By the Book #sol22 28/31

This morning, another slicer reminded me of the delights of the “By the Book” column in the Sunday Times, and I spent a happy half hour catching up on interviews I’d missed over the past few months. I decided to interview myself about my own bookish life.

What books are on your nightstand?
There’s always a stack because I read more than one book at a time and have a habit of starting a new book whenever I need a little mood boost at the end of a long day, which is often. Sometimes the stack gets out of control, as I add more books and neglect to take any away that I’m definitely not reading. Right now, I’m actually reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, Shaun Bythell’s Chronicles of a Bookseller, and I got 60 pages into TJ Klune’s The House by the Cerulean Sea last night (though I’m not convinced I’m sticking with it; I’m finding it mannered and overwritten). I’m just a few pages into Melissa Febos’s Body Work, Weike Wang’s Joan Is Okay, and P. Djeli Clark’s Ring Shout (too exciting for bedtime reading). I started Emily Dickinson’s Garden and Henry Adams’s Democracy and a reread of Marie Phillips’s Gods Behaving Badly months ago and never made progress because I kept starting new things. Just in case books I haven’t started yet but might: a reread of Wide Sargasso Sea, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Light Years, Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, Jenny Offill’s Weather, and Rachel Ingalls’s Mrs Caliban.

What is the last great book you read?
So far 2022 has been a good reading year, and I’ve really enjoyed nearly everything I’ve read. The last book I read that I consider great was back in January: Katie Kitamura’s Intimacies.

Are there any classic novels you only recently read for the first time?
Not a novel, but I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X all the way through for the first time in the fall, and it’s most definitely now on my short list of books everyone should read in their lifetimes. (Do I know what other books would be on that short list? Not at all.)

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
Rachel Ferguson’s The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s was published in a Virago edition and is now available from Bloomsbury Group, so it’s not like it’s completely unheard of. But I think it’s still obscure. Ferguson confessed to a friend as she was writing it, “It’s getting so odd that I’m rather frightened of it,” and it’s certainly eccentric–as well as hard to describe. It’s about the Carne family and their complex imaginative “sagas.” Their dinner conversations are a madcap blend of the real and the fantastical as they weave fictions about their dog, a beloved childhood doll, and real people, alive and dead (including the Brontes who, yes, shop at Woolworth’s) into stories about what happened to them that day. The family’s rich imaginative life becomes even more complicated when the oldest sister, Deirdre, meets two of the characters from their saga–real people they’ve created all kinds of fictions about–and begins to develop a friendship with them. It’s witty and weird and a book I hesitate to recommend because it’s not for everyone. But I love it so much.

How do you organize your books?
Badly. But also by genre–except for one bookshelf that has a very narrow shelf that must be organized by size since I don’t have many books small enough to fit on it. My favorite shelf is my rereading shelf–a collection of books I’d like to reread at some point. Whenever I’m in a reading slump or need a comfort read, I can instantly find something that appeals. (And here is The Brontes Went to Woolworths, ready to be reread.)

Describe your ideal reading experience.
Anytime I can fall into a book and not want to leave is the ideal reading experience–especially these days when my attention feels so fractured. I like reading on trains, and I love reading on vacation, especially a vacation that involves an ocean view and a comfortable chair and everyone else otherwise occupied.

What do you plan to read next?
Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia; some of the many books on my nightstand; and now, The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s.


My theme for Slice of Life 2022 is finding inspiration in the writing of others. Each day I plan to find my slice in someone else’s words or forms. Today, I’m borrowing Jill’s “By the Book” interview at One Blessed Block.






26 responses to “By the Book #sol22 28/31”

  1. Ramona Avatar

    Oh, what a slice! We are definitely alike in having many books going at once. Here’s my favorite line from your post: “…I love reading on vacation, especially a vacation that involves an ocean view and a comfortable chair and everyone else otherwise occupied.” Upcoming vacation with daughter’s family (3 boys 5 and under) does not look promising for having everyone otherwise occupied!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      No, that does not sound like the best reading retreat, does it? On our last vacation, before the pandemic, we took my son’s Playstation with us so he could play video games while I read. It was perfect!

  2. Terje Avatar

    What a pleasure this was to read. Thank you so much for sharing your reading life. I need to check out the titles you mentioned. My TBR pile is mile high and I need to carefully decide what to add. I am currently reading Anne Patchett’s These Precious Days and on Stephen King’s book. Not entirely sure why I chose the last but I can’t quit either. Happy Reading!

    1. Terje Avatar

      Shining is the kIng’s book I am reading.

      1. Terje Avatar

        King (sorry for the multiple replies, my fingers work faster than my brain today, nothing to do with my age, it’s the limited sleep due to the changing clocks.)

    2. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have These Precious Days on a different stack ready to read–it looks so good. It has been so long since I’ve ready a Stephen King book–I’m sure I’d be way too scared to read one now!

  3. Trina Avatar

    This is lovely! I may have to steal this format…so insightful of you as a reader!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      This was a fun format. I’ve written a By the Book interview before for a slice but I decided to write another one without finding the old one. I probably chose the same book for the question about an obscure book. I hope you try it out because I’d love to read your answers!

  4. Juliana Ellington Avatar
    Juliana Ellington

    This was a really good format for you this morning. I love this piece of writing: it’s so chatty and intimate.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It was just the piece I wanted to write today so I got lucky finding that mentor text!

  5. arjeha Avatar

    Interviewing yourself – what a great format. I sometimes have two books going at the same time but never more. I wouldn’t be able to keep characters and plots straight. I sometimes feel like I live in a cave of books, which is not a bad thing.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Living in a book cave sounds perfect to me!!

  6. jarhartz Avatar

    Love this conversation with you. So much is going on in your reading life. My favorite thing in this is your rereading shelf. My second favorite thing was that you start a new book to lift your spirits. Brilliant ideas.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      My rereading shelf is the best! It makes me happy every time I look at it.

  7. Heidi Atlas Avatar

    What a fabulous post! You are filled with so many delightful ideas. I love reading that interview piece in the Times Book Review. You really made it your own. I love the rereading section – such a good idea. I also sometimes have to place books in places because of their size. Thanks for inspiring me this month.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      There are so many good “By the Book” questions, I had to limit myself because my slice was getting too long.

  8. Lainie Levin Avatar
    Lainie Levin

    I love this post! It’s also great to see a kindred spirit in another human who doesn’t really organize the bookshelf very well. Strangely enough, though, I manage to find what I need pretty quickly. I’m also a read-a-bunch-of-books-at-one-time kind of gal.

    I’ve copied these questions, and I may have to give this type of post a spin! Thanks for the inspiration. =))

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s a fun format to try! I used to be able to put my hands instantly on any book in my house, even when they weren’t organized at all. Now I struggle even with genre shelves narrowing things down a bit. I miss the better memory of youth!

  9. Natasha Avatar

    It’s always so fun to hear about other people’s reading lives and the books they love. I read The House in the Cerulean Sea a couple summers ago, and I’d encourage you to stick with it. I don’t know enough about your taste to swear you’ll love it, but I was not at all sure about the book in the beginning, and it slowly grew on me. It took a while–till after he’d been on the island a while–but in the end I was glad I’d read it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks for the encouragement to keep going. He just got to the island, so I will stick with it!

  10. Amanda Potts Avatar

    That is a lot of books on the go. I love the idea of a rereading shelf – now I’ll dream about what to put on there. Night Circus, almost definitely and maybe The Empress of Salt and Fortune. Hmm…

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m definitely reading The Empress of Salt & Fortune next month when I plan to have more reading time.

      1. Amanda Potts Avatar

        I loved it- hope you do, too.

  11. Jill Bless Avatar

    I love how you are finding inspiration every day in someone’s slice and then use it to write yours. What a great idea! Your bedside table reminds me of mine. Lots of books that I’m a few chapter in on.

  12. […] morning, another slicer and The Dirigible Plum (yes, again) inspired me with their take on the “By the Book” column in the […]

  13. Susan Kennedy Avatar
    Susan Kennedy

    Like this format though your book stack is a little intimidating.

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