Leigh Bardugo on the seduction of books and celebrating your weirdness

Author Leigh Bardugo is the author of, among many other things, the Shadow and Bone trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. The Netflix series “Shadow and Bone” is based on her magical Grishaverse. Her latest novel is “Hell Bent,” the sequel to “Ninth House,” is in stores this week, and she responded to the our questions as she embarked on her latest book tour.

Q. Is there a book or books you always recommend to other readers? 

“The Shadow Hero” by Gene Luen Yang. It’s the story of the first Chinese superhero, told in a very Golden Age of Comics way. I’ve given it to kids, adults, even my mom, who I don’t think has ever picked up a comic book. It has heart, humor, beautiful mythology. If you don’t find this graphic novel delightful, I don’t think we can be friends.

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Q. How do you decide what to read next? 

Right now I’m writing a historical fantasy, so research is dictating all of my reading. But when it comes to pleasure reading, it’s all about mood and recommendations from friends. On my last vacation, I brought “The Queen of the Night” by Alexander Chee, “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Jon Krakauer, and “The Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz.

Q. Do you remember the first book that made an impact on you? 

Probably “Many Moons” by James Thurber. It was a favorite when I was a kid, a wonderful fairy tale. It taught me the word “surfeit” and to beware of bureaucrats.

Q. Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, are there any titles or narrators you’d recommend? 

I listen to cozy mysteries when I’m on tour. I love all of the Agatha Christie that Hugh Fraser narrates. He is so good I forget I’m not listening to a multi-cast recording. And I love Joan Hickson’s recordings of the Miss Marple short stories, but those versions are impossible to find in the US. I have to mention my brilliant audiobook narrator Lauren Fortgang. She’s been voicing my books for ten years. Even if you don’t like my writing, you’ll like what she does with it.

Q. Is there a person who made an impact on your reading life – a teacher, a parent, a librarian or someone else? 

My grandfather gave me a love of language early on and an unusual range to choose from. He loved Steinbeck, Hemingway, Saroyan, Kipling, Frost. Big manly voices. But also Longfellow, Wilde, Yeats. He loved Puccini and John Wayne movies and old vaudeville routines. It was a mix of high culture and low culture and everything in between.

I’ll admit I often clashed with teachers. I had a real problem with authority figures, which has served me pretty well in life. But the teachers who got me really got me. I’m thinking of my high school music teacher, Tim Bruneau, in particular. He had such weird and wonderful taste. When every other school was doing “Fiddler on the Roof,” he had us performing “Working” and this bizarre operetta called “Charlotte Sweet.” He saw how weird I was too, and he encouraged that. He got my sense of humor. I had no musical training but I desperately loved singing, and he found ways to let me sing and be a ham. I’ll forever be grateful for that.

When you’re young and alone and not quite like everyone else, you need people who foster your talents, but you also need people who show you that there’s a future where your weirdness will be celebrated instead of just tolerated.

Q. What do you find the most appealing in a book: the plot, the language, the cover, a recommendation? Do you have any examples? 

It’s a bit of a seduction, isn’t it? It’s always interesting to think about what makes you reach out and pick up something. The cover of “Big Swiss” is a great example. It’s funny. It’s provocative. You get the mood of the book instantly. Then it’s on to the synopsis, and if things are still going well, that first page. Those first few lines of a story make a promise, and it’s up to you to decide if you want to keep reading and see that promise fulfilled.

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I remember being stuck in an airport in college and walking into a bookstore. I was trying to choose between two thrillers, so I read the first lines. I don’t remember the one I left behind, but the one I took with me went something like, “The killer had been living in the walls of the house for three weeks.” OK, buddy, you win. Tell me more.

Q. What’s a memorable book experience – good or bad – you’re willing to share? 

I remember reading “The Lovely Bones” on a flight back from Australia and crying so hard that the flight attendant asked if I needed assistance. What I needed was a cup of cocoa and a hug, but I was flying coach so I just asked for pack of tissues.

Q. If you could ask your readers something, what would it be?

At events, I always ask readers who their favorite characters are. I tend to get the same answers pretty frequently, but there are always outliers, and I love knowing who might be special to someone.

Unless it’s a character I’ve killed off. That’s awkward.


What’s next on ‘Bookish’

The next free Bookish event will be our second annual Noteworthy celebration, SCNG’s salute to 10 Southern California authors whose books made a mark. Expect to hear from our honorees along with host Sandra Tsing Loh on Feb. 3 at 5 p.m.

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