We’re coming up on 4 months of CBC now and I’m looking forward to introducing you to some of our regular contributors as time goes on. When I started thinking about doing these interviews, I knew I wanted Maria to go first. I’ve known Maria for about seven years and in all that time, there hasn’t been another person who has given me better recommendations for books, movies, TV, restaurants, you name it. She’s the kind of person who absorbs an incredible amount of knowledge, so when you say you like something, she always has a “Have you tried X?” waiting for you.
Maria is a writer and college level writing instructor who lives in Colorado. She’s a human companion to the most adorable ball of feline fluff in Boulder County, who you can view on Instagram. If you want to ask questions about cat herding or advice on what you should read next, chat her up on Twitter. You can tell her how good she looks in that tiara.
Allison: What’s your earliest memory of reading?
Maria: My earliest memories are of my mother reading to me. I was an odd kid, in that instead of learning to read, I would often ask people to read to me, memorize what they had said, and then repeat it. For awhile, no one caught on to my little trick, and my mom happily read to me. I remember loving “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” in particular, and I actually memorized it and recited it to my class for some sort of talent show-type thing in 1st or 2nd grade. I actually missed the bus home from school one day because I stayed after class to recite it for my teacher (she didn’t know how to politely cut me off). So that book stands out- as does “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs,” which my brother and I both enjoyed.
Eventually, one of my teachers spoke to my mom, and explained that I couldn’t read on my own, so when I asked her to read something to me, she would turn me down. I distinctly remember getting a book in the second grade, a short chapter book about a schoolteacher who turns out to be an alien, through the Scholastic program where you could order books at school and they would be delivered to your class. It was the first book with chapters that I had ever read–or attempted to read anyways. I recall looking at the cover of the book, and debating in my head whether it was worth trying to read on my own, or if I should just give up, and accept that I would never know what happened to that alien teacher. I decided I just HAD to know, so I read it. I was so proud of myself, and I enjoyed the experience of reading so much–I think that was the exact moment when I became a convert, so to speak, to the practice of reading instead of reciting.
Allison: OMG. I memorized “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” for school too. That must have been a popular thing to do with the bookish set, back in the day! What’s your favorite genre to read in?
Maria: I would say realistic fiction (not sure if that’s the proper term), but lately I have also been getting into non-fiction as well. In my early twenties, I had no interest in non-fiction, but now I find it really appealing.
Allison: I too have experienced an uptick in my interest in non-fiction lately. What have you been reading?
Maria: I think the book that got me interested in non-fiction was a biography of Sylvia Plath (American Isis). Although I was familiar with Plath’s work, it was entirely different to read about her life through a historian’s perspective. I also read Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright and I strongly recommend it. I just finished Maya Angelou’s 2nd autobiography, Gather Together in my Name, which is a riveting read. It’s very dark, and there’s quite a bit in there I did not know about Angelou.
Allison: Favorite books or series?
Maria: When I was younger, I read a lot of series (what’s the plural of “series”? serieses?): I re-read the Nancy Drew books a few times, I was obsessed with the Song of the Lioness books by Tamora Pierce, and for some reason, the Thoroughbred series by Joanna Campbell, even though I didn’t ride horses. I always wanted to be an equestrian, so I think the books allowed me to pretend that I lived in that world.
Allison: I too was obsessed with horse books for a time and also The Song of the Lioness Quartet. Have you read any of Pierce’s other Tortall books?
Maria: I also read the Immortals series. I remember I didn’t like it quite as much as Song of the Lioness, but it was still enjoyable. Nothing could really beat Alanna (who had red hair like me), the Prince, and her cat Faithful (black like my cat).
As an adult, it’s very hard to narrow down my favorites to a reasonable amount: Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Abeng by Michelle Cliff, Cruddy by Lynda Barry, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, The Secret History and the Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, the Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (don’t judge the book by the movie), The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I minored in latin in college, so I also have a soft spot for Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (I hope that doesn’t sound as pretentious as I think it does).
Allison: All on my favorites or in my TBR pile… Well, except the Virgil and Ovid. I think all English majors have their soft spot for something “classic” that makes us sound pretentious. I have a great love for Greek plays, Lysistrata being my favorite, which is a surprise to no one. Speaking of strong women, what made you want to contribute to Coven Book Club?
Maria: When I finish a good book, I always want to talk about it with someone, but of course, since I’m no longer a student and I don’t teach literature classes, I rarely have the opportunity. For years, I’ve just been keeping my thoughts to myself, or occasionally rambling about books to friends and strangers. When I heard about Coven Book Club, I realized that I finally had an outlet to discuss the books I feel so strongly about. The focus on recommendations, as opposed to reviews, also appeals to me, because honestly, who wants to read about a book that the reviewer didn’t like? The focus on books written by women also appealed to me quite a bit, since most of what I read is written by women anyways. The creation of a space for promoting women writers seems incredibly important to me.
Allison: Enough serious stuff. What’s the best method for organizing books?
Maria: I have no idea. I lean towards a system where I group books together based on general classifications: required reading, books I’ve read, books I haven’t read yet. I also try to put all my favorite books in one section so they’re easier to find. Every once in awhile, if I have 2 books written by the same author, I’ll put them next to each other. So, not logical at all. Suggestions are welcome.