(Drawing of Carol Harmon by Vanessa Waring)
A monthly interview with Bolinas Library readers.
Carol Harmon has lived in Bolinas since January 1, 1985. Previous to her retirement she worked for the California Department of Insurance for around 23 years. She spends her time now reading, attending book groups, singing in various local choral groups, and training, playing with, and hanging out with her three dogs: Annie, a flat coated retriever age 12; Roary, a Golden age 6, and Gladys a flat coated retriever, age 4 months. She and Michael Rafferty have shared the same house on the Big Mesa for the last 33 years, and most of the time, they feel that they are living happily ever after.
What are you reading now?
I want to start with a Public Service Announcement for the Bolinas Library Book Club, which meets the first Thursday of every month at 7:00 P.M. in the Library. Great venue, lovely people, lively discussions. The selection for February is The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. It’s set mainly in the ‘70s in the U.S., the era at the end of the Vietnam War. The protagonist is a refugee from South Viet Nam, but he’s really a spy for North Viet Nam….
I usually read several books at once, skipping back and forth. For example, I am currently reading and rereading everything Barbara Kingsolver has written. Also, I just finished My Ex Life by Stephen McCauley. It was so light and sweet and delightfully frothy I ordered all his books from the library. And I read a fair number of non-fiction, political, social, cultural, historical, and self-help. I am now reading James Clapper’s Facts and Fears. A recent Terry Gross interview introduced me to a delightful biologist named Rob Dunn and his book, Never Home Alone, about all the microbes in our bodies and in our homes, which sounds creepy, but is actually reassuring – so I now have his three previous books from the Library.
Do you like to read paper or ebooks?
Almost exclusively paper. I love the feel of holding a book and physically turning pages, especially old books. I even like the smell.
How about audio books?
They are wonderful, and I need to remind myself to get them as an alternative to watching cable news. I’m in a Shakespeare group right now, and I like to read the plays, while hearing them read by voice actors.
Are you a browser in the Library, or do you know in advance what you’re looking for?
I do most of my browsing online; I’m a big fan of the Library’s website. When I’m in the Library to pick up my load of reserved books, I will glance over the “Lucky Day” “one week selection.” I often find there something I was already planning to read: so lucky me, no #85 on the reserve list. I also look at new fiction and nonfiction on the back wall.
Do you have a favorite genre?
If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be literary fiction, but I also like a lot of nonfiction, historical, social/cultural & political.
Any genres that you never read?
I don’t much care for Fantasy or Magical Realism. Don’t ask me why.
Do you prefer a book that makes you laugh or cry?
Laughing and crying are both great, but I try to avoid graphic depictions of violence and abuse, because these images can get seared into my brain and are just about impossible to expunge.
Or one that teaches you something?
If I can’t learn something from every book I pick up, there’s something wrong with me.
Were there any books that made a big impression on you in your life?
Since I’m the child of a preacher and an English teacher, The Bible and Shakespeare were woven through my youth, as a part of my cultural heritage, and I now feel fortunate for that. So many literary references are enriched by this background.
Is there an especially famous author that you wanted to meet?
I’d love to have lunch with David Sedaris and his sisters and Hugh at their North Carolina beach shack. And it would be fun to browse Ann Patchett’s bookstore in Nashville with her, then go out for bar-b-que. And it would be wonderful to go on tour with Mark Twain, not to mention tea and scones with Jane Austen. I would insist on having an appropriate wardrobe for each venue.
What’s the last great book you’ve read and recommended to a friend?
I just re-read Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. It’s about Monarch butterflies and their fictional appearance in an Appalachian community, and the locals’ varied response to this miracle. I learned a lot about butterflies and how they are being affected by climate change. It mirrors our own concerns about Bolinas Monarchs. Plus, it’s a wonderful family drama.
Is there a book you’ve always meant to read, but still haven’t?
I have this huge Russian fiction gap that you could drive a truck through. I’ve always planned on taking a few years sometime and reading all those guys. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gogol, etcetera. I could always ban cable news and use my time for more enriching pursuits.
Any highly rated books that you thought were overrated?
I’m easily pleased. And I’m swayed by others’ opinions, so if everybody says it was great, I will tend to agree.
What books do you return to? Are there any books you reread?
Do you have a collection of books at home? If so, where do you keep them, and do you reread?
If I’m in love with an author, such as Richard Powers or Marilynne Robinson, I need to have them close at home. Otherwise, not so much, because it would be easy to become a hoarder. Also, there wouldn’t be room for my collections of shoes, or dog collars, or Rafferty art work. If I want to reread I can almost always find it at the Library. If I have had to buy a book for any reason, I either pass it on to a friend, or donate it to that sweet little bookstore downtown next to the post office. (Another public service announcement: that’s the place to go browsing!)
What kind of characters draw you in?
Formerly, I would have said, “People like me.” But one thing I like about book clubs is that I have been forced to read about unfamiliar times, people, places, and things. And by virtue of that, I have learned a lot of history and culture, which otherwise I might have avoided.
When and where do you read?
Anywhere and everywhere? I love to read in front of a fire with music in the background and my dogs sleeping around me. I love to read on my front porch, which I adore, or in my yard on a balmy day, and in bed at night before I go to sleep.
This is the most difficult question you’ve asked. I just know that reading is a wondrous and infinitely varied world that’s always available to us. A world without reading would be like a world without music, or flowers, or dogs, or hugs. And I think the love of reading is one of the greatest gifts that one person can give to another