Friday, May 4, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twelve Questions with Melissa Garrison

Welcome to the reader interview roundtable. I’ve accosted and bribed several people I know, pressuring them into answering a list of questions that I could then turn into Reader Interviews for your (my imaginary readers) joyful consumption. I hope you enjoy the journey. I certainly have.
First on the roster is Melissa Garrison. She and I have been friends and fellow book nuzzlers for almost twenty years.

M: What kind of a reader do you consider yourself?

Melissa: I consider myself to be a “non-academic/eclectic” reader. I don’t read for the edification of my intellect but the delight of my soul. I read for the mere ability to be transported into a different time and place. I read to gain a different view of the world. I read to adventure. I read to travel on wings of fancy… literally to indulge in a few minutes of gleeful escape from reality.
M: What kinds of books do you read and why?
Melissa: I read all kinds of books but most specifically I find myself reading Young Adult Fiction and Paranormal Romance. These kinds of books engage the reader in a different sort of adventure. YA books are generally written for the ADHD person in us all. They generally have suspenseful plots and move quickly. They suck you in from the first line of the book and you are riveted to the storyline. They also reveal a little of us all in their characters. YA books expose what being a young adult is and all of us see something of ourselves in the characters they present. They give word to the unique struggles of adolescence and vindicate our own experiences. Paranormal Romance is a category of writing that is so far out of reality it allows the reader to take a little vacation without leaving the living room. It puts words to the indescribable joy of falling in love with a guilty pleasure… sometimes it’s literally falling in love with a different species. It pushes the boundaries of conventional thinking. It makes you wonder: what if shape-shifters really exist? What if vampires really do live next door? It gives the mind more to ponder than, "Who killed the butler?"

M: As a reader, what do you expect out of the author and the story you are reading?

Melissa: Entertainment and adventure! I expect them to take me for a ride -- give me many different possibilities. But I don’t want the eventuality revealed until I’m on pins and needles. I guess I want the thrill ride of not knowing how it all will end.

M: How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books?

Melissa: It hasn’t. I still like the feel of a book. I like the way they smell, look, and I like that I can open one and immediately have a story. I don’t have to wait for it to “boot up” or download. A trip to the library or bookstore is an absolute thrill for me. Decorating with books is my main form of interior design for my house and office!

M: What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before?

Melissa: The first line. I want to write more here but that is ultimately what hooks me. The front cover may get me to pick the book up but the first line will tell me if I want to read that book or not. What will keep me reading is the advancement of the plot and the changes to the characters. There is a fine balance between adventure and plodding along with no particular direction.

M: With so many books to read, why do you choose the books you do?

Melissa: I like an adventure, an escape from reality! My job is extremely stressful and an immediate break from the stresses of the day is provided for me in these kinds of books. I also, guiltily, think of these kinds of books as candy because they are not overly verbose or hard to read. They don’t make you guess what characters are thinking but tell you up front.

M: List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do.

  1. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins -- Not one single word is wasted. This book is a thrill ride from the title page to the last word of the book. I literally read the entire book in one sitting. It made me realize what an impact a good, suspenseful, interesting book could make on a young child. I am currently making the sixth graders at my school read all three of these books...they are so excited about it! 90 percent of all the students in that grade are making progress toward their reading goals…that is impressive!
  2. The Secret Garden Helped me realize others long for a secret place of retreat a spot that only a few know about. This was the first book that helped me "see" things in my head... my imagination was sparked by the copious amounts of detail and things a child would notice. The dialect of the dialogue made it difficult to read but it helped to paint the picture of the setting.
  3. The Princess Bride “As you wish!” This book was the most non-traditional book! It started with a narrator telling me what was going on and there was a sick boy whose grandfather was telling him a fabulous tale. During the “story” part of the book the boy would often interrupt and ask questions about the plot. It was most “non-traditional” and it really stuck with me. This was also the first time I realized that reading a book could be a funny experience!
  4. Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle This is a beautiful book about a teenager finding love, experiencing loss and discovering a psychic power to communicate with dolphins. L’Engle blends several subplots brilliantly while keeping the girl’s experience in the forefront. The reason this book sticks with me is the feelings and emotions that she describes are feelings that I have felt; emotions I have experienced. My favorite scene is of all the children in the attic of their grandfather’s house (an old barn converted into a home) and they are all on their cots watching the lighthouse light illuminate the wall, they hear the waves crashing on the beach and soft conversation of their parents… yet they each feel emptiness. It is a beautiful book.
  5. The Giver and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry both stuck with me because I couldn’t believe that there were people so cruel and villainous. These books presented a very real evil facing the characters and it has stuck with me because I would hope to have the courage that they did to take a stand for what is right.
  6. Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko was a brilliant book about the children (yes, children) that lived on Alcatraz. The main character’s sister was autistic. Without giving away the plot, this book made me stop and think about how people with special needs are often left out of books or painted in a way that isn’t complimentary. The author did a beautiful job of creating a character that had special needs but was made to feel like part of the community.

M: Some people read, some people don't -- why do you think you ended up becoming a reader?

Melissa: I am curious. Curiosity killed the cat but it made me a reader…what other way do you find information out? I love to know little tidbits of trivia. I love to know what makes things work. I love to know stuff. More than just knowing “stuff” I love to be taken on an adventure. I was not a reader until I read The Secret Garden. I identified with the characters but at the same time I began to picture what the characters saw. This made a world of difference!

M: What makes a book disappointing to you? And have you ever read a book that surprised you, one you didn't expect to like but did?

Melissa: Long, wordy, overly descriptive books are disappointing. Books with movement in the plot for no reason (e.g. Iron Daughter has a lot of movement but for no apparent reason. I am on page 132 and I still don’t know why the girl had to go to Faery). The Boy with the Striped Pajamas was a very surprising book to me. It was simple but poignant. I knew that the potential for a plot twist like the one in the book existed but I never thought it would end the way it did. Since I read for “non-academic” purposes I sometimes blow past clues to things like that. I think it also bothered me that the plausibility of the plot was surprisingly feasible. A little boy is common sense’s worse enemy. I could really see that happening. That in itself was so surprising.

M: Do you judge a book by its cover?

Melissa: I try not to but I admit there are some covers that I seem to like more than others. I’m drawn to covers that are simple or unique in their design. I don’t particularly like covers that have people dressed in current fashions. I like covers that have a timeless feel. I like covers that tell a story in their design… they kind of hint seductively at what is between their pages (e.g. Hunger Games).

M: Do author blurbs, cover jackets, and awards seals matter to you when choosing a book to read?

Melissa: Not really. A friend telling me to “read this book” speaks much louder than anything else. I do like to see authors that I read on the cover of a book saying, “read this book” but the seals don’t matter to me at all. Often those seals are for the academic appropriateness or for breaking new ground in literature. I couldn’t care less about those things. When they come out with a seal for “action-packed adventure with a twist of romance, sarcasm and wit” then I’ll start paying attention to the seals.

M: Have there been books you didn't finish reading? Explain yourself.

Melissa: Yes. If a book has a great beginning but then the plot doesn’t move OR if it constantly moves it doesn’t make a good story to read! I have been trying to read a book titled Iron Daughter about the faery courts in which the book constantly moves but doesn’t really tell a story. The characters move from place to place in this book without enough backstory… I understand starting the first few chapters of a book that way for the purpose of gaining interest. However, fifteen chapters into a book you need to reveal something of the plot to your readers!

There you have it: Twelve Questions with Melissa Garrison. To learn more about this reader, check out her bio below. Next Friday… I’ll have a new victim in my clutches.

Born thirty-something years ago to two avid readers, Melissa Garrison grew up to be a fanatical reader. She loved reading so much she became a teacher in 2000 so she could teach children her love of reading. She obtained her Master’s Degree in Educational Administration in 2008 so she could get children, parents, AND teachers excited about books! Somewhere along the way she got married and had a beautiful daughter named Jenna Grace. She lives in Gulfport, Mississippi with her husband, daughter, and an adorably dim-witted dog named Pretzel. She works as an Instructional Literacy Coach at Lyman Elementary School and longs for the day when her dream of being a writer can be fulfilled. She loves to garden, read, teach and cook.

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