Shortform Reads: Entertainment, Escape, & Exploration

Why doesn’t Becky make book recommendations? Whose biography influenced her views about leadership and activism?

Based in Pennsylvania, Becky is an editor on Shortform’s writing team. We interviewed her recently to learn a bit about her relationship with books.

Our Interview With Becky

Becky has incredibly diverse reading tastes, but there’s one genre she avoids. Here’s what she had to say about the books in her life.

What’s your favorite book and why?

I read anything and everything, but I don’t typically re-read, so I can’t say I have any specific favorites. A few recent books that have stood out for their beautiful writing and resonance are Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson, West With the Night by Beryl Markham, The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, This House of Sky by Ivan Doig, News of the World by Paulette Jiles, and Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.

Some other books on interesting topics include The Unsettlers and The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen; The World-Ending Fire by Wendell Berry; Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose; The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf; and Eleanor Roosevelt, Volumes 1 and 2, by Blanche Wiesen Cook.

During my career years, I focused on books about politics, media, social trends, business, and current events. So, more recently, I’ve focused on reading purely for entertainment and escape—or to explore topics that interest me.

What are you reading these days?

I just finished The Joy and Light Bus Company by Alexander McCall Smith. Now I’m reading A Divided Loyalty by Charles Todd. Next, I plan to read State of Terror by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton and The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

If you could have a dinner party with any author—dead or alive—who would it be and why?

I’d be interested in talking with Wendell Berry about his ideas on how to live a sustainable, technology-free, non-consumption-driven life.

What’s your favorite genre? Why does it intrigue you?

I enjoy nature and natural history, as well as self-reliance and simplicity, as an antidote to our always connected, extreme-productivity culture. Also, I’m riveted by books—old and new—about epic treks.

Are there any book genres or tropes that you dislike or refuse to read?

I prefer to avoid anything violent.

What’s your favorite way to read a book?

I purchase and read mostly on a Kindle, due to a lack of storage space for more books in my house. My Kindle is the black-and-white type to avoid digital distractions, and I read for several hours before bed—starting with the day’s New York Times and then moving to a book or books. Usually, I have several books in progress simultaneously, and I switch between them depending on my interest or energy level at the moment.

What book do you think everyone should read in their lifetime?

Reading is such a personal choice and depends on so many factors in an individual’s life that I wouldn’t want to advise anyone else about what to read.

Who are your favorite authors?

I read widely, and my favorite authors tend to be those whose work resonates with my state of mind at the moment or with where I am in life.

How have your reading tastes changed over the years?

I’ve become more interested in biography and history.

Was there a specific book that sparked your love of reading?

No specific book. Loving reading and having a range of reading interests is probably a result of my spending many hours during childhood—pre-internet by decades—wandering around the community library and looking at whatever caught my attention, usually in the adult section.

Do you have any guilty-pleasure books?

I like the mystery series by Spencer Quinn in which the narrator is a talking dog. The next one I plan to read is Heart of Barkness.

What’s an interesting fact that you learned from a book recently?

The favorite non-alcoholic drink in Scotland is Irn-Bru, a carbonated soft drink with a seemingly indescribable taste. I learned this from Val McDermid’s crime series.

Have any books you’ve read caused you to make any life changes or to develop any habits?

Reading the biography of Eleanor Roosevelt influenced my views about leadership and activism.

What’s your favorite quote from a book or an author?

“I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.” (Walden by Henry David Thoreau)

What are your favorite book adaptations and why?

I stay away from most adaptations because they’re usually disappointing, although I do like PBS adaptations of some books.

Are there any lesser-known books that you’ve read that you want others to know exist?

Again, people’s preferences, especially mine, are so idiosyncratic that I don’t recommend books.

At Shortform, how do you go about working on a book that has viewpoints you don’t agree with?

I approach books with curiosity, as I did when I wandered the library as a child.

Are there any books you had to read for Shortform that you thought you wouldn’t like and ended up loving?

I can’t say I ended up loving any in particular, but I was surprised to find The Book of Five Rings—written by a Japanese samurai in the 1600s—fascinating. This is a guide I just finished editing.

What are your favorite books in the Shortform library and why?

Of the books I’ve summarized, I’ve enjoyed the really old ones most. These include Amusing Ourselves to Death, The Millionaire Next Door, and Think and Grow Rich. Of the guides I’ve edited, I enjoyed A Promised Land and Becoming—the memoirs by Barack and Michelle Obama.

Becky’s Favorite Books

  • Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson
  • West With the Night by Beryl Markham
  • The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
  • This House of Sky by Ivan Doig
  • News of the World by Paulette Jiles
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Unsettlers by Mark Sundeen
  • The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen
  • The World-Ending Fire by Wendell Berry
  • Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
  • The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, Volumes 1 and 2, by Blanche Wiesen Cook
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
  • The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
  • Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama

About the Series

At Shortform, we want to give our employees names and faces so you can get to know the people who make the magic happen. That’s why we’re doing the Shortform Reads series, where we interview our employees and share their thoughts and opinions. You can check out more employee interviews here.

Shortform Reads: Entertainment, Escape, & Exploration

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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