VANESSA ALEJANDRA BAILEY
Vanessa Alejandra Bailey is a Bay Area-bred, Brooklyn-based devourer of books, magazines, and music. By day, this pop culture junkie puts her creativity to work as the Associate Marketing Director at Trusted Media Brands, which you might know better as the parent company of Reader's Digest. At all other times, she's got a book in tow and is excitedly sharing her last great read with anyone who will listen!
GAL: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a life long reader?
VAB: I have absolutely no shame admitting this: The Babysitters Club books. I picked one of those up and never looked back. I especially loved the “Super Special” editions that were longer (and usually anchored around a trip of some sort).
Vanessa’s favorite BSC adventure.
GAL: What is the power of story? Describe some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
VAB: How to be a Chicana Role Model by Michele Serros: I remember picking up this book and feeling like a won the jackpot. I had never encountered someone who looked like me who was actually LIKE me. She wrote the book as a tongue-in-cheek guide book full of stories about growing up in Oxnard, CA, her terrible Spanish and her love of pop music and she did it all with gut-busting laughter.
I was a proud “Mucha Michele” groupie. How could I not be?! The woman sold t-shirts on her website that said “small brown girl” “medium brown girl” and “large brown girl” based off the iconic Bloomingdale’s shopping bags. I still kick myself for not buying one of those shirts, but I have something I treasure just as much: a photo the two of us meeting at reading at Stanford when I was 18. I was so nervous and she was pretty much the coolest.
Sadly Michele passed away from cancer in January of this year. Her books & spirit gave me a way to proudly identify as Latina that felt true to myself and if that ain’t the power of a good story than I don’t know what is.
Vanessa’s treasured photograph of herself and Michele.
GAL: How often do you read? Please estimate.
VAB: 10-12 hours a week. I read every day on the way to work and back, so that’s about an hour and half each weekday. And on the weekends is when I really get to just dive into whatever I’m reading…on my stoop, in the park, in a coffee shop or on my subway travels. I pretty much have a book in my purse at all times!
Vanessa’s great-grandfather was a member of the Illinois Chapter of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. Pictured above is one of the I.O.O.F.'s secret books written in code.
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
VAB: To me, the amazing part of a great book is that it transports you, so it doesn’t matter where you are. An infuriating line, a doctor's office, a mundane subway ride…all of them become my favorite reading spot when I have a good book.
GAL: Or – can you read anywhere – place is not important?
VAB: I can and do read everywhere! But if I had to pick a favorite place I’d say on any kind of train probably because train rides (BART & the subway) have been part of my daily routine for so long that they’re the places where most of my favorite books have been consumed.
GAL: Who is your favorite author? (If impossible to choose, please name two.)
VAB: Gahhhh, it’s so incredibly difficult to say because part of the reason I love reading is discovering new authors and stories. Also, I feel like my answer could change based upon the day, the weather and my mood. But, if I had to choose the most recent, I’d say Nell Zink and Paul Beatty.
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?
VAB: I realized the impracticality of books more living in NYC than anywhere else. Yes, Kindles save space and are instant, but screw that! Let’s relish the impracticality of physical books! There’s magic in those spines that just doesn’t exist in an e-book and I can prove it!
Part of the magic of a great book is sharing it with people you love, and sure, you can post on FB and tell the world you really loved X book. But, when you have the physical book and you give it to a person – it’s an emotional and cultural exchange that just can’t be duplicated.
Also, with physical books you’re more likely to return to books that you’ve abandoned because they’re THERE…on your nightstand, on your bookshelf just staring you in the face saying, “Hey, no pressure, I know you’re busy, but I’m here when you’re ready.” There have been SO many books that I cast aside after a couple pages, and then picked up years later and LOVED. In my personal experience, books are about timing…certain stories resonate when you need them & if they’re on a kindle you’re much more likely to keep skipping over them.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
VAB: No surprise in this answer: by reading. I read a lot and that leads to an epic list of “to-reads.” I read interviews with authors I love and write down the books they read or the books they’re inspired by. Or if I’m reading an article I love, I’ll research the author and see if they’ve written anything else and add it to the list. Reading about books is just as fun as reading books themselves and I do a lot of weekend reading on The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, The Rumpus, California Sunday Magazine, Victory Journal, etc.
I work in marketing for Reader’s Digest and there’s a shelf with free galley copies of upcoming releases, which is why I’m practically walled in by towers of books at work and in my bedroom!
GAL: Do you prefer non-fiction to fiction? If so, why?
VAB: It’s so funny, my knee-jerk reaction is to say I hate non-fiction, but when I think about the books that I’ve read this summer, I realize there has been a lot more nonfiction than ever. For example: Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, The Crime that Changed America, A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention, memoirs from Anjelica Huston and Viv Albertine, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town and books about music, always books about music!
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
VAB: Where Are My Keys?!
GAL: Please name three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
VAB: Ok, this list changes pretty much weekly, but most recently I’d say:
Delicious Food by James Hannaham: because it tackles the issue of race and poverty in such an interesting and unexpected way.
Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros: this book is for adults but written in the style of a children’s picture book. It’s the story of a woman looking for her cat after her mother dies and it deals with grief and loss the most beautiful and touching way. It’s probably going to get moved to my “sanity shelf.”
A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel: a *GASP* non-fiction book makes my list! We’re all on our phones - texting, Instagraming - and we’ve all read the countless trend pieces about what this is doing to our families, sex lives, brains etc. But this book resonated with me because it’s not a finger-wagging take on “kids these days” but more of a story. The book delves into a narrative-style story of a promising teenage athlete who was in a texting-while-driving car accident that killed two rocket scientists.