Tag Archives: Post-Interview Reflection

Post-Interview Reflection: Michelle Wagner

Overall, the online interview via e-mail that I conducted with Michelle went well above my expectations.

I had imagined that she would provide answers that would be “sufficient,” but not long, and most likely flavored with guardedness. I can only imagine how someone might respond about details that are personal. If our interview pertained to information of the professional or clinical genre, I would expect a lengthy response as there would be no concern of privacy or disclosure.

However, since Michelle has already been an active member of  an online community (Circle of Moms), perhaps she had gotten used to opening up about personal details due to the nature of the forum, sharing them with women that she had only had online or “virtual”  conversations with. And, perhaps her frame of mind carried over into our dialogue. This is just my conjecture, but at any rate, I was glad that she was both interested in my topic and eager to share with me her experiences.

In her response, Michelle shared specifics with me about growing up being home-schooled, and how her parents would spend quality time every afternoon and evening by reading books to her and her siblings. Michelle’s parents, Stan and Linda, communicated to their kids that they cared about them enough to make it a priority to read to them every day. To Michelle, their commitment and attitude toward reading books to their kids said, “I love you.”

From my interview with Michelle, I learned that she developed a fondness for books not just because she like to read, but also because books were a physical point of connection to quality time spent with her mom and dad, and her brothers and sisters. Every child yearns and needs to know that from his or her parents. So, from Michelle’s own childhood experiences, I could see that she learned that spending quality time by reading books together was an effective way to say, “I love you”.

This was a core aspect of her emotional attachment to books, which she carried on by spending quality time with her own son and daughter reading to them.

I expected Michelle to share with me about how she read to her son, Asher, and daughter, Nyah, and what sorts of activities she enjoyed doing with them, as most moms relish sharing about their kids. For example, Michelle stated that she takes Nyah to the library every week and either she or her husband Tim reads to both children every night. But, it was background Michelle shared about on herself and what it was like growing up with books that provided me the most context; it was a surprise and a delight.

If I were to do the interview differently, I think I might have tried composed my questions on a Word document instead of in the body of the e-mail. With e-mail I am very limited in how I can “flavor” the content through adding layers of formatting and graphics–a little “marketing” to open up the rapport.  Using a Word document would allow for more creativity and personal touch to color the content, per Mann and Stewart’s assertion in Postmodern Interviewing, (p. 88).

However, at the time I felt conflicted because I had it in my mind that there was something about getting an actual Word document that implied formality, a sense of intimidating permanence, despite artistic flair. To avoid any glitches, I opted not to take a risk (or so I perceived it to be so). I wanted to keep in the flow of an “online presence” as much as possible. I am not sure whether transferring my questions to a different format would have generated a less open response or not, but I was hesitant to add anything that might change our working dynamic.

As a whole, this interview gave me a great perspective on emotional contexts that are attached to books, but I do not yet have a perspective from someone who loves books solely for the book itself, (the book not serving a “dual role,” also as a gateway to nostalgia or a means to family bonding.) I would like to get additional perspective from folks who appreciate the qualities/components that are unique to the book as an object.  However, so far I have seen how the book is a gateway to our memories, stirring within us great bonds of affection.

To see additional details of my online interview with Michelle, I invite you to view my post Interview on Traditions in Literacy: Storytime for further reading.


Post-Interview Reflection: Dr. Andrew P. Surace

This first portion of this post is a transcription of my interview with Dr. Surace; the latter part discusses my reflection post-interview.

Growing up, Dr. Surace’s parents didn’t read to him, as they themselves were not fans of books.

About books, Dr. Surace says, “It was not popular when I was little.”

He gravitated towards books on his own and around the 4th, 5th, 6th grades were the Danny Dunn series of adventure books.

(Dr. Surace): “You know it’s not like today, where there is such a prolifery of books out there. Back in the day when I was in 4th, 5th, 6th grades, it was Danny Dunn and Dr. Seuss. I had both of those collections. Then you know, science was always big because I wanted to be a doctor. I had a lot of biology, that kind of stuff.“

(Me): Did you read science fiction?

(Dr. Surace): “No, I don’t read fiction hardly at all, with the exception of Danny Dunn when I was a kid. Once I got to high school, it was only books that were centered on reality. “

(Me): Did you keep any of your books that you had when you were a kid?

(Dr. Surace): “You know, I have one. I wrote it actually. I wrote it when I was in the 6th grade, it’s like 40 pages long. I can show it to ya. It’s pretty funny. It was about the adventures of this kid…I tell ya the truth, I haven’t looked at it in 10 years, but it’s in my drawer in a manila envelope. “

(Me): So, you kept that book all these years—it being something like a family heirloom?

(Dr. Surace): “Again my parents weren’t really readers, but I’m going to leave some books for my kids, including the books that I wrote. Now, my son, who’s never cracked a book in his life is writing a book. He’s writing a novel, he’s reading books like they’re toilet paper. My daughter Beth is writing a book. All my kids are getting into reading and writing in their twenties. In college [for me] it was all commentaries by the great Biblical writers and commentators. In college, I was in Bible school so it gave me a wealth of books, because preachers are into books. “

[Clarification: Dr. Surace mentioned in the beginning of the interview that he wanted to be a physician growing up. He did attend pre-med school but dropped out in his sophomore year; that is the point where he shifted his direction and began seminary school.]

(Me): So, studying Hebrew roots…

(Dr. Surace): “A lot of these books are word studies. I have a real love of words. Because words are power–if you can put something into words. But you have to have a grasp on words. “

(Me): Do you have any books that are classics, or versions of the Bible that are really old?

(Dr. Surace): “I have a Bible that’s about a foot thick, and it’s from the 1800’s. Somebody gave it to me, and it’s an amazing book—it weighs about 50 pounds. It’s an old, old ancient Bible. “

(Me): Why is it so thick?

(Dr. Surace): “You know, that’s a good question. It sure is big enough, and the writings not that big. It’s not a study Bible or anything, it’s just a big, big Bible from the 1800’s. I do have other books, but most of them are not old, they’re just classics. So, like ‘new-old’ classics.”

(Me): Hmm… sounds very “tome-ish,” like a relic. So, what about the sensory experience of reading a book?

(Dr. Surace): “You know, if someone was reading the book and was wearing perfume, I can smell it when I pick up the book. Like I have books that smell like suntan lotion, ‘cause I read them at the beach. And when I pick up one of those books and I smell that suntan lotion, oh man, it brings me back to those memories. Some of my books that I take to the beach have sand in them, which I don’t really like, but at least it doesn’t ruin them.”

This interview was a great experience for me and it went better than I expected in terms of how candid Dr. Surace was with me. Dr. Surace has a high-energy personality, and is typically extremely busy, yet he is very easy to converse with and down to earth.  Dr. Surace is originally from Brooklyn New York, which is where he grew up, and after living in southern New Jersey for over 30 years, he still has a thick New York accent.

The only avenue I was hoping for more information that I would still like someone’s perspective on was appreciating books as one who is acquainted with the parts of the book and the processes required to construct a book.

However, this would require the individual to have a background in book-binding, book-making and printing presses.

I can’t assume that because someone is an author that he or she has some knowledge of these areas pertaining to books. (However, I was quite impressed with the enormous sized Bible from the 1800’s Dr. Surace told me about.)

Personally, after being immersed into the  many  intertwining and overlapping aspects surrounding the culture of bibliophilia, I think I may have subconsciously associated “author” with “book expert” because they are related, yet–very different. So, this was also a fascinating experience for me, as I got to observe the effects of immersion into an unknown field of research on myself, and the subconscious associations and relationships that I formed in my mind, unaware I was doing so (or had done so.)

Where I hope to go next, (even though it will most likely be after my semester comes to an end) is to speak with someone who has an affection for books as an object of art, or master craftsmanship. I am not looking for someone who is a collector for the sake of monetary value, but instead because he or she has a depth of knowledge of the design principles and technical processes it takes to create a beautiful book.