Well-Read: Robins’ Favorite Books + More

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


With several authors named “Robin” in my literary life, I decided to check in with them. See what they’re up to, how they feel about our shared name and of course, favorite books! 

Three Robins: Black, Antalek, & Slick

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Writers are always working on their next project and it’s fun to get a glimpse of what the reader has to look forward to. Robin Black, author of the incredibly popular If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This is at a critical point in a novel that will be published by Random House. As with many writers, Robin is reluctant to discuss “lest I somehow derail it” she shares. The Summer We Fell Apart author Robin Antalek had only just completed what she hopes to be the final draft of her new book, The Blooms of Ella Island, when she received my email request. She says, “my head is still buzzing!”

Robin Slick had lots to share. The author of Daddy Left Me Along With God tells me that she has a first draft of a novel which is about a grieving young widow who suffers from debilitating panic attacks and must rescue her children from the clutches of a deranged musician. “You know, just my usual madness,” she shares. Slick is also excited about a new project that she began and she’ll be using a pen name on this one. This one will be uploaded to Kindle in weekly installments with cliffhanger endings. She hopes it reads “like Alice Hoffman or Ellen Meister paranormal…one more book about a vampire and I might implode!” 

Book to movie is always a hot topic and never more so than when asking the authors. Robins Slick and Antalek both chose Fathermucker by Greg Olear. Slick says,” It screams HBO television series.” It’s about a real family and they’re funny, smart, and kind but also snarky. She continues,  “I fell in love with the protagonist which is not to say that I'm going to upstate New York and stalk him, but it's clearly creative non-fiction and it would be incredible to see a man portrayed that way on television as opposed to the dolts on traditional sitcoms like Tim Allen and Ray Romano.”

Antalek concurs and had the pleasure of reading Fathermucker in galley form and has the distinction of having placed her stamp of approval on the cover! She calls it “ a modern take on Ulysses – a day in the life of a stay at home dad who finds out during a morning play date that his wife, away on a business trip, may or may not be having an affair. It is heartbreaking and laugh out loud funny…”

The renegade in the threesome, Robin Black is excited about a collection of stories that isn’t out yet called Shout Her Lovely Name. Written by her friend and fellow Warren Wilson MFA alum, Natalie Serber, Black says, “You all are in for a treat!” Sneaking in another book not out yet, Robin mentions Jessica Keener’s debut, Night Swim, which she describes as “a coming of age story with great emotional depth and also room for quite a bit of edgy humor which would make a great movie.” 

Being Robin

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Two out of the three Robins hated their name when they were younger. “Well, much as I hate to say this in the company of other Robins, I really hated my name growing up.” admits Robin Black. “I suppose I wanted something more stately or elegant.” Spending a lot of time in England when she was a child, it was endlessly repeated to her that it’s really a boy’s name. Black likes it much better today, as does Antalek who also has made peace with her name. “When I was younger the song Rockin’ Robin was bad enough, but then the TV show Batman and Robin became popular and I thought it couldn’t get much worse.” Antalek continues, “Then I hit the middle school years where a few particularly obnoxious boys liked to ask me if I had ‘red breasts’…those were the days I longed to be a ‘Jennifer’ or a ‘Susie.”

Alone on this one, Robin Slick always loved her name. “My mother used to tease me I had the name because she was such a baseball groupie and she was in love with the 1950s Philly’s Whiz Kids - and their pitcher was Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.” The truth is that she was named for her grandmother, Rose. The Jewish tradition is to name after someone who has passed and they needed an “R” name. It was down to Robin and Rachel until the very end. 

Lifetime of reading

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“Reading saved my life when I was a kid,” shares Robin Black, “many times it was my greatest joy.” She loved all of the Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Black says,”I read Jane Austen too when I was a good deal younger than now seems normal to me –like 10.” Her mother shared it with her –Sense and Sensibility specifically because if she liked Little Women, she might enjoy another book about sisters. “And I did, though I’m certain a lot of it went over my head.” Black admits.

Also reading way beyond the suggested age range was Robin Slick. “I was never a younger Robin,” she adds, “I used to read my mother’s ‘dirty’ books (Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, Valley of the Dolls) from the time I was like, eight.” Calling herself a stereotype, Slick says she read Catcher in the Rye at age 11 and announced to the world that she was going to be a writer. Rounding out the trio, Robin Antalek says she was an early reader and read everything, even though her comprehension probably took some time to catch up. “When I was in second grade I remember finding the All-Of-A Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor. I read all of them and as a special project ,wrote my own books very much modeled on Ms. Taylor's and then sent her a fan letter (with a story!) expressing my desire to be a writer.” Antalek was happy to receive a reply from Sydney Taylor, a sweet and encouraging letter that she treasures to this day.  

Finishing books

One of my favorite questions to ask both readers and writers is about finishing the books they begin. If a book is not doing it for me, I put it down. No guilt. Robin Black also doesn’t feel the need to finish a book. She says, “I have grown less patient as I’ve gotten older. There are just so many great books out there.” She adds that her “toss-it” time varies from as little as a few pages, and other times the first 50 or even more. “I know how incredibly hard it is to write a book so I'm always pulling for authors, but that doesn't mean I keep reading if it's not rewarding.”

Robin Antalek used to feel very committed to reading everything through to the end. “Now,” she says, “I’m a little ashamed to admit that if a book does not keep my interest past the first few chapters, I give up.” There are so many books on her TBR (to be read) pile that she had to get a little selfish. Even if she is less than impressed, Robin Slick will finish if she makes it through the first couple of chapters, unless something happens to really annoy her “like a dog dying or unnecessary and graphic violence.” She says she is patient but admits, “I know a lot of fantastic authors. Pretty much everything they write I’m going to love.” She has gotten some free books that she pretty much knew she wouldn’t like just by the genre or jacket description but has tried them anyway and those are usually the ones she puts down after one page of torture. “No, I do not want to read about a murder at Nascar or U2 concert.” 

Reading enthusiast and all around "book-pusher" Robin Kall can be heard live Saturday mornings from 7-8am on Reading With Robin WHJJ 920AM.  Also streaming live at www.920whjj.com. Follow on Twitter @robinkall, and Facebook - Reading With Robin. All new Web site! www.readingwithrobin.com Tune in this Saturday when Robin’s guest will be Leora Skolkin-Smith, author of Hysteria. 


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