Books and Reading Questionnaire from The New York Times


I picked this one from The New York Times interview with John Scalzi (I skipped the two questions about science fiction authors).

What books are on your nightstand?

I just cleared my nightstand! I read a bunch of new releases, mostly mysteries. Now I'm going to try to read a few books in French, and then start compiling a new list of 180 books to read (i.e. reading books I already own!).

What’s the last great book you read?

I'm not sure. I've quite enjoyed all the books I've read recently (ongoing list at the bottom of this page). But great as in classic? I don't know if I could pick one. Marilynne Robinson's language is delightful as usual. And I really enjoyed the look and feel of and wealth of information in The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien by John Garth.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

I read War and Peace and Moby Dick a couple of years ago! And I read Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House a couple of months ago, but that's not a novel. It's about time I read Crime and Punishment, though I have just reread White Nights!

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

Ooh. A screened porch by the sea. A warm day. Not too hot, but no breeze to ruffle the pages of my book. A comfy armchair with a coffee cup within reach, at the exact right distance to set it down without worrying about its tipping over. A magically refilling cup, for when I forget about the coffee or latte and it grows cold. Everything around me clean and tidy, with no distractions. And a snack that does not induce weight gain!

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

Some of Tolkien's writing, Turkish authors that have not yet been translated, some of my favourite YAs from long ago... Two favourites that are known, picking entirely at random from my long list of favourites, are The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher (how have I never blogged about this book? I loved it on first read and on every reread!) and The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. Oh, and let's add The Gold Fairy Book by Countess Serge Tolstoy.

What book should everybody read before the age of 21?

Not so much a book, but every book. Read a LOT while you're young! Read as much as you can while your time is your own! "Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all." -- Henry David Thoreau

What book should nobody read until the age of 40?

Hmm. Probably books about family or careers. But I don't like rules about what should or should not be read.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

Oh, everyone. Writing is fun but hard work. I'll mention just two: Kait Nolan and Monica Byrne.

What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?

I read non-fiction set in my time and place. I avoid all fiction set in my world until after I've finished editing my own story.

Do you count any books as guilty pleasures?

I never feel guilty about anything I read!

Any comfort reads?

Rereading J. R. R. Tolkien, Agatha Christie, and all my favourite YA.

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

Outlander, definitely. I have made so many friends through thelitforum and its previous incarnation. It's been over a decade of friendship and fun, laughter and writing!

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

Most recently, I learned about the cologne 4711, from the latest Louise Penny and one of the other new releases. The oldest eau de Cologne still in production! And I haven't had a chance to smell it yet!

Do you distinguish between “commercial” and “literary” fiction? Where’s that line, for you?

In the language, mostly. There's a level of poetry in the words and descriptions and dialogues of literary fiction, whether it is published as such or published as a genre novel. The writing of Joanna Bourne is an example; not defined as literary, but certainly poetic.

How do you organize your books?

In groups. There are the Folio Society shelves; the Tolkien and Inklings shelves; the research shelves; the mystery shelves; the YA shelves; the James Herriott and Yorkshire Shepherdess shelf; the Turkish, Swiss, and Canadian shelves; the Bukowski shelf; and a few others. What I really need is a separate shelf or two for ALL the unread ones, so I can start making a dent in them!

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

I guess it depends what surprises them, either in terms of books or based on what they think of me. The most recent experience was a new acquaintance who was startled to learn that I'd read Tolkien in other languages, too, including Turkish!

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

Voracious! So many. I've blogged about my favourites before. One of my previous A to Z Blogging Challenge series was about My Favourite Books. Here's a compilation of some of my posts on Young Adult and Middle Grade books.

If you were to write something besides [historical romance], what would you write?

I have always longed to write a mystery. I've written one mystery short story so far. Would love to write more!

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 have gotten much better at not feeling guilty for setting books aside. And I've begun to make great use of the sample feature on the Kindle app, to decide whether I really want to buy something. I've blogged before about disagreeing with Jonathan Franzen and of how much I can't abide Shane by Jack Schaefer.

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

Emily Carr. Tolkien (though I'd be fainting with nervousness). And the third... Agatha Christie? Lord Rochester? Shakespeare? Chesterton? Pliny the Elder? John Buchan? Jean Little? Dostoyevsky? E Nesbit? The possibilities are endless...

Whew! That's made me hungry and thirsty!

How would you answer some of these questions?
Who would you invite to dinner?


Hi Deniz - That's amazing ... and you are so well read and will have read something by so many of these authors. I brought back books on Emily Carr from Canada - and have yet to read one ... which I must do! I've had a buying frenzy - a huge variety ... George Orwell's essays, Diana Kennedy - the Mexican food writer, Alice Toklas and Gertrude Stein (more food) ... lots - which I must settle and read. I'm reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's Mani about the Peloponnese ...

I've just added in another post about Tutankhamun's dynasty and the exhibition ... I do hope you're going to get out there.

All the best - Hilary