This interview is part of my By the Book series, in which I ask interesting people about their reading. Any readers out there want to be featured here? If so, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Clem-McClaren is a freelance journalist and business director of a multimedia studio in Omaha, Nebraska. She loves the feeling of the spine of a new book, as well as discovering the worn pages in used (loved) books. She has written for a number of publications, including work for Ms. Magazine. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s degree in Urban Studies. When not writing or drinking all the coffee in her studio, she enjoys marathon running, traveling, and cozy movie nights with her cat Genghis and her husband Jason.
What book is on your nightstand now?
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have heard great things about this novel and am eager to dive in.
What was the last truly great book you read?
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I loved his first book, Everything is Illuminated, and knew I was in for a good read with this piece. It was powerful and graphic, and the way he can write with such perspective is a gift.
Any literary genre you simply can’t be bothered with?
A few! Romance novels and certain fantasy (The Twilight and Lord of the Rings books come to mind), as well as self-help books. [Editor's note: Oh man I am trying hard to bite my tongue here...no LOTR though? Sigh, I suppose we can still be friends...]
A young, aspiring freelance journalist and business director wants your advice on what to read. What books do you suggest?
I hate books that give advice, so I would recommend some light evening reading: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
What’s your favorite Shakespeare?
I have always had a guilty conscience for being an English major without a love for Shakespeare. During my undergrad work, I was able to study abroad in Stratford-on-Avon and got to see a few plays live. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “As You Like It” were my favorites to see onstage.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
Considering his education, I don’t think Obama needs my advice for something to read! :) But I would recommend Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Obama is an athlete and I think he would enjoy the story and appreciate the incredible writing.
What was the last book that made you cry?
Extremely Loud and Three Junes by Julia Glass. Both were very powerful and had such different messages. Everyone can relate to 911 since it was a national tragedy. Glass writes about a family that grows apart over time, and it really tugged at my heartstrings.
The last book that made you laugh?
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. Every one of his books is amazing, but I also listened to the audiobook, and hearing him read his stories in the voices of his family about killed me.
The last book that made you furious?
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima. There are some incredibly violent scenes in the book that I couldn’t get out of my head. They were reminders about the sad sickness that is so prevalent in our otherwise lovely world. For this reason, I will always have a respect for this book, but I will never read it again.
Name a book you just couldn’t finish.
The General in his Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is such a respected author, but I could not get through this book. It just didn’t resonate with me and I was bored by page 3.
What were your favorite books as a child? Did you have a favorite character or hero?
I come from a family of big readers, so I had several favorites! Two of my favorites from when I was really young were But No Elephants by Jerry Smath, and Milk and Cookies by Frank Asch. As I got older, I loved The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. This was a gripping, beautifully written novel that I still reread to this day.
What’s the best book your mother ever gave you to read?
She introduced me to many fantastic books. I remember always seeing my parents reading at night together, and we always read at the dinner table if we weren’t chatting. She introduced me to The Eyes of the Dragon, and some sci-fi novels like Jurassic Park, Congo (both by Michael Crichton), as well as R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps and Fear Street series.
If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird was so moving that once I finished, I just sat on the edge of my chair and thought through the novel for about an hour. What an amazing gift to write something so powerful and honest.
Have you ever written to an author? Did he or she write back?
I’ve never written to an author, but I did have a chance to meet Isabel Allende while I was living in Washington , DC. She signed my event pamphlet, so I think that counts!
You’re organizing a literary dinner party and inviting three writers. Who’s on the list?
Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Tina Fey.
What’s the best movie based on a book you’ve seen recently?
Movies never do the book justice! To be honest, "The Walking Dead" on AMC is probably my favorite. It is based off a comic book series by Robert Kirkman and is truly terrifying and fun to watch. Two Emmy awards can’t be wrong! :)
What are you going to read next?
I have a few books on my desk, but I’m trying to be better about just reading one. I have over 400 books, so it is hard to limit myself! I will probably stick with The Handmaid’s Tale for now.
Thank you so much!