Photos by: Laurel Golio
A native of Los Angeles, Liz lives in Brooklyn's Cobble Hill neighborhood and spends her days admiring Balthus, listening to Rihanna, and maintaining her standing as Beyoncé's top scholar on Genius, where she works as Deputy Director of Content. A former middle school teacher with a master's degree in English education from NYU, Liz knows her way around Melville, believes television has a canon that merits rigorous study, and is always quick with a Sondheim lyric.
GAL: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a life long reader?
LM: Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff by Walter Dean Myers. I read it in fourth grade. I loved that it was about a group a friends and it was about perception—what they knew about each other and their parents and their world. Friendship is hard to write about well, especially among groups, but the ones that do it well are always my favorites (The Waves, Souls and Bodies). Myers was the first one to show me it could be done.
GAL: What is the power of story? Describe some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
LM: Stories give you options and comparisons and maps. My parents had a great library, and then even more books stacked in every room, and I looked at every book first with curiosity, then with anticipation, and finally with acquisitiveness. My parents are both great readers and it was a thrill when I was young to realize that if I read a book they would want to know what I thought of it. I wanted to read everything they had read because I thought that was how I would understand them and they would understand me.
GAL: How often do you read?
LM: I try to read everyday, and then go ham at least one day a weekend. So during the usual cycle of work life, that’s about six hours a week of good reading.
But when I take time off—that’s when the real reading fun begins. If I’m on vacation, I basically only stop reading to eat or sleep, so there are at least a few weeks a year when I’m reading about seven hours of each day. Those are my favorite days. Give my five days’ vacation, and I can take down about three books. I got married in 2014 and we went to Jamaica on our honeymoon and I read The Goldfinch on that trip—getting married has been good and fun for a lot of reasons, but even if all I got out of it was five uninterrupted days to read The Goldfinch, I still think that would have been a totally worthwhile life decision.
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever” – favorite book?
LM: I think Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House is it. When the vista opens on Tom Outland’s story your breath feels different, but really the whole book is perfect.
GAL: Who is your favorite author?
LM: Philip Roth. Part of it’s that I’ve just read a greater number of his books than anyone else (pretty much every single one except Patrimony, because I’m saving it, and The Great American Novel, because I think baseball is boring). His voice feels so familiar and homey to me at this point—it’s shaped the rhythms of my thinking. I started with the later Zuckerman books and knew people said there could be misogynist vibes but I didn’t see it. Then I read a bunch of his earlier stuff, and then I read My Life As a Man, and I thought, “oh, now I see it.” But by then I already loved him so much.
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?
LM: Marilynne Robinson, Willa Cather, George Saunders. All of their books.
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?
LM: I absolutely have to read a book I can physically hold. What’s weird is that I have totally converted to reading all news on a device and I now think of buying paper newspapers and magazine wasteful—I think it’s the difference of things you ultimately throw away versus something that stays forever in your library (I’m obsessed with my library!)
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
LM: There’s a particular floral couch at my parents’ house in Santa Monica that is my Proustian Madeleine of reading spots. It used to live at our old summer house on Martha’s Vineyard in front of a huge window looking out at the ocean (we don’t have the house anymore)—that’s been my favorite reading spot since I was eight years old and I can sit down on that couch and it’s like all the books are there with me. It’s the first place I read Ender’s Game (summer after sixth grade), the first place I read One Hundred Years of Solitude (summer going into 11th), the first place I read American Pastoral (the college summers of Roth). I’m very grateful that the couch still exists, even if in a different place.
GAL: Or – can you read anywhere – place is not important?
LM: I also love reading on planes and trains. There’s a part of me that’s thrilled when the wi-fi on a flight doesn’t work because it means that there’s no way for work to tempt me away from reading.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
LM: I like to triangulate recommendations. Once I hear about a book from two different people, that’s when I know I want to get it. Once I find an author I love, I’m going to read as much of them as I can, so that always makes picking my next book easier (sometimes I’ll just keep reading one author until I’ve read them all, sometimes I alternate among a few favorites). After I read Visit from the Goon Squad, I read The Keep, and Look at Me, Invisible Circus, and Emerald City—every single one is good. I’ve found that’s also true of George Saunders, Willa Cather, Penelope Lively, David Lodge, Kate Atkinson, Wharton, James. The trick is find writers you like and then just read everything (at least until they betray you).
GAL: Do you prefer non-fiction to fiction? If so, why?
LM: Not at all. I’ve always been almost solely a fiction reader. I like to burrow into a world and voice in a way I find I can only do in fiction. Plus I feel like I learn more about history and culture from fiction anyway. David Lodge taught me about England under Thatcher; Hilary Mantel taught me about the Tudors.
One of my best friends reads non-fiction almost exclusively and we always berate each other and try to recommend exceptions. He likes Roth too though so we’ve got that going for us.
GAL: If you read non-fiction, what genre do you prefer?
LM: Books about therapy and books about education. I love books about therapy because they read like short stories—my two favorites are Stephen Groz’s The Examined Life and Irving Yalom’s Love’s Executioner. Some of my favorite education books: William James’ Talks to Teachers, Sam Freedman’s Small Victories, and Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children. Each of those books had a huge impact on me when I was teaching middle school.
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
LM: I’m Not Sure What I’d Like to be Called
The Sleep Fetish
GAL: Please name three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
LM: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Your brain gets to work in new ways and you get to hang out with Ursula Todd. I love Atkinson’s thrillers too, and there’s something about her as a mystery writer that gives her such a different take on killing characters (or not).
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. One of the most romantic books I’ve read in a long time. Ceiling. Read it and you’ll feel as warm about that word as I do now.
Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger. An old woman on her deathbed looks back at her life and it’s stranger, meaner, sexier and more political than you would imagine.