2022 Update – Maria is now Communications Director for AFSCME Council 66.
Maria Thomas Fisher is currently the Chief of staff for the Rochester & Genesee Valley Area Labor Federation. She is the host of the radio show “Still I Rise” on WAYO 104.3 FM, and has worked for the City of Rochester, Rochester City School District, and Rochester Regional Health. Maria is a strong advocate for libraries and a Reader with a capital R!
Write a one-sentence description of yourself as a Reader.
I’m a non-fiction reader and library fanatic who thinks the stories of real people are the most captivating.
What are you reading right now?
I just started reading Gold from the Well. It’s the story of Jocelyn “Josh” Apo and details his journey as a Haitian refugee. Josh survived 17 days crossing the ocean in a flimsy raft in order to make a better life for himself. Josh is now a beloved custodian at Pittsford Central School District. My family came to this country as refugees after surviving a Nazi slave labor camp. Because of their experience, I’m moved deeply by stories of survival and the positive impact refugees have on our communities.
What 5 books would you have to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?
• The Cuckoo’s Egg by Clifford Stoll
• Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamont
• To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
• Half the Sky by Nicolas Kristoff & Sheryl WuDunn
• The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Are you a finisher? In other words, are you compelled to finish a book even if you hate it? What are some books that you’ve had to force yourself to finish, or which you’ve bailed on?
I’m more of a delayed finisher. I’ve been working on a doctorate over the last few years and just get so busy sometimes that it can take me a long time to finish a book. If I’m really bored with a book I don’t mind stopping. There are too many great books still to read for me to spend time reading a book that doesn’t interest me. I did force myself to finish reading the book Kindred Spirits which was part of a work reading group. I was bored with it from the beginning and that never changed.
Do you ever read the end of a book first? Why or why not?
I would never read the end of the book first. I love the element of surprise and enjoy not knowing the ending. Plus, I would feel too guilty.
What is at the top of your To Be Read pile?
A Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Who is your go-to author when someone asks you for a recommendation?
Lately, I recommend Ta-Nehesi Coates. He’s an incredibly powerful author.
Would you rather be your favorite author or your favorite character?
I would definitely rather be an author. I like to write and the idea that my writing could move people would be a dream for me.
What book do you wish you’d never read?
There isn’t a book I read that I regret. However, I am really glad I’ve never read any of the 50 Shades books. They sound dreadful.
Has any book defined your life, as in you would be a different person if you hadn’t read it?
I found Animal Farm to be a powerful, impactful read when I was young and have reread it numerous times. As a young person, it helped me relate to my family’s experiences of living in Ukraine under the Stalinist regime. Obviously, Animal Farm was based in part on Stalin. There are so many powerful words in the book that I still remember “Four legs good, two legs bad.” “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Every time I read the book I am reminded that it is my job to speak for the voiceless and fight for the rights of the vulnerable. It’s very easy to marginalize certain groups of people, just like my family was marginalized. We must always stay vigilant. Everyone should read this book more than once.
Is there a genre or type that you are over and wish would just go away?
I absolutely hate romance novels and romantic comedies for that matter. I find grand romantic gestures boring in novels. I would much rather have someone who picks up my prescriptions and puts gas in my car than a room filled with candles and roses any day. Romance novels just feel so unrealistic. My favorite writing on love was oddly in the classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit. I love the part where the horse tells the rabbit that being real happens when someone loves you not just to play with but really loves you – then you become real. And most of us don’t become real until we’ve lost our hair and we’re loose in the joints. That writing is so powerful for a children’s book and I’m moved to tears every time I read those lines. Romance novels never scratch the surface of real love.
Describe your favorite place to read.
Libraries are my absolutely favorite places to read. We didn’t have much money as a child and my mom would bring me to the library at least three times a week. I never felt poor at the library. At the library, I had the same access to resources as anyone else. I instantly feel at home as soon as I walk in the door of a library. The Irondequoit Library is especially impressive. There are lots of nice, comfy quiet spaces and it’s just a very lovely building. In addition, librarians are about the coolest people in the world.
Book or movie? Is there a movie that you think was better than the book?
I prefer books to movies. Books can go into in depth character detail that movies can’t. I also like that you can use your imagination in books. It isn’t a movie, but I prefer the TV show Orange is the New Black to the book. A significant reason for this is because the actresses on the show are spectacular. Also, the show has had multiple seasons and has gone beyond the stories in the book. I like that the TV show goes into great detail telling each women’s story when the book was focused on Piper’s story.
What is your preferred format? Hardcover, paperback, digital, audio, doesn’t matter?
I only read hardcover and paperback books. There is a satisfaction I get from holding a book and turning pages that I could never get from an audio book. Since I started volunteering with people who are visually impaired, I’ve realized how important it is to have audio books available in order to increase access to books to everyone.
If you were to get a bookish tattoo, what would it be?
I would get the quote. “Books are the best weapon in the world. Arm yourself!” (from a Dr. Who episode).