Hilary Burg

Name: Hilary Burg
Where you live: Madison, WI
Insta handle: @hilaryburg
Current read: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

What has been your favorite read of the past year?

It’s a two-way tie between The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (a fellow Madisonian!) and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I loved them both for different reasons – The Immortalists was dark but really made me sit and think, and Evelyn Hugo was just addictive – fast-paced, hard to put down, made me want to sneak in a few pages before going to work every morning.

What is one book that you think will (or should) become a classic in the next 30 (or 50) years? Why?

I think The Mothers by Brit Bennett has everything it takes to stand the test of time – a moving story, complicated characters and the kind of brilliant, poignant writing that makes you stop on a line and think “Wait, she’s right…that’s exactly how it is.”

Imagine this.  You and a celebrity of your choice are becoming friends.  They have asked you for a book rec. Who is the celebrity and what book do you recommend?

So in this too-good-to-be-true dream world I am on a first-name basis with Stephen Colbert, and after picking my jaw up off the floor I would hand him a copy of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green. Stephen’s talked a lot about his love for science fiction and AART is modern sci-fi unlike anything I’ve ever read – witty, thoughtful, a weird mix of mystery + robots + commentary on social media culture…plus, it’s just really fun to read.

Also: not quite a recommendation but if I could read any book with him it would hands down be Lord of The Rings. He’s a huge LOTR fan and I’ve never read them, and I think it’d be awesome to experience the series for the first time with someone who loves it so much.

How do you choose your next read?

A healthy combo of bookstagram recs + combing through my backlist books. I spent four years as an English major and most of my time went to required reading, so my backlist is stacked and will probably stay that way for the rest of time. I’m a particularly slow reader, so whenever it comes to picking my next read I have to be really intentional to make sure the book will be worth it.

I also love reading the Indie Next List each month and have found some of my favorite books on there!

What book meant the most to you as a child?

Where to start! My mom read to me nonstop as a kid, and I’m so happy to have an entire childhood’s worth of memories of great books we read together. The Junie B. Jones series was one of our favorites, and as I got older I got really into Holes and The Princess Diaries series (totally different and better than the movie! And that movie is solid gold so this is no easy feat.)

And, of course, the series the meant the absolute most to me as a child (and an adult, for that matter) is Harry Potter.

What is your favorite adaptation from book to film, theater, or television?  What book do you wish would be adapted?

I think anyone who knew me from the ages of 10 to…well, right now, would be appalled if I said anything other than Holes. Put every time I’ve watched that movie together and I’ve probably dedicated weeks of my life to it, and I don’t even mind cause it’s just that good.  

I am firmly on the bandwagon for a super in-depth, Game of Thrones-style series adaptation of Harry Potter, but until then I’d also love a film version of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, if only to see how they’d design the store’s magnificent, mountainous bookshelves.

What’s the one book everyone loves that you just cannot stand?

Oh man…I really wanted to like Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, but this book was not for me. It has a fascinating premise, but I just thought the writing was so bad that it totally distracted from the story.

What is your favorite book set in or around the area where you live?

Station Eleven! I’m from Northern Michigan and loved following the travelling symphony all around the Great Lakes region.

What is one classic you think is not overrated?

I should probably just tell the truth here – I have a serious lack of appreciation for the classics. It’s not that I think they’re overrated, but many of them feel inaccessible in a way that makes them never rise to the top of my TBR. I do remember enjoying To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in school, but they’re not something I’ll choose to read in my free time now.

If you had to declare yourself an expert in one extremely specific genre, what would it be?

Books about writing! I work as a writer/editor and let myself read one book about writing per year (or else I’d spend all my time reading about writing instead of actually doing it.) My favorites are Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King (a great way to enjoy King’s writing even if you’re not into horror/sci-fi!)

What is your go-to book recommendation?

I spent years trying to get anyone who would listen to read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – hidden behind the pretty average cover/title is great gothic mystery with an ending that doesn’t leave you hanging.

Now, it depends on the reader, but I’ll often recommend Station Eleven for fiction and Bossypants by Tina Fey for non-fiction (it’s SO GOOD on audio!)

What book changed your worldview in some way?

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert rocked my entire approach to creativity – it changed how I work and the way I act on curiosity, it taught me to look for moments where ideas grab you and don’t let go, it reinforced the value of making things just because you want to, regardless of whether or not you can make a living off them. I reread it every year or two and always take away something different.

If you could inhabit the life of one fictional character for a day, who would you choose?

It’s gotta be Dumbledore. Spend a whole day reading in his incredible study, have the full run of Hogwarts, rock that awesome beard…I can’t think of anything better.

Who do you think is the greatest female author?

I’m not sure about all time, but the greatest female author I’ve ever read is Brit Bennett. Her writing in The Mothers is on a whole other level – smart, precise, beautiful but not overwritten. Whatever she’s describing, she just gets it exactly right, every time. I’ve never read anything like it. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Why reading?

So many reasons! But the big one is this: When I read, I feel the most like myself. Whenever I’m particularly overwhelmed, books always bring me back to who I am without all the distractions, give me some perspective and remind me of what’s actually important.

What’s made reading extra special to me as an adult is that it’s one of the few remaining things I do that doesn’t involve a screen – between work and home I spend a lot of time on a computer, and I love that books take me away from that entirely and demand all of my attention. I can’t be reading a book and doing much of anything else, and it’s wonderful!

What’s at the top of your TBR or wish list?

There seems to be a pretty divided opinion on The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker, but since I loved Station Eleven so much I’m excited to pick it up. Also looking forward to The Nix, The Ensemble, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win and Elizabeth Gilbert’s upcoming release, City of Girls!  


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