to it. I would imagine it’s quite good on audio.

  12. readingteachsu Avatar

    That is going to be a raucous dinner party. So much to light on here, books to look up, thoughts about what I would say. What caught my heart is Frances. She stills ticks with me. Her telling her pseudo friend, I have to be careful with you. Total staying power.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Yes to Frances! (I have a cat named Frances too!) Those books are perfection, every sentence so beautifully shaped and crafted.

  13. wordjourneysite Avatar

    What a great idea for a slice! I read “By the Book” every week in the NYT and enjoy seeing what the different authors are reading and the often surprising ways they answer the questions. I had the same sense of anticipation reading your responses. I am definitely going to look for “The Brontes Went to Woolworths” – never heard of it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I had a hard time pulling myself away from reading the archives as I was writing this post. It’s a great column, so many interesting writers profiled and such interesting responses.

  14. Cara Wegrzyn Avatar

    You are the second Slicer I’ve come across who used this By the Books format. I can’t resist finding out more about other people’s reading lives! Thanks for sharing! (BTW, I bet that having a dinner party with Reynolds, Anderson, and Acevedo would be outstanding!)

  15. Jaana Avatar

    I am not a New York Times regular reader so I knew nothing about these interviews. They are now bookmarked for further reading. I loved reading your post!! I love reading about what other people are reading and why. That literary dinner party idea is now stewing in my mind…

  16. cvarsalona Avatar

    Thanks for letting us sneak into the inner sanctum of your reading life. It is a rich life.

  17. tenkoranmaah Avatar

    Beautiful post! I love the structure of the slice and the form it took.

  18. aggiekesler Avatar

    Now YOU are a reader! It oozes out of you…:)

  19. xiaobudian18 Avatar

    It’s so fun to read your responses. Love the president question. It sets me off thinking 🙂 thank you for the peek into your reading life

  20. Veronica Avatar

    I love this. Had you not posted this, I would not have been aware.. and my kids would not have a chance to answer these sort of questions. This will make a great mid-semester reflection, thank you! (something different than the typical Q&As)

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I hadn’t even thought about using this for a reflection in my classes! What a great idea! I’m going to try it next month.

  21. Trina Haase Avatar
    Trina Haase

    This was such a fun post to read. I heard about The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating through a book talk and it sounds intriguing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I think it’s one that you would like, Trina.

      1. Trina Haase Avatar
        Trina Haase

        I’ll add it to my growing to read pile!

Leave a Reply to learn_thru_it Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: