Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Interview With the Non-Necromancer

Anna at Diary of An Eccentric was kind enough to interview me about books this week, in the process of passing along the "Interviewing Other Bloggers Meme" (she got her questions from Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit, and she formulated her own questions for me and also Christine at She Reads Books and Marie at Boston Bibliophile).

Anna: Out of all the books you've read, which one affected you the most, and why?
Jeanne: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I read it when it first came out, in 1986, and it made quite an impression on me. I was 26 years old, at the height of my fertility, and an adamant supporter of the pro-choice movement ever since an experience with a high school friend whose "religious" parents would have quite literally kicked her out of the house for being pregnant, except that she had a miscarriage before all of her friends could give her the money we'd pooled to get her an abortion. I had never so clearly connected being forced to carry a baby with women's rights and with what was happening with the Taliban in Afghanistan until I read the passage in which Offred has her picture taken by a group of Japanese tourists and tells them yes, she is "happy" (because she has already had her daughter, husband, mother, and best friend taken away and she has been beaten and terrified into submission). Later I came to appreciate The Handmaid's Tale for its deft weaving of the rights guaranteed by the United States Bill of Rights into the fabric of the fiction, but at first reading, it was the visceral aspect that got me. Offred is a womb with legs, nothing more.

Anna: Everyone always asks for book recommendations, but what is one book you think people should avoid at all costs?
Jeanne: Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. To me, it is the epitome of a novelist's misguided attempt to write nonfiction thinly disguised as fiction. It is an environmentalist argument that she made much better in her (later) nonfiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I love most of Kingsolver's novels, but she really needs to guard against her tendency to try to preach in her fiction.

Anna: What is the first book you remember reading?
Jeanne: Happy Birthday to You! by Dr. Seuss. My parents read this to me every year on my birthday--still will, if we're together. So I memorized it very young and could "read" it before anything else. One of my favorite parts was always when the animals would stand on their tiptoes because it was such an honor to be "the tallest of all-est." I have always been taller than almost everyone else, so I liked thinking that was a good thing.

Anna: When I'm browsing books, sometimes I come across a title that hits me. I don't always read the book, but the title amuses me or gets to me in some way. What's your favorite book title? Have you read the book? (Ex: The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. I probably won't ever read this book, but I chuckle every time I see the title.)
Jeanne: If I have to pick just one, it will have to be another YA title, one that I chuckle at every time I go to a bookstore: One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies. I haven't read it because my daughter skimmed through it in the store once and told me it wasn't really worth reading. What a great title, though!

Anna: What's the one book you love and wish you'd written?
Jeanne: Whoa! I'm going to take this in the spirit of "what book do you think it's even remotely possible you could have been in the right spirit to be able to write if you were a million times cleverer and more patient than you are?" And the answer is: Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Okay, yeah, I know. It's presumption to even think it. But it's the way I wish I could write, if I could write fiction at all, which I can't. If I had written something like that, I would have just strutted around the rest of my life crowing like Peter Pan: "Oh, the Cleverness of Me!" But really, I'm too earnest.

And that's my interview. If you would like me to interview you about books and what you think of them and all, leave me a comment with your contact information. If you would just like to comment on my opinions, well that's okay, too.


Anonymous said...

I'd love to be interviewed. I've seen this poking around for awhile and thought about participating, but never got as far as doing it. You can send me questions by e-mail at sophisticated.dorkiness[at]

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

Jeanne said...

Okay, Kim, coming right up!

KD said...

I'd like to modify the first question, though. what book that you read after the age of 20
after 25
after 30
made the largest impression on you?

I am afraid that our "most influential" books tend to be front-loaded...either because people check life-altering books at us when we're younger, or because the threshold for being life-altering is lower when we're younger.

Jeanne said...

KD, I agree that "the threshold for being life-altering is lower when we're younger." But my answer stands--if the world had changed more since 1986, maybe another book would have made a larger impression since then. But I just got a plea for donations from Eleanor Smeal to help Afghan women, in which she says that, once again, "the Taliban militia is active in some 70% of the country." And the fundamentalist "Christians" in my small town are still writing letters to the editor in which they equate reading a newspaper article about evolution to being called "an ape."

Dreamybee said...

Okay, I have got to read A Handmaid's Tale. I'm not a big Atwood fan, but I keep hearing about this book, and it does, indeed, sound like something that needs to be read.

Dreamybee said...

Sorry, *The* Handmaid's Tale.

Anna said...

I really enjoyed reading your answers! I read The Handmaid's Tale in a Women's Studies class in college about 10 years ago and it blew me away! Oh, and Dr. Seuss rocks! My mother didn't like his books, so I wasn't introduced to him until I was a little older. Now my daughter and I love them, especially Fox in Socks and The Lorax.

Diary of an Eccentric

Literary Feline said...

If I didn't already want to read The Handmaid's Tale before, I'd want to now. It is amazing how some books really touch us on a personal level and how sometimes they come around at just the right time.

Jeanne said...

Dreamybee and Literary Feline: Since The Handmaid's Tale is unfortunately still relevant, I do think it's an important book for people to read. At this moment,I'm deciding whether I will include it for the course in "Relationships and Dialogues" I'm teaching this spring, as I have in the past.

Jeanne said...

Kim's interview is here: