Name: Kelsey Manning
Where you live: Jersey City, NJ but work in NYC
Insta handle: @kelseyMManning (I know it’s just my name but I swear it’s a bookstagram) – but you may also know me as the person behind the @touchstonebooks account, and you’ll soon see me on @scribnerbooks!
Current read: Cape May by Chip Creek + The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
What has been your favorite read of the past year?
Amazingly I think the very first book I read this year might still be holding strong as my favorite—The Power by Naomi Alderman. The premise (what happens when women develop the power to essentially kill people with their fingertips) could have been simplistic if it wasn’t executed well, but it was written with such nuance and complexity that I finished thinking, ‘This woman is a genius.’
Some of my other five stars this year: In a Dark, Dark Wood (how had I not read Ruth Ware before?!), We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Marlena by Julie Buntin, Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (for a Jersey girl the audiobook was an 18-hour church service), My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal, And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell, and Less by Andrew Sean Greer.
What is one book that you think will (or should) become a classic in the next 30 (or 50) years? Why?
I would love to see Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff continue to be successful and talked about and written about and book clubbed and studied and attempted-but-failed-to-be-copied for a long time, because it’s brilliant. I read it in 2015 and I still think about it on a regular basis.
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?
The celebrity that comes to mind that I would most want to be friends with is Rachel Bloom even though I would be extremely intimidated because I think she’s a lit-er-al genius. And I would recommend Literally Me by Julie Houts because they have similar senses of humor and I think she would ~get it~
How do you choose your next read?
Unless I need to read something for work, it’s almost entirely what I’m in the mood for in the moment. Sometimes I pick up a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for five years and feel like, “Okay, it’s time.” The last few books I read for fun were: a memoir-in-essays about love, a novel about an advice columnist in 1940s London, the Bob Woodward book about T#&%p, a contemporary romance, the last book in the To All The Boys I Loved Before series, and a psychological suspense.
What book meant the most to you as a child?
The Giver by Lois Lowry—it was the first book I read over and over. My copy is absolutely destroyed and it’s beautiful. Sadly I haven’t read it as an adult though I keep meaning to!
What is your favorite adaptation from book to film, theater, or television? What book do you wish would be adapted?
Since we’re both Broadway fiends I’m going to say Wicked, which I’ve seen I think five times but have never read the book. Does that disqualify this answer? If it does—Big Little Lies! Oh wait! Fun Home! Love both the book and the show. And I would love to see Netflix versions of any and all of Rainbow Rowell’s books.
What’s the one book everyone loves that you just cannot stand?
This is literally my favorite thing to ask people and talk about (even though I work in publishing which means I know a lot of editors, authors, publicists, etc, and it’s not really kosher to go around shitting on books). The one that comes to mind is Me Before You, which is obviously an unpopular (or, as the bazillions of sales would argue, completely incorrect!) opinion. But I hate to only mention a female author here, so I’ll tell you that I also despised The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, which is an opinion I used to be somewhat embarrassed by but am no longer!
What is your favorite book set in or around the area where you live?
I’m trying to think about books set in New Jersey and coming up blank (besides Bruce of course). So since I spend all my time in NYC can I do that? The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín are the ones that come to mind.
What is one classic you think is not overrated?
My major in college was Great Books so you’ll have to give me a minute here… First of all everyone should read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. If you read it in high school, read it again. And then I haven’t re-read this one in a while so I’m not sure if my feelings will have changed, but I was enamored by Lolita when I read it. If anything underrated: A Room of One’s Own (so much more complex and interesting than the one thing you know about it) and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.
If you had to declare yourself an expert in one extremely specific genre, what would it be?
At one point I may have said multi-generational friendship sagas but I’m in a stage when I haven’t felt inclined to pick up anything described as “epic” or “sweeping” in a long time. Right now I mostly pick up: a. contemporary fiction but much “smaller” stories (Do you know what I mean? Basically a thing happens to people, and it doesn’t need to “ripple across generations”), b. pure escapism/fun (romance, YA, etc) or c. non-fiction about what hell is going on in the world or by people who have had much different experiences than me.
What is your go-to book recommendation?
Geez this is hard. When you work in book publishing people ask you for book recommendations constantly (and I love it! Not complaining). I used to have more regular go-tos (The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel), but then a few people hated them so now I try to always personalize based on who it is and what they’re in the mood for at the time. But I still rely on those three and then if people don’t like them I just excommunicate them. (Kidding, sort of.)
What book changed your worldview in some way?
I’m sure this will be a very common response but definitely Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I feel like that book almost single-handedly gave me language and context for so many things I was just starting to try to figure out. After reading that, it was just nonstop moments of “Ohhh. I see what’s happening here now.” All of a sudden I had this new lens. (Side note: I also stalk Roxane Gay’s Goodreads profile obsessively and recommend you do the same—her reviews are always dead on).
If you could inhabit the life of one fictional character for a day, who would you choose?
I’m so bad at these kinds of questions… I think it’s partially because I forget SO MUCH about a book once I read it. Typically the only things I remember are how it made me feel and how much I liked or didn’t like it. Most specifics about characters and plot are pretty much gone an hour after I close it.
Who do you think is the greatest female author?
MORGAN WHAT?! This is cray. How about this. I will say that I’m completely obsessed with Liane Moriarty and think she deserves every single one of the over 14 millions copies she has sold. I’ve read all eight of her books (including the one that isn’t out yet) and I’m confident I’ll read everything she writes until one of us dies.
Oh boy. For someone whose entire life revolves around books I should have a good answer for this huh… I mean for me I can’t think of anything else that I want to spend every day doing, thinking about, talking about, working on, etc. I really believe that fiction in particular builds empathy, especially when you start reading as a kid. Reading is a constant reminder that everyone’s experiences and perspectives are so different and also that we’re essentially the same.
What’s at the top of your TBR or wish list?
If anyone from Random House is reading this (and made it this far) can I please have the new Lin-Manuel Miranda book?? Other than that, I’m actually moving over to work at Scribner so I’m about to enter a long stretch of catching up on all their greatest hits (a huge list) and the upcoming books that I’ll be working on!