Saturday, September 23, 2017

Q&A with Annie Spence

Annie Spence, photo by Alicia Gbur

Q: How did you come up with the idea of writing letters to various books, and when did you decide these letters could become a book themselves?

A: At one of the first libraries I worked at, there was a FREE table with discarded books that were unfit even for the annual used book sale. They all looked so sad and bizarre sitting there.

Often when librarians "weed out" a collection, there are some items that make them chuckle or wince and these were all those books. I wrote a break-up letter to one, I think it was Pictorial Anatomy of the Cat.

Then, eight years later, a literary agent told me she liked my writing and asked if I had any book ideas. What became Dear Fahrenheit 451 was the last on the list of ideas I sent her and I'm so glad I added it.

Q: How did you decide on the books to include, and on the order of the letters?

A: I had a small collection of oddball books and one of my librarian friends was kind enough to share her own shelf of weirdos with me. There was a lot to choose from. For example, I didn't end up writing to a book called Whimsical Sweatshirts that I really had my heart set on.

But it came down to whether or not I had strong feelings for the book and could summarize it or familiarize readers with it in the confines of a letter. I tried to make it a decent mix of well-known and more niche items (I have a fondness for the niche).

In terms of organizing the letters, I'm a librarian so it was very important to me. I tried it every which way: I separated the love notes and break up letters, I split them up by where the book "lived" (a library, my home, out and about), and I tried organizing them by Dewey Decimal.

In the end, it was better to focus on the general tone of each letter and try to mix it up, so that readers could experience a little dose of everything. That's how the whole experience of reading, and librarianship actually, feels to me, a bit of everything, coming at you from all sides.

Q: How was the book's title chosen? Why Fahrenheit 451?

A: My editor, Amy Einhorn, recommended the title. She wisely thought that naming the book after one of the letters inside would cue readers in to what the book was about.

Fahrenheit 451 was a good letter to pick to lead the way because it is an important book, I think, for anyone who loves reading or thinking or discovering. It's about a world where all of those freedoms we take for granted have been stripped away.

Bradbury typed the majority of Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of a library, which is poetic to me--using his freedom to read and write to create his own love letter to reading, however frightful.

Q: Who do you see as the perfect reader for this book?

A: Anyone who has ever loved or loathed a book.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am beginning to work on a novel and also make zines for fun. What that really means is that I'm working on laundry, bills, and thinking about what's going to happen next on Game of Thrones when I should be writing.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: September is National Library Card Sign Up Month. I work at the library every day and I still get giddy when I walk through the stacks. There is so much to take in and it's free and if you have any part of your life that you would like to improve, the public library can probably help you.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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