Q&A: Librarians on their favorite books

photo by Yousuf El-Jayyousi

photo by Yousuf El-Jayyousi

Nikol Slatinska

As someone with a new year’s resolution to read more often, I thought it might be helpful to me and hopefully to someone else to do a bit of exploration on the most beneficial or interesting books out there. While researching the topic, I thought, who better to ask than someone who works among books every day? So I reached out to local librarians and compiled a Q&A series about not only their favorite books, but also why reading is so important to them. Whether or not you, like me, have made it a goal to read more, need some fresh content alongside your history textbook or are just looking for a couple of recommendations, these insightful interviews are likely to help you out!

Patrick Finney, Daniel Boone Regional Library circulation manager

Q: Which book has had the biggest influence on you and in what way?
A: “Confessions by Saint Augustine of Hippo.” It was the first time I was moved emotionally by an ancient text and able to conceive of an ancient writer as a once living, breathing, struggling person. I felt a connection to someone across centuries. (Confessions was written between 397 and 400 AD). His deconstruction of the concept of time in the later parts of the book was mind-blowing and, in the end, led to me to becoming a philosophy and religion major in college.

Q:  Do you have a favorite book quote? If so, what is it and why?
A: Between Frodo and Gandalf in Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien:
“What a pity Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had the chance!”
“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”
I love this quote for many reasons.  It is great advice to Frodo regarding how to view the “vile creature,” Gollum, which he will need when they become constant companions on a long, death-defying journey. It is also a commentary on the nature of the Ring (a metaphor for extreme power) and how it will prey on one’s worst instincts and how our more generous natures can be a strength and protection against becoming a tool of evil.
Q: What were your favorite books of 2017? (This can include books that came out in 2017 or just ones that you enjoyed last year.)
A: One that came out in 2016, but which I read and enjoyed in 2017, was “The Last Days of Paris” by China Mieville. One that came out in 2017 and which I read as soon as I could was “Borne” by Jeff VanderMeer. Both authors are among the best known contemporary writers in the “weird fiction” genre. Weird fiction is a subgenre that can combine horror, science fiction, fantasy and/or suspense. The best known historic writers of weird fiction are H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe.
Q: Do you have any book recommendations for high school students?
A: “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” by James W. Loewen
Q: Are there any “classics” that you would recommend reading?
A: “1984” by George Orwell. I also read “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky while I was in high school on the recommendation of a friend. It was daunting, but so worth it.  It’s one of the few books that has made me cry.
Q: Overall, what impact has reading had on your life?
A: As a person who studied history, philosophy and comparative religions and who went on to become a librarian professionally, it’s impossible to overstate how important reading has been to me. Unlike many librarians, I am not a bibliophile. It’s not the book itself that’s important to me, but the ideas, information, insights, skills and just plain enjoyment I get from reading that I value. If I want to learn more about how to do things or how to think about the world, I can do that through reading books, articles, blogs, etc. On the other hand, if I’ve had just about enough of the world and want to escape, I can do that through reading, too.    

Beth Shapiro, Rock Bridge High School media specialist

Q: Which book has had the biggest influence on you and in what way?
A: Many books have influenced me throughout my life, one of which has been “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser. This book discusses the history of the fast food industry in the U.S., and as a result of reading it I further examined my food choices and eating habits. I have never been a fast food fan, but I increasingly prioritized eating locally, started raising a few chickens and began using my sunny yard areas to grow vegetables.

Q:  Do you have a favorite book quote? If so, what is it and why?
A: No, not a particular one.
Q: What were your favorite books of 2017? (This can include books that came out in 2017 or just ones that you enjoyed last year.)
A: I read a lot, and here are just a few of my favorite books that I read in 2017:  “My Lady Jane,” “When Dimple Met Rishi,” “The Hate U Give,” “A Madness so Discreet” and “Scythe.”
Q: Do you have any book recommendations for high school students?
A: I’d recommend any of the books that I listed above. But recommending a book can be very personal because we all have different interests and different tastes about the types of books we enjoy reading. I encourage students to chat with me individually so that I can offer suggestions of titles that they might enjoy the most and that might be the best fit for them. A book that piques interest and resonates with one person might not necessarily click with another person.
Q: Are there any “classics” that you would recommend reading?
A: As a child I loved the saga of “Gone With the Wind.” As I grew older I began experiencing discomfort with some of Mitchell’s portrayals of race and ethnicity. I haven’t read the book recently, so I don’t know how it would speak to me now.
Q: Overall, what impact has reading had on your life?
A: Reading has had an enormous impact on my life. I have always been a voracious fiction reader and a strong academic reader. Reading has brought me great pleasure as one of my favorite ways to relax. It also has allowed me to learn a tremendous amount in my free time, in my college and graduate school careers and at jobs. I absolutely love to read!

Kristy Toplikar, Daniel Boone Regional Library librarian

Q: Which book has had the biggest influence on you and in what way?
A: Like many other people across the globe, the Harry Potter series has had the biggest influence on my life. I rarely read books when I was young until I stumbled across this series as a preteen. After I read it, I was hooked! Harry Potter introduced me to a whole new, magical world and a hobby that would forever change my life and career.

Q:  Do you have a favorite book quote? If so, what is it and why?
A:  “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” – Dumbledore, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”
Q: What were your favorite books of 2017? (This can include books that came out in 2017 or just ones that you enjoyed last year.)
A: “A Court of Wings and Ruin” by Sarah J. Maas
“Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green
“Traitor to the Throne” by Alwyn Hamilton
“Openly Straight” by Bill Konigsberg
“Big Mushy Happy Lump” by Sarah Andersen
“The Novice” by Taran Matharu
Q: Do you have any book recommendations for high school students?
A: All of the above books! Anything by Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J. Maas, Victoria Aveyard, Marie Lu and John Green are surefire reads, as well.
Q: Are there any “classics” that you would recommend reading?
A: Though I don’t read classics often, I quite enjoyed reading “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen when I was a teen. A delightful romance!
Q: Overall, what impact has reading had on your life?
A: Reading has impacted my career (librarian for life!), has consumed a ton of my free time and is always changing my perspective on the world. I’ve made great friends through my book fandoms, and my knowledge of books has helped me relate to library customers of all ages. Reading has helped me navigate both good and hard times, and I believe it’s made me a better person overall. I love books so much that I even got this tattoo!

Dennis Murphy, Rock Bridge High School media specialist

Q: Which book has had the biggest influence on you and in what way?
A: “The Good Earth.” I read it when I was in about eighth grade, and the whole thing is just about how the land was used and how a man moved from poverty to great power and all the evils and things that happened around that. It just shaped my whole vision of life and the way I look at things.

Q:  Do you have a favorite book quote? If so, what is it and why?
A: You know, I don’t have a famous book quote. One of the best ones — it’s not a book quote, but it’s a quote by Davy Crockett — is not really one you put in a paper, I don’t think.
(Mr. Murphy proceeded to show me a blue mug on his desk, which read, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.)
So that’s a good quote. A similar quote I read was, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in hell,” because [Texas] was so hot.
Q: What were your favorite books of 2017? (This can include books that came out in 2017 or just ones that you enjoyed last year.)
A: I started reading a trilogy of books; the first one is called “Hard Country,” and the next one is called “Bad Country.” It basically starts off with a guy who has a huge ranch in Mexico. It’s about his family. I’m on the second book now, and it travels all the way up to World War II. It’s been a great series; I’ve really enjoyed it.
Q: Do you have any book recommendations for high school students?
A: I have this one book that I think is really cool. It’s called “Three to See the King.” It’s not a big book, it’s a small one, and it’s very different. It’s ageless and timeless. It’s about a guy who basically lives way out in the middle of nowhere in a tin house. It has a lot of religious undertones and spirituality through Christ, and it’s a great book. It’s one of those books where people really love it, or people go, “I don’t understand that at all.” But it’s one I think everyone should try.
Q: Are there any “classics” that you would recommend reading?
A: Well, of course “The Good Earth” is a classic. “Huckleberry Finn” is a great book that I think everybody should read, too.
Q: Overall, what impact has reading had on your life?
A: I’ve always read, and I love reading. I was an English teacher before I was a media specialist, and I became an English teacher because I loved to read so much. I used to read a whole lot of different genres of books, but not so much anymore. I’ve kind of focused in on things of the Old West; I like reading about that. I’ve just always been a reader; when you look at the world through books, and when you look at the world after you’ve lived a long time like I have, you realize how much insight authors have into life.

Kat Stone Underwood, Daniel Boone Regional Library librarian

Q: Which book has had the biggest influence on you and in what way?
A: The Harry Potter books had the biggest influence on me. I started “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” when I was in the fourth grade, and up until that point I read only what was expected of me for book reports (so I could get the free pizza and ice cream coupons). After being pulled into the world Rowling created, I begged my mom for the next book, then the next and the next. A reader was born. Between Harry Potter books, I devoured anything that had a hint of magic mentioned in it, and from there branched out even further. I no longer read for treats, but for the utter pleasure of getting lost in another world. Even now, when life gets overwhelming, I know I can retreat back into the world of Harry and be comforted. I might have eventually become a ‘capital R’ Reader without them, but the Harry Potter series was my gateway.

Q:  Do you have a favorite book quote? If so, what is it and why?
A:  I don’t really have a favorite quote.
Q: What were your favorite books of 2017? (This can include books that came out in 2017 or just ones that you enjoyed last year.)
A: I finally read “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara in 2017 and was simultaneously moved and crushed by it; I highly recommend it. I also adored “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss, as it’s a wonderful piece of storytelling.
Q: Do you have any book recommendations for high school students?
A:  Read all genres! For several years I was convinced I was “too old” to read [young adult] books, but when I went back to them, I realized what I was missing. I also took way too long to discover the joy from reading fantasy and even a little romance. Try a little of everything!
Q: Are there any “classics” that you would recommend reading?
A: “Jane Eyre” is my go-to classic. The prose isn’t too complex, and you get a little mystery to keep you engaged. This is another I reread sometimes, and I always discover something more in it.
Q: Overall, what impact has reading had on your life?
A: Reading has, without a doubt, put me on the path to librarianship. I started working in libraries in high school, where I was a fairly permanent fixture browsing for books. I kept at working in libraries part-time through college and eventually realized that libraries were truly my home. Now, one of my favorite parts of my job is Readers Advisory, which is helping folks get matched up with a book perfect for them. I got to make a career out of my love for reading!