Reader Profile – Maria Thomas Fisher


maria fisher

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).

Reader Profile – Dr. Anne Kress


Anne_KressDr. Anne Kress is President of Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. She serves as Chair of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and is well-known nationally for her work in higher education. Dr. Kress is also a Reader. Here, she shares her views on everything from a life-changing book to why she reads.

Fiction or Non-Fiction, or both?

I read much more fiction than non-fiction.

Is there a book that you re-read again and again?

No. There’s so much to read and so little time that I almost feel that I can’t re-read a book. But, sometimes when I find an author I love, I just read everything he or she has written. I’ve read all of Austen and Hardy; all of Eudora Welty’s and John Cheever’s short stories; the novels and stories by Fitzgerald. When Lauren Groff or Helen Oyeyemi writes something, I’ll read it. It’s not all high lit, though: this summer, I powered through all of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series like they were candy.

Can you identify a book that changed your life?

Yes. I remember reading Susan Faludi’s book Backlash: the Undeclared War Against American Women in hardback when it came out and thought, “Yes!” It made me realize that I was not alone or crazy, and it was empowering. That was in 1991, over a quarter of a century ago, and sadly, her book is as current now as it was then.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Allegra Goodman’s The Chalk Artist, which is frightening and beautiful. I just love her novels; they’re at once timeless and timely. I’m about to start Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko.

What book should everyone read?

I should say something profound, but reading is very personal. For example, I don’t read mysteries or crime novels, so even if you told me that one was the best book on earth, I’d probably never read it. I’ll just say, everyone should read—and throw in a poem every once in a while to remind you of the power that comes from concision.

Is there a book you wish you never read?

No, but sometimes I quit a book when I just can’t push through and never feel bad about it.

Are you a solitary or a social reader?

Solitary. I get lost in reading. I’m most likely to read on planes, and when I do, the entire crowded, noisy plane disappears, and all that I’m aware of is the world of the book. I’ll sigh, cry, and laugh, so if you sit next to me, beware. The words on the page become a place and people and sounds and life. Because I studied literature for so many years, I can easily summarize, analyze, and critique, but that is not the magic of reading. The magic of reading is that it wraps me up and takes me away.

Is there a book that you hated and the world loved, or a book you loved that no one else appreciated?

There are lots of books and authors that I just do not get at all that are considered central to the canon of American literature, works by James Fennimore Cooper to Kurt Vonnegut to Cormac McCarthy. I used to call them “boy books.” In college, I convinced an Early American lit teacher to let me develop an alternate syllabus with all women authors: he hadn’t read most of the books I found, so it was enlightening for both of us.

Would you rather meet your favorite author or your favorite character?

Favorite author. I like the way the characters are in my head, and it would be odd and unfamiliar to see them out in the world.

Why do you read?

Horace wrote that the goal of poetry and drama was to delight and to instruct, and I read for both. I find true delight in reading: it brings light to my life. I also learn when I read: it makes my world bigger, deepens my understanding. Growing up, I lived in a small and narrow world. Reading let me know that a brighter, wider universe of possibilities was out there. My ticket out was a library card; my ride out was a bookmobile. I owe the life I have now to reading.

Reader Profile – Chad Cunningham

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Chad for blogChad Cunningham is Head of Circulation Services at the Gates Public Library and is most definitely a Reader. Chad probably knows more about the Monroe County Library System than anyone, and he is known for his eclectic and varied reading recommendations. If you’re in the mood to talk books, go visit him at Gates!

Write a one-sentence description of yourself as a Reader.

My name is Chad and I read because the alternative is not reading and that just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

What are you reading right now?

  • Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez
  • Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance
  • Promethea by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III
  • Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
  • Truants by Lee Markham
  • The Silence of the Flans by Laura Bradford

It is entirely possible that I read too many books at one time.

The desert island question – What 5 books would you have to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

  • To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Invisibles Omnibus by Grant Morrison and various artists
  • Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

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?

Absolutely not. Life is too short to finish books I hate. One of my favorite Dorothy Parker quotes (and I think the fact that I have multiple favorite Dorothy Parker quotes says something about me) is

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

My all-time least favorite book of all-time for all of time is Moby Dick. I hated every single letter of it that I read. I was forced to read it for an English class, I skipped 100 pages, and I still did well on the test. That was the book that taught me that is perfectly acceptable to not finish a book.

The last book I decided not to finish was one of those incredibly silly cozy mysteries. This one featured a librarian as the main character. Her library was in a lighthouse. 20 pages in I realized that I was criticizing all the library-related information and that this book was going to be nothing but a headache. I mean, who puts a library in a lighthouse.

Do you ever read the end of a book first? Why or why not?

Nope! Never! That takes away the fun of following the story! Noooooooooo!

I have skipped to the end when I am ready to quit a book and I have vague curiosity about how it will turn out.

What is the funniest or strangest thing you have ever found returned inside a library book?

I once found an old postcard with nothing written on it. It had a picture of a woman standing in front of a storefront. It was in black and white. There was nothing overly unusual about it, but it really creeped me out.

What is at the top of your TBR pile?

Séance Infernale by Jonathan Skariton. One of my friends recommended it to me.

Who is your go-to author when someone asks you for a recommendation?

I recommend Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean a lot. Jacqueline Winspear is another author I recommend a lot. If someone has even a slight interest in science fiction I recommend my favorite sci-fi author: Octavia Butler.

Would you rather be your favorite author or your favorite character?

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…probably my favorite character. My favorite character is Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. I would love to be able to unabashedly revel in my stubbornness the way Granny does.

What book do you wish you’d never read?

Have I mentioned that Moby Dick is a monstrous abomination and should be erased from history?

Has any book defined your life, as in you would be a different person if you hadn’t read it?

There are three books that have helped define me as a person:

  • A Wrinkle in Time (which I read at exactly the right time when I was a kid) helps me to see that our unique qualities are what give us the power to truly love one another.
  • Weetzie Bat inspired me to indulge my imagination and to embrace the fantastic all around me.
  • The Invisibles (which is a comic book series that is one very long story) really encouraged me to believe that anything is possible and that it’s perfectly acceptable to live a life of glamorous rebellion.

Is there a genre or type that you are over and wish would just go away?

Are they still making teen dystopian fiction books? If so, then that.

Describe your favorite place to read.

My absolutely favorite reading experience happens early on a Sunday morning. I sit at my dining room table with bagels and a cup of coffee and quietly read for an hour or so. That’s the most fulfilling reading experience of my week.

Book or movie? Is there a movie that you think was better than the book?

I usually prefer the book, but there have been times when the movie was better. I think the movie version of The Talented Mr. Ripley – the one with Matt Damon- was an excellent complement to the book and I liked it a touch better.

Jurassic Park was also better as a movie- but mostly because you could see the dinosaurs.

What is your preferred format? Hardcover, paperback, digital, audio, doesn’t matter?

I don’t do audio books- they usually put me to sleep- but otherwise I’m good with whichever format. I just really love to read. There’s a character in Wonder Boys who loves to read so much that if she runs out of books she’ll read the back of cereal boxes. That’s me in a nutshell.

If you were to get a bookish tattoo, what would it be?

Mrs. Who’s glasses from A Wrinkle in Time.

Rochester Reader Profile – Tate Ellen DeCaro


IMG_3600I’m starting a new feature here on It’s All About the Book. I’ll be profiling Rochester Readers a couple times a month in an effort to introduce you to like-minded folk who love to read. I’m kicking off this feature with a profile of Tate Ellen DeCaro, Director of Development for Writers & Books. A graduate of Bard College, Tate has traveled extensively, and studied the “brain drain” in Rochester. She manages Writers & Books’ Turning Pages Readers Circle, which has provided me with some eclectic reading and very creative packaging over the years. Read on and find out what makes Tate a Reader with a capital R!

 

Using one sentence, describe yourself as a Reader.

I am basically always reading something, almost always fiction, with beautiful language and a good story line – though in recent years I’ve written myself a yearly Reading Challenge (last year with 12 items, this year with 18) to try to stretch my reading habits out to other genres.

For example, a book by a diverse author and a book about a diverse character – diverse meaning from a marginalized group due to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or mental or physical disability; a book you should have read in school; a book that has been translated from another language; a play; a memoir, biography or autobiography; etc. I usually manage about 40 books in a year, but this often includes a couple of re-reads of childhood favorites each year. (Sorry, that was a lot more than one sentence!)

What are you reading right now?

As mentioned above, I’m actually re-reading a childhood favorite as I write this – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. But I’ve also started listening to a book called The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, by Mark Forsyth. And next up on my list is Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay.

The desert island question – What 5 books would you have to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

The first 5 things that popped into my head…

– Ok, first of all, can the Harry Potter books count as one or do they have to count as seven? I’m going to count them as one because… I want to. Let’s just say “The Harry Potter Collection” as number one. It might be cheating, but let’s be honest, if I’m really able to PLAN for my stranded-on-a-desert-island trip, I’d probably be able to plan for someone to make me one book with tiny text with all the HP books. 😉

– The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

– The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon

– The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

– The Phantom Tollbooth, Norman Juster

Are you a finisher? In other words, are you compelled to finish a book even if you hate it?

I am NOT what I call a “bitter-ender.” If I hate it, I stop reading it. Too many other things to do and read to waste my time on something I’m not enjoying. But I do try to give it a good go before I decide to quit.

What are some books that you’ve had to force yourself to finish, or which you’ve bailed on?

I want so badly to like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon because so many people I know really love that book, but I’ve given it two really good chances now, and given up both times. I also bailed on Game of Thrones, which seems like it would be fun, but I just couldn’t get into it.

Do you ever read the end of a book first? Why or why not?

I don’t think I’ve ever done that, no. But I have definitely skipped to the end of a chapter sometimes, if it’s particularly stressful and I just want to know what happens so I can stop hyperventilating.

What is at the top of your TBR pile?

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
Adios Cowboy, Olja Savicevic

Who is your go-to author when someone asks you for a recommendation?

Carlos Ruiz Zafon

What book do you wish you’d never read?

I never finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It affected me deeply when I was attempting to read it many years ago, and I ended up putting it down and never picking it up again. It’s the only book I can think of that affected me in that way and that I sort of wish I’d never picked up in the first place. But also the only book that haunts me in the sense that I really want to find a way to read the whole thing some day.

Is there a genre or type that you are over and wish would just go away?

I’m not that interested in apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic novels. I feel like I’ve read too many of them that just feel too similar. Every time a new one comes up or someone recommends one to me I cringe a little and know I probably won’t read it.

That said, every once in a while I come across one in my work at Writers & Books or just on my own that feels really unique and different. For instance, I loved Blindness, by Jose Saramago, which I read for work as a part of our Turning Pages Readers Circle membership program, and I also loved Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, which I read on my own first and then we also read in the W&B young professionals book club called the Book Thieves. Those two felt so unique to me.

Describe your favorite place to read.

On the couch at my family’s cabin in the Finger Lakes – feet up, door open nearby so there’s a breeze, sound of birds chirping outside, cup of tea beside me, and nothing to do but read all day.

Book or movie? Is there a movie that you think was better than the book?

Almost always book. But yes, there are a few (very few and far between) movies that I’ve preferred to the books. For instance, I’m a big baseball fan and I love the movie The Natural. I tried to read the book it’s based on by Bernard Malamud and couldn’t even get through it.

What is your preferred format? Hardcover, paperback, digital, audio, doesn’t matter?

I’m not a fan of hardcover books. My favorite is paperback (and I like to keep it crisp and new looking). But I also have an Audible account and listen to books too. It helps me get through more books, since I don’t always have time to sit down and read.

If you were to get a bookish tattoo, what would it be?

A Shakespeare quote

If you would like to be profiled here, or have some cool questions you’d like to see answered, contact me at patricia.uttaro (at) gmail.com.