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Cover to Cover: The reading life of Kathi Spaeth
This month's Cover-to-Cover interview is with Kathi Spaeth. A Midwest native, Kathi grew up in a household where reading was encouraged. "My older sister was an English major, so when she would come home from college, she would bring (me) all her books," says Kathi. "My mom was also really good at recommending books. If I said, "I don't have anything to read." She'd say, "Why don't you try 'The Joshua Tree,' or 'One Red Rose Forever?'"

Now, as owner of Fireside Books, downtown Monroe's used book store, Kathi can offer her own recommendations to regular customers, as well the out-of-town visitors who stop in to browse. Located just off the Square, the cozy, inviting shop is a booklovers dream, with a carefully curated selection of titles for every taste and interest.

What are you reading now, or have read recently?

Well, I knew you're going to ask me that. I'm specifically reading a book I got for my birthday from my sister. It's called "The Millionaire and the Bard." I also started a biography of Edward Burne-Jones by Penelope Fitzgerald. I love everything that she's ever written. I just finished a book I got from the library, one on Willa Cather. That's going on my permanent shelf. It joins three other biographies of Willa Cather.

When you read, do you prefer nonfiction or fiction, or both?

Since I've had the bookstore, I read far less fiction. I like to have two or three books going at the same time. I did just read "Herndon's Life of Lincoln," which was a fabulous book. I read in the morning, and I would read something heavy like that for an hour. Then I always try to have a history, a memoir, or an autobiography, and maybe a fiction. Far less fiction. I'm one of those people, who, especially since I've had this store, if I don't like a book, I do not stay with it. There's no point.

Do you ever reread a book years later and get something entirely different out of it?

That's interesting, because I'm trying to reread. I had this project - and it just stalled on me - but I was going to reread things that I read 50 years ago. Well, I still hated "The Red Badge of Courage." I just couldn't stand it. I loved "The Bridge of San Luis Rey." I just thought that book was incredible.

Are there particular books that you've taken inspiration from?

Mostly memoirs. Alice Koller's, "The Stations of Solitude." Another favorite is called "Toward a High Attic." It's on the early life of George Eliot. I'm going to keep that on my personal shelf. I couldn't believe how good it was. And two or three years ago I finally read "Middlemarch," and I loved that.

I like reading everything by Alexandra Fuller - "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" and "Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness." I picked up "Dickens and the Workhouse" in Arizona. It's probably the best book I've read about Dickens, because the woman who wrote it (Ruth Richardson) does so much research. Almost every biographer of Dickens glosses over the fact that this man lived three doors down from a workhouse twice in his life.

And, after many years, I finally read "Angela's Ashes" because if something's really popular, I want to stay away from it. Then, when I read that book, I just thought, "Oh my." Then I understood why he had to be as old as he was to write it, and why it garnered every single award, because it really was such a tough story.

What was your favorite book growing up?

In fifth grade it was "Island of the Blue Dolphins." Then you'd have to jump to the reading I started doing maybe in junior high. I read a lot of Three Musketeers and Nancy Drew. That's a hard transition to make, because you don't know what to read. In high school, I loved Thomas Hardy, so I read almost every Thomas Hardy book. I also loved Carson McCullers, so maybe those two the most.

If you could be a character in any book that you've read, what character would you be?

Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz" because I already love the idea of "home," and friends, including book friends, mean the world to me. She does a lot of traveling, as well, and not just to the land of Oz.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take one book, what would it be?

My desert island choice would be Proust's "In Remembrance of Things Past" because it is considered a classic. I've never read it, and it's so long I bet I might get rescued before I finish.

Is there anything you want to mention that we haven't brought up, or asked you about?

Sometimes people come to my store and they say they feel guilty about reading. I cannot understand that, because I can't imagine a day without a reading component. Once you are a reader, I think you are always a reader. I don't get a lot of children coming into my store, but boy, when they do, it's so amazing that they're still going to be reading "My Side of the Mountain" or "Island of the Blue Dolphins."