This week, I'm thrilled to be featuring writer and reader, Natasha Lioe. Natasha graduated with a BA in narrative studies from University of Southern California. She’s always had an affinity for words and stories and emotions. She founded and runs Capsule Books as well as Capsule Stories and never fails to shout “doggy” when she sees one. Her work has appeared in Adsum Literary Magazine and in Capsule Stories, and she won the Edward B. Moses Creative Writing Competition in 2016. Her greatest strength is finding and focusing the pathos in an otherwise cold world, and she hopes to help humans tell their unique, compelling stories.

I've been a big fan of Capsule Books for years now. It's one of the most original book subscriptions out there, all due to Natasha's thoughtful insights and prolific reading life. For each season, Natasha curates three capsules filled with books that cultivate a particular mood. She always selects exceptional works of literature and consistently includes under appreciated back list titles. Unfortunately for us readers, this winter will be the last season of Capsule Books. Natasha is shutting down the subscription service to spend more time on her writing projects and her literary magazine, Capsule Stories. I'll miss having these boxes show up on my doorstep every season, but I'm so excited to see what Natasha does next!

And if you want to get one (or more!) last capsule, you have to check out Capsule Books' Black Friday Sale. Natasha is offering exceptional deals on the Winter 2019 boxes as well as all past capsules still in stock. Plus, you can use code fictionmatters for an additional 10% off. If you haven't treated yourself to one of these boxes yet, now is the time. I promise you'll fall in love with Natasha's beautiful writing and exceptional reading taste.

What is your reading life like now?

My reading life is largely dictated by what's NOT popular - although I always do add all of those popular books to my wishlist, but never end up reading them. It's pretty difficult to talk about reading with a lot of people because of this, but I do it for the purpose of curating capsules with books that don't have just the popular books in them. It's important to me to deliver a new experience, and not just recycle what you've already seen on Bookstagram. My pace varies a lot. Sometimes, time moves by so quickly and I realize I haven't read in a long time. Other times, I read obsessively for weeks. I read mostly fiction, although I've been getting into nonfiction audiobooks lately - I can listen to Trevor Noah's voice for days.

As a teacher, I’m always curious about how people fell in love with reading. For you, was it in the classroom, or outside it?

For me, it was definitely both, I think. I learned to read at a really young age. My older siblings were bored during long summers so they taught me how to read. I'm lucky in that respect. And we used to make weekly trips to the library, and just spend what felt like all day there. I'd end up checking out the maximum number of books, reading them all throughout the week, and go back the next week. I remember preordering Harry Potter from Barnes & Noble, and then having to wait a week until my siblings both finished reading it. We all had to share one copy. I remember getting scolded a lot in class because I would read in secret. Hehe. I apologize to all my teachers.

How did you figure out your personal taste in books? 

Mmm, I don't know exactly. I think my older brother, who's also an avid reader, influenced me a lot. When tumblr became really popular, I discovered a lot of books through there too. My friends in school also recommended some to me; that's how I got roped into reading Twilight. We used to trade books at school. I really was surrounded by books as a kid.

Did you do your required reading in high school? Did you read outside of assigned reading in high school? If so, what were some of your favorite books and how did you discover them?

I did! There's a few that I really hated. The Awakening. The Scarlet Letter. I couldn't get through Heart of Darkness. And this is so embarrassing, but I just can't get through a single Jane Austen novel. But the majority of books, I usually procrastinated and then ended up reading the whole thing in a day or two. But the ones I really liked: 1984. Brave New World. The Catcher in the Rye. Fahrenheit 451. I think this affinity for coming of age, science fiction, novels that are surreal to read definitely still holds true for me.

Did you have a teacher in your life who helped you learn something new about yourself as a reader or appreciate books in a new way? What did they do that made a difference in your reading?

I had a teacher in sixth grade, named Ms. Ternes/Mrs. Martinez. She was so encouraging, and lent me some of her books to read, and looked up every word I didn't know in the dictionary during reading time. And I always liked my English teachers. They're always really cool, and they have personality, and they're genuine & authentic. English teachers always seemed to care the most for their students, and I think it really shows through.

What is one assigned book you LOVED reading in high school? 

I think it's gotta be Catcher in the Rye. I read it in junior year, when I was going through such a hard time, overwhelmed by SATs and college and daily life and wondering why everyone else seemed to be doing fine with the same problems I had. I didn't have a hard life. I know Holden's annoying and complains too much, but I really resonated with him. He was privileged, and took it all for granted, and was kind of a jerk to others, but he felt so alone. He felt like he was so distant from the people around them. I know that feeling well. It was nice to have company in that thinking, even though it was negative.

What is one assigned book you HATED reading in high school? 

I absolutely hated The Scarlet Letter. I think it's become kind of a meme now, where adults mention how miserable it was to read that book, and how it convinces young readers that reading isn't fun. Luckily that didn't happen to me, but I will say that it turned me off from reading those "old" books. Now, that book still pisses me off because Hawthorne just writes from a white male perspective and completely misses the point.


What is one book you would love to see introduced in classrooms now? 

Ahh, I would love to see more books written by people of color. And not in the context of Frederick Douglass - although I think that's such an important book, but just of them being normal people, not pigeonholed into a certain minority checkbox. I think that I grew up with something against books written by people of color, like they were always popular just because of their race. To this day I haven't read The Joy Luck Club. I'd love to see a book just about living life, and not about a social or racial justice issue. And for it to be studied because of the quality of the writing, not because it serves as an important historic moment.

If there was one additional piece of advice you could give teachers to help students enjoy their reading more, what would it be?

I think I felt like I was alone in enjoying the required reading. People always complained about it, and I would just stay silent about how much I actually liked the book. If my teachers spoke more of how much they liked the book, or showed some kind of social proof for the students, I think that the peer pressure to think that "reading is lame" would be less.

What are you reading now?

I just started a book called First, You Swallow the Moon by Kipp Wessel.