What Writers Read: Alex Van Tol

What do children’s writers and illustrators read in their spare time? In this series of interviews with B.C. book folks, we discuss everything from guilty reading pleasures to the best literary villains. If you’d like to share some favourites of your own, please leave a comment!

Alex Van Tol

What books are on your end table right now?
Chevy Stevens’s Never Knowing (I’m a sucka for thrillers). The Help by Kathryn Stockett (nope, I haven’t seen the movie yet). And, uh, How to Be An Adult in Relationships.

Where is the best place to curl up with a good book?
Well, not in bed, because then my hands get cold because the blood doesn’t flow to my fingertips. And not in a chair, because I need to have my legs propped up for some weird reason. I do love window seats. And I’m rather fond of sunbeams on the carpet.

Who’s your favourite literary hero?
Jonas, in The Giver. As a boy of twelve, he had incredible courage to break free from everything he ever knew to pursue a life of unpredictability – and truth. I loved how Lois Lowry never really shows us Jonas: her greatest achievement in this book was to use Jonas as a vehicle for the reader to see the people and the community around him.

Who’s your favourite literary villain?
Randall Flagg, baby. There ain’t no one badder than the Walkin’ Dude.

If you could have dinner with three writers or illustrators, whom would you choose?
1. Virginia Woolf. I want to know whether she just . . . lost herself in the words.
2. Ernest Hemingway. I want to know why the worlds he created were more bearable than the one he lived in. I want to talk to him about his restless spirit.
3. And the last is a three-way tie between Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. Lewis mostly because he and I share the same birthday, and I loved reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my Grade 5 kids. But Tolkien and Rowling? Those brains. Really. The ability to plot like that, to add such exquisite detail and subplots and twists and to not mess it up between volumes. They’re strong on all counts: voice, characterization, plot, pacing.

What series did you read growing up?
I read all six of Enid Blyton’s books about Mallory Towers. I loved Daryl, the protagonist. Love that she hauled off and whapped that gorgeous, whingey Gwendolyn, just like everyone else secretly wanted to do. Love that she played pranks on her teachers and sneaked out at night but still worked hard to keep her marks up.

What’s your guilty reading pleasure?
Magazines. It’s not that I feel guilty about reading them, it’s that I feel guilty buying them. And then, if I have a big stack of them sitting about, as I currently do, I feel guilty not getting to them. But I love them. I love how they’re perfect for someone with a short attention span like I have, and how they’re easy to read and full of pretty pictures and promise me ways to fix my life. And introduce me to other people whose lives are fixed (O magazine). Or completely unfixed and in jumbo disarray (Vanity Fair).

Are you more likely to be caught reading a zombie novel or a sentimental romance?
What is it with the zombies? Can someone explain the fascination? As for romance novels… let me tell you the number of times I’ve thought, Jesus, I could write that and then set about buying samples of similar books only to gag my way through exactly five eighths of each one before putting it back on the shelf and looking for something sharp to poke myself in the eyes with. I guess it’s true that you should write the kind of stuff you like to read. Because if you don’t have the stomach to read it, how’re you going to write it?

To learn more about Alex’s work, please visit her website.
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