I hope this doesn’t sound smug, but we have pretty great jobs. So you can imagine that turnover on the editorial team is fairly nonexistent, yet we’ve had the chance to add two new editors in the last few months. Vannessa is a familiar face in our humble editorial cave—she’s been at Amazon for 7 years, most recently leading the curator team for our physical stores, Amazon Books. Vannessa replaced our esteemed colleague Jon Foro, who left Amazon after 20 years. While we miss Jon, we’re also very excited to have Vannessa join the team, and I took the opportunity to sit down with her for a Q&A.
Sarah Gelman: What’s your earliest reading memory?
Vannessa Cronin: Sitting up in bed, in my warm, sunny bedroom, aged 5, reading through a boxed set of Charles Schultz’ Peanuts comic strips. When I came to a word I didn’t know, I’d spell it out to my mom in the next bedroom and she’d sound it out with me and show me how to figure it out for myself. I’m sure she’d have much preferred to be sleeping. Parents have so much patience!
When did you start to identify as a book lover?
My mother was a voracious reader and wanted that for her kids also, so our house was always full of books. And my uncle’s owned an independent bookstore in Co. Kerry for over 40 years, so I think it’s just in the DNA. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t identify as a book lover.
What’s the last book you gave as a gift?
History of the World Map by Map. My friend Frank shares my love of maps and this book is catnip for map-lovers so I got it for him (I hope he doesn’t read this for a week or two): it features 140 maps, with accompanying text that describes pivotal periods in history.
When someone asks you for a reading recommendation, do you have a go-to book you recommend? What is it?
It depends on the kind of recommendation they need. For friends in books clubs say, I’ve recommended What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty and they always rave about how good it is. Two of my favorite nonfiction reads in 2019 happened to be True Crime: Say Nothing and Furious Hours. Say Anything is an eye-opening account of the disappearance of a widow during the height of the Troubles in Belfast. It’s a meticulously detailed account of that period in history that could be stuffy, but in author Patrick Keefe’s hands, it’s fascinating. Same with Furious Hours, which weaves the connected stories of a murderous pastor, an ambitious lawyer, and Harper Lee. Your jaw just drops that these events actually took place. But when it comes to general, best-book-ever recommendations, I ask most people I meet if they’ve read The Master & Margarita and if they haven’t, I highly recommend it. You can’t go wrong with dissident Russian magic realism, right?
What’s the last book you purchased?
Well, a friend whose taste I love was raving about November Road by Lou Barney so I purchased it a couple of days ago. It hasn’t arrived yet but it’s described as “a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America” set against the backdrop of the Kennedy assassination and I can’t wait to start reading. I also purchased Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell because it’s been on the bestseller lists for months, it’s looking like a breakout book for her, and its success has made me curious so I need to read it for myself.
If your apartment/house were on fire and you could only save three books, what would they be and why?
A slip-cased first edition of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? signed by Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr. that I love, and my two favorite translations of The Master & Margarita. Yes, I’m that person. Once I read and loved it, I heard there was an even more lyrical translation and I had to read that too.
What’s the most exciting thing about joining the editorial team?
Books! There’s nothing more exciting than discovering great books or new voices and sharing them with fellow enthusiasts. And hearing about their discoveries in return. Waiting for the latest books by bestselling authors such as Lee Child and Louise Penny is fun, but reading works by exciting new authors is wonderful too (My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite was one of the most engaging and original debuts I read in years). The elements of discovery and sharing are why I loved working in sales. But that job involved discovering the great books on one publisher’s list. Now I get to see all the new books—dream job!
How does being Irish inform what or how you read?
We Irish are a nation of readers, that’s for sure (did you know that for a few years, the Irish poet laureate Brendan Kennelly featured in Irish TV ads for Toyota?). I am that odd Irish person though, in that I’m a bit of an Anglophile; I love British police procedurals (Stuart McBride, Val McDermid) and British fiction (the Mapp & Lucia series, P.G. Wodehouse, and Ian McEwan). I read everyone from Jane Austen to Irvine Welsh. I’m reading The Secret Guests right now, a terrific new novel by Benjamin Black, based on a rumor that Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were smuggled out of England and into Ireland to spend part of WWII squirreled away on an Irish country estate. The truth is though, that I’ll read almost anything that looks good or comes recommended, especially by my fellow editors.
What book are you looking forward to the most in 2020?
American Dirt! There was so much buzz about it, I put off reading it for a while. But it more than lives up to the hype and I can’t wait to talk about it with others.