Photos by Laurel Golio
Katie and her dog Ms. Moneypenny live and work in Brooklyn, NY, where Katie is the Founder & Creative Director of SMAKK Studios, a creative agency that focuses on branding, design and UX. Katie spends her time reading for pleasure and her business (literally). She comes stocked with a unique array of recommendations that serve as a powerful set of tools for her life as a business owner. Below, Katie gives us a peek inside her home and library of influences.
GAL: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a life long reader?
KK: It’s hard for me to pinpoint a first moment when I loved just one book. I remember loving them as objects and portals to other worlds from when I was very young. I treasured and hoarded Dr. Seuss books…the illustrations drew me in as much as the stories. And pre-Internet, from a super young age, I was fascinated by encyclopedias. I was always very curious about everything and the idea that I could look up almost anything was really exciting to me. I remember treasuring books as objects for what they represented, and organizing and reorganizing them by color and size in my bedroom. This was probably a good indicator that I would end up doing something in design – typography, color, form, and layouts were really interesting to me as part of the experience of books. My early libraries also included a lot of Ramona, Judy Bloom and Roald Dahl; Harriet the Spy and From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler basically made my brain explode; and this list really isn’t complete without a shout out to my girls in the Babysitters Club.
GAL: How often do you read? Every day? Six hours a week? Please estimate.
KK: It depends on what I’m reading. When I’m in love with a book – I’ll binge until I’m done with it. I love and hate that I’ll read straight through the night if a book draws me in. When I find myself doing the opposite, finding reasons to skip reading, it usually means the book I’m on isn’t doing it for me and I need to move on to the next one on my reading list.
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever” – favorite book?
KK: This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes is one of the only recent books I’ve read twice. It’s a story about finding your way back to connection and meaning through all the crazy seemingly unconnected events in life. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is one I think I’ll keep coming back to too.
GAL: Who is your favorite author?
KK: Tom Perrotta. Books that tell a story from different perspectives are my jam. I love the layering and examination of events from different angles. I think I need this kind of storytelling to remind myself to approach interactions in my own life empathetically and remember that my perspective is just one possible interpretation of whatever is in front of me. Weirdly, The Leftovers was my fav of his but I can’t get myself to watch the HBO adaption. I’m afraid it will change the experience I had with the novel.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to reread for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
KK: My Life in France by Julia Child (with Alex Prud’homme) – I think Julia Child was a bad ass, she came to her passion later in life (after working for what became the CIA!). I saw her once shortly before she died when I was grocery shopping at the Whole Foods in Cambridge, MA. She was buying a loaf of bread and an apple. At that point in her life I think she could have sent someone out to do that for her, she had a nurse with her and was struggling to walk, but I love to think that she still wanted to be connected with her passion and pick out her apple and her bread. Her memoir is honest, and sweet, and doesn’t gloss over some of the setbacks she had on her way to publishing her first cookbook. Also on the shelf, David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and depending on the size of the shelf, as many books representing Robert Longo’s drawings as I can fit.
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
KK: I made a reading corner in my bedroom that I only use for reading. No clothes are allowed on the chair, and I don’t sit there when I’m doing work or on my phone. It’s probably the most relaxing place in my apartment. But, that’s my second favorite place to read. My first is on vacation when I can commit to a book without distractions – I always try to make it through a couple books whenever I travel.
“Looking at my library reminds me of what I’ve read and where I was when I read it”
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?
KK: In Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shetntegart, he writes about a future when books as physical objects disappear and younger generations complain about the smell of paper when they’re in houses with actual libraries… When I read that it felt like a very plausible near-future prediction and it was such a complete bummer. It made me even more steadfast in my love of the physicality of reading. For me books are important artifacts of my personal experience. Looking at my library reminds me of what I’ve read and where I was when I read it, what was going on in my life and how I discovered it. The best is when I pick up an old book and find that the bookmark I was using while I read it was a train ticket or note from a friend. The only books I download to a device are books with specific professional relevance (like books on marketing or user experience) where I may want to copy and paste text to share with colleagues and don’t think I’ll have an emotional connection with the content. There are also a couple books that I’ve chosen to experience as audio books because the authors reading their words adds to the work – Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and David Sedaris to name a couple.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
KK: Sometimes a book will just cross paths with me and end up being amazing. Some of my best reading experiences have been with books roommates have left behind when they’ve moved or from a box marked free on a stoop. Besides the serendipitous encounters, I trust friends for recommendations and follow the authors I love religiously. I’ve read almost every work by Dave Eggers, Jay McInerny, Gary Shteyngart, Tom Perrotta, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, and A.M. Holmes. I also trust any recommendations from Word bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, they’re like the Pandora of books, but IRL. I’ll tell them my favorites and get great suggestions. I love supporting independent bookstores. When I was kid there was a shop in my hometown called Paperback Junction – I thought it was the coolest place in the world, even the name carried the idea that books themselves could take you someplace else. I still feel like libraries and bookstores are places charged with the potential of discovering an object that can change your life or your outlook.
GAL: Do you prefer non-fiction to fiction? If so, why?
KK: I think a mix is healthy. I’m usually in the middle of a novel and nonfiction book at the same time. I think they feed different parts of your head and heart. Right now its Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Points and Jane Goodall’s Reason for Hope.
GAL: If you read non-fiction, what genre do you prefer?
KK: Business books, productivity hacking, design thought leader stuff, biographies, and whatever genre you’d put Malcolm Gladwell into.
“I also love reading memoirs and biographies of women who’ve led super interesting and challenging lives”
GAL: Do you have any books that have influenced your work?
KK: Omg. Yes. Give years ago I started a creative agency called SMAKK.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek, Good to Great by James C. Collins, and How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy are books I read early on that have taught me to think about my business in a meaningful way. They’ve also guided me in how to frame the creative process that goes into branding and connect it to business strategy for my clients. For instance, in Good to Great, Collins asks you to identify the thing that your company can be the best in the world at. It’s a big question, but once you know the answer, the steps you need to take towards goal that become clear.
I also love reading memoirs and biographies of women who’ve led super interesting and challenging lives where they’ve worked in pursuit of their passion. Running a business is rewarding and amazing, but I feel like I constantly need to build up reserves of perseverance, and hearing how other women have handled the curve balls in their lives does me good. Some of my faves are the memoirs of Emma Goldman, Julia Child, and
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
KK: The Diary of the Reigning Queen of Brooklyn. It would be written as a series of diary entries from my dog, Penny, telling my story from her perspective. She comes with me everywhere, and I’m pretty sure thinks she’s the queen of Brooklyn (and maybe the world). Mostly it would be detailed descriptions of intense games of fetch and belly rubs. The important stuff.
GAL: Please name three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
KK: The Circle by Dave Eggers
I reference this book a lot when I think about how pervasive technology is in our lives, and am questioning the implications, good and bad. What's interesting is that now that the book is a couple years old, some of the technology that was hypothetical when Eggers wrote it has become real, and looking at his predictions of how these technologies might change human experience next to our current reality is interesting. Besides the fact that some aspects of the female experience (it’s written from the point of view of a female narrator) felt a little inauthentic to me, I thought it was a really enjoyable and thought-provoking read. Another book in a similar vein (near future predictions that have partially come true since publishing) is Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. He wrote the book right before the financial crisis and I heard he was asked to do re-writes before it was published because so many of his “predictions” were so close to reality at the time of publishing that his quasi-apocalyptic future felt too current.
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
If you are one of the ten people like me who hasn’t seen the HBO series, read this first. Perrotta is genius at writing about small towns and the intersections and interactions of the people who live there. Something about his work feels familiar to me, maybe because I grew up in a suburb of Boston where most of his work takes place. Unlike his previous books, Election, The Abstinence Teacher, Little Children (read those too!), that center around fictional, but plausible events, this one goes sci-fi (or religious fiction – is that a genre? – depending on your reading). All his books use the convention of multiple narrators and the layered storytelling just super rad. Get into it.