Books Magazine

De Facto Bookshelves & Dawson’s Creek

By Stephanieregnif @OnHerBookshelf

De Facto Bookshelves & Dawson’s Creek

Jess MacLeish is a native New York stater, former New Orleanian transplant, and current Queensite. She edits children’s books for a living and is a big believer in karma. Call her, beep her, tweet her: @jessmacleish.

After being cornered on the F train by a homeless man eager to showcase the many secret compartments in his coat, I was pleased to have a voluntary, and just way better, conversation with the lovely Jess MacLeish. We met at an unnamed bookstore on 86th and Broadway: a narrow, wood paneled room with dusty books stacked – literally – floor to ceiling; a squeaky staircase lined with VHS tapes that were almost certainly not rewound; and a stuffed, beady-eyed raven perched above the register. It’s the kind of place owned by perpetually smiling (despite limping), bearded man who managed to turn hoarding into a (not that) profitable endeavor. We agreed the layout triggered a deep organizational impulse. We both felt the need to tidy up. Instead we roamed the book cave discussing Jess’ publishing experience, how to dress for New York winters, her love of comics, and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

What are you reading?

I’m currently reading (and obsessing over) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.

What attracted you to it?  

It’s been on my “to read” list for so long, I can’t even remember what initially drew me to it. Probably a mix of its great reputation and the comic book/superhero content. In middle school, I’d spend hours and countless allowance dollars building my Archie comic collection (which currently lives in the attic at my mom’s house). And I can’t even count all the times I’ve started a sentence with “Well, you know I’m a sucker for a superhero story…” at work.

What other superhero stories are you a sucker for?

These are movies, but still stories: Kickass, and the whole X-Men arc (particularly the most recent X: First Class). I’ll definitely see most of the hero blockbusters. I’ve also read a bunch of great middle-grade and teen superhero books: The Rise of Renegade X, Powerless, Sidekicks…Oh, and The Incredibles, the Pixar movie. I love that one!

What is it about a superhero story that appeals to you?

I guess I like the idea of either an underdog or an especially gifted person taking charge and becoming a force for good. I’m a big believer in karma, and it seems like there’s a healthy amount of karma at play in superhero tales. I’m also intrigued by supervillains, depending how dark the story gets. Sometimes the evil one is more interesting to read or watch.

Can you give our readers a quick synopsis of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay?

In the interest of time, I guess you could say it’s about two cousins–one from Prague, one from Brooklyn–coming into their own during WW2 through their adventures in New York and elsewhere, and through the comic book heroes/stories they create. That’s pretty boiled down, but I think it works as an intro to the story.

De Facto Bookshelves & Dawson’s Creek

What do you love about it? 

Um, everything? I love Michael Chabon’s writing. His turn-of-phrase continually blows my mind, page to page. I love the epic scope of the plot, the blend of superhero origin stories and contemporary (to the novel’s timeline) twists and turns, the romance, and the historical setting.

Can you share a favorite quote? 

It’s so hard to pick just one, but BEHOLD:

“They had been walking for hours, in and out of the streetlights, through intermittent rainfall, heedless, smoking and talking until their throats were sore. At last they seemed to run out of things to say and turned wordlessly for home, carrying the idea between them, walking along the trembling hem of reality that separated New York City from Empire City.”

Chabon’s mastery of his craft is so apparent in this excerpt. But also, you get a nice sense of the beginning sparks of Sammy and Joe’s partnership. And I love the ideas present that a) this is a true collaboration, the idea is carried between them; and b) that the world they’re inventing is so close to their real world–separated by merely a “trembling hem.” That’s explored more throughout the book, but this is sort of the first inkling of it.

Is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay representative of your bookshelf at large?  

My bookshelf is a total mish-mosh, so I’m going to say no, it’s not. I’ve got everything from picture books to non-fiction of all subjects, to YA novels, to coffee-table books, to plays, to literary fiction…name a genre and I bet it’s crammed into my bookshelf somewhere (or on my desk, which has become my de facto bookshelf #2). I have a problem. I cannot stop buying books.

Do you have a favorite bookstore? Or are you a compulsive Amazon orderer like me?

I still like going to bookstores (McNally Jackson in SoHo is a great one), and usually go to the closest Barnes & Noble. When I order online, I’ll order from B&N.com.

De Facto Bookshelves & Dawson’s Creek

Tell us about what you do. 

I edit children’s books at a publishing house, which involves a lot of reading, editing (duh), and writing. I work on the whole gambit–picture books, tween fiction, teen fiction, and some non-fiction, too.

 How did you land on book publishing? I mean, what lead you down that professional path?

This is embarrassing, and I’ve never really told anyone this…so you get the exclusive reveal, Steph. I’ve always loved to read, almost obsessively so. I used to read during meals and get in trouble with my parents for it. In high school, I saw the series finale of Dawson’s Creek, which was a flash-forward for the characters–and in it, Joey Potter had become a book editor. And that was the first time I realized, Whoa I can do that? That’s a job? Reading? Of course it’s more than just reading, but that was the first time I realized I might want to do this. And now I do (after internships, etc.)! So, yeah, I guess I owe it all to Dawson’s Creek. Thank you, WB.


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