|photo: Susan Hornyak
Alexandra Robbins's The Teachers: A Year Inside America's Most Vulnerable, Important Profession (Dutton) takes readers into the classroom with several teachers and reveals the experiences of hundreds more. The Teachers was named a 2023 "Must Read" by the Next Big Idea Club and a "Most Anticipated Book of 2023" by Kirkus, LitHub, Zibby Books and Professional Book Nerds, and has received three starred reviews. Robbins is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, including Fraternity. A substitute teacher and investigative reporter, she has also been honored for Distinguished Service to Public Education.
Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:
I followed three teachers for a year for a fast-paced, fiction-style story and interviewed hundreds of others to share what really goes on in schools.
On your nightstand now:
Erm, my giant TBR pile is basically teetering off my nightstand to the point where my husband told me just last week that it's a fire hazard. But the closest books to the top are How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz, which I'm looking forward to reading, and Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong, which was so good I want to reread it.
Favorite book when you were a child:
My favorite book was the one I was reading; I devoured books. I distinctly remember reading a lot of Stephen King when I was about 12. During that period, I would beg my parents to walk me to the bathroom at night from my bedroom, because I was too scared to go by myself. Mkay, the bathroom was two feet away.
Your top five authors:
I'm pretty sure I used up all my word count on the five books question!
Book you've faked reading:
I think I'm pretty open about my DNFs--to friends at least. I'd rather admit I didn't read a book than pretend I did. Oh wait, one time in the early 2000s on the Delta shuttle from Washington, D.C., to New York, I was sitting in the aisle in front-row economy, so I pretended to read MY OWN BOOK to advertise it as the businesspeople and media types boarded the plane. But then a well-known reporter and TV personality whom I had done some work for boarded the plane, recognized me, and said, "Alex, why are you reading your own book?" So that happened.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. Enchanting and magical with charming characters and a quirky story, The House in the Cerulean Sea is an endearing read that I have foisted on friends.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Guncle by Steven Rowley, which was just as entertaining as the cover suggests, and Please Don't Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes, because I feel you, Phoebe Robinson. Same, girl, same.
Book you hid from your parents:
Ha. I hid a ridiculous number of books in my lap under the table during dinners, because I couldn't bear to put them down. I was that kid.
Book that changed your life:
Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy changed my life, because I started reading it during a difficult, anxious time when I couldn't sleep. A doctor suggested I condense my sleep by staying up late so that perhaps I could sleep through the night instead of waking up at midnight with insomnia. I hadn't read a ton of fantasy before, but I decided to try escaping with fantasy before bed, so I'd stop overthinking at night. Not only did it work, but also it launched a lifelong habit: for years now, I've read at least an hour before bed every night. And the Farseer trilogy--the world, the characters, the stories, and the subplots--was incredible.
Favorite line from a book:
Oh, that's hard--there are so many. Here are two that struck me recently, both from Laurie Frankel's excellent One Two Three:
"We all choose the terms of the desperate bargains we make with the powers that may be, which baseless beliefs and decaying wisdoms we cling to, and which we discard as superstition or sorcery or the ravings of misguided zealots. Which is to say: it may not make sense all the way, but it makes sense enough."
I'll preface this one by explaining that misuse of the word literally is one of my biggest pet peeves, so I loved this quote: "Mrs. Lasserstein says I am being too literal, but there is no such thing as too literal. Literal does not come in degrees. That is like being too seventy-seven point four. That is like being too bicycle."
Five books you'll never part with:
Another tough one--how do I narrow this down? I'll just go with the first five off the top of my head: White Teeth by Zadie Smith, because wow. Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses is astonishing. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and, in the same vein, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Agh, can't stop won't stop! The Nix by Nathan Hill. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. And all the titles mentioned in the answers to the questions above. And more, but I'll make myself stop now.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I'm going back to The House in the Cerulean Sea for this one, because I wish I could be surprised, delighted, and moved by those fantastic characters for the first time all over again.
You're a nonfiction writer. Why aren't there nonfiction books on your list?
I realized during that period of anxiety and insomnia that I couldn't read nonfiction books before bed, because they engaged my work brain too much. As I read them, I would analyze their structure, try to figure out how the authors conducted their reporting, attempt to trace the sourcing and citations, and then have a difficult time setting aside my work brain to go to sleep. I do read nonfiction books often for research and occasionally for pleasure--IF the book is character-driven with a fast-paced, engaging story. So that's the kind of nonfiction I strive to write: a book that reads like fiction and also leaves the reader feeling smarter and more informed about an important topic.