|photo: Daniela Volpi
Kate Milford has been a children's bookseller at the beloved Manhattan bookstore McNally Jackson for more than six years. She is the author of the National Book Award finalist and Edgar Award winner Greenglass House, as well as The Boneshaker, The Broken Lands and two crowd-funded companion novellas, The Kairos Mechanism and Bluecrowne. Her forthcoming middle-grade nautical fantasy about the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, The Left-Handed Fate, will be released on August 23, 2016, by Holt. Milford lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her family.
On your nightstand now:
It's a pile. Right now there are five books in it, I think. I just read Susan Tan's middle-grade debut, the forthcoming Cilla Lee-Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire, and I can't wait for this book to be on my shelves, both at home and at the bookstore where I work. There's Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier--I'm a big fan of Jonathan, and I'm so happy to be returning to the world of Peter Nimble. There are advance copies of two friends' books that I swiped from the bookstore: Tiffany Schmidt's Break Me Like a Promise and Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra's Shiny Broken Pieces. And there's pretty much always a book from Lev Grossman's Magicians trilogy on the bedside pile--at the moment, it's The Magician's Land. My friend Alicia got me hooked, and this has become the series I can just pick up and dip into whenever I feel like I need a particular kind of fantasy fix.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper and The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I still re-read both of these every year. I can remember the anguish I felt when the Dark Is Rising series ended. It was my first experience with that particular feeling--that sense of loss at the story being over. Because I love winter fantasies, the second book in the series has always been my favorite. As for The Westing Game, we used to keep a copy in our family van--my parents liked going for long drives on the weekends, and there were books that lived in the van for entertainment on those trips. The Westing Game was one of them. I read it over and over, and I think my love for it is sort of tied up with memories of those drives with my family. These days, my son and I listen to the audio sometimes. He's barely three, too young to understand much of the story yet, but he finds Dr. Denton Deere's name hilarious, and he likes to point to smokestacks and chimneys and announce that "there's smoke coming from the chimney of the Westing House."
Your top five authors:
Impossible to answer. Today I think my top five are Ellen Raskin, John Bellairs, M.F.K. Fisher, Patrick O'Brian and Ray Bradbury. Out of the rotation today but maybe back in there tomorrow: E.T.A. Hoffmann, Joan Aiken, Jeanne Birdsall, Megan Whelan Turner, Italo Calvino, Ambrose Bierce, Arnold Lobel, Jeff VanderMeer... I'm not good at picking favorites. There are too many authors I love.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. I wish I could give this book to everybody, kids and adults alike. The idea that, in addition to the dreams that we have for our futures, we also need to do something to make the world more beautiful? What a truly important message to pass on. And I mentioned it before, but I'll mention it again: Cilla Lee-Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan, along with another debut middle-grade I was lucky enough to read early: Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley. I can't say enough about these two books. I am so in love with both of them: two very different tales about two very different kids, both trying to figure out who they are, where they fit into their families and their worlds, and how they want to be known and remembered. And both with so much heart and so much humor.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, which I subsequently fell in love with to a ridiculous degree.
Book you hid from your parents:
The only time I can remember hiding the fact that I was reading anything from my parents was when I was--I don't know, 13 or something?--and I discovered Jean M. Auel's The Valley of Horses on a bookshelf in our house. Pretty sure I never did read the whole thing, but certain sections were, shall we say, interesting.
Book that changed your life:
Jeff VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen, because it really crystallized the idea of setting-as-character for me. The idea that a place could be so rich and fascinating that it's the main character of basically an entire series--this was world-changing for me at exactly the time that my career in kids' books was beginning. Then I think I read Jorge Luis Borges's Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius at about the same time. It was a magic cocktail.
Favorite line from a book:
I don't know if this is my actual favorite line, but the first one that came to mind is the one that's on a Post-it on my monitor: "It is not down in any map; true places never are." This is Moby-Dick's Ishmael, talking about the island home of his friend, the harpooneer Queequeg. For me, it's how I think about the city of Nagspeake, which is the setting of Greenglass House, Bluecrowne and The Left-Handed Fate.
Five books you'll never part with:
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis--can I count that as one since it's a boxed set? I still have my childhood copies in their little box. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series (okay, they're not boxed so there's no excuse, but my husband and I both love them so much I'd not only never get rid of them, I'd consider upgrading our paperbacks to hardcovers). An 1811 copy of Baltimore Repertory, which was a birthday gift from my husband early in our relationship. Raggedy Ann in Cookie Land by Johnny Gruelle, which I loved as a kid and which my son has now fallen in love with, too. My copy of The Boneshaker, which Andrea Offermann signed and decorated with a beautiful, hand-drawn clockwork girl.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, if I could also read it again the way I read it the first time: in a hammock on a porch at a house on the beach in Nag's Head, North Carolina, with a cold beverage within reach and no reason to get up until dinnertime. Or it could be Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander under the same circumstances. At the moment, the hammock, the beach, the beverage and the reading time without other commitments are the key elements in this fantasy.