• Betty Bastai

Interview With Book Lover Kelsea

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

I became acquainted with Kelsea when we shared the same office at City Hall for two and a half months. During breaks we would start conversations that inevitably ended up revolving around books. I interviewed her two weeks before we were ordered to work from home because of the coronavirus outbreak in Albuquerque, NM.

Kelsea is originally from Colorado, went to school in Washington State, and recently relocated to New Mexico. The granddaughter of two librarians, Kelsea has been surrounded by books all her life, and you will never catch her leaving the house without a book. With a double major in Psychology and Human Services, she currently works as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the City of Albuquerque, and is passionate about projects that make reading more accessible and equitable across the city.

Betty Bastai: When and how did you develop a passion for reading books?

Kelsea: I am the granddaughter of two librarians and so books were always part of my family household. My mum has hundreds and hundreds of books at least. I grew up with them. My grandma used to read books to me as a kid. Yeah, I feel like it’s just sort of in my blood a little bit to be interested in books, history and people’s stories and things like that.

Betty: What kind of books do you read?

Kelsea: I like all kinds of books. I am particularly interested in fantasy. I also try to read books from perspectives that are not my own. International writers, people of color, especially women of color, queer and transgender folks and things like that. And I also enjoy reading other people’s favorite books because I think it tells you a lot about another person. And you only read good books if you just read books that everyone else said they liked.

Betty: When you moved from Colorado to New Mexico what were the most important things that you brought with you?

Kelsea: I have got about two suitcases worth of clothes, a box of random things and six boxes of books. I keep all my books unless I give them to someone specifically. I tend to give away my favorite books a lot of the time because you should always share that experience with someone, but I keep almost probably 99% of my books.

Betty: Why are books an important part of your life?

Kelsea: Through books I learn a lot about myself, other people and the world around me. I really enjoy hearing other people’s stories. It’s really powerful that you can just be sitting alone at home or you can be drinking a beer out by yourself and be learning about somebody from a completely different background from your own. Like a woman living in Nigeria raising four kids or whatever, or people incarcerated who have done a lot of morally questionable things in their lives and reflecting on that. It makes me ponder on good and evil and all kind of things. So, it’s just a really interesting way to think about other people and yourself. Also, like I said, reading other people’s favorite books tells you a lot about what those people are really passionate about, what they care about. It’s so cool that you can just be anywhere and be learning about anyone else in the world at any moment.

Betty: What do you think of the Little Free Libraries?

Kelsea: I love little free libraries. I think they are an incredible concept. Books should be the most accessible resource in any community. You can read a book that teaches you how to do computer programming or learn about someone who is different from yourself, or get to know a place that you are never going to see in your whole life but that you think about all the time. And to give every single person in the community access to that is super cool and super important, and I think it makes our community stronger and more empathetic.

Betty: Do you use them?

Kelsea: I do. I am working harder to put books into them because, as I said, I like to hoard books and I don’t like to give them away very easily. But definitely every time I walk past one I look at it and see what’s going on. My last partner and I actually spent a whole weekend traveling around Whatcom County, WA, to look at all the little free libraries. We would take half of the books out of a little free library and then drive five miles away and put all those books in another one because, you know, sometimes you just see the same books over and over again. We tried to reorganize those books to let different people have access to different books and things like that. Yeah, I think they are incredible and I love them a lot. And also, the way everyone paints them, it’s such an artistic little thing, you know, in an alleyway you find this little piece of art in this little piece of community, super cool.

Betty: A few days ago, our team was talking about the little free libraries and someone commented that they are a great asset to the community but that they are also used out of selfishness because he can pick up a book that interests him and then leave one that he doesn’t want anymore. Do you agree?

Kelsea: Last year I asked for all my family members’ favorite books for Christmas and I got this book that I would never in a million years read or be interested in at all. It’s about business and how to be assertive and how to get what you want from the people around you, and I have no interest in that but it’s somebody’s favorite book in the whole world. So the books that I may put in a library or take from a library somebody else may really love or really hate them. You can’t make those decisions for someone else. Maybe this person is taking all the mysteries that he thinks are interesting and leaving all the romance novels but then somebody else is going to come along and love romance novels and it’s going to be like “This is a jackpot for me!” And you never know, I have found a lot of books about spirituality, Christianity and Mormonism, which I never take. Actually, I have taken one but you never know when someone is going to come across one and think: “This is exactly what I need in this moment in my life right now!” and it may be like a game changer for this reader. It’s all up to the person. And the cool part of the little free libraries is that their users are going to make their own decisions about what they want to share or what they want to take with them, what they need in that moment or what they feel they want other people in their community to read.

Betty: How is technology changing the way we read? Do you have an Ebook reader?

Kelsea: No, I don’t. When I moved to Albuquerque last month I went looking for a bookcase and, as I said, almost everything I own is books so I just wanted anything to get my stuff out of boxes. I went to a little furniture store and asked if they had bookcases and the sales representative said: “We don’t have any bookcases, why you don’t just get a Kindle?” and I was like: “Excuse me?” I was so offended. I know there are people who are really excited about Kindles. And I think it’s good for the environment to have options that are not just paper books, and for accessibility purposes it may be easier for some people. But being the granddaughter of librarians I will always have that love of seeing a shelf full of books, or holding a book in my hands. But I am glad that it exists for people who may not have been reading books otherwise, who don’t want to bother going to a library, who can’t carry them when they go to work or whatever and they can only read them on their phones. So, the more accessible the better, but it’s not my thing.

Betty: Have you ever tried to use one?

Kelsea: I did. I read a couple of books for school that I didn’t want to spend money on that I downloaded on my phone. So, I did that a little bit. It just feels different to me. I don’t feel I can connect as well with what I am reading if I cannot hold it.

Betty: You can hold an Ebook reader. What’s the difference between holding a book made of paper and an electronic one?

Kelsea: It’s like having a videophone call with someone versus, for instance, sitting down and talking with someone in person. And there is a certain level of emotion that you can’t quite get when you are not really holding the book. A lot of times I read a line that’s really important to me, close the book and - it sounds so cheesy - put my hands on it for a little while and think about the fact that (especially because I buy a lot of used books) so many other people have held this book, read the same line. Holding the book in my hands and feeling it is important to me, especially when someone has given me a copy of her or his favorite book. I have a couple of books in my backpack that people who I love have given me and just to know that somebody else’s hands have been in the same spot, somebody else shared the same moment makes me feel happy. I don’t feel it as much when it’s just on my phone and I have downloaded it from Amazon or whatever.

Betty: What book are you reading now?

Kelsea: I usually read one pretty dense, technical nonfiction book and one more narrative book. So, I am reading two books. One of them is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it’s a collection of essays from Palestinian journalists and scholars about all kind of things, neoliberalism etc. It’s really dense; I only read ten pages at a time. And I have just finished Evicted, which is about the housing crisis in America. Last night I started One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Betty: Thank you very much Kelsea for your time. I really enjoyed taking in your enthusiasm and passion for books and reading.

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Thank You and Happy Reading!

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