[R]evolving Incarnations: A Questionnaire for Passionate Readers-Featuring Susan Conley of Bright & Beautyfull

[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!


Susan Conley is a writer and beauty blogger based in Dublin. Please visit her lovely blog, Bright & Beautyfull.

  • What book have you always wanted to read, but haven’t? Why?
    I have tried and tried, over the course of at least the last fourteen years, to read the entirety of Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, which: cliché, I know, but it torments me at least twice a year. I can read anything and I haven’t managed to perfect confluence of environment, timelessness and (possibly) psychological fitness for the full monty.
    Swann in Love is superb, and I remember managing that when I lived in Manhattan and worked as a publications designer. I was freelancing at New York Magazine, and there was one late night a week in which we had to hang around in case something had to be redesigned at midnight (no lie.) I always passed the time reading, and I made my way through Swann in Love under those circs.
  • What is your favourite line or passage from a book?
    ‘I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.’
    Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
  • Who do you think is the most underrated author? I don’t know if he’s underrated, but I like Neal Stephenson a lot, and have yet to find someone who likes his stuff the way I do? No one has listened to me as regards The Baroque Cycle.
  • What is your pick for the most underrated book?
    The Waves, by Virginia Woolf. I did finally ‘get’ To The Lighthouse — the combination of a hangover, a cold drizzling rain as only Ireland can produce, and an hour-long wait for the next train home allowed me to shut out everything else in life, and finally comprehend what all the fuss is about. It is pure genius, but you can only know that for yourself.
    The Waves is never cited as a great book, and I think it is. I received it as a gift from a dear friend, and started reading it, and went off to see my parents for the weekend, and didn’t bring the book — and couldn’t stop thinking about it the entire time.
  •  If you could make everyone in the world read one book, what would it be? I would not only make the world read Ulysses, I would make them read it in Ireland. I don’t know how many times I tried to read that poxy book, but I was determined, to the point of bringing the great paving slab of the thing with me on my very first visit here, in the late 90s. It suddenly made sense — or, perhaps, I suddenly made sense as a reader of it.
  • Is there a book you wish you had written?
    Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley. She does such an amazing job of presenting the whole horsey world, on all its levels, with her usual intelligence and humour. I read it twice in a row when I first picked it up. I hadn’t started horseriding then (see my other blog, www.flyingchanges.wordpress.com, which is about taking up horseriding as an adult) but I totally comprehended it.
  • What are you currently reading?
    I’m reading some of my own writing over and over at the moment, which is a guarantee that I am going to put in more typos than I’ve taken out. Hate that.
    I finished Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and have mixed feelings. I was so utterly hypnotized by 1Q84 that I was bracing myself for a let down — then I opened the cover and saw the stickers! A sheet of stickers, stuck in the book! My experience went on from there, up and down, up when Murakami put abstract emotional concepts into words with astonishing ease; down through the reams of stilted dialogue.
  • How many books do you have in rotation at any one time? At the very least: three. At the most: seven.
  • What is the funniest book you’ve read? OH MY GOD: I can’t even believe I remember this. When I was a child, I read, and reread, and read funny bits aloud from, a book called In One Era And Out The Other, by Sam Levenson. It’s a memoir of his youth, growing up Jewish in Brooklyn, and I can’t relate a single anecdote from it, but holy wow, it had me in stitches every time. I am laughing right now, even remembering it as imperfectly as I do, but damn, that was one funny book. I drove my mother demented, reading passages aloud from that book.
  • What is the saddest book you’ve read? 
    Ah, just one here, as well? Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro… oh, Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. In both cases, I exploded in tears. Like, in the literary sense: burst into tears. Both brought on that catharsis so slowly and gently, I never saw it coming. Particularly in the latter: the story kept going over and over the same fragments, so when I got to the part that set me off, I had no idea the degree to which the simplicity was creating the space for my gloriously complex reaction.
  •  What is the last book you couldn’t put down? Books, as in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Which I had avoided, even though I do love a good ‘world’, because the ‘RR’ in his name bugged me something fierce. Totally lame, I know…
  • 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 do read much more slowly when I am reading a great book. I thought Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian was a great book — so great that I was traveling back to the States on holiday, and brought the hardcover with me. Unheard of! And then proceeded to sit on the couch in my friend’s apartment to read until I finished it. Unsociable!
    This was okay with them, as they had both read it, and they sat and watched me read it to the end, so that they could enjoy watching me read that sentence, the sentence that made me say, ‘I DON’T BELIEVE IT!’ aloud, and loudly; it allowed them the experience of the shock and freshness of that action, in the only way they could now, since they had already been there themselves.
  • What book have you re-read the most? Wow, okay: The Education of an American Soccer Player, by Shep Messing. I became a serious footie fanatic when I was a teenager, which was not a thing in the States, really, despite Pele and Franz Beckenbauer and The North American Soccer League. Messing was a goalie from Long Island who played with the Cosmos during the wonder years, and I blame him for my ongoing fascination with Bad Boys. Not really. Okay, a little.
  • Who is your pick for sexiest character in fiction? Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb, does a good line in futuristic/romantic suspense/police procedural with her in Death series; the male lead, Roarke, is very much the ridiest ride in fiction. I get annoyed when many of the Irish details are wrong, but he’s gorgeous, rich, nurturing — as only an alpha male in fantasy romance fiction can be — and has the accent.
  • Approximately how many books do you read in a year? I have gone through periods where I have read a book a day… I could easily read 200 books a year.
  • Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? Fiction!
  • If you could swap places with your favourite fictional character, would you? Explain your choice.
    Nope, wouldn’t even if I could, because I perceive this as meaning I wouldn’t be able to keep reading. Is that weird? That by being that character, I wouldn’t be able to get lost in other stories. Or I’d only be able to read the books that they would read? Which wouldn’t matter because I would be them… No, no! Do not want!
    Also: I feel that I would have to have the same experiences/adventures over and over. Which I expect, if we looked at my life, I am doing anyway, but still.
  • What is your favourite literary food or meal?
    Alllll the food in Harry Potter*. Mainly because I know that J.K. Rowling wrote those meals in Hogwarts out of longing, when she was on the dole.
    *Except that grapefruit when Dudley is on the diet. And Hagrid’s rock buns.
  • Where is your favourite place to read? On my couch, or on your couch, on a couch in the lobby of the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire — all stretched out, with a blanket for my lap as necessary. I could read on a couch in the middle of Harrods, on the last Saturday before Christmas, and not even notice the crowds. Couch + book = heaven.
  • What is your favourite bookstore? RIP Coliseum Books, 57th and Broadway in Manhattan. I would plan excursions from Brooklyn, and go for a wander through their idiosyncratically stocked shelves, looking at books that never seemed to live anywhere else. I would buy six or seven at a time, and then wander further uptown into Central Park, park myself beneath a tree or by the Belvedere Fountain, and peek into all of them, one by one.
  • Name six writers, living or dead, you would want as companions on a non-stop, cross-country road trip. Ray Bradbury, Flannery O’Connor, Henry Miller, Haruki Murakami, Jilly Cooper and Ngaio Marsh.
  • Do you have a favourite and a least favourite genre?
    I love romance, not gonna lie. I love it, and I love how it sneaks into all the other genres, and I love it, it is great.
    I loooooooathe the memoir genre that has to do with horrible childhoods. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but they have sprung up like mushrooms here in Ireland. Noxious, odious mushrooms. Ugh.
  • What is the longest period you have gone without reading a book? I’ve done The Artist’s Way a couple of times, and when I got to the part where Julia Cameron said, ‘No reading,’ I just about had a heart attack. I think it was for a month? Or one week that felt like a month? Nightmare territory. It was awful.
  • Name three literary characters you would want as roommates.
    >Brienne of Tarth — for general spider-catching and light bulb replacement. And loyalty.
    >Ginny Weasley — because she would not take any nonsense from noisy neighbours or scabby landlords.
    >Charles Bingley — I can’t imagine a more agreeable flatmate. Charles never gets a look-in, because he is so agreeable. I am a stage in my life where agreeable/available trumps broody/difficult.
  • What was your favourite book as a child? I loved The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, with illustrations by Jules Feiffer. Oh, dammit: also, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, by E.L. Koningsburg. In both cases, the children — Milo, and Claudia and Jamie, respectively — went out on adventures on their own, adventures that had physical hardships but were mainly cerebral. Hmm. That explains everything. I wonder can I get a refund on all that therapy?
  • What is your favourite literary city? As represented in books? Paris. I could read about Paris every day. For living in, I couldn’t be in a better place than Dublin. It is a city, in a country, which on the whole has a great respect for its writers.
  • Name your favourite Brontë.
    I have no favourite Brontë. *Gasp!* I recently went back to Wuthering Heights and consider it to be a codependency primer. Hated it.
    EDIT: This is probably sacrilege, but I am all about Jane Eyre after having seen the film adaptation with Fassbender. (With Fassbender in it, not actually having seen it with him. More’s the pity.)‘I must respect myself’ — ! Teach this in high school, teachers.
  • What is your favourite e-commerce site for books? Amazon. Sorry, anti-monolith people. Everything I need is there.
  • What is your favourite pen name? (Not answered.)
  • What is your favourite closing line in a book?
    This feels unoriginal, given my chosen country of habitation, but:
    ‘His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly throughout the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’
    James Joyce, The Dead
    Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. I would like every sexy Irish man in the world to record this sentence, and I’d play it on a loop at least once a week.
    It’s all about regret and grace, forgiveness, resignation, and also, too, about perpetuating the denial, softly softly, but perpetuating it nevertheless. Gabriel can’t un-know that story now; all suspicions are confirmed; it’s done, and yet it so gently done.
    And I happened to be on Usher’s Quay the other day, looking up at the house itself. On a scale of things in life that are excellent, that is pretty good.
  • Do you prefer owls or elephants? Elephants! We have new baby elephants at the Dublin Zoo and they are 100% squee.
  • Do you have any reading rituals? Nope, just need a couch. Oh, and throw pillows. And a blanket option. I miss smoking cigarettes when I’m really stuck into something I am loving reading.
  • Who is your favourite literary couple? (Not answered.)
  • Who is your favourite poet? William Carlos Williams, mainly because 1) he is great; 2) he is from New Jersey, where I grew up; 3) I discovered him as an adult, having never heard of him. How can we have not been taught WCW in NJ schools?!? and 4) because I was out in the West of Ireland with friends, one of those unforgettable trips in a lifetime, and we came a across a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens > FOR. REAL. Actual wheelbarrow, actually red, rain water, white chickens, all of it. It was my Irish pal Oonagh who quoted that, and I am disgusted that it wasn’t me. That should have been my birthright.
  • What is your favourite poem?
    Emily Dickinson — 254
    “Hope” is the thing with feathers—
    That perches in the soul—
    And sings the tune without the words—
    And never stops—at all—
    And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
    And sore must be the storm—
    That could abash the little Bird
    That kept so many warm—
    I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
    And on the strangest Sea—
    Yet, never, in Extremity,
    It asked a crumb—of Me.
    Those em-dashes used to drive me completely insane with annoyance — and the degree to which I use them myself is, of course, ironic — but I adore this beyond measure.
  • Do you have a favourite film adaptation?
    To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): it is utterly perfect. When Boo Radley comes out of the shadows — gahhhh. Floods of tears.
     Also: Sense and Sensibility (1995): when Edward comes back and tells Elinor that he’s not married to what’s-er-name and she erupts in sobs of relief. And so do I, every single time.
    Clearly: I like crying!
  • What book title would make a great band name? Can’t think of one, but I recently passed a new Indian place in Moore St, Dublin 1, called ‘Delhi O’Deli’. Welcome to the new melting pot!
  • What is your favourite quote?
    ‘There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.’
    Francis Bacon, via The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott — which I had started reading and had been parcelling out to myself, trying not to rush, and then I lost the thread of it and am having trouble finishing. I may actually start over because it’s a clever read, a big mash up of Nazis and science fiction and UFOs and transvestites. Or maybe just one transvestite.
  • What is your favourite book series? Oh, just shoot me.
  • Finish this sentence. People who read books are…
    Are exactly the sort of people who are bound to be my friends.
    {Bound: LOL}