Blogger Amy Koester Takes the BD Spotlight: On Austen, Extra Suitcases & A Love of Spoilers.

March 27, 2015

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I first came across Amy Koester’s blog when I found an article she had written, posted on Twitter. In ‘Selection is Privilege,’ Amy writes about the underlying discrimination and racism that reveals itself when those in charge of picking books for others demonstrate a certain bias and / or close-mindedness that unwittingly prevent diversity in book choices. It was an excellent piece and I encourage you to check it out.

As a children’s librarian and blogger, she has created a wonderful site, The Show Me Librarian, with which she demonstrates her knowledge of books and her overall sense of humour and compassion that goes into creating a reader of any age.

Read below to read about Amy’s love of spoilers, her take on Austen, and why she takes an extra suitcase with her to England.

What would you like Book Dumpling readers to know about you?
I’m a children’s librarian, and at my job I select books for youth ages 0-18. But I read well beyond my selection responsibilities, and read quite a lot of adult fiction and nonfiction alongside the middle grade and YA I enjoy in tandem with my job.

I’m the sort of reader who likes to make connections between books while I’m reading–as in, “Ooh, I like this book set in this time period, it reminds me of these other titles. I should make a list!” Also, I am a fan of spoilers. Not because I like knowing what’s going to happen, but because if I know what’s going to happen, I can really focus on the craft of how the author gets us there. I find that fascinating.

Describe a teacher who had an impact on you.
Penny Tokoly was my English teacher during my sophomore and junior years of high school. I don’t think I truly appreciated at the time how much she supported her students as unique readers with individual tastes.

She encouraged our reading no matter what it was, and created assignments and projects that allowed us to choose many of the books we studied. Sure, the course included plenty of the classics–as any high school curriculum does. But Ms. Tokoly’s class was the first time that leisure reading and reading for school seriously overlapped. As a librarian who works with my share of students dealing with strict assignments, I now realize what a gift it was to be shown that any book is fodder for both enjoyment and critical thought.

What is the last, great book that you read and to which type of readers would you recommend it – try to be as specific as possible when you recommend the book?
I recently finished a galley of Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, and I loved it. I’d recommend it to folks interested in memoirs, in particular memoirs of younger women; in interesting women writers of the past century (the book explores, in addition to Bolick’s own journey, such writers as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edith Wharton); and in women’s choices for their lives.

It’s a great feminist read and something I definitely felt I related to considering where I am in my own life right now.

Which one book would you recommend that almost everyone try to read at least once?
This is a tough question because I tend to dislike recommending books just because I love them–I want to recommend based on the reader’s tastes, not mine.

But, if I had to choose, I would recommend that everyone try to read a Jane Austen novel at least once. All of Austen’s novels exhibit astute characterizations of humanity, and I think it can be incredibly valuable to readers–to humans–to see that there are universal characters that transcend time and context. So many people think Austen is just about the marriage plot, or comedies of manners. And while both these subjects are still incredibly relevant in everyday life, I think that focusing on reading these characters–many of them completely ridiculous and readily identifiable–can be an extremely rewarding experience in and of itself.

Do you have a favourite bookstore?
My favorite bookstore in the whole wide world is Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, England. Not only is it an unbelievably charming space, but it is full of superb reading choices on every topic and genre imaginable, and the staff are so incredibly knowledgeable.

I treated myself to a Reading Spa when I was there last year, during which time I spent around 40 minutes talking to a staffer about what I like to read. She then brought me a cup of tea and a piece of cake while she went into the main stacks of the store and pulled over two dozen titles she thought I might like. She talked about each of them and why, based on our conversation, she thought I might like them. I bought so many books that I had to check a second piece of luggage on my flight home to the US.

I read the Mr. B’s emails and reviews voraciously every month, and I look forward to their Christmas catalog every year.

E-reader or the real thing?
My mind still thinks of print books first; maybe it’s something about spending all of my work life in a library filled with books? But, really, I don’t have a firm preference. I browse print books, but when I am going to be traveling, I like to load up my e-reader. I also do e-books for digital galleys. And if there’s a book that I’m really dying to read, format isn’t important–I’ll read it in the format I can get my hands on fastest.

Tell us a little bit about the book that has a soft spot in your heart.
I have loved Neil Gaiman’s Stardust since my best friend recommended it to me in the eighth grade, and I’ve read it at least once a year almost every year since. I loved the slight melancholy of the ending back then, and while those types of books aren’t necessarily my favorites now, I’ll always be enraptured by Yvaine’s predicament as an immortal fallen star.

If you could add one book to the high school curriculum, which one would it be?
I think every high school student should read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It’s a pleasurable read, but it’s also packed with themes and concepts that can help students approach their own lives and their own stories, regardless of what they are or where they come from. And it can help anyone–not just teens–start to see the world from the perspective of other people. If more people left high school with those seeds of empathy and open-mindedness to the many ways of living, both by choice and not, I think we could be a much more thoughtful, mindful society.

Which question(s) do you wish I had asked you?
I wish you had asked me how I find the books that I add to my to-do list. I’ve got a kind of eclectic book discovery process that includes curated newsletters, email lists, browsing particular bookstores, and more.

Which contemporary book will become a classic in 50 years?
It’s so hard to guess what contemporary titles might become classics. I guess for something to be a classic, it has to have a theme that resonates across time and space. How can I even begin to assess that?!? I’m going to creatively beg off of the question as it was asked and instead say, I hope that the future classics include many of the outstanding diverse titles, both fiction and nonfiction, that we’re seeing now. I hate to think that 50 years in the future there will be such disproportionately low representation of writers of diverse backgrounds, genders, and abilities as there are now. In my opinion, if we want the canon of the classics to have any seriousness to it, it needs to reflect the full spectrum of diversity of what’s out there. We don’t currently do a great job of that.

Which book is criminally underrated?
I guess it’s tough to say this title is underrated when it’s just been released recently, but I am in love with Red, Yellow, Blue (and a Dash of White, Too) by Charles George Esperanza. The illustrations are beautiful, the story is great fun, and it’s all around a simply fantastic book. More people should give it notice immediately!

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