Thursday, November 26, 2015

Interview with Sally Allen - author of Unlocking Worlds

Hello, I am Dhivya Balaji from Readers Muse. 

Thank you for taking time to answer my questions. I have been a bibliophile since I was about five years old, and for nearly twenty years now, have read books with a passion. So you could say I connected with your book and the contents. 

My book review blog is a by product of my passion for reading and I have not enjoyed any other book more than I did yours in recent times. I read ‘Unlocking Worlds’ expecting it to be a set of recommendations in each genre (wrong assumption, I know) and was pleasantly surprised to find it was otherwise. 

So once again a huge ‘Thank You’ for writing this book! I have tried to ask a few questions that may have answers in your book already, but please answer only those you are comfortable with. Some of these are for the readers to know your book better.

First, I want to thank you for the very kind words, Dhivya, and for the warm welcome and wonderful questions. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed and found value in reading my book! 

1. What prompted you to write Unlocking Worlds? (Is there a single particular trigger?) 

I had been writing about books and authors for several years for online news websites and my blog. Then a dear friend and fellow book lover asked me when I was going to write a book. The idea hadn’t really occurred to me, but her encouragement and belief in my approach to reading inspired me to write this book. 

2. The book has a really clean approach to listing books and I loved it. How hard was it to limit the number of books listed under each genre? 

Thank you! It’s great to hear that because it was something I worked hard to refine. In the beginning, I actually had many more categories and only five books in each. Looking over them made me realize that many of the categories overlapped, and it made more sense to condense them and include ten books in each. Once I did that, the process became much more fluid, though I did still have to leave out some books that I genuinely enjoyed because there wasn’t necessarily a place for them in the categories I ultimately chose. I like to believe those books will find a place in future projects. :) 

3. As a fellow book lover, I can understand that there are no ‘perfect’ genres. The genre specification is an attempt to classify books. But you have compiled a list of books in some major genres. Why specifically these? 

I would say that’s exactly right: We assign genres to provide readers with direction about what topics or questions a book will explore. That was my intention in categorizing the books as I did. Some of them will be familiar to readers, for example Classic Children’s Books and British Novels. Some may be slightly more esoteric, like Time Travel Novels and Travelers’s Tales. All of the categories I chose represented the subjects I have found rewarding to return to again and again. 

4. I have always thought that a bestseller is a book that has managed to connect with many readers at once, making them praise the book. But nowadays bestsellers have become more about marketing. How much importance do you give to a book’s bestseller tag? 

That’s a great point. Bestsellers are often predetermined based on marketing. I’ve read wonderful books that are, as the saying goes, off the beaten track not necessarily because of their quality but because they’re not the books to which a publishing house committed their marketing budget. When choosing a book to read, I try to pay more attention to how people are talking about it, what they’re saying and how they’re saying it, than whether it’s a bestseller. 

5. Which was one really underrated book that you felt changed you as a reader? 

I really adored Marie-Helene Bertino’s 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas. It’s beautifully written and uplifting while still acknowledging the hard stuff in life. Critics have received it well, but it’s not a book you hear much about compared to others. It’s a wonderful read. 

6. Which was one overrated book that didn’t impress you much? 

I can’t really think of one that didn’t impress me, though I can think of one that I couldn’t get into, which is David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. I read about ten pages then set it aside. I think the font was too small, so I might have to try it on my e-reader. :) 

7. Have you shied away from any genres? Is there a particular genre of books you avoid reading? 

I try to be adventurous as a reader and try new things, but I have to say that, in terms of genre, horror and erotica are two that I’m not drawn to read. In terms of content, I favor books that are uplifting, that give me hope in our capacity for good, so I gravitate toward books that fall into that category. 

8. If I were to ask you to pick your top three favourite books of all time what would they be? (Difficult to point out, I know. But you could try). 

That is always such a hard question for book lovers, isn’t it? We keep reading new books, so the list changes. At the moment, I would say Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling. 

9. Was there a particular author who you favoured reading in your childhood? How has your perception towards the same author changed now? (or remained same). 

I really loved Francis Hodgson Burnett as a child, both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. As an adult, I still appreciate her for her wonderful characters and stories, but I also understand more about the era she was writing in and how that is reflected in her ideas. 

10. Which is the most dog eared copy in your bookshelf? 

I have an edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that looks like it’s about a hundred years old. The cover is falling off and the pages are stained worn thin. 

11. I know it is every bookworm’s habit, but have you purchased more books than you could read? 

Oh my goodness, yes. I can safely say I have enough reading material to last a lifetime, even if I never buy another book for the rest of my days. I can also safely say that I will carry on buying new books. :) 

12. Have you ever been put off by the font and typeset in a book while reading it? 

Most definitely font size is an issue for me because I have weak eyes. I recently purchased a copy of The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens and had to return it. The font was so tiny that I could not concentrate on the story. The only way I can read this book is on my e-reader because none of the editions I’ve found have large enough print to accommodate me. So thank goodness for my e-reader!

13. How much do you think illustrations help in the understanding of the book? (I really loved those in your book. So I was curious as to why you decided to add them) 

This is a wonderful question. I love illustrated books. Looking at images gives us another entry point into the material, another way of experiencing it. I also love how images give us a resting space between words, which gives us time to digest and reflect. I wasn’t sure I would include images until I saw the ones the artist I worked with created. I found myself identifying with them and wanting to linger over them. I’m so glad you enjoyed them as well! 

14. Why this title and book cover? (Both are my favourites!) 

Thank you! I had such a difficult time figuring out a title. A friend of mine suggested “Unlocking the World,” but this didn’t seem quite right since I’m talking about the many worlds we enter through books. So there was my title: Unlocking Worlds, which is what I feel happens when I read great books. The cover was done by the same artist who did the interior illustrations, and I give all credit to her for coming up with the concept.

Some Quick Fire Questions 

• Most recent additions to your bookshelf? 

Harry Potter’s Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures by John Granger 

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef 

The Annotated Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Annotated and Edited with an Introduction by David M. Shapard

• One book you will always want to have in your bookshelf, no matter how many times you rearrange and put old books away? 

Slouching Toward Bethelehem by Joan Didion. It’s my favorite essay collection of all time and always inspires me to think and write.

• A book you purchased a long time back but never found the time / inclination to read?

The End of Sparta by Victor Davis Hanson. Someday, I will get to this novel! 

• The best book gift you have received? 

Recently, a dear friend gave me three very old editions of Charles Dickens novels she found at her library’s book sale. I keep them front and center on my desk for inspiration. 

• A book that you had low expectations for but that which pleasantly surprised you? 

Here We Go Again by Jen Lancaster. I knew Lancaster mostly as a memoirist, so I didn’t know what to expect from her fiction. Here We Go Again was very fun and clever, and the ending made me laugh out loud. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 

• Your best reading position? (I loved your descriptions about always having a book in hand so you could read everywhere – but still there must be one environment you prefer) 

My favorite reading environment is on an airplace. This may sound oddly specific, but I absolutely love reading on airplanes, especially at night. I never have to worry about hearing my internal voice nagging me that I should be doing something else, like laundry or dishes. :)

• One literary character you would love to have as a companion in case you are to go on an adventure. 

Oh, there are so many! I might like to have Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series because she is very resourceful. I also love Hamish Macbeth from M. C. Beaton’s murder mystery series. He seems like he’d be great fun to have on an adventure. 

• Your all time favourite author? 

Another impossible question! :) For novels, I would say my favorite from the past is Charles Dickens and from the present is Haruki Murakami. 

• Do you prefer series books or standalones? 

Hmmm, that’s a difficult one. I’m not sure if I have a preference. I do love a good series, like 44 Scotland Street, the Hamish Macbeth murder mysteries, and Harry Potter. But I’m happy to read a great standalone book as well. 

• Your favourite series books? 

Harry Potter. It’s brilliant on so many levels, and I find something new each time I reread it. 

• Do you place importance to book covers? (different editions have different covers and some people are particular about the cover and edition they read) 

That’s an interesting question! I do love a beautiful book cover and have bought books because of their cover art. On the other hand, I can’t think of a book that I declined to purchase because I didn’t like the cover. 

Thanks once again for patiently answering all my questions!:) 

Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking questions and for your kind words about my book! 


Award winning writer and teacher Sally Allen holds a Ph.D. from New York University in English Education, with an emphasis in writing and rhetoric, and a M.A. in English Language and Literature. She teaches writing, literature, and communications, leads book group discussions, and is the founder and editor of Books, Ink at HamletHub.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you again for these thoughtful and fascinating questions - I had such fun thinking about and answering them!


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