Shortform Reads: Dystopian Novels Are Actually About Hope

What book helped Caroline rekindle her passions after having children? What genre does she think is often misunderstood?

Caroline is a Shortform book guide writer from Washington. She has soft spots for feminist dystopian fiction and pancakes. We recently interviewed her to learn a bit about her reading tastes.

Our Interview With Caroline

Caroline used to read books that she thought she “should” read. Now, she gives herself permission to read for pleasure. Here’s our interview with Caroline.

What’s your favorite book and why?

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin. It’s a feminist science fiction trilogy published in the 1980s that takes place in the 22nd century after the repeal of the 19th Amendment. I love the book because it speaks to the power of language to shape a society, and it’s about women working together to shape a more inclusive future. And, when I need to slow down, I pick up The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. The book is a delight in itself and a reminder to notice the everyday joys around us.

What are you reading these days?

The Thursday Murder Club, The Man Who Died Twice, and The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman. They’re murder mysteries set in a quaint retirement village in Kent, England. Hilarity and shenanigans abound. I can’t get enough.

If you could have a dinner party with any three authors—dead or alive—who would they be and why?

Well, that would depend on the vibe of the party. I wouldn’t say no to a taco night and margaritas with Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Ali Wong. But, on a different sort of night, I would love to sit down with bell hooks, Mary Oliver, and Wendell Berry. Their books continue to offer me wisdom about how to live my life, and a long conversation over a bottle of wine (or two) sounds just about perfect.

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

I love dystopian fiction. I think a lot of people find the genre bleak, but I think the stories are actually about hope. At times, when I feel doubtful about the future of the human race, it’s comforting to remember that creativity and resilience are a part of who we are.

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

I’m not a fan of what is often pejoratively called “chick lit.” I think the books often underestimate the intelligence of women and overestimate the importance of men in a plot line.

What’s your favorite way to read a book?

I love this question! Physical book, always. In an armchair. Early in the morning. With a cup of tea and a blanket. Even better if no one else is awake. If we really want to dig into the fantasy, my family would wake up late and not interrupt me—except hours later to tell me that they’ve made pancakes and breakfast is ready.

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

Books are so personal. I don’t know if there’s a book I think everyone should read. It’d be like saying there’s one person everyone should date. We learn something new with each book we read, and we all have different things to learn.

How have your reading tastes changed over the years?

I used to read a lot more classic literature and serious non-fiction. I would pick up books that I thought I “should” read but, if I’m being honest, didn’t really want to. Now I give myself more permission to read for pleasure. I also used to look down on “self-help” books, but now I love books that offer me guidance on how to live my life better. Life is complicated! I’ll take all the advice I can get.

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

When I was little, my mom read Little Women aloud to me. Spoiler Alert: She got to the part where Beth dies and absolutely lost it. She was crying so hard that she couldn’t keep reading. She had read the book before and knew what happened. But that didn’t make a difference. I think, at that moment—even though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time—I understood the power of books to cultivate empathy and to speak to the broader experience of what it means to be human.

Do you have any guilty pleasure books?

I love juvenile fiction. I don’t think it’s really a guilty pleasure because I never feel guilty about reading books, but it’s definitely not targeted at my age demographic!

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

Yes! I recently read Unicorn Space by Eve Rodsky. She advocates for the need for all people, but especially women and mothers, to carve out time and space in their lives for creativity and passion projects. Since having kids, I’ve struggled to make time for my own projects. Her book inspired me to think about how to jump back into creative endeavors. So, recently, I ordered a couple of piano books and started playing—something I haven’t done since high school. I’m rusty, for sure, but being good isn’t the point. I enjoy doing it, and it brings me a lot of satisfaction to see myself improving.

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

“It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are.” (Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace)

  • Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
  • The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
  • Richard Osman’s murder mysteries

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: Dystopian Novels Are Actually About Hope

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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