Sometimes the right book comes along at just the right time and that’s absolutely true of Katherine Reay’s sweet new novel, Of Literature & Lattes.
As a quick recap, Of Literature & Lattes takes us to Winsome, Illinois where two people discover the grace of letting go and the joy found in unexpected change.
After fleeing her hometown three years earlier, Alyssa Harrison (the novel’s main character) never planned to return. Then the Silicon Valley start-up she worked for collapsed and turned her world upside down. She is broke, under FBI investigation, and without a place to go. Having exhausted every option, she goes home to Winsome to regroup and move on as quickly as possible. Yet, as friends and family welcome her back, Alyssa begins to see a place for herself in this small Midwestern community.
Jeremy Mitchell moved from Seattle to Winsome to be near his daughter and to open the coffee shop he’s been dreaming of for years. Problem is, the business is bleeding money—and he’s not quite sure why. When he meets Alyssa, he senses an immediate connection, but what he needs most is someone to help him save his floundering business. After asking for her help, he wonders if something might grow between them—but forces beyond their control soon complicate their already complex lives, and the future they both hoped for is not at all what they anticipated.
I was lucky enough to catch up with the Of Literature & Lattes‘ author, who lives in Lake Forest, about this book and what it was like to have a novel come to market during a pandemic.
Q&A with Katherine Reay
Ann Marie On the Shore: I’m guessing the book launch for Of Literature & Lattes was a little different than ones you’ve done before.
Katherine Reay: I think this was the quietest launch in history [she says laughing], just a pitter patter. I love touring with a book because I get to have this personal experience with my readers, but that wasn’t meant to be this year. But being home has allowed me to be part of Zoom book club discussions. I’ve met book groups all over the country this way…we’ve even revisited some of my older novels. It’s been different, but really great in its own way.
AMOTS: Even though no one would ever say that a pandemic was a great backdrop for a new book, I think your theme of community really resonated with a lot of people at this time.
KR: I’m so glad because the stories of the Winsome community was very intentional. I’m not sure if people noticed this, but every fourth chapter was a “Winsome chapter,” these little chapters where the stories of different Winsome characters would come in. The two main characters–Alyssa and Jeremy–both had awakenings about the beauty of community. They were each so siloed in their work and how they thought things should be, that for them to see their lives in a new light because of Winsome was a development I loved.
AMOTS: I was surprised to see you write a character like Alyssa that was so unlikable.
KR: I like working with characters who are hard to crack. The premise of Alyssa’s character was a fundamental lack of understanding of all things, but she thought she was always right about everything. I hope by the end of the book that readers came around and appreciated who she really was.
AMOTS: I’m always in awe of how you weave literary classics into your contemporary fiction. When you start writing, do you know which pieces of literature you’ll be using?
KR: I don’t always know the literature, but with Of Literature & Lattes, as I was writing, the themes of isolation and community that I know from Steinbeck kept striking me. It was hard not to think about Of Mice and Men. That’s why included this particular work from Steinbeck.
AMOTS: Is there a new Katherine Reay book in the works?
KR: Yes! In fact, the manuscript is finished and my agent is sending it out. It’s a contemporary tale with a tie to World War II. I’m very excited about it.
AMOTS: What kind of books have you read for fun during quarantine?
KR: When I’m feeling stressed, I tend to reach for the classics. They’re comforting to me, like old friends. But these days, I’ve been too distracted to read like I like to. Instead, I was working on my manuscript 8-9 hours a day. I think I was dealing with all of the uncertainty by doing what I always do–writing.
AMOTS: Did you pick up any new skills during quarantine?
KR: I tried my hand at knitting and made a really awful sweater. And I tried to clean the basement, and let’s just say that ended badly. I think I learned it’s best for me to just stick to what I know.
What’s Next for AMOTS in the Reading Department?
I hope you enjoyed this sweet book at much as I did. It’s kind of what I needed now…something that just felt good to read.
My hope in the coming months is to share more of what I’m reading, rather than dedicating an entire month (or two!) to a single book.
I do promise to keep you posted on what I’m reading next.