This reading life: Charlie Jane Anders

4 January 2018

American editor, performer and fantasy writer Charlie Jane Anders will be a guest at Writers & Readers in March. She's the recipient of several literary awards and her 2016 novel All the Birds in the Sky made Time magazine's annual "Top 10 Novels" list.

Charlie Jane Anders

The first book to capture my imagination was ...

Probably either A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle or the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander. I read them around the same time, and both authors burrowed deep inside my brain. The thing they had in common, in retrospect, was a certain whimsy, along with fascinating worlds that I wanted to spend more time inside. I burrowed inside those books on some long family trips.

The books and/or other writing that saw me through childhood were ...

Daniel Manus Pinkwater's books were a huge obsession for a long period. I remember being fascinated that the silly author of The Hoboken Chicken Emergency was the same guy who wrote the more emotional and densely layered middle-grade superhero book Wingman. Pinkwater's struggling characters and his wild imagination kept me company through some challenging times as a kid. I now have a Daniel Pinkwater fridge magnet on my refrigerator.


The character in a book I most wanted to be as a child was ...

I obsessively read Wonder Woman comics, especially the original 1940s classics that were collected in a hardcover with an introduction by Gloria Steinem, which I read until it fell apart. I totally imagined flying around in my invisible plane and fighting against psychic bullies and animal women, with my super-powers and my whole posse of awesome friends. Those classic Wonder Woman comics remain a huge touchstone for me.


The book I studied at school that has stayed with me most is ...

I had a high-school English teacher who was obsessed with Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, which is a book of linked short stories that all take place in the same small town. And that book is the bomb. It's got a running theme of examining how people turn into "grotesques" because they get obsessed with one idea to the point where they see it as "the truth" instead of just one possible truth. Anderson depicts these super-vivid characters, each with their own flaws, with a huge dose of compassion. He deserves way more props than he gets.

I had a high-school English teacher who was obsessed with Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, which is a book of linked short stories that all take place in the same small town. And that book is the bomb


The author I am most likely to binge-read is ...

Right now, I am planning some serious binge-reads of Rainbow Rowell and Terry Pratchett, because I have big stacks of both their books that I haven't read yet. My Pratchett knowledge is somewhat patchy (don't judge!) apart from the Tiffany Aching books, and I've decided to educate myself. I also have these giant collected volumes of Vonnegut novels and really want to re-read every single 1970s and 1980s Vonnegut in one go.

The book I am most likely to press on a friend is ...

Depending on the friend, either Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks, Geek Love by Katherine Dunne or The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Maybe all three!


The book I most wish someone would write is ...

The one I'm trying to finish right now! I'd love it if someone would just break into my house, write all the bits I haven't figured out yet, and then break out again.

The book I keep meaning to get around to reading but somehow never do is ...

I've had Station Eleven at the top of my to-read pile since it came out, and it keeps getting pushed aside because there's something else I need to read first. This year, for sure though!

The book I have reread the most is ...

Probably either Middlemarch by George Elliot, or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.


The newspapers, magazines and blogs I can't do without are ...

I've been subscribing to the Washington Post for a few years now, and it really has been an indispensable source of political news, but also really amazing cultural analysis. I also really love how many great magazines there are publishing science fiction and fantasy right now. It's one of the best times ever to be reading short SF.

If I were stranded on a desert island and could have only one book with me, it would be ...

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. It's such a rich challenging text, and I could pretty much read it cover to cover, and then start over again. And there would be new surprises each time.


Bookmark, scrap of paper or turning down the corner of the page?

I'm an inveterate dog-earer, I'm afraid.

The first 50 pages or bust? Or always to the bitter end?

I try to give a book 100 pages to grab me, but sometimes I can tell 20 pages in that it's just not meant to be. I have had to train myself not to force myself to keep reading after I've lost interest, because it does nobody any favors, and I could read three other books in the time I'm spending slogging through one that I don't want to be reading.

I have had to train myself not to force myself to keep reading after I've lost interest, because it does nobody any favors


The book I am always on the lookout for in secondhand shops is ...

More Terry Pratchett paperbacks to add to the stack. Almost got a complete set!

My favourite cinematic adaptation of a book is ...

It's fresh in my mind, so I'll say Arrival. That movie was so great in its own right, and really did justice to Ted Chiang's mind-bending story.


The character in a book I'd most like to meet is ...

Probably Zaphod Beeblebrox.

A line of writing I can recite from memory is ...

Ouch. My memory is terrible! I used to have lots of stuff memorized, but now I'm useless.

My favourite 19th-century book is ..


My favourite 20th-century book is ...

Let's say Geek Love.

My favourite contemporary writers are ...

Wow, so many. N.K. Jemisin, for sure. Nalo Hopkinson. Roxane Gay. Emma Cline. Colson Whitehead. Too many to name!

ThisreadinglifeCharlieJaneAnders8.jpg Roxane Gay

credit: Jennifer Silverberg/Guardian

Book/s currently by the side of my bed is/are ..

Catherynne M. Valente's wonderful Space Opera, plus Transcendent 2: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, edited by Bogi Takács. I have a story in there, but I'm so excited to read all the rest.

The full Writers & Readers line-up will be announced on 1 Feb. Before then, the Take 5 Pass is the best way to secure the sessions you want to see. At just $75 for five sessions, you get 20% off tickets and will be first in line with advance bookings when the programme launches.

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