Lit Q&A: Bethanne Patrick, Book Maven

Bethanne PatrickBethanne Patrick is the Executive Editor of BookRiot and a former book blogger for AOL and Publisher's Weekly. Once known as @TheBookMaven and now as @JustBethanne, she is the creator of the #FridayReads hashtag meme on Twitter.

Bethanne has also written two books from National Geographic: An Uncommon History of Common Things (w/ John Thompson) and An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy: How Manners Shaped the World. She lives in Arlington, Virginia.

(The following interview came about after a serendipitous Tweet.)

In what way do you think literature has the ability to change the way people live their lives?

First, literature changed my life. It showed me that I could explore other worlds and minds despite my limitations (the standard ones: being a child, being smaller and clumsier than my classmates, etc.)--and then it showed me that everyone has limitations. After that, literature took me further, to places where people overcome their limitations, and to places where they don’t. The latter may be the most important way literature engages us, reminding us of our common humanity.

What was the last book you gave as a present?

The collected MY FATHER'S DRAGON books by Ruth Stiles Gannett, to my six-year-old nephew, because my 19-year-old daughter said she had loved reading them so much.

What's the best sentence you've ever read?

Who could improve on the last sentence of “Ulysses?” Innovation combined with passion and playfulness. Yes I say yes I say THAT ONE.

Best bookstore you've ever been to?

What a wonderful question! It would have to be Blackwell's Books in Oxford, England. Not only is it a wonderful bookstore, but it's one I got to fully inhabit during a summer I spent "next door" at Trinity College. There is nothing like going to a bookstore any time you feel like it to make you feel it's the best.

What historical literary destination would you most like to visit?

I'd like to make a pilgrimage to the Bombay (pre-Mumbai!) of Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children.” That’s one that I obviously can’t take until time travel is available, so I’ll settle for the modern Tokyo of Haruki Murakami. 

Those are both bigger and vaguer than you might want. I’d really like to visit Santiago de Compostela, to see whereto Chaucer’s pilgrims were heading in the course of “The Canterbury Tales.”

Is Facebook good for you?

I’ve never really taken to Facebook. When it first opened up to those outside of the undergraduate world, I was already fairly plugged in to the friends and colleagues I cared about via email and IM. I did see its uses for book promotion, and spent some time exploring those. By the time I was once again ready to try something new for personal communication, the flavor of the day was Twitter. Not only did I quickly adapt to “the Twitterverse”--I made my participation in it work for me professionally, too. I started a meme called FridayReads that has turned into a small but very stable book-promotion service to publishers, while retaining a genuine sense of community and sharing among its thousands of participants.

What about Amazon?

I object strongly to some of Amazon’s e-tail practices, particularly what I see as blatant and questionable moves to avoid paying sales tax. I’ll admit that I don’t know enough to truly argue about it. There are other “parts” of Amazon, and I wrote about my ambiguous feelings re some Amazon-published books here.

Do you own an e-reader?

Actually, several e-readers: Three Kindles (I, II, III), and a Sony Touch. I’d love to try a Nook, too. I bought the Sony so I could buy and download books from independent bookstores, and that’s the one I also like to use for reviewing and other types of writing about books, since the stylus makes taking notes easier. However (and I’ve “outed” myself elsewhere on this), in the past year I’ve found myself reading more and more paper books. Part of that is due to the number of paper books I’m sent from publishers and authors. But I do find it most satisfying to be able to flip back and forth through a paper, paginated book rather than trying to find things I want to refer to in a digital book.

Which will last longer: cable TV or the printed word?

Definitely the printed word. Cable TV is going to be replaced by some sort of online broadcasting/selection service. The printed word will endure in many different ways, although electronic publications and content collections are definitely going to grow and morph, too.

What is one of your vices?

Diet Coke. I try to “eat clean” in almost every food group, but I just can’t quit you, DC...

What is one of your prejudices?

I think that’s a great question. One of my worst lifelong prejudices is against the privileged classes--comes from being raised by a mother who was herself raised in extreme poverty and thought that anyone with money, memberships, and fine possessions was devoid of true compassion and principles. The irony is that she carefully groomed and raised me to be a card-carrying member of those classes.

Favorite books of the past few years?

From a great question to a nearly impossible one! Certainly A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan and Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross. The Passage by Justin Cronin. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen. Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks (so underappreciated). Day for Night by Frederick Reichen. Just Kids by Patti Smith. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill. Serena by Ron Rash. The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard. The Forever War by Dexter Filkins. SO many more.

Favorite word?

To say: “Discombobulate.” To write: “Bouillabaisse.”

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