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MEAT AND POTATOES is a blog about the books that have influenced me most. The name MEAT AND POTATOES comes from something that one of my graduate school professors once said. I was taking a French literature seminar that had an awful lot of theoretical material on the syllabus, and one day a bunch of us complained that we were reading too much theory and not enough literature. The professor, somewhat taken aback, said: “OK, meat and potatoes!”

I’ll say it: I’ve always loved my meat and potatoes. My grandmother read books to me before I knew how to read, and instilled the hunger early. I read a lot through grade school, and was mainly obsessed with books on animals and nature, but then later, as a teenager, I met Ann Quinlan—the woman who changed my life by fueling my love affair with reading.

Mrs. Quinlan was the mother of Elizabeth Quinlan, one of my best friends from grade school. She was also the person who gave me my first copy of Dickens (The Pickwick Papers) when I was 14 years old. The Quinlans hailed from Elkhart, Indiana, and were the only people I had ever met who had a bona fide library in their house. I would spend countless hours going through books in the library with Liz, taking them out to the hammock that the Quinlans had hung between two avocado trees in their back yard, and sitting for hours with Mrs. Q. on the patio, talking and learning about books. Mrs. Quinlan was remarkable not just for her wisdom, but for the sheer breadth of her reading, and it always seemed that whatever book you asked her about, she had already read it (and sometimes two or three times!)

I can’t help but think of Mrs. Q. every time I pick up a book, and so, naturally, this blog is dedicated to her.