Our How You Read guest this week is deeply connected to books. He defines himself as a person who finds the arts to be the highest form of communication with the world and seeks their connection with everything. Anna-Maria Popova takes care of the communication of the “Pencho Slaveykov” Regional Library – Varna, works actively with the “Amorpha” Youth Foundation, thanks to which she constantly meets new contemporary Bulgarian, and sometimes foreign, artists and people of culture.
He knew since he was a child that he wanted to be an architect and he achieved his dream. Now he deals not only with architecture, but also with graphic design and cultural management. I am interested in literature, cinema and visual arts and I do not fail to get involved in projects that unite them in one form or another. She is also the creator of the blog Bookfan.tasy, which she creates to exchange ideas with other readers and to gossip about art.
What book has influenced you the most? Or the book that made you change something in your life?
I was influenced by the first novels of my childhood, which tipped the scales towards the fantasy genre. I remember how, after a successful presentation at a mathematics Olympiad, I surprisingly did not receive a mathematics compendium (this is a classic in such competitions), but “The Hobbit” by J. RR Tolkien. I lived with Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves for years and it remains one of my favorite fantasy to this day. At the same time, I was 11 or 12 years old, my godmother mentioned Clifford Cymuck to me, and my mother handed me Parallel Worlds and The City. I understood nothing of them then, and today they are among the books I cite in architectural articles.
I was influenced by Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett because they taught me that the serious can be presented with humor and the funny can sound very sad. I was influenced by Neil Gaiman with his unsurpassed writing style and strong imagery. Later, I was influenced by Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, who showed me the beauty in wordplay and vast knowledge. I was also influenced by Virginia Woolf and Margaret Fuller because they showed me that there is a place (and room) under the sun for everyone.
All these writers, and many others, I have felt as friends and they have changed me in some way. I hope it’s in a positive direction.
Do you mark passages and quotes as you read, or does the idea of scribbling on the book terrify you?
I always have colorful sticky notes with me – the smallest ones that students use to make notes in their textbooks. I also use them for fiction. I have a color legend – green for quotes, orange for facts I want to check further, etc. No, I’m not kidding – I really do take this for a horror movie!
Share your favorite or last bookmarked quote with us.
“The gods do not like men to do no work. People who are not constantly busy may begin to think. A part of the brain exists to prevent this from happening. It’s very efficient. It can make people feel bored in the midst of wonder.” – from Terry Pratchett’s Little Gods.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? Or both?
I read everything, although over the years I’ve put more emphasis on fiction. I enjoy immersing myself in the world of the writer and reading essays, non-fiction, biographical and autobiographical books. Lately I’ve also come across good literature on business, psychology, physics and astronomy, etc.
What place does poetry occupy in your life? Do you have a favorite collection of poems?
Not as big as I’d like. Apparently, I am not a poet at heart, and this art is more difficult for me. I like most of the Bulgarian poets we studied at school – Smirnenski, Debelyanov and Dalchev I remember them most clearly. Foreign poetry seems to be too poorly represented in our education, that’s why I discovered it late. I have a favorite bilingual collection of Pablo Neruda poems. I like Polish literature and Wislava Szymborska and Adam Zagaevski, but unfortunately they are hard to find in Bulgarian.
Recently, I have rediscovered contemporary Bulgarian poetry, perhaps because I meet poets more and more often, and they present their work so emotionally that you cannot help but be touched. My favorite is Donka Dimova’s collection of poems “On the border”. Poetry in the Crack”, which won the “13 Centuries Bulgaria” award in 2022. Extremely socially engaged and beautiful poetry.
I recently read “Permanent Exposure” by Preslava Videnova and “If the place is time” by Alexander Hristov – also interesting collections of poems with important themes. I also recommend “Kalima” by Kristina Apostolova.
Favorite film adaptation or play of a book? And a book based on a movie or a play?
Let me start with the banal answers – the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy leads the ranking. I even think that the films succeed in developing and enriching Tolkien’s world in some ways. We’re not commenting on the many missing characters – it’s impossible to film 1000 pages of true epic fantasy with all the characters and details.
In 2019, I really liked Rian Johnson’s Take Out the Knives mystery based on Agatha Christie’s novels. The atmosphere was excellent, albeit transported to the US. I’m continuing with pop culture and the Loki series. I like a lot of Marvel comics, although I’m not the kind of fan who knows everything about every single storyline. However, I find the TV version to be a strong mix of sci-fi and fantasy, and the characters are well developed and get you into the setting quickly.
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s collaborative novel is one of my favorite works ever. “Good Omens” combines biblical plots, mythology, social and political satire and, of course, inimitable humor. When the series came out I was hoping it would be on the same high level. Well, the expectations were met, I got a good screening, many songs of Queen and great acting from David Tennant and Michael Sheen.
The science fiction First Contact (2016), based on a story by Ted Chang, is also among my favorites of recent years. The film gives an interesting perspective on how specific culture affects communication between species.
A book on a movie? Arthur Clarke’s A Space Odyssey in 2001 is probably the only example I like.
Which writer would you meet in person?
I’ve already had the pleasure of interacting with some of the writers I like. For years I have been a fan of the fantasy writer Tsvetina Tsolova (“Zero Year”, “To Save a Dream”). In 2022, the Amorfa Youth Foundation invited her to Varna for a literary discussion, and that’s how we met in person.
In 2022, I also met Jonathan Stroud, the author of the Lockwood and Co. series, during his visit to the Sofia International Book Fair. I was very impressed that he paid attention to each fan and even had short conversations with each of us. I know it’s an obligation and that they paid him to be a guest, but I’m still pleasantly surprised – not all artists manage to get into the tone of their fans.
My favorite meeting from this year is the visit of Joanna Elmi in Varna. With the “Pencho Slaveykov” Regional Library, we wanted to present the novel “Made of Guilt” back in March, but the author was out of the country. I’m glad we were able to make the venture happen in September. Joanna is an interesting author and conversations with her are very enriching. If I had to choose foreign writers I want to meet, it would be Olga Tokarchuk and Neil Gaiman. Tokarchuk is already visiting Bulgaria and I don’t know if I will have a second chance, but I would gladly go to her performance in Poland. And Gaiman, I will have to look for him on the major literary forums.
Electronic, paper editions or audiobooks? Or maybe all three?
I am most comfortable with paper editions. I like to collect, so I mostly buy the books I want to read or would read more than once. I’ve also been listening to a lot of audiobooks for three years. I choose this option when I need to quickly recall a novel, find out if a new title would appeal to me, or listen to a business book. The latter go through a big strainer and few of them appear in my paper library.
In extreme cases, when I travel for several weeks, I take advantage of the electronic editions.
Do you have to read the chapter to the end before putting the book down, or can you stop at any time?
Yes, I prefer to finish the chapter. The other looks like a discarded last piece of cake to me. Tease the hungry reader in me!
If the main characters annoy you in the book you’re reading, can it still rank among your favorites?
To be able to. The style of writing is also important in a work of art. It matters whether I find in the book enough qualities to count it as good literature. I can’t read books where the characters are poorly developed (annoying for me) and the plot and the author’s style are mainly woven from clichés or extremes. However, if the novel is good and the characters are rather annoying with actions and qualities that I find off for one reason or another, I’m almost certain to enjoy reading it. This is what happened with “Tobacco” by Dimitar Dimov. This is the first author in my reading “career” who managed to turn me on with morally gray characters who were often a thorn in my side, but did not leave me until I finished the book. So are the characters of Steinbeck and Irwin Shaw – both favorite writers.
What are you reading and/or listening to right now?
I’m currently getting into a fall wave and reading thrillers. I’m listening to Prince of the Mist by Carlos Ruiz Safon. On paper, I have the ghosts of The Winter People, Jennifer McMahon, keeping me company. I add to them a new Bulgarian novel – “Living Shadows. On the edge of madness” by Vanina Semova.
What is the last book you bought?
A World Inhabited by Demons by Carl Sagan.
Which book would you say “I love you” to?
I say “I love you” with every book gift, because books are among the most precious things I could give someone.
Are you one of those people who only reads one book at a time, or can you read several at a time?
I always read a few – at least three books at a time, trying to have fiction and non-fiction.
How do you organize the books in your library? (by genre, title, author name, etc.)
By height and by genre. If they are series, they stand together, ordered according to the writing by the author.
Is there a book or author you recommend over and over to all your friends?
It would be difficult to list them all. My acquaintances hear from me too often about books. Here are a few: Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Joan Harris and Diane Wayne Jones when it comes to fantasy. Isaac Asimov, Clifford Cymuck, Karel Chapek, Ray Bradbury, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Anne Lecky, Ted Chang for science fiction. I also often recommend Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Ralph Emerson, Mikhail Bulgakov, Bill Bryson, Olga Tokarchuk.
Among contemporary Bulgarian writers in recent years, I recommend Joanna Elmi, Donka Dimova, Tsvetina Tsolova and Emil Minchev.
See all participants in our “How you read” section here.
The books mentioned in the material can be found at Ozone.bg.