"It sounds clichÃ© but Jane Austen absolutely inspired me to work in books."
8 questions with our newest Judge, Bustle books editor Cristina Arreola
Book of the Month
We're so excited to have you join our Judge panel for Book of the Month. This is your first month as a Judge. In one sentence, tell us about the kinds of books you like to read.
Reading is about expanding your empathy and your knowledge, so I'll read anything '” literary fiction, young adult, romance, thrillers '” so long as it's written intelligently by thoughtful people, and it challenges me to think about the world in a different way.
You selected Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough as your Book of the Month. It's a complex domestic suspense with a lot of twists. What makes this title one of the five best books of the month?
I am a hopeless romantic, but I'm also perpetually single. So every year around Valentine's Day, I start to think about the most dysfunctional relationships in literature...
But it's true: the destructive partnerships at the center of Behind Her Eyes drive the novel to its electrifying conclusion. It's the perfect book for a Sunday spent under the blankets at home, and you'll eat it up faster than that box of truffles you bought for Valentine's weekend.
What did you think of the ending? No spoilers please!
When I finished this book, I immediately flipped to the front cover and began reading it again. It was only upon reading it a second time, that I realized how much build-up was necessary to make this conclusion so satisfying. Not a single line is wasted. Pay attention to everything.
It's best not to know too much about Behind Her Eyes before you read it, so I'll only say one thing: don't try to guess the ending.
There's a healthy amount of 'œhe said' / 'œshe said' in Behind Her Eyes -- similar to the multiple narrator technique used in Gone Girl and made popular by one of our favorite authors, Gillian Flynn. Both books portray deeply flawed relationships. Why do we love reading about this topic?
Everyone has different interpretations of truth '” just look to our most recent presidential election for proof! '” and those conflicting opinions can often create a web of confusion that distracts from the real story. It's intoxicating, because it forces readers to think deeply about what 'œtruth' means and how we can find it.
I think we enjoy 'œhe said/she said' novels so much, because it's the closest thing we have to our own reality. Our lives aren't told by a third-person omniscient narrator. Our lives are a construction of all our own truths, and as research has shown, humans aren't particularly good at remembering things the way they actually happened. So we tell ourselves lies all the time, and other people tell us lies all the time. Some of this is malicious, but much of it is not. The fact is, that 'œhe said/she said' is the way we see the world, and it's all too easy to fall into traps because of it.
You are the books editor at Bustle, which is a fast-growing content site for young women. In a media landscape that's filled with celebrity scandals, twitter feuds, and adorable animals doing things - how do you make your book content stand out?
People have pluralities '” I've never subscribed to the notion that someone who enjoys celebrity scandals is incapable of also enjoying books. I firmly believe that books content should be broadened to people outside the 'œbooks world.' Most people don't read reviews, and most people don't care if something gets a starred review in such-and-such publication. Most people want to know how books fit into their everyday lives. That's why I'm such a believer in book round-ups. I love to provide a number of reading options for women based on what they love and what they are passionate about '” whether that be Gilmore Girls or Planned Parenthood or Hamilton.
How many books do you read a week and how do you decide which ones you want people to know about?
I usually read two or three books a week '” as many as I can pack into my schedule. It's so painful to know that I'll never be able to read everything, but sometimes life gets in the way (as it should.) Luckily, I have a fantastic team of writers who also read constantly, and I trust them fully to help me make decisions on what to recommend to readers.
So, recommendations. That part can get tricky if you let it. I try to keep it simple, and I always remember that Bustle editors are Bustle readers, too. So I ask myself:
Did I enjoy this? Is this something that my friends and peers would enjoy? Or is this something that my friends and peers need to read?
If it's a yes to those questions, then it's a yes to the site. Of course, I try to take my own 'œbubble' into account and think about what people from different backgrounds who live in different places might enjoy. But the bottom line is that I don't recommend anything to readers that I wouldn't recommend to my own friends and co-workers.
Is there an author or book that inspired you to work in the book industry?
It sounds clichÃ© '” it is clichÃ© '” but Jane Austen absolutely inspired me to work in books. I read voraciously as a child '” mostly Nancy Drew mysteries, Harry Potter, and A Series Of Unfortunate Events. (Hence, my cynical sense of humor.) But in seventh grade, my reading teacher assigned us Pride and Prejudice. I didn't like the idea of reading something sappy about two people falling in love, especially because we had just finished a six-week section on Lord of the Rings. I wanted more magic! Adventure! War!
But, as it turns out, Pride and Prejudice changed my life. I consumed it like I was starving for words. When I finished, I went to the library and checked out all of Jane Austen's other novels. This woman had lived nearly two hundred years before me, but I felt like she had written these words expressly so that I could read them. I was 12-years-old. I'd never been in love. I went to all-girls school, and I barely knew any boys at all. But I understood Lizzie. I knew how it felt to believe that your parents misunderstood you on a fundamental level. I knew how it felt to discover you'd been wrong but not know how to make it right. I knew how it felt to want to be your own person in a world that wanted you to conform to its status quo.
In other words, Pride and Prejudice totally mirrored by own adolescent angst.
As I've grown older, my perception of Pride and Prejudice has changed. I no longer view it as a guide to being misunderstood. Instead, I view it as a guide to love in all its forms '” love between sisters, love between mothers and daughters, love between fathers and daughters, love between friends, love between partners. Lizzie and Darcy are not perfect human beings, but they are both introspective human beings. That, I believe, is the key to successful relationships: a knowledge that you can always be better, and a willingness to act upon that knowledge.
I read Lizzie and Darcy's story once a year, and I always learn something new about myself in the process. Pride and Prejudice showed me that literature has the power to transform you, and it has the power to grow with you. That's why I work in books.
Your Instagram profile reveals that you went 'œHarry Potter speed dating.' Is Harry your dream literary date, or is there someone else?
I did go to Harry Potter speed dating! But I solemnly swear it was for work. I co-host a Harry Potter podcast called The Girls Who Lived, and 'œon assignment,' I attended a Harry Potter speed dating event at Strand Bookstore in New York City. True love wasn't in the stars for me that night, but I did meet some fascinating people who are just as passionate about Harry Potter as I am. I love the idea of meeting someone based on shared interests, and I would absolutely try literary speed dating again.
In terms of literary dreams date, there are so many '” and Harry Potter isn't one of them.
I'm a Ravenclaw and a Books Editor, so when it comes to literary crushes, I'm unsurprisingly a sucker for bookish men. But I love bookish men who also happen to be unabashedly romantic. And fearless. And heroic. Extra points if they're able to articulate their feelings in letters that will make you weak at the knees.
I know '” that guy could only exist in fiction. I clearly read too much Jane Austen growing up.
Regardless, you asked, and this is my answer: my dream literary date is Captain Wentworth from Persuasion, the brooding Naval officer who stays devoted to Anne Elliot, even after she breaks his heart, then wins her over once again with the most epic love letter in literature: 'œYou pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.'