[R]evolving Incarnations: A Questionnaire for Passionate Readers-Claire McAlpine of Word by Word

[R]evolving Incarnations: A Questionnaire For Passionate Readers is an interview series done in classic Q&A format. Each entry features one intrepid writer/blogger/artist/creative mastermind as they take on the same 40 reading-themed questions and scenarios. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section!


Claire McAlpine is the creator of the amazing blog, Word by Word. Please stop by and say hello!

  • What book have you always wanted to read, but haven’t? Why? The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
    Until 2012 I had not read him (I read The Pearl last year and LOVED it). I had no notion of Steinbeck and the physical book didn’t look appealing, maybe also because the blurb talked too much about his success and not enough about the book. The hype I guess.
  • What is your favourite line or passage from a book? Without hesitation, this passage from Martin Booth’s The Industry of Souls. I love it.
    Upon the cow was piled a half-made cheese of pomace, alternate layers of straw and mashed fruit. Yellow and black striped wasps hovered lazily in the air around it, drunk on a surfeit of apple flesh. I followed one as it flew unsteadily up to the rafters to become entangled in a spider’s web.
    Komarov, seeing my eyes tracing the wasp, said, ‘Watch now what happens.’
    The wasp started to struggle to free itself. The more it endeavoured to free itself, the more enmeshed it became. Suddenly, the owner of the web appeared on the scene. It was a big, dark grey spider with a leg span of at least eight centimetres. Pausing at the edge of its web, it placed its two forelegs upon crucial strands.
    ‘He’s testing the tension,’ Lomarov observed, ‘judging the size of his captive.’
    With a sudden rush, the spider crossed the web to within a centimetre or two of the wasp. It paused again.
    ‘Now he knows,’ Komarove declared. ‘Watch what he does, Shurik.’
    The spider, far from leaping on the wasp and sinking its poisoned fangs into it, stepped back one arachnidian pace and began to snip the threads of its own web. The wasp was loosened but was still ensnared. The spider moved around, still cutting the net of its web. Finally, the wasp dangled at the end of a single strand. The spider reached it and severed it. The wasp fell to the ground, still threshing about to get free of its bindings.
    ‘So much for the grey wolf of my rafters,’ Komorov stated, ‘and the striped tiger of the forests.’ He stamped his foot down. ‘Even when they are soporific, the spider knows better than to take on a wasp.’
  • Who do you think is the most underrated author? Many of the authors read and reviewed by freelance writer Ann Morgan on her blog A Year of Reading The World where she reads one work from 196 countries. Her project is being turned into a book Reading the World: Postcards from my Bookshelf due for publication in 2014.
  • What is your pick for the most underrated book? Foreign fiction! I am very interested in authors’ voices worldwide and not just those that can speak and write in the English language. I admit to mild envy each week when one of my French students shows me yet another great book she is reading in French that has been translated from Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Swedish.
    That said, I am grateful for the few that are available (only 5% of fiction available in English is translated) and love following the blog Winston’s Dad, a consummate reader of translated fiction and a great reviewer.
  • If you could make everyone in the world read one book, what would it be? Ancient Wisdom, Modern World – Ethics for a New Millennium by H.H. the Dalai Lama.
    This man exudes wisdom and nearly everything he says resonates deeply with me. This book is full of common sense and kindness, explains suffering and how to alleviate it. It is very accessible, not religious, full of a gentle wisdom that is lacking in too many aspects of society today.
  • Is there a book you wish you had written? Not one book, but many, many paragraphs within them, usually those I highlight when I write my thoughts on a book, hoping somehow the words will inspire me. In the days before blogging and writing reviews, when I wrote old fashioned letters, I remember that one paragraph above from Martin Booth’s Industry of Souls that I was so enamoured by, I rewrote it and sent it to numerous book loving friends, because I couldn’t let it pass without sharing it. Even if they never read the book, they just had to read this paragraph. Thankfully today it is so much easier to highlight and share these gems!
  • What are you currently reading? Shadows & Wings by Niki Tulk, a thought-provoking and compelling novel about two boys growing up in Germany before the war and a grand-daughter’s search to learn more.
  • How many books do you have in rotation at any one time? Often three or four, but not of the same genre. Fiction, non-fiction, a biography, the latest Mslexia or Sun Magazine or Granta, always something to hand by Pema Chodron or the Dalai Lama, the vitamin equivalent and of course my Kindle!
  • What is the funniest book you’ve read? Lost Cat by Caroline Paul, laugh out loud hilarious, short, light hearted, well-illustrated and delightfully comic.
  • What is the saddest book you’ve read? Most recently In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. Although it is fiction, it is based on her own family’s experience in Cambodia, not many survived, but she has created a beautiful novel and remembers those now gone in a loving tribute.
  • What is the last book you couldn’t put down? The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal.
  • When you are reading a great book, do you read it all of the way through as fast as possible or hoard it for as long as you can? I don’t have one way of reading a book, each finds their own pace and it might take me anything from a day to two weeks. Speed reading I only indulge in when researching some lengthy tome and I’m looking for something specific, never for pleasure reading.
  • What book have you re-read the most? Dr. Seuss – Green Eggs and Ham.
    I’ve stopped reading it to my children, but I still read it with my French students who are learning English, it’s brilliant. Sam-I-Am!
  • Who is your pick for sexiest character in fiction? It’s been a long time since I read that genre!
  • Approximately how many books do you read in a year? I try to read a book a week and 2012 was the first time I kept count on Goodreads out of interest to see how many I do read. I actually read 62 books and I’m comfortable with that. I plan on reading the same this year, a book a week.
  • Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? I like to read both, though I refer the more creative non-fiction to the dry, academic type. I prefer to write fiction though, I love the sense of the unknown, looking forward, not knowing what might happen next to looking back.
  • If you could swap places with your favourite fictional character, would you? Explain your choice. Absolutely not, I prefer my characters between the pages of books, my favourite fictional characters rest in my imagination, so I can go there whenever I wish without giving up being me.
  • What is your favourite literary food or meal? I don’t really understand the question, but it makes me think of Anthony Capella’s The Food of Love and Isabelle Allende’s Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses.
  • Where is your favourite place to read? Travelling 1st class on the 300km/hr TGV, a rare event but one I won’t forget (the ticket price was cheaper than travelling in 2nd class).
  • What is your favourite bookstore? Daunt Books in Marylebone High St, London – bliss!
  • Name six writers, living or dead, you would want as companions on a non-stop, cross-country road trip. George Sand, Gustave Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Jackie Kay, James George, Grace Paley.
  • Do you have a favourite and a least favourite genre? My favourite is cross cultural literary fiction and least favourite paranormal.
  • What is the longest period you have gone without reading a book? Probably a few months, when I was at university (obviously not studying literature).
  • Name three literary characters you would want as roommates. Think I prefer A Room Of My Own, I’m long past desiring to have roommates.
  • What was your favourite book as a child? Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel.
  • What is your favourite literary city? The one I haven’t been to, but is next up on my agenda, Istanbul!
  • Name your favourite Brontë. Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre.
  • What is your favourite e-commerce site for books? The Guardian Bookshop, they only charge once for postage or it’s free within the UK.
  • What is your favourite pen name? Red Bird Flies.
  • What is your favourite closing line in a book? “I wonder, as the last door handle rattles and the last hinge squeaks, and I step through into the anteroom between this second and the next, and the next, if she will be waiting for me in those castles of stone in the air, those fantasy towers standing on the bleak shore of a mountainous land somewhere in the northern hemisphere, her finger running down the life-line on my palm, drawn not this time in Indian ink but in the diluted blood of an ancient man who has seen it all, kept his counsel and come through.” Islands of Silence, Martin Booth.
  • Do you prefer owls or elephants? Elephants.
  • Do you have any reading rituals? Even if it’s only one page, I always read before sleeping. Impossible not to!
  • Who is your favourite literary couple? Kitty & Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
  • Who is your favourite poet? Currently Katie Metcalfe.
  • What is your favourite poem? Love after Love by Derek Walcott.
  • Do you have a favourite film adaptation? Joe Wright’s theatrical and brilliant adaptation of Anna Karenina, that Russian waltz was magical.
  • What book title would make a great band name? Cuttlefish Bones by Eugenio Montale.
  • What is your favourite quote? “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” – George Bernard Shaw.
  • What is your favourite book series? The Josephine Bonaparte Trilogy by Sandra Gulland.
  • Finish this sentence. People who read books are…like friends we’ve yet to meet, with whom we already share something in common and know that even if we are generally not talkative, we could converse all evening non-stop.


If you’d like to participate, please email us at: onetrackmuse@gmail.com.

12 thoughts on “[R]evolving Incarnations: A Questionnaire for Passionate Readers-Claire McAlpine of Word by Word

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