Which I suppose just goes to show that one oughtn’t to leap to conclusions about what people mean, at least not without further conversation. On the other hand, perhaps she was just trying to spare my feelings.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
Honesty. Emotional honesty, in particular. Granted, an author is (more or less by definition) not only taking liberties with reality, he/she/they are deliberately manipulating the feelings and thoughts of the reader. Still, emotion that doesn’t ring true will kill a book for me.
Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?
I kind of think a good book should do both. Even the lightest of escape fiction needs to have an intrinsic sense of structure, self-awareness and intelligence. On the other hand, I totally consider laughter to be an important emotion.
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I will honestly read anything, including the label on the Tabasco bottle if there’s nothing else. You know what’s in Tabasco? Peppers (puréed, we assume), vinegar and water. So simple — but do people make their own at home? No, so why not? And who are these McIlhennys and how did they get this thing started? (I posted a Thanksgiving photo last year — featuring our table set for 10, with clean, empty dishes (as everyone stayed home, isolating during the pandemic) — but with a glimpse of the kitchen counter, on which was a Tabasco bottle. Some alert soul noticed this, and the company promptly sent me a nice Tabasco caddy, with six different forms of the sauce. My husband urged me to put a bottle of Krug on the counter this year and see what happens.)
That said, I do avoid books in which terrible things happen to children (not counting autobiographies of people who survived terrible things happening to them when they were children; those are fascinating) — and there’s a very small group of authors whose books I won’t read because the mind I sense behind them disturbs me. (In all fairness, mine disturbs a few people, too.)
How do you organize your books?
What is this strange term, “organize”…? Basically, it’s management by piles. The TBR pile (well, one of them) is over there, and has everything in it from sf/f and history to hard-core crime and memoirs — to say nothing of “Love Drunk Cowboy,” by Carolyn Brown, which I’m taking with me to Europe on Thursday. In the office bathroom, there’s a pile of historical (mostly) reference books, including whichever of the Firefox books I’m finding useful at the moment, plus my brand-new (used) copy of “The World Almanac of the American Revolution” (my original copy broke into several pieces, having been used throughout the writing of the last four or five novels), and an intriguing thing called “How to Read Water” (an excellent skill to have), plus an enormous, deliciously illustrated book called “Lichens.” Down by the girls’ wing (all our kids are long since grown, but they come back for visits) is a small bookshelf that’s stacked (the shelves being full of games like Monopoly and something in a black box with a vulgar name that I don’t have time to go look at just now) with mostly popular fiction — chick-lit, fantasy, murder mysteries, biographies, etc. — that somebody in the house has already read but didn’t want to throw away or donate to the library, so there it is for whoever might be interested. And … um … well, several more of the same. Piles, I mean. <cough>
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I’m fairly sure that people who read my books (let alone those who actually know me) wouldn’t be even faintly surprised that I have titles like “Medieval Punishments: An Illustrated History of Torture,” or “The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe,” let alone “Blood and Guts,” or the “Carmina Gadelica,” “The Mask of Command” (that’s military history/commentary, not BDSM (that’s on another shelf…)), and three different books on symbology, plus a couple dozen slang dictionaries.