Name: Madeleine Letellier
Where you live: Bay Area, California
Insta handle: @bookishmadeleine
Current read: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne)
What has been your favorite read of the past year?
If I have to narrow it down to just one, I’d say The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, but I also would like to mention Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
What is one book that you think will (or should) become a classic in the next 30 (or 50) years? Why?
This might have already sort of happened to this book, but I feel like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a book that will be read in classrooms for years to come, which really is a great way for books to get canonized. Thomas’s book explores the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality with such honesty, grapples with questions of how one can be a better ally, and the importance of finding one’s voice. These themes make for a great book to teach in high school, so I could definitely see it becoming a classic down the road.
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?
Ok so Lauren Graham and I become friends and by some miracle I don’t scare her away or start calling her Lorelei or yelling my favorite lines from Gilmore Girls at her. I think I would probably recommend Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid because I feel like Lorelei Gilmore would love that book.
How do you choose your next read?
I am often influenced by bookstagram, so if there is a particular book popping up a lot on my feed that speaks to me I’ll run out and grab that one immediately. Otherwise I generally just kind of stare at my bookshelves until I see something I’m in the mood for. I cannot stick to a TBR to save my life, because I am such a mood reader, so it really depends on what books I gravitate towards.
What book meant the most to you as a child?
I’m going to answer this with two titles. 1: My First Kitten by Tessa Krailing meant a lot to me because it was the first chapter book I read all by myself. For some reason I remembered it a couple of weeks ago and have been feeling compelled to buy myself a new copy. 2: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a book that I still love and that I feel like will never get old. I remember having it read to me, and it is one of the few books I have returned to reread over the years. It’s just so good.
What is your favorite adaptation from book to film, theater, or television? What book do you wish would be adapted?
I thought Brooklyn by Colm Toibin was a beautiful book and made for a really beautiful movie (plus Saoirse Ronan is the best; I think everyone can agree). A recent read that I think would be great if it were adapted into a movie was One Day In December by Josie Silver – it was so visual, and the whole time I was reading it, I was comparing it to my favorite rom-coms. There are some scenes in that book that you just know would translate great on film. Another other book that I would LOVE to see adapted into a movie would be Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
What’s the one book everyone loves that you just cannot stand?
Not a specific book, but I really do not understand the hype around Ruth Ware – I tried twice, reading two of her books (I couldn’t even finish The Woman in Cabin 10, so I guess I only read a book and a half), and could not stop rolling my eyes the entire time.
What is your favorite book set in or around the area where you live?
I actually haven’t read many books set in the Bay Area, but I will list the ones I can think of that I have read and enjoyed: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is great for those classic, film noir vibes (plus it has a pretty great film adaptation), Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is a great series that was first published in the newspaper in the 1970s-80s (my mom used to read them while she was young and living in the city, which makes me enjoy reading them more), Joan Didion’s The White Album has some really great essays where she is driving through areas that I know and love, and Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay is a beautiful, sad, and surprising love story that I read in a single sitting. Another great book set near me is I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, but I really did not appreciate that it was close to me, as I read it at night and would basically just think to myself, “oh great, so they were brutally murdered in the most terrifying way only 20 minutes from where I am right at this moment. I guess I am never sleeping again.”
What is one classic you think is not overrated?
I really, really, really, love Virginia Woolf, so I would have to say that To The Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway are most definitely not overrated. I love the way she structures sentences and weaves in and out of characters’s consciousnesses, and every time I read her books I discover something new.
If you had to declare yourself an expert in one extremely specific genre, what would it be?
I don’t know if I’m an expert, but I have a surprising number of books on my shelf that fall into a category that I guess I’d describe as “women spiraling,” by which I mean books where the female protagonist is dealing with much too much (drugs, depression, bad parenting, life in general, etc), gets overwhelmed, and (probably) ends up in a worse off position, prison, a psych ward, or hospitalized.
What is your go-to book recommendation?
Depending on the person, I recommend The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara, or either of Celeste Ng’s novels (can you tell I have a hard time naming a single book?).
What book changed your worldview in some way?
I found Native Son by Richard Wright to be an absolutely fascinating and challenging read that forced me to deal with my own prejudices and tendencies towards lines of thinking that might best be defined as a “white savior” mentality. It was hard to recognize that in myself. Native Son is such a problematic book, and I’m still thinking about years later. It is still so very relevant to questions of racial discrimination, segregation, and the cycles of violence that occur in society due to institutional racism.
If you could inhabit the life of one fictional character for a day, who would you choose?
I feel like it’d be cool to be Wendy Darling, and be whisked off to Neverland with Peter Pan for a whirlwind adventure of magic and flying, while also knowing that I’d be able to return to the safety of my home after all of that was done.
Who do you think is the greatest female author?
I have to go with Virginia Woolf, because she is my favorite and just so cool.
Reading is the best form of self-care that I know of. It is introverting at its best, while also being able to exist within new worlds, with new people, and get a glimpse at lives that either mirror your own or differ dramatically in mind-expanding or escapist ways. Reading is such a personal thing, and individual taste is basically a fingerprint, but you can always find people whose own personal tastes are close enough to your own that you feel seen and understood. I also think that bookstagram proves that people who read are some of the kindest, most supportive, and sympathetic individuals who recognize that not everyone has to think and feel exactly like you in order to have feelings that are also valid and worthy of exploration. This, I think, is precisely because that is what books do: they allow you access to the mind and life of someone different than yourself, all the while making it clear that despite these differences, it can be so easy to connect.
What’s at the top of your TBR or wish list?
My TBR list is never-ending and vast, and forever shifting, but I guess at the very top right this moment is The Water Cure by Sophie MacKintosh, A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum, The Library Book by Susan Orlean, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Watching You by Lisa Jewell, and Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney.