Worktable - Workbook Fall Edition

Books We Can’t Live Without:
What’s On the Shelf.

Q&A with Susan Rebecca White, Steven Satterfield and Katie Barringer

Interviews by Kyle Tibbs Jones  •  Photos by Sarah Dorio


Susan Rebecca White


Susan Rebecca White


1) Susan, I have a lot of books. In the last 15 years alone, I've moved them eight times including to NYC and back. Do your books go where you go?

There are certain books that I always want near — Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. A few years ago I was going through a divorce and during that time I moved around a lot, and I always took those books with me. Indeed, I always took a box of books with me. But I also have the ability to purge books — especially paperbacks and books I buy on some topical subject that I know I'll never read again. For example, a few years ago I bought a hardback on the economic stimulus package. Interesting read, sure, but not a book I need to hold onto and schlep with me from place to place. Note: Thankfully I've now settled into a little bungalow with my sweet husband, so I can let the piles of books accumulate...


2) Five favorite novels?

It's interesting that out of the books I always keep near; only one is a novel (Crossing to Safety.) And yet, I write fiction! Okay, my five: Crossing to Safety (obviously), Crime and Punishment, All the King's Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Emperor's Children. These books either changed the way I thought about the world, or they showed me what great and lasting writing is.


 3) Where do you keep most of your books?

The dining room! I live in a small house and the dining room and living room flow into one another, so it isn't some formal, separate space, but I did choose to put a large Mission style bookcase there -- one my father-in-law built for me, as a matter of fact -- containing lots of novels and my favorite cookbooks. I was inspired to do this because of the dining room of the former creative director at HarperCollins who lives in Litchfield, CT. He and his partner live in an all-white house and there are white bookshelves on all four of his dining room walls, and the shelves are filled with beautifully curated books, all hardbacks. The effect is beautiful and interesting, and while I have neither his money nor his panache, I’ve tried to borrow a little of his style.  


4) Does your favorite book from childhood shed any light on the adult you've become?

I have a 13 month old son, which means I read Goodnight, Moon on a nightly basis. Doing so reminds me of how hilarious I thought the line "goodnight mush" was when I was little. I would die laughing every time my mom or dad read that line to me, and I would beg them to read it again and again. I loved the absurdity of saying goodnight to a bowl of oatmeal. When I think about it -- the placing of absurdity in the middle of what appears to be a "normal" life has definitely made its way into my fiction.


5) Someone comes into your living room and places a big sweaty drink on your books. Reaction?

Roll my eyes. Offer them a coaster. 


6) I cannot wait to read your next book. Give us a preview?

I'm really interested in how good fiction often works to deconstruct tidy or convenient narratives. I love the idea of people telling themselves stories about their lives, and then having those stories dismantle as real life inserts itself. My last novel, A Place at the Table, was about characters having to dismantle the stories that had been placed on them, and figure out their way in a world that was a lot messier and a lot less safe (but more interesting) than they originally presumed it to be. I'm dealing with that theme again -- the stories we tell vs. the deeper that are more true. This time I'm writing about a pair of aging radicals from the Sixties and their relationship with their daughter as she begins to question the stories they have always told her about who they are. Working title, The Model Child of Left-Wing Revolutionaries.


7) Ever judge a book by its cover?

Don't we all? The designers and artists who create beautiful, interesting, compelling covers that pull readers in should be paid many dollars. The best is when the cover reveals something about the book that you won't recognize until after you have read the story, and then the cover adds that much more to your understanding.


Steven Satterfield

Worktable - Workbook Fall Edition

Chef Steven Satterfield


1) Steven, the foodies at Workbook want to know - what is your relationship to cookbooks? What does your collection mean to you?

I don't look at my cookbooks every day but knowing that they are there at any given moment gives me peace of mind. If I have a morning with no place to be, I will pull one out over coffee until I'm so hungry from reading recipes that I can't stand it anymore.


2) Which are your absolute favorites?

My current favorites, the ones that are standing the test of time are:

The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters
A Platter of Figs and other recipes, David Tanis
Tender, Nigel Slater
A Taste of Country Cooking, Edna Lewis
Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton

Worktable - Workbook Fall Edition

3.  Room in your house with most books?

My cookbook collection is housed in a deep cabinet just to the left of the fireplace in the living room, behind glass doors.


4) What might your favorite book from childhood tell us about you?

I don't have a favorite book from childhood but I had a favorite recipe card collection when I was a kid.  It was I think Betty Crocker and it had a series of dishes from around the world, greatly bastardized I’m sure. I would stare at the pictures and attempt to make them one by one. I usually made a huge mess and my mom had to intervene or just take over.


5) Someone comes into your living room and places a drippy wet drink on your beautiful books. What’s the Steven Satterfield reaction?

Quietly slip a cocktail napkin underneath it.  I wouldn't want to embarrass a guest in my home.


6) I cannot wait to cook from Root to Leaf. Which recipe should I try first?

Go to your local farmers market, buy what looks good, then find a corresponding recipe.  It's that easy!


7) Keep books forever or give them away?

I have a hard time parting with anything. I'm a secret pack rat.


8) What do you think about judging a book by its cover? Yours is particularly beautiful, by the way.

Yes, but like they say, it's not a good idea. On the other hand, a cookbook cover is generally a testament to the contents.


Katie Barringer

Katie Barringer


1) Katie, I’ve moved my books all over creation. It’s safe to say I’m rather attached to them. What about you?

I have a very similar attachment to my books. I’ve moved with them countless times, including to NYC and back—twice. A new place doesn’t feel like home until the library is set up, so my books are always the first things to be unpacked.


2) Is it possible to list your 3 favorite art and design titles?

Just three? Here are 2 books and 1 magazine that I especially love today:

1. Bernard Plossu in México: ¡Vámonos! Edited by Salvador Albiñana and Juan García de Oteyza. Beautiful images of French photographer Bernard Plossu’s travels in Mexico throughout the ‘60s and 70’s.

2. The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge by Robert Murphy, Pattern Color overload with fabulous interiors.

3. Four & Sons. A beautiful and charming new magazine from Australia about dogs and contemporary culture.


3) I’ve been a guest in your home so I know this is a hard one. The room with the most books?

My office--which doubles as the foyer, followed by the living room, kitchen and, to my dismay, the bathroom.

Worktable - Workbook Fall Edition

4) Does your favorite book from childhood shed any light on the adult you've become?

Well, my two favorite childhood books are The Little Fur Family and Pat the Bunny. What did they teach me? A love of texture, good packaging, and soft fluffy animals.


5) Someone comes into your living room and places a big sweaty drink on your books. What's your reaction?

Either a good, long side-eye or an expletive, depending on who it is.


6) Looking forward to many COVER shopping trips in the future. What can you tell us about your new bookshop?

Selection wise, COVER’s focus will be cultural non-fiction and we will specialize in books and magazines about art and design, food and wine with an emphasis on small production and the harder-to-find. I’ve just signed the lease on the space – 1031 Marietta, behind Octane Coffee on the Westside of Atlanta. My hope is for COVER to become a place for cultural experience where curious people can interact and collaborate. I want it to be a place where anyone can walk in and find something that speaks to them. It’ll be a place to browse and hopefully be inspired!


7) The books in your home, do you consider them a design element or prized possession?

Having books in the home serves many purposes—aesthetic and sentimental. My grandmother taught my mother that books were the best décor. They give a room texture, color and character, which is a rule of thumb that I follow.  But books are such personal objects too. Collections reflect as much about the owner as they do the objects themselves. They speak to us and we display them as a way to tell a bigger story about who we are.


8) Judge a book by its cover? What do you think?

All of the time. If you can’t respect the interior by making the exterior attractive, I probably won’t like it. I love the physicality of a book. From the weight of the paper, to the font, to the spine—every part matters. “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is an outdated adage.


~ W ~

Also In This Edition