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!
What books are on your end table right now?
Way too many books to list! The stack has overflowed my bedside table and my bedside bookshelf and is now spreading across the floor. Here’s a picture… it is basically an illustration of the vast gap between my desire to read and the time I have available. Near the top of the heap are my friend Pat Schmatz’s YA novel Bluefish, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, Curtis Sittenfeld’s Man of My Dreams, A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, two novels by Elinor Lipman, Joan Barfoot’s Luck, a book on plot and screen writing, John Holt’s Teach Your Own, and whatever else is buried further down in the stacks…. If there is an earthquake during the night, I am likely to be buried in books. I guess there are worse ways to go.
Who’s your favourite author/illustrator of all time?
I don’t really have one favorite. The books I have re-read the most times are probably JRR Tolkein’s, because I went through a few pre-teen years of being somewhat obsessed with the Lord of the Rings. Barabra Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favorite novels. And I read everything Oliver Sacks writes, more than once. His footnotes are truly fabulous.
Where is the best place to curl up with a good book?
Anywhere is a good place to curl up with a book: comfy chair, cosy bed, the bathtub, on a beach… I’m not too choosy.
Which is best: hardcover, softcover, or e-book?
Softcover, definitely! Hardcovers get too heavy for reading in bed and they hurt when you doze off and drop them on your face. And e-books are great for travelling but otherwise, not booky enough. I like looking at cover art and turning real pages and not having to remember to recharge batteries.
Who’s your favourite literary hero?
Hmm. Don’t think I have one. Sam Gamgee, maybe. I like reluctant heroes.
Who’s your favourite literary villain?
Don’t think I have one of those either…. Okay, I just went and scanned my bookshelves to find villains. Margaret Atwood’s character of Zenia, in The Robber Bride, is wonderfully destructive and manipulative. And I love love love the Vogons from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy — torturing people by reading horrendously bad poetry to them is hard to beat for sheer villainy!
If you could have dinner with three writers or illustrators, whom would you choose?
Tough question. Just three? Okay, my friend (and brilliant YA author) Pat Schmatz, who lives way too far away in Wisconsin… wait, is that cheating? Am I supposed to pick writers I don’t know? In that case… Maybe Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, and Freya Stark. But if they have to be alive, then I’ll pick Phillip Pullman, Oliver Sacks and Dervla Murphy. There. Yes, I know I cheated and picked six instead of three!
What series did you read growing up?
Honestly? Probably all of them. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures; a whole bunch of very dated British series about girls boarding schools, all called things like The Twins at St. Clare’s and A New Girl at the Chalet School; Trixie Beldon; the Bobsey Twins; Ramona the Pest; Black Stallion; all of LM Montgomery’s Anne books (and the Emily series too); some awful romance-y ones about a nurse whose name I forget; every pony book by the Pullein-Thompson sisters; the Choose Your Own Adventure books; Piers Anthony’s fantasy books; lots of sci-fi series…. I was a ravenous and fairly indiscriminate reader.
If you could do the illustrations for a classic, which book would you choose?
I’m not much of an artist… so unless I could think of a classic that lend itself to stick figure illustrations, I’d probably pass on this opportunity.
Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?
Nope. I read all kinds of books, for all kinds of reasons. Lots of pleasure, no guilt.
Are you more likely to be caught reading a zombie novel or a sentimental romance?
Definitely the zombie novel!