First of all, I'd like to wish everyone a "Happy New Year," and let's hope 2021 proves to be a far better year. The bar has been set rather low, so I'm feeling optimistic about that success.
I couldn't think of a better way to begin the new year than to do a "Reader's Chat" with my niece, Brecken Branstrator. Brecken is the Senior Editor with Gemstones at National Jeweler, and besides being a writer and editor for a national magazine, she's also an avid reader. Of course, I was beyond thrilled that Brecken was able to take time out of her busy schedule, especially over the holidays, to chat with me.
ME: As an avid reader, how do you think your passion for reading started?
BRECKEN: I think it was probably a mixture of things, starting with a love of reading I think I inherited from my mother, and my parents always making sure I had good reading material available. It doesn't sound like it was an easy feat — they've told me I used to tear through books even at an early age. I used to love checking things out from the library, and the Scholastic Book Fair was like little Brecken's Super Bowl. I suppose, as shown by my career choice, I just have a natural love for words and storytelling.
ME: Did your love of reading lead to other interests? How so?
BRECKEN: Absolutely! So many. When I was little, it encouraged me to attempt writing my own fiction stories; they were short, and I'd draw my own covers (yikes, I was never meant to be an artist). And I think just in general, my love of reading helped me do so well in school. Even to this day, it's leading to stuff, including a book club I was involved with in New York City (we've been on hiatus for a while for obvious reasons), which is such a great way to make new friends.
ME: I know this is a cruel question to ask someone who enjoys reading, but do you have a favorite book? (Even a few recent favorites will do.) What did you like about it (them)?
BRECKEN: I don't know why I struggle to pick one book overall so much, because it feels like an answer everyone should have, and yet I don't. Since you mentioned recent favorites, I'm going to cheat and go that route. This year, I found myself wanting to read more than watch TV with all that spare time as we were quarantined, so I joined Book of the Month. It gives you the option of 5 books every month; you pick one and they ship it to you. I am so glad I did because they have picked some great ones, and I've really enjoyed it. My favorite from 2020 came out of it — it's called "Anxious People" by Fredrik Backman, and I cannot recommend it enough. It's about a bank robbery that never happened and a bank robber that disappeared. It's great storytelling as you figure out exactly what happened, and the characters are brought to life in the most spectacular manner. Also, it's hilarious.
ME: When you select a book, do you stay within a particular genre, or branch out to other genres as well? If you've branched out, were you happy or disappointed you did?
BRECKEN: I have the genres I tend to gravitate towards, but I love branching out — I think it helps keep me interested and reading. You never know what great books are waiting for you in other sections!
ME: Since you are both a writer and an editor, do you find that you are a critical reader, even when reading for pleasure?
BRECKEN: Unfortunately, yes, I do think that's true. I find I most often notice things like grammar, syntax and editing. I tend to get really frustrated if I think there are parts that do nothing to move the story along, that could've been edited down or cut, or if they're just taking too long to tell a story.
ME: If you could have lunch with any author, who would you choose, and why?
BRECKEN: I'd choose you! I promise. Book publishing is such a different world from mine, and I'd love to hear about it from someone I know well. Also, I just miss all you guys a lot.
ME: Aw. I would love that! Lunch with you is officially added to my bucket list this year (if the pandemic cooperates).
ME: How do you usually find books — recommendations from friends, social media, book stores, or other?
BRECKEN: All of these! I get them from Goodreads, but also use it to keep track as I gather them elsewhere. If anyone tells me about a book, I add it there. If I see an article about the year's top books, I go to Goodreads and add to my list. If my friends who I'm connected to on Goodreads add something, and I trust their opinion, I will also add it. I also just love going into bookstores and strolling the shelves. But I'm surrounded by people who are big readers, so I feel like I get a lot of recommendations straight from them.
ME: Do you prefer to read fiction or non-fiction?
BRECKEN: Fiction. It might be because it's so different from the writing I do, and also because I really admire people who can pull a story from their imagination and make it come to life (this is only partly meant to be flattery to the fiction author who asked me to be a part of this), but I find myself flocking to and enjoying those most.
ME: When reading fiction, which draws you in more, first- or third-person person point-of-view?
BRECKEN: I love a first-hand point-of-view. I love the insight it gives you into a character, and I love the way it can be used to build false trust in them.
ME: Do you prefer character-driven or plot-driven stories?
BRECKEN: I'd say character-driven; I tend to have strong reactions to the people in stories one way or another.
ME: More description or more action?
BRECKEN: Action. Too much description and . . . well, let me just revert back to No. 5. :)
ME: How likely are you to review a book you've read, and which online site would you choose to do so?
BRECKEN: Not very likely. I mentioned I use Goodreads, and when I do reviews, it's usually there. It's more because I like to keep track of what I read and move things off my list, so rating the book feels like a natural part of that process.
ME: Where's your favorite place to read?
BRECKEN: Curled up in a comfy chair or on the couch with a cup of coffee in my lap. I like to be able to totally absorb myself into whatever I'm reading, and I want a cozy place to do it because I'm likely to be there for a while.
ME: Do you prefer paperback or ebook format, and why?
BRECKEN: Paperback all the way! Though much of what I do now is online — I saw the road journalism was heading and knew I should follow — I will always have a love for a hard cop of anything. What originally drew me to journalism was the glossy magazines, and how much fun they were to read. I just feel like I connect with print so much better, and a story comes to life on a page better than it does a web screen.
ME: How much weight can you bench press? LOL! Just checking to see if you're awake! I feel like I've drilled you with enough questions, and have enjoyed all your responses!
BRECKEN: Thank you for including me! I'm so honored. It's nice to connect with a fellow writer in the family. :)