Photography by: Lauren Pisano
Emma Loughridge is a Bay Area native, spending the last five years living in San Francisco. When she isn't working at local shop, Mill Mercantile, she fills her time roaming book shops, searching for the perfect house plant, and finding new nooks and crannies in her home for her ever growing book collection. We met up with her on a rainy day in San Francisco to chat books and get the scoop on her favorite reads.
Girls At Library: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a lifelong reader?
Emma Loughridge: One of my earliest memories is reading the Harry Potter series with my parents. I remember all of us sitting around reading the books, getting so excited about going to book launches as the books were coming out. We also eventually listened to all of the books on tape, which were narrated by Jim Dale who has the most magical voice. It’s just a lovely memory to look back on, all of us as family sharing this wonderful reading experience together and it absolutely started my love of reading.
GA: And were you all big readers?
EL: My mother was more of a reader if anything, but I absolutely remember seeing both my parents with a book in hand. We had two pretty hefty bookcases we custom built in the house that already intrigued me.
GAL: Is this something you all still connect over (reading)?
EL: My mom and I definitely still share a love of reading. She’s always telling me about a book she bought recently or something she read that I would enjoy. I feel very lucky to share that with her. This past Father’s Day I bought my dad Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I thought he’d really enjoy. I’m a big believer in gifting people books!
GAL: What is the power of story? Some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
EL: I love that, in reading, you can visit a new world and completely immerse yourself in the story, the characters, everything. It’s my favorite escape. If I’m having a bad day and need to check out for a while, I’ll grab my book, leave my phone somewhere and get lost in the words.
GAL: How often would you say you read?
EL: I commute on the bus usually everyday, so I always have a book with me and get a good portion of my reading done then. To be exact, I would estimate it adds up to about two and a half hours a day, with a bit more on the weekends.
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever” – favorite book?
EL: Oh man, so many! Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, which is based on a story in Russian folklore, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’m also a huge fan of the Outlander series and anything from Joan Didion - she’s a queen.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to re-read for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
EL: Books I return to all the time, when I need a break or need to find comfort, would be Juliet by Anne Fortier, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (one of my ALL time favorite movies) and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
GAL: Who would you say is your favorite author?
EL: I would definitely say either Margaret Atwood or Joan Didion. Margaret Atwood for pushing boundaries and doing it big, and Joan Didion for being a badass woman who’s gone through it all.
GAL: Where do you love to read?
EL: I can’t read in bed anymore or I’ll fall asleep, so I like to sit on the couch which is right up against our window which makes for the coziest, lightest reading spot. I also, funnily enough, really enjoy reading on the bus. I can zone out and do my thing and it always makes the commute go by so much faster.
GAL: Is it important for you to physically hold a book you read? Or can you read on a device with no problem and no impact on the experience?
EL: I have no issue with reading on the Kindle app on my phone, especially for books I don’t want to physically own or have on my bookshelf, but majority of the time I like holding a book and bending it and dog earring the corners (I know, I know. I’m the worst, I can’t help it!) and enjoy books that look like they’ve been well loved.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
EL: They say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but I definitely do! I’m sucker for a pretty cover, and will seek out the prettiest edition of a book. I end up ordering a lot from England because the prettiest ones come from there. As far as content, I’m pretty open to anything but will read a few reviews to get a sense of it. The New York Times does a great Sunday Book Review section that I get a lot of recommendations from.
GAL: Being lovers of design as well, what are some of the best covers you have come across?
EL: Some of my absolute favorites are the Hardcover Classics from Penguin. I have almost all of them and they’re all lined up on a shelf in my room and they are just so gorgeous. Carolie Bickford-Smith designed them and she’s a hugely talented designer. I also collect the Popular Penguin editions of books, the ones that are orange and white (orange is fiction). They’re crazy hard to find here in the US, but are sold in abundance over in the UK and Australia. I’ve had friends pick them up for me and bring them back, but sometimes I’m able to find them in used book stores here.
GAL: When choosing content what is the sense you like to get from the review, that makes you choose the book?
EL: I love finding reviews where people go on and on about how the book changed their life - people who rave and fangirl. If a book messed up your life that much, count me in! I enjoy a book that leaves me with a “book hangover” - where I can’t stop thinking about it for at least a week after finishing it!
GAL: Would you say prefer non-fiction to fiction?
EL: Fiction is more my jam, but lately I have been trying to read more non-fiction, just to try out some new things. I recently picked up The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which is an extensive history of cancer and has gotten a ton of praise. It’s nice because you can read it in sections, so I can pop in and out of it when I feel like taking a fiction break. Another great non-fiction author I love is Mary Roach, who is a super wonderful science and humor writer. Some of her works I’ve read include Bonk, a history of sex, and Stiff, a wonderfully funny and informative read on cadavers.
GAL: If you read non-fiction, what genre do you prefer?
EL: I definitely prefer works like Mary Roach’s, who takes topics like death and science and human sexuality and makes it funny and a joy to read; I often found myself giggling out loud on the bus.
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
EL: There’s this quote I love from Lemony Snicket that goes “It is likely I will die next to a pile of things I was meaning to read,” which I love, so it would probably be a play on that. Something cheesy, and along the lines of “This Is My Life and Here Are All The Books I Never Got To Read”.
GAL: And as always, please name at least three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
EL: I’m currently reading The Vegetarian by Han Kang which is super weird and different and I’m enjoying it, so would recommend.
I would also recommend The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which is a huge favorite of mine. A lot of people read it in school I think but I didn’t pick it up until last year, and it blew me away.
Another read I recommend would be The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, which someone very dear to me recommended I read. It’s an interesting take on passion, human relationships and faith.