Who is Coming to 702WI?
Meet Ashley Shelby
702WI: What book changed your life?
Ashley Shelby: Many books have changed my life, all in different ways. On the Road by Jack Kerouac made me want to be a writer (and made me believe I could be one); A Sense of Where You Are by John McPhee showed me how hard I’d have to work to become even a serviceable writer; and Cherry Apsley-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World helped set me on this crazy South Pole adventure.
702WI: What book(s) are coming out this year that you're looking forward to reading?
AS: South and West by Joan Didion, The Girl from the Metropol Hotel by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal, Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.
702WI: What books are currently stacked next to your bed/on your desk/in your pile-to-read?
AS: Hundreds, but I’ll just list a few: The People of the Abyss by Jack London, The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin by Vladimir Voinovich, The Weather of the Future by Heather Cullen, Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by David Quammen, Mortality by Christopher Hitchens, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life by Kari Marie Norgaard, String Too Short to be Saved by Donald Hall, The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, Kolyma Tales by Varlam Shalamov.
702WI: What book did you most recently recommend to someone else?
AS: The Dream Life of Astronauts, a short story collection by Patrick Ryan to my mom. She loved it. And I just recommended True Grit by Charles Portis to my husband.
702WI: What was your favorite book when you were a child?
AS: I read and reread The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford probably fifty times when I was a kid.
702WI: Who are your favorite writers?
AS: Dave Eggers, Joan Didion, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth McKenzie, Joseph Mitchell, James Baldwin, Paul Theroux, Jane Austen, Christopher Hitchens.
702WI: Do you commonly use a word or phrase that is specific to a place you lived/from childhood/from family that you don’t hear often in day-to-day conversation?
AS: My mom has an infamous phrase that makes my sisters and me run when we hear it (having to do with moving large pieces of furniture): “It’s not heavy, just awkward.”
702WI: What book/s could you never part with? Think “stranded-on-a-desert-island” books.
AS: Desert islands are solitary, so I think I’d be hungry for company. So for good company and emotional stimulation, I’d have to take the Larry McMurtry library, particularly Lonesome Dove. I’d also take along David Copperfield and Sense and Sensibility.
702WI: Were you ever embarrassed about a book you loved?
AS: It’s funny—the older I get, the more often I find writer friends trying to get me to be embarrassed about my love of Kerouac’s On the Road. Hasn’t worked yet. I try not to be embarrassed about loving books, but I should probably be embarrassed by how much I liked Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity.
702WI: What fictional character do you most identify with? Why?
AS: I’m definitely not the only bookish woman who identifies with and adores Jane Eyre. I think a lot of us writer-types have felt, or still feel, like underdogs.
702WI: Do you have a favorite musician or genre of music?
AS: Charlie Parker gets me through the day.
702WI: Is there a creator who is doing something you find amazing?
AS: Nahiza Mestaoui created a mindblowing light installation called “One Heart One Tree,” where she projects virtual forests onto urban spaces. The digital trees are ghostly but beautiful and they actually sprout higher in concert with an observer’s heartbeat. Also, for every digital tree she projects, one is planted somewhere in the world.
702WI: What do you wish you knew more about?
AS: Everything. Literally everything. Well, except maybe for reality TV.
702WI: Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
AS: Barack and Michelle Obama.
702WI: Vinyl, cassette, CD or digital? Typewriter, notebook, tablet or computer? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or none of the above? Sweet or savory?
AS: Digital. Computer. Twitter. Savory.
702WI: What is your most meaningful place?
AS: Other than the home I share with my family, my most meaningful place in Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It’s where my mother grew up, and when we travel there together, or with my kids, she’s like a different person.
702WI: What’s your favorite bookstore?
AS: Magers and Quinn in Uptown Minneapolis.
702WI: Can you share a favorite line from a creative work (book/play/film/song)?
AS: There’s a passage in The Brothers Karamazov that has always stuck with me. Dmitri and his driver come among a group of poverty-stricken villagers who have been burned out of their homes. Dmitri has a moment of emotional confusion and crisis that I think speaks to anyone who is overwhelmed by the world. Dostoyevsky writes: “‘Tell me why it is those poor mothers stand there? Why are people poor? Why is the babe poor? Why is the steppe barren? Why don’t they hug each other and kiss? Why don’t they sing songs of joy? Why are they so dark from black misery? Why don’t they feed the babe?’ And he felt that, though his questions were unreasonable and senseless, yet he wanted to ask just that, and he had to ask it in just that way. And he felt that a passion of pity, such as he had never known before, was rising in his heart, that he wanted to cry, that he wanted to do something for them all, so that the baby should cry no more, so that the dark-faced, dried-up mother should not weep, that no one should shed tears again from that moment.”
702WI: What do you enjoy most about doing a reading or talking about your book?
AS: I enjoy hearing how other people have reacted to or interacted with the text, how they respond to characters, how they responded to the setting. I also really like talking to aspiring writers about the enormous role of failure in a writing career. I found the candid words of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Junot Diaz on this so comforting, and we simply do not hear about it enough.
702WI: What is something you know about or have heard about Madison or Wisconsin?
AS: Well, from Madison sprung one of my favorite food writers, James Norton, founder and editor-in-chief of The Heavy Table, whom I met in New York when I was an editor and he was producing the Al Franken Show. He wrote a book for me called Saving General Washington: The Right Wing Assault on America’s Founding Principles but has since moved on to better things. Also, one of my very best friends went to University of Wisconsin and though she lives in New York now, has always referred to Madison as heaven.
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