Meet May Reader of the Month: Abby Reiter
A Dubuque native, I went to school and then tried out Los Angeles and Chicago for several years, working as a research librarian. Recently, I came down with some autoimmune issues which led me back to Dubuque where I’m working on healing.
It has been fun reacquainting myself with my childhood library. I have a big love of reading and big stacks of books all over the house to match. My partner Brad and I enjoy reading out loud to one another, especially during car rides or when one of us is huddled over the stove making dinner.
At home, I am grateful to him as he maneuvers without complaint through my stacks of books which litter the floor of my creative space, my nightstand, the kitchen table, and the living room ottoman. I usually have ten or more books going at once and they get mixed into different piles as I tote them from room to room at varying intervals. I keep track of what I’m reading by the bookmarks sticking out from the stacks which flag me down, “Hey remember me? You’ve got 20 more pages left!”
The books are grouped with no rhyme or reason and it makes me laugh when I notice “Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” next to “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.” I feel weird when I do not have my books near me and I often fall asleep with them in the bed. Nothing like the jolt of rolling over onto a 400 page hardcover at 3 a.m. But they are my friends and I love having myself surrounded by them.
My favorite nonfiction books include those on nature, spirituality, creativity, metaphysics, self-help, family history, art, writing, survival stories, television and movie making, letter writing, optimism, libraries, celebrity autobiographies, and books about books.
I read fiction too and enjoy time travel, historical romance, young adult and children’s fantasy, and anything involving puzzles or codes. I especially love epistolary novels – both real and imagined – especially those told in visual ways like a diary presented through ephemera. Children’s and picture books are something I enjoy reading as well as they had such an impact on me growing up. As an artist, I appreciate illustration so much and always feel visuals should be included more in adult materials.
Most important though, whatever I’m reading has to be magical. I want to be transported, awed, and inspired. Because I truly believe, at the risk of sounding too affected, that all those things that exist outside the material world – love, magic, creativity, etc. – are all portals to the divine. To that only part of life I can’t put my finger on, but that if I could, I would feel the pulse of who I really am.
Q & A:
Q. What is the best book you have read within the last year (or ever)?
A. The best book I’ve read in the last year, and also maybe ever, was “Replay” by Ken Grimwood, which won the 1988 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. I’ve read a lot of time travel novels and short stories but somehow I missed this gem. My best friend recommended it and I can’t wait to reread it. It’s one of those time-loop narratives with a man who dies and then wakes up at age 18 and relives the next 25 years of life over and over again in different ways. It was kind of the precursor to “Groundhog Day” but it’s better in that it’s so epic – as he lives a full adult life several times over – so there’s lots of time to get into complex relationships and weighty themes about identity and existence.
Q. What is your ideal reading environment (location, sound, snacks, etc.)?
A. My ideal reading environment is basically anyplace, at any time. I would prefer to just be reading nonstop if possible. I end up in a few places though like the kitchen table, the swing outside on our deck, curled up on the couch, and in bed at night. The other day, I was reading on the couch when I saw I had a hole in my sock. I took the sock off and got up to get a fresh pair, still reading my book. Being that I can’t stand for very long right now due to this autoimmune stuff, I became aware a few minutes later that I was still standing, leaned up against the hallway, reading, with one sock on. I had to laugh.
Q. What book are you most excited about reading next, and what about it is most exciting?
A. I’m excited to jump into the Outlander series next. Strangely, I haven’t read them even though the books are a major cornerstone of time travel stories. When I was younger, I think time travel with a heavy romance angle didn’t interest me as much, I preferred Bill & Ted you know? I still do. But I think now, I’ll also enjoy this series for all its worth too.
Q. What book do you think more people should read, and why do you think they should read it?
A. I don’t feel it my place to tell others what they should or shouldn’t read. And that may be the very advice I would give. That I think more people should read the books they actually want to read. Myself included. I spend a lot of time wishing I read more pretentious literary fiction of yore. I want to be well-read as it helps me understand the world more and helps me put other writing and art into context.
But if I’m being honest, some of it is a slog for me. I have read some, but there’s some I wish I had more of a brain for. I tried “Ulysses” recently and maybe 12 pages in, I started dying laughing. Not at the book, but just at my own hubris that I thought I could tackle something like that right now. There’s just no way, at the moment, that I want to struggle through a 700-page book where I need to be versed in 19th century Irish intellectual debates to understand what the characters are saying. And with words like “Houyhnhnm.” I’m 100% positive that I’m majorly missing out on wonderful books because of this and maybe one day I’ll get to them.
But the only thing I care about these days is am I enjoying this? And the answer has to be yes. Also, Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” – it blows my mind, but also doesn’t blow my mind, that many of the women’s issues she wrote about in 1929 are still a problem today.
Q. What book has been most challenging for you to read? How did it challenge you?
A. Aside from “Ulysses,” Stephen King’s “11/22/63.” I waited with bated breath for it to come out as it sounded amazing. I love anything to do with 1960s pop culture and here it was sandwiched up against time travel, my other favorite thing to read about.
In college, in one of my creative writing classes, a student critiqued a story of mine saying that my overuse of pointless description bogged everything down, likening reading my story to “drinking a really, really thick milk shake through a really, really tiny straw.” His description was extremely accurate.
Anyway, that’s what “11/22/63” is like. It’s 850 pages of mind-numbing detail after mind-numbing detail down to the color of the pencil a guy is holding or the kind of material a jacket is made from on a person who walks by the main character for two seconds. It’s like wading through mud. I have tried to finish the book four separate times, twice via audiobook, and I have never been successful. I settled for reading half the book and then finished the other half via the tv miniseries. It seems like this book was his grand opus, so I get why he was so hyper focused on the minutia, but I just felt like it needed major editing.
Q. When do you decide to stop reading a book? In other words, do you read every book to the last page or is there a moment when you decide to stop?
A. I was more of a perfectionist at one time and needed to complete each book I started. Now, no way. With the zillions of books in existence? Life’s way too short for books I’m not into. There’s not usually a single moment I give up though that I can put my finger on. Since I bounce around through the books I’m reading, I just naturally stop coming back to the ones that aren’t keeping my interest. I just won’t return to them and then eventually, I need the bookmarks for better books, and they just naturally get filtered out.
Q. Do you remember when your love of reading began?
A. I was fortunate to have parents who read to me, took me to the library, bought me books, entered us into reading contests, and just generally wove reading and books into the fabric of our lives. I remember really pivotal trips to this library and to Walden Books at Kennedy Mall when I was seven or eight where I can remember exactly what books I selected and how they changed my whole being after reading them. In fact, I still have most of my favorite childhood books that I revisit from time to time and cherish deeply, like old friends.
It didn’t occur to me until I was much older that there were homes where books and reading weren’t experienced much, if at all. I’ve enjoyed reading, learning, and creating my own stories and art since I was probably five years old and it’s because of that upbringing for sure. So I’m more than grateful for that part of my childhood.