Hilary Simmons is the new assistant editor at Books+Publishing. We asked her to share her reading fancies.
What are you reading right now?
I just started reading Various Pets Alive and Dead on the commute to work this morning (Marina Lewycka, Fig Tree). She’s the one who wrote A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (Penguin). I’m hooked already—she has this brilliant ability to combine farce, irony and compassion.
What book do you always recommend?
Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Canongate). I know nothing about the film adaptation with Scarlett Johansson—although I’m planning on checking it out—but the book is excellent.
What book are you most looking forward to?
Helen Garner’s new nonfiction book, This House of Grief (Text). I think Garner does nonfiction best; I can vividly recall reading Joe Cinque’s Consolation (Picador) for the first time. Also, the new short-story collection by Margaret Atwood that’s out in a couple of months and Dress, Memory by Lorelei Vashti (A&U).
What book made you wonder what all the fuss was about?
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (A&U), who always writes the same parental-trauma-porn where whatever the worst case scenario you can conceive of for a family comes to pass. Or The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini, Bloomsbury)—that was a story that held me right up until the end when everything got tied up in an infuriatingly neat package which felt like it was pre-destined for Hollywood.
What’s the best book you’ve read that no-one’s ever heard of?
This Is How by M J Hyland (Text). I wouldn’t go so far as to say no one’s ever heard of it as she’s got a cult following, but she deserves a wider readership. It’s a masterful study in claustrophobia, loneliness and possibly madness—but you can’t quite tell.
Obligatory desert island question—which book would you want with you?
Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (Faber).
Is there a book you’ve bought for the cover?
Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables from the Penguin Clothbound Classics series, designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. It’s all inky blue binding and entwined red birds.
Hardback, paperback or digital?
Paperback. Nothing compares to the weight, feel and smell of a real book. I learnt that from years working in a bookshop—you see customers covertly stroke books and sniff their pages. I think ebooks are well-suited to travel because of their transportability and they’re amazing for academic texts or research purposes. But I prefer to have a real book in my hands that I can drop without fear and/or spill coffee on. I never know what to do with the paper jackets from hardback books, so paperback all the way.
If I were a literary character I’d be…
Anna Karenina crossed with Jo March with a little bit of Nancy Drew thrown in for mystery factor.
The best thing about books is…
They don’t mind when you forget their names.