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Book City: Why reading for a living is like herding cats

Marilyn Dahl on her dream job and which best-seller is most overrated.

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It depends on how much time I have. I read 40 books when I was sick over Christmas. I plow through lots of mysteries. That’s easy.

Have you read a truly great book lately that you’d unhesitatingly recommend?

"The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat" by Edward Kelsey Moore may not be considered a “great” book, like "Billy Lynn’s Long Half-time Walk," but it’s an absolutely delightful book that brought me great joy, and I recommend it to everyone I know. It’s coming out March 12. From last year – "The Song of Achilles," by Madeline Miller. Brilliant. I haven’t had anyone who’s read it dispute that.

What were your most cherished childhood books? Can you name a childhood favorite that influenced you?

The Enid Blyton series, which is British, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and of course the Little House on the Prairie books, which I have read over and over.

Have you read a well-reviewed or popular book lately that you felt didn’t live up to the hype?

"50 Shades of Grey." (I know…way too easy an answer).

Care to speculate on why it’s such a publishing phenomena?

I have not a clue – it mystifies me. Just think of all the Masters theses being written about it right now.

Do you have a book or two that you’ve re-read over the years and will no doubt read again?

Anything by Barbara Brown Taylor or Frederick Buechner. Mary Oliver’s poetry and many, many mysteries.

So mysteries are your genre of choice? Any favorite authors?

So many…. Let’s try British women: Josephine Tey, P.D. James, Deborah Crombie, Val McDermid, Georgette Heyer, Patricia Silver, Dorothy Sayers.

When and where do you settle down to read?

Anytime I can. On the sofa in the living room, with two cats – one by my left leg, the other draped over my right shoulder. Works a treat in the winter. But I also am never without a book, and can read anywhere. I think the paper book is the perfect vehicle for transferring information. I hate reading books electronically.

What do you see as the future of books as we know them? And what does this mean for authors and the book trade?

While wishing that e-books are a fad, I know that’s not to be. But I think the sales will level out – that’s what most prognosticators think – and there will be room for both. Indie bookstores are figuring out how to sell e-books with the new Kobo initiative, which will help keep them in business selling physical books. I do worry that with the growth of e-books, readers will see bookstores as showrooms and will not understand why their favorite bookstore closed.

I think the biggest threat to authors right now is the consolidation of publishing — fewer publishers means less competition for an author, which means less money, or perhaps more money for fewer authors. The big bucks will go to authors with a successful track record. That’s pretty much how it’s been anyway, but seems like it will get more so. I think independent publishers are growing and thriving, but they are still struggling relative to the big players. And for all the hoopla about how self-published authors can make a killing with e-books, they are still in the definite minority.

Any book you’ve read lately that really caught your imagination, inspired you, or changed how you look at the world?

"An Altar in the World" by Barbara Brown Taylor. It’s all about discovering the sacred in small things, the value in getting lost and paying attention.

What do you plan to read next?

I should probably pick a book that is available rather than a pre-pub, although, if the next Sookie Stackhouse fell into my lap, all bets are off.


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