Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Q&A with Gretchen Anthony


Photo by M. Brian Hartz



Gretchen Anthony is the author of the new novel The Book Haters' Book Club. Her other books include Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post. She lives in Minneapolis.


Q: What inspired you to write The Book Haters' Book Club, and how did you create your cast of characters?

A: The spark for this book came soon after the unrest following the George Floyd tragedy. Obviously, my story bears nothing of the historical and cultural weight of those events. But it's true that we Minnesotans mourned as we watched the destruction of neighborhoods and the lives of the people within them.


I tried to understand the shock, grief, anger, and fear felt by the residents and small-business owners who called those neighborhoods home and I knew I wanted to write a book about everything about one's life changing in an instant. I wanted to write about the power of community rising to a challenge. And I wanted to tell a different story about my hometown than the one playing out on the news.


In fact, the very first version of this novel opened with a scene in which the neighborhood's sewer line explodes and the bookstore becomes a rare place of refuge during the cleanup. There was literally sewage everywhere. That plot didn't last long (thankfully!), but it's pretty clear to me I was working through something on the page.


As for the characters, they each have a complicated relationship with the Over the Rainbow Bookshop. There's no rational reason for them to unite in an effort to save it. Yet, they do, and each of them is fundamentally changed along the way. I like to think of that as the Over the Rainbow Bookshop's motto in action: "Books and rainbows are where dreams come true."


Q: How did you choose the books to include in the novel, and do you have a particular favorite among them?


A: One of the best parts of my journey as an author has been getting to know so many talented booksellers and librarians. As I was writing the book, I kept thinking, "I wonder what book so and so would recommend if they were in this scene." Then it finally hit me: Why don't I ask them? So I did! I reached out to a dozen or more indie booksellers and librarians and their recommendations fill the book's pages.


Almost everyone I asked answered my plea for titles. And the one promise I made from the beginning was that I would credit them for their help. Which I do--every librarian and bookseller I worked with is listed in the afterword, along with the name and contact information for their store. I hope readers will support them because they played a fundamental role in shaping this book. I can't thank them enough.


I don't have a favorite book among the recommendations, but I do have a favorite source. Years ago, my very non-bookish middle son and I were at the bookstore and he told me I ought to buy Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.


I thought his teacher had read it in class and he'd enjoyed it. But no. Turns out he'd simply read the back cover. "Just sounded like something you'd like, Mom." He was right. It's a magical book, and I like to think there was a little bit of book magic at play in that bookstore that day.


Q:  What role have book clubs played in your own life?


A: I dedicated the Book Haters' Book Club to my own "forever" book club, my dear friends Bethany and Renee. We started our own book club when we met decades ago in the late ‘90s when we were young and single and starting careers and lives in San Francisco. It was a heady time and I assure you, there was lots of non-bookish activity. But book lovers recognize each other and we always find a way to connect. 


We live all over the country now, but that doesn't stop us from book clubbing. We just pick a place to spend the weekend (we've gone to Taos, Park City, Palm Springs...), choose the titles we plan to discuss, and book our tickets. Like I said, we book lovers find each other and a way.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: As with all my books, I hope readers come away from this story feeling better, lighter, more hopeful than they did going in. And with all the book recommendations inside, I hope their TBR piles get a whole lot higher, too.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: That's a mystery that's yet to be revealed! (Even to me...)


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Since book people are the heroes in this novel, I hope readers will be moved to use the hashtag we've started, #BHBCheroes. I want people to tell the stories of the book heroes who made a difference in their lives. The teacher who nurtured a love of reading, a librarian who gave a reader a safe space, a favorite aunt or uncle or grandmother who put the right book in their hands when they needed it. Who are your #BHBCheroes, Deborah? :-)


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Gretchen Anthony.

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