Welcome to another interview-with-a-twist in the Barren Island Books series! The rules remain the same: guests imagine they’re being exiled to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. But the twist is, these guests aren’t authors but fictional characters.
My interviewee this week is Anna Martoka, a key character in The Lokana Chronicles by Kay Kauffman. Anna lives with her fiancé, John, in the small town of Riverdale, Iowa, where she works as a projectionist at the local movie theater. Since moving to Riverdale she has been troubled by strange dreams, which she suspects may be connected in some way to the early childhood she doesn't remember. The only person who can answer her questions is her mother, who she doesn't get on with – but Anna is determined to find some answers.
Anna, thanks for joining us. First of all, we'd love to know a bit more about you. For instance, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time? What's it like working as a projectionist? How did you meet your fiancé, John?
In my spare time, I love to read. A house is not a home without books, and I have a whole library full of them in my apartment. I also like to write in my diary; when I was growing up, it was the only confidant I had. Friends were temporary, but my diary was forever.
Being a projectionist is really rather fun. I love running the movies, but it’s always a bit nerve-wracking at the start because our projector is a bit on the temperamental side and likes to jam up every now and then. I also help out in the concession stand, and sometimes I sell tickets to pass the time before the movie starts. I’ve seen a lot of great movies for free working this job, but after three or four times, most of the movies start to get old. They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
As for John, we met my senior year of high school. I was on my way home from a basketball game in the next town when my car died. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter, and it was too cold to try walking for help. He stopped to see if I needed help and ended up giving me a ride home. He’s funny and handsome, and when he asked me out a couple of weeks later, I saw no reason to turn him down.
Can you tell us more about the strange dreams you've been having? What happens in them, and what effect are they having on your life?
Well, a lot of them involve Mom and me. We’re in some sort of city, and she’s always arguing with this guy. I don’t know who he is. And then there are other dreams about a boy, and I don’t know who he is, either, but those dreams always leave me feeling like I’m not in the right place, like I’m supposed to be somewhere else. Sometimes when I wake up, I panic, thinking that the dream was real and reality is a dream … It’s all very confusing.
I’ve tried talking to my mom about the dreams, but she won’t listen. Every time I bring the matter up, she just tunes me out and changes the subject. I don’t know why she does that, but it drives me crazy, and it kinda makes me think that she knows a whole lot more about what’s going on with me than she wants to admit, and that makes me a little nervous. There’s so much about my life that I don’t know, and I don’t understand why she won’t just help me make sense of all these things.
Now, as you know, the idea of this interview is to choose the five books that you’d take into exile with you. To start us off, you've said you don't remember your early childhood, but what is the first book you remember loving?
I loved scary stories. I think maybe the first book I really, really loved was Ghostly Terrors by Daniel Cohen. But it might have been Great Ghosts – he has several collections of ghost stories available, and they’re all great. I don’t know why, but I could never get enough of them as a kid. Something about the supernatural world always spoke to me. My mother would have preferred I read lighter things, but these spooky tales are still among my favorites.
You've also said that the moving around you and your mother did when you were young has left you feeling out of place all the time. For your second choice, is there a book you identify with in that respect – either because it captures that feeling of alienation or because it gives you the sense of identity you're missing?
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Esther really resonated with me because I feel like there’s this thin pane of glass separating me from everyone else all the time and no matter how close people get, they’re never close enough. It’s very lonely and I could totally relate to that sense of isolation. It’s very hard feeling like a stranger even among friends, yet there’s hope at the end, a sense that everything will work itself out as it ought.
Your unsettling dreams must sometimes keep you awake at night. So for your third choice, is there a book you turn to for comfort or distraction when you can't sleep?
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I first read this book in high school and found it unintelligible. The only time it made any sense was when I was on the verge of falling asleep, which makes even less sense than the book did that first time around. But I’ve reread it since then, and I get it now – every time I read it, I discover something new. It calms me down, but doesn’t lead to mind-numbing boredom like it did when I was a teenager.
Then again, mind-numbing boredom is a good recipe for sleep … Maybe I should try something different?
Working as a projectionist, you get to see a lot of movies. For your fourth pick, what's your favourite book that's been turned into a film?
The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I saw the movie before I read the book, and this was probably the first time I couldn’t make up my mind about whether I liked the movie better or the book. In the end, I think it’s a tie, because there are things I didn’t like in the book that worked better for me in the movie, but there are also things I liked about the book that didn’t make it into the movie. And it’s so quotable! It’s just a great book. And a great movie.
Can I be exiled with Westley?
And finally, I'd like you to choose the book that's had the greatest impact on your life, perhaps by giving you new insights or changing the way you look at things.
The Blood and Thunder Adventure on Hurricane Peak by Margaret Mahy. It takes place at the Unexpected School just outside the town of Hookywalker, and the school’s motto is “Expect the unexpected.” All sorts of unexpected things happen, which makes it a lot like life, actually. But there’s also plenty of humor to lighten the tension and keep things from getting too dark.
“Expect the unexpected” is great life advice. If you expect the unexpected, then you’re prepared for anything that can happen, even the expected (though in my experience, expecting the expected to happen rarely works out).
Now you’ve chosen your books, we’ll also let you select one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice to take to the island with you …
Let’s see, for my one song, I think I’d have to take something by Gaelic Storm. If I’m going to be exiled to a deserted island, I’m going to need something to cheer me up now and then, right? And what better music to listen to for cheering up than Gaelic Storm? The trick is narrowing it down to one song, because they have so many brilliant ones. Hmmm … How about “Don’t Go for the One”? That’s a great song. Or maybe “Short a Couple a’ Bob”?
For my one movie, I think it’d have to be the 1968 version of Heidi, with Michael Redgrave and Maximilian Schell. It’s funny and poignant, it has a wonderful little song in it, and everyone lives happily ever after.
For my other item, I think I’d take a picture of my grandmother, Flora. She wasn’t really my grandma – I don’t know anything about her – but she took in my mother and me when we had nowhere else to go. She was a wonderful woman, and I miss her very, very much.
Many thanks for joining us, Anna. Enjoy your ‘exile’!