The Book Q & A

Book Q and AI’ve gotten a really interesting invitation. Angela Savage, whose Jayne Keeney series I admire and highly recommend, has ‘tagged’ me to answer a few questions about my reading. It’s always dangerous to refuse a crime writer ;-), so here goes:


What are you reading right now?

I’m finishing up Mari Strachan’s debut The Earth Hums in B-Flat. This book was recommended to me by a number of people I trust, so I was keen to read it. I’m glad I did, too. It’s an innovative and evocative story of what happens when an unexpected death comes to a small Welsh village. It’s in some ways a very sad novel, but it also has moments of real joy in life. The story is told from the perspective of one of the villagers, twelve-year-old Gwenni Morgan. One of the many things that appeals to me about this book is Gwenni’s unusual, creative way of looking at life. Highly recommended, especially for those who aren’t looking for a ‘typical’ (if there is such a thing) police procedural, thriller or traditional detective story.


Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?

Next up for me will probably be Aaron Elkins’ Loot. I’m a fan of his terrific Gideon Oliver series (try that series, folks, if you haven’t), and I’ve wanted to see what Loot, which is a standalone, was like. I’m excited to sample Elkins’ other writing.

Of course, right now I’m also in the process of reading the submissions for the charity crime story anthology I’m putting together, and enjoying them very much. So I’ll also be continuing to keep up with those. Yes, that was indeed a shameless plug.  Sorry… 😉


What 5 books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale
Ira Levin – A Kiss Before Dying
Mary Roberts Rinehart – The Circular Staircase
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – The Gulag Archipelago
Virginia Woolf – Mrs. Dalloway

Just to name a few….


What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?

I don’t have any magazines around. The truth is I don’t subscribe to magazines so unless I buy a copy of one or another for a particular reason, they aren’t around my home.


What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?

Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. He was an alumnus of my university, so we were required to read his work. Perhaps that was part of what put me off, but I don’t think so entirely. It was a real chore to read that book and what makes it worse is that he did have some good things to say about environmental issues. Still… not recommended.


What book seemed really popular but you didn’t like?

Please don’t get me started on ‘bestsellers’ and popular books. I’ve often found that the ones that seem to get the highest ratings (with a few exceptions) are the ones I like least. So I’m very particular about what I read, especially if it’s gotten a lot of hype.


What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?

That’s the thing. Everyone’s got different tastes and is at a different point in life. So my recommendations vary depending on who’s asking.


What are your three favourite poems?

I’m Nobody, Who Are You?  – Emily Dickinson
At the Theatre: To the Lady Behind Me – A.P. Herbert
Ballad of the Landlord – Langston Hughes
First Fig – Edna St. Vincent Millay

Yes – I put a fourth one in there. I hope I may be forgiven…


Where do you usually get your books?

I use my local libraries quite a lot. And of course, I go online to purchase e-books. I’m also a fan of Paperback Swap, especially for some harder-to-find books. I’m also lucky enough to have several bibliophile friends and we exchange books. Other than that, I wouldn’t say I have a usual pattern for getting books.


Where do you usually read your books?

My Kindle lets me read anywhere, of course, so whenever I’m waiting in an office or on public transportation, I read. At home my favourite spot for reading is the day bed/sofa in my home office.


When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?

I always used to have one or another book with me (besides textbooks) and would get to class as soon as I could so I could read before the teacher started. And sometimes after the teacher started…


What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?

I can’t give title or author because the book’s not been published yet. I was recently honoured to be asked to beta-read a book for a friend and could not put it down. I can’t wait until the final version is published. You know who you are…


Have you ever ‘faked’ reading a book?

Only a few stories and books we were supposed to be reading in school. There were a few I just could not bring myself to actually read.


Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?

No, not really. I’ve often picked up a book and flipped through it if the cover drew me in, but not bought one for that reason.


What was your favourite book when you were a child?

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess was one of my absolute favourites. The portrait of life in Late Victorian England, the story of friendships, the whole thing was such a rich experience for me. First I had it read to me, and then when I was able to manage on my own, I read it myself – many times.


What book changed your life?

Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. It was the first adult mystery I read, and it was the first time I ever imagined myself as a writer. I’ve gone back to it dozens of times as the years have passed and each time I find myself learning something new from it.


What is your favourite passage from a book?

Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone begins this way:


Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.


What a powerful, haunting and evocative sentence – one line!! I want to be able to do that when I grow up…


Who are your top five favourite authors?

The thing is, I have a much longer list of favourite authors than five. So I’m no-so-artfully dodging this question.


What book has no one heard about but should read?

Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities. It’s a searing look at the way disparities in the US social and economic structure have played out in US schools and what the implications are for students. Another is Kozol’s Illiterate America, in which he shows what life is like for older children and adults who cannot read, and what possibilities there for making literacy available and feasible for them in a dignified way.


What 3 books are you an ‘evangelist’ for?

Any book written by Paddy Richardson
Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost
Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series


What are your favourite books by a first-time author?

Here are just a few; I’ve a lot more.

Kishwar Desai – Witness the Night
Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Adrian Hyland – Diamond Dove (AKA Moonlight Downs)
Catherine O’Flynn – What Was Lost (told you I was an ‘evangelist’ for this.)
Louise Penny – Still Life
Scott Turow – Presumed Innocent


What is your favourite classic book?

Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Oh, and also Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. And…and…and…


Other Notable Mentions?

Agatha Christie’s Crooked House (said to be the one she most enjoyed writing), or her Ten Little Indians (AKA And Then There Were None). There are a lot of other Christie novels I could mention, too. If you want other ideas, just email me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com)

Peter Temple’s Jack Irish novels
Katherine Howell’s Ella Marconi novels
Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway novels
William Ryan’s Alexei Korolev novels


Thanks, Angela, for inviting me to answer these questions. Now, I’m supposed to ‘tag’ other people, but I don’t want to obligate anyone. So…… if you want to answer the questions (and I really hope you do!!!) then go ahead and just leave a comment here so that I can let people know about your post.


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51 responses to “The Book Q & A

  1. Rather love this. Great questions and great answers. One of the more interesting I have seen in a long time. And I may well do it myself – and answer honestly …

  2. Thanks for that Margot (and yes, you really do have to read the Ira Levin book it’s really that good – just thought I’d mention that …) – I would have a lot of trouble answering some of these, mainly because I don;t think I know my own mind well enough to want to commit myself in print (sic) 🙂

    • Sergio – Yes, I know I really must read the Levin. I’ve read several of his other books and been very glad I did. Just…haven’t read that one yet. And I know what you mean about answering the questions. Some were hard for me, too..

  3. What a great way to build a community of mystery-lovers! I’m not familiar with all of these books by any means – you’ve given me quite a few to look into. And it’s so true – people’s tastes range too far and wide for any work to have universal appeal. But how wonderful that we have a plethora of choices!

    • Kathy – I couldn’t agree more! The fact that there is such a range and variety of books out there for people to read is one of the best things about the book community. Even in the crime fiction genre there’s an amazing variety isn’t there. And I think these memes can be great ways to build community too.

  4. Such a fascinating idea. I’ll have a go at this myself tomorrow. It really gives an excellent introduction to the writer’s tastes.

  5. This is brilliant, Margot – I really enjoyed reading your answers (and thanks for reminding me of a few books I’d forgotten to add to my TBR pile like The Earth Hums in B-Flat). I’m just reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (in small bits…)

    • Mrs. P – Oh, thank you. I enjoyed answering these questions, ‘though some were a bit tough and I had to think about them. I do hope you’ll get the chance to read The Earth Hums…. Highly recommended in my opinion. And actually, One Flew… is well enjoyed in small piece I think.

  6. Interesting questions…and answers! i enjoyed reading both Angela’s and your responses, and agree with you both that some of the questions are hard – especially trying to narrow down those favourite authors…

    • FictionFan – Thanks – I’m glad that you enjoyed the answers, ‘though as I say, I can’t take credit for the questions. And you’ve put your finger on the single hardest thing of all – narrowing down favourites. Well-nigh impossible!

  7. Love the sound of The Earth Hums in B- flat, will definitely hunt that one down. You’re darn right about the tough questions – not sure how I’ll go with them!

    • Felicity – I hope you do get the chance to read The Earth Hums.., and of course, that you like it. To me it’s a terrific story and well-told. And yes, some of the questions were not easy at all…

  8. Thanks for participating, Margot. Really enjoyed reading your responses (as I suspected I would). Killer opening line from A Judgement in Stone. And I love the poem ‘First Fig’ by Edna St Vincent Millay — though I had no idea that was its title.

    Reading not so far between the lines, I see that children’s literacy and numeracy is a passion of yours. I thought you might like to have a look at 100 Story Building, a local initiative promoting literacy in vulnerable children. I hope to catch up on their work at this weekend’s Melbourne Writers Festival.

    • Angela – Oh, no need to thank me; I enjoyed it. And First Fig has always been a favourite of mine – such a great ’embrace life’ feel to it. And A Judgement in Stone is a great novel all the way through. But that first line? Absolutely transcendent.
      Thanks too for sharing about 100 Story Building. It sounds like a great initiative, and if you get the chance to catch up with the at the festival, I’d love to hear about it.

  9. Oh, and do read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Still one of the best dystopian novels around. The film adaptation is very good, too.

  10. Margot: Thank you for revealing your reading soul. I read The Gulag Archipelago soon after it was published in the West. It had a major impact on me. The human and national consequences of the gulag were brought home to me. I will be interested how it affects you decades after it was published.

  11. these are great ansers Margot – a mixture of expected things (Ms Christie’s appearances) and surprises. On your books you’ve always meant to read…I loved THE HANDMAID’S TALE but thought MRS DALLOWAY a bit of a non-event.

    • Bernadette – Thanks. I suppose that’s most of us, really – part expected and part not. I really do look forward to reading The Handmaid’s Tale. And maybe I’ll read that before I read Mrs. Dalloawy….

  12. Thanks for taking us on your reading journey, Ms. Kinberg. Interesting quiz, tough questions. Every time I tell myself this is one of the best books I’ve read, the next one often happens to be even better or as good, and so it goes on. I’d hate to answer the top five authors question — why not top fifty authors?! Anyway, I can’t answer one or the other without first reading Margaret Atwood, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Virginia Woolf.

    • Prashant – That’s the thing. Those questions really were difficult. Even some of the ones you’d have thought would be easy to answer, weren’t. And you’ve put your finger on the reason: there are far too many good books out there and talented authors.

  13. Great answers to great questions Margot. I’ve just added The Earth Hums in B Flat to my Goodreads to-read list!

  14. Fascinating stuff and I loved the well thought out answers. I do so agree with you about bestsellers. So many don’t live up to the hype, which is such a pity.

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  16. I love reading lists like this, with the mixture of known and unknown stuff, and always a few surprises. I’m off now to look up some of the unknowns.

  17. What a great set of questions and answers, Margot! I’ll try to answer soon, and, by the way, Savage Inequalities is a great book.

    • Rebecca – Thanks for the kind words. And I’m so glad you’ve read Savage Inequalities. It really is a superb book isn’t it? I’ll look forward to your answers when you a get a chance to post them.

  18. Terrific, Margot. And you nicely dodges question better left unanswered.

  19. Col

    Interesting – not much commonality with my shelves, past and present. I’m tempted to rack my brain for my likes/dislikes.

    • Col – Interesting isn’t it how we all have such different experiences, reading habits and so on. And I had to do some brain work of my own with some of these questions.

  20. I love questions and lists like this but can never think of any answers. Maybe if I gave it a lot a thought, I could answer a few of them. I enjoyed your answers though. And you reminded me I want to read A Kiss Before Dying also. Your notable mentions are authors I need to read too.

    • Tracy – I think the thing about questions like that is that they allow one to reflect on one’s own reading and really think about it. And that can be helpful. If you do decide to answer the questions I’ll be very interested in your responses. And in what you think of A Kiss Before Dying.

  21. Love this post and so many great titles mentioned too! I did read and enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood. I recognized quite a few of the other titles mentioned and made notes on others I need to track down. I was especially surprised to see you mention Presumed Innocent so my question would be is it worth reading the book if one has already watched the movie? (I think I can guess your answer on this one).

    • Keishon – Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And yes, you no doubt did guess my answer to your question about Presumed Innocent. I think it’s always worth reading the book, even if you have seen the film. In that particular case I thought it really was a powerful first novel, weaving as it does character, legal issues and so on into a fascinating story. Even if one knows how the story ends, I still recommend the book.

      • Thanks for your input. I will look up Presumed Innocent. I recently bought The Road and No Country For Old Men (read the latter about half-way and just couldn’t quit comparing it to the movie as the Cohen brothers stayed pretty faithful to the book). That’s why I always ask because film adaptations leave significant stuff out so I appreciate the feedback.

        • Keishon – Oh, I know what you mean. One never knows when it comes to film adaptations. And fortunately, Presumed Innocent is available in a lot of libraries, so you can see what you think without having had to purchase it.

  22. Fascinating, Margot. And good for you to identify an author you can’t stand. Not everyone is brave enough to do so and I think we should say when you don’t like a writer. Mine would be James Joyce. I studied him for A level and I still don’t understand a word he writes.

    • Sarah – LOL! I’m not the biggest Joyce fan myself, I must admit. And I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I actually found it a very good thing to answer these questions although some were harder than others. I think you’re right that we do need to express it when we don’t like a writer’s work and I find that people are sometimes quite uncomfortable doing that, especially when the author is ‘one of the greats.’

  23. kathy d.

    I’m overwhelmed at the thought of answering all these questions myself but this is a great, if not daunting challenge. Your answers are interesting.
    I’m reading A Conspiracy of Faith, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s third Department Q book, quite good although the serial killer/abuser of children isn’t my theme of choice. It’s well-written though and quite witty. Next on the agenda are a terrific batch of books from Australia and New Zealand.
    Speaking of New Zealand, one of its writers, Paddy Richardson, is the author of the last book I couldn’t put down.
    There are so many books I want to read that the TBR lists and piles are daunting. I’d like to read one of Tolstoy’s books some day — but when?
    The worst books I’ve not finished, just return them to the library. If I give a book 50 pages and it’s not worth reading, I don’t. Actually, one book I disliked was Elizabeth Hand’s Available Dark, a disappointment after Generation Loss, a good one.
    And most of the books on the library’s “new fiction” shelves are “best-sellers” or popular authors and the books are pretty awful, with a few exceptions so I steer clear. And what’s with the New York Times’ “best-seller” lists? I can’t figure out who reads the books, compiles the lists, etc.
    Not a poetry person particularly, I do like Lansgton Hughes, Maya Angelou (her poems about older women are terrific), Pablo Neruda, others I come across here and there.
    I agree on recommending books to others: I often suggest Barbara Kingsolver’s books. I just suggested Toni Morrison’s Beloved, for which she won the Pulitzer. Or Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.
    When I was a child, I loved Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona books and then Nancy Drew. At 13, I started reading Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck and Theodore Dreiser and a few years after that, devoured mysteries. Books that changed my life: Sinclair’s The Jungle, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Morrison’s Beloved.
    Agree with your favorite first-books by authors and series. I’d add Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshaw’s books, Fred Vargas’ French mysteries with Adamsberg and the team of eccentrics and some of Arnaldur Indridason’s and Denise Mina’s.
    Anyway, so much to read and good books keep appearing so we’re all equipped for the next 100 years.

    • Kathy – I love your answers to these questions! I’d completely forgotten about Beverly Cleary’s books, but I certainly remember reading them as a child. and thank you for remindingme of the wonderful poetry of Maya Angelou (I love her books too – the non-poetry books). And oh, do I know exactly and precisely how you feel about not having enough time to read even a quarter of what one wants to read *sigh.* I’ll never get there, I know that…

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