The Writers Who Read series continues this week with Jenny Vinyl.
Who are you?
I’m a writer of short essays as well as history and memoirs about my family, though I’ve always enjoyed writing in many forms — fiction, creative non-fiction, and sometimes poetry, too.
What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
This is tough because I’ve rarely revisited my childhood reading as an adult, so it’s hard to remember! I devoured The Babysitter’s Club series, and I loved Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle. I’m sure I read Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt several times in middle school.
What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, by Amy Bloom, is a collection of short stories I could not put down when I first read it, about 10 years ago, and I’m always recommending to readers looking for something new.
What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
I love British stuff and stories with weird, quirky characters. I enjoy relationships that don’t follow a “normal” A to Z trajectory (meet, fall in love, marry), which is one of the reasons I love Beatrice and Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing. I also relish plots that involve erstwhile rivals teaming up, even temporarily, to defeat a mutual enemy.
What is your ideal time and place to read?
I always read at night in bed. In fact, someone recently gave me a book pillow to facilitate in-bed reading, which has been exciting.
Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Most 19th century British lit, which is so smart, clever, and charming — these books tell the stories I most love to read. For non-fiction, David Simon’s work and Studs Terkel’s oral histories have been influential. Roxane Gay and Tina Fey write the kind of funny, thoughtful, and insightful essays I try to emulate.
How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I usually do both every day and mostly for fun, but for those times that require a little more motivation, I set up tasks and reminders. This approach has helped me “chip away” at a project I didn’t want to abandon but was slogging through and has worked for both reading and writing.
Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I’m definitely a physical book person, though I do read ebooks and audio books for convenience.
Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I keep a TBR and participate in book clubs and challenges, but it usually doesn’t feel like pressure. I am often reading a bunch of works at once and setting things aside temporarily to revisit later. I used to hate not finishing a book I started, but in recent years I’ve had no problem with DNF, which has freed me to be more adventurous in my reading. So I set goals and plan and timeline, but it’s a very low-stress situation.
What are you reading now?
My big reading project right now is Anna Karenina. It’s what I’ve been picking up in between other works and is probably going to take me months! I’ve also been enjoying comics — Saga and Hawkeye were recent favorites.