Shortform Reads: Classics, Magic, & Everything in Between

What book made Paige appreciate life more? What book adaptation didn’t hit home?

Paige is a Shortform guide writer from Tennessee. She enjoys a wide range of book genres and believes that everyone should read as widely and as often as they can.

Our Interview With Paige

We recently interviewed Paige about her reading tastes and habits. Here’s what she had to say about her favorite books, authors, and genres.

What’s your favorite book and why?

This is always such a hard question for me to answer! The book I loved reading the most the first time I read it was Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. It’s magic realism—music is alive in it and haunts the Spokane Indian Reservation where the book takes place. It deals with poverty and racism poignantly, and it’s very human—people suffer and triumph, and you feel hope and despair for them. And Alexie’s prose is brilliant, very poetic.

But, the book I love reading more and more each time I read it is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s a classic for good reasons. It’s gorgeously moody, and I think it’s a heartbreaking depiction of the human condition. We’re all just creatures trying to figure life out.

My newest favorite is Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s about love and nature. Kingsolver is a biologist by training, and her nature writing is bright, vivid, and exciting—you can tell she’s enamored with the natural world. She braids together three surprising romances and interweaves the human world with the animal world. I kind of think it’s about the meaning of life.

Honorable mentions include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, and The Overstory by Richard Powers.

What’s on your reading list these days?

I’ve been reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova since last August—a really smart, winding, genre-bending take on the legend of Dracula. I’m taking it slow because I want to really enjoy it—I’m a big proponent of slow reading.

I’ve also been reading a lot of poetry lately. Mary Oliver and Walt Whitman are my favorites. And, I started reading the Outlander series because I really enjoyed the TV show.

On my reading list are all of the books that have been sitting on my shelf unread for … too long. Among them are Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins, and On Critical Race Theory: Why It Matters and Why You Should Care by Victor Ray.

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

James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, and Ursula Le Guin. They were all brilliant writers and, more importantly, they were visionaries. I think I’d be too intimidated to join in on the conversation, but I’d love to sit back, listen, and soak it all up.

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

My favorite genre is magic realism. It intrigues me because I believe in magic a little bit. I have some superstitions.

What’s your favorite way to read a book?

My favorite way to read a book is to pick a day when I have absolutely nothing pressing on my schedule. This is important because, otherwise, I can’t focus on enjoying my book. I pack a lunch, a thin sheet, and treats and toys for the dog, and I stake out a spot under a tree in the park. The best time to do this in Tennessee is in early spring when it’s 70 and sunny. I prefer physical books.

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

I believe everyone should read as widely and as often as they can because it’s edifying. Books have so many different things to offer.

But, more specifically, I’ll mention a few. Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen because it does the important work of dispelling common myths about American history. Glass, Irony, and God by Anne Carson because it’s beautiful. And The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler because they’re both horrifyingly and hope-giving-ly prescient—and plain good stories, to boot.

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

Yes. I didn’t like to read until the second grade. My teacher made me pick a book from the book fair leftovers. I picked one at random, and it was about Egyptian mummies, which were just about the coolest thing I had ever heard of. The more I learned about them, the more I wanted to know about them. I read so much that I ended up writing the seven-year-old version of a thesis about how King Tut died.

After that, I kept reading—more and more widely—because the experience taught me two things. First, for the foreseeable future, reading was the only way I could travel the world—and travel through time! Second, I could learn from books the truth about things I wouldn’t learn otherwise.

Do you have any guilty pleasure books?

I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I’m unashamed of my love for good historical romance. I read one recently about Jesus’ fictionalized wife, The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd, and it was very good.

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

I just finished reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X for work, and I learned that he was friends and colleagues with Maya Angelou. They worked together when he visited Ghana, where she was living at the time. Later, she would return to the U.S. to help him establish the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Unfortunately, he was murdered before that could really materialize.

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

I read Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, a book about fungi, when I was having a hard time during the first year of the pandemic. It really just made me appreciate life more—the very fact that life exists and all the wonderful, wild, mysterious forms it takes. It motivated me to get outside more often and just enjoy the world around me, which is good for everybody’s brain, I think.

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

From “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman:

“The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”

What are your favorite book adaptations and why?

I love the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. I prefer the extended versions because I’m a nerd. I love them because I grew up with them. On rainy weekends, when we couldn’t go outside and play, the whole family had Lord of the Rings marathons. We loved it so much that, on sunny days when we were playing outside, my brothers played Frodo and Sam, and I played Gandalf.

I don’t really like The Hobbit trilogy, though I do love the 1977 animated film. And, I can’t seem to get into any other LOTR adaptations. There’s just something special about the original three movies.

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

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I love them all because they give me hope.

  • Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
  • Glass, Irony, and God by Anne Carson
  • The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
  • Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

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: Classics, Magic, & Everything in Between

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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