Books columnist Donna Liquori reflects on 15 years of reading, writing
Special thanks to the Albany Times Union for permission to republish this wonderful Donna Liquori column looking back on her decade and a half tenure writing about books.
We give a plug to newspapers at the bottom of this piece.
Bibliofiles columnist reflects on 15 years of reading, writing
by Donna Liquori
First published in the Times Union, December 22, 2021
My first column ran in January 2006 and for the past 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to write about my great love for books and the culture of reading. I began Bibliofiles when social media and e-readers were just emerging.
In my inaugural column, I wrote that my intent was not to just write a column about what we read, but to explore how and why we read. I like to call it the culture of reading. Over the years, I’ve interviewed writers, readers, teachers, literacy volunteers, librarians, book sellers, artists and people who make and repair books.
I wrote a lot about maintaining personal libraries and being surrounded by books. There are stacks of books everywhere in my house right now. In the last two years, I accumulated more books than ever — from library sales, used bookstores, independents and online shops. I’ve snagged a few from Little Free Libraries (I promise I’ll return them). I can’t help myself. Books ground me, especially now. I’ve written before how losing myself in a book helps with anxiety and dealing with grief. It’s true, I open a book before I go to sleep, read a few pages and voila — I can sleep.
A little more than 15 years ago, I pitched the idea of this column to the Times Union after freelancing regularly about the arts. I’m very grateful they said yes. Since then, I’ve had a blast and feel privileged to be doing this kind of work because I know there aren’t that many of us left.
I broke out my old portfolio with real newspaper clips and realized I nearly missed my own 15-year anniversary. It was a trip revisiting my columns and I wanted to share with you a few that I particularly enjoyed writing:
I’ve claimed a lot of books and writers are my favorite. But The Great Gatsby is a standout among the favorites. In January 2012, I wrote about how a high school teacher inspired a love of the book.
I wrote about spending the whole day reading in bed. I then repeated the column annually, especially during COVID. But for the first story, I was treated to an illustration by Maria M. Stoodley of myself reading in bed, which I framed.
I wrote about an old Underwood typewriter I snagged from the street. It’s sitting in front of me right now. I wrote that column on the typewriter. I interviewed David Rounds at Troy Typewriter & Supply Co. From the column: “I asked him how old he thought the typewriter was, and he said, ‘Too old.’ I asked him how long he’d been fixing the typewriters and he said, ‘Too long.’”
I wrote about reading while eating, which you’re not supposed to do, according to mindfulness experts, but I do it anyway. I read The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer while eating leftover moo shu. I got a funny email from Wolitzer: “I stumbled upon your reading/food piece and found it to be charming. And hey, if my novel is going to be food-stained, moo shu sounds pretty good to me. Thanks for the kind words.”
I visited Cornell University’s rare book and manuscript collections, two levels down, to check out an exhibit by Werner Pfeiffer of books that were shredded, covered with paint and made into stunning sculptures. “There’s a few of us who make a case for the book,” he told me for the January 2011 column. “You have to make dramatic images in order to get the attention. That’s why I slaughter books. You have to be the devil’s advocate at times.”
One holiday season, I wrote about red books. It was the most shared story I ever did. I do love a red book and apparently so do many publishers and readers.
I wrote a series called the “Shhh Tour.” I visited a bunch of libraries and wrote about them. I haven’t found one that I didn’t love, but I have a special place in my heart for the Woodstock library, where I worked in a corner among the art books while my daughter was in school nearby. I wrote about how they should pass a referendum to give them a new library. While I loved the library, the building really doesn’t do the collections or the staff justice. The referendum didn’t pass, unfortunately.
I wrote, more recently, about being sequestered in the basement of Halfmoon Books in Kingston thanks to my generous school-mom friend, Jessica DuPont, during the pandemic.
I’m proud of the body of work I’ve collected here. And the best thing about writing the column is hearing from readers who have read a good book. So please, do just that. Happy New Year and Happy Reading.
Since 2006, Donna Liquori has written the Albany Times Union's Bibliofiles column, which explores the culture of reading, and also contributes features for the paper. A former Associated Press and Times Union staffer, her work has been published in the New York Times and other publications.
Looking for a last-minute holiday gift?
The NYS Writers Institute has a long connection with journalism. Our founder, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy got his start as a reporter, and our director, Paul Grondahl, a former staff writer at the Times Union, where he worked from 1984 to 2017. He still writes a weekly column for the newspaper.
Who knows, the journalist you read in the papers might become a famous novelist someday. (See Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, Ernest Hemingway, Joan Didion, Laura Lippman, Gillian Flynn ...)