By Locke Hughes
For many readers, books play the role of a favorite pastime, a treasured hobby — something we look forward to outside the 9-to-5 grind. Few book lovers are lucky enough to turn their affection for reading into a full-time career, but Morgan Hoit is one of them.
After graduating from Duke University with degrees in English and theater studies, Morgan headed to the Big Apple to work in the theater industry. In 2017, she launched an Instagram account, @nycbookgirl, with the aim of sharing her passion for reading and her life in New York City. Clearly, people were interested: She now shares her book picks with a community of more than 42,000 fellow bookworms.
This year, her love of reading took an even stronger hold in her life. Morgan shifted her career focus from the theater to the publishing industry. Today, she’s the associate marketing manager at Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster that has published such notable titles as Three Women and The Only Plane in the Sky. As Morgan puts it, “to say that books are my ‘everything’ is an understatement.”
When she’s not working on books or diving into her next package from Book of the Month (she uses it to learn about new reads outside of work), she’s busy taking advantage of living in one of the most literary cities on earth, New York. We recently reached out to Morgan to learn more about how her work influences how she reads, what she’s reading, and how other readers can discover books that change their lives.
How has working in the publishing industry changed your relationship with books?
To be completely honest, I didn’t read much nonfiction before I started at Avid Reader Press, but I knew that would have to change. And I love it — it’s changing the way I read for fun as well. I find myself choosing to read nonfiction — narrative nonfiction, memoirs, and essays — more frequently than I ever did before.
Can you give us some insight into how you and the team at Avid Reader Press made Three Women such a big success?
Three Women (which was a July 2019 Book of the Month selection) was the perfect storm: an exemplary work from a brilliant writer working with an incredible editor. They really took the time to make it right (eight years!). Speaking from the marketing side of things, we tried to make sure the book was everywhere — on everyone’s Instagram, featured as a Book of the Month selection and as the Belletrist July pick. The word of mouth was so strong for this book, because as soon as you finish it, you have to talk about it (the sign of a great read, in my opinion).
When did you first discover your love of reading?
I’ve loved to read for as long as I can remember. I always preferred time I could steal away with a book than the other activities prescribed for kids (a.k.a sports). There is nothing better than the moment you realize you have the power to read a chapter book all by yourself. It unlocked worlds of knowledge for me — I discovered new places and pieces of history and life experiences through the adventures I went on through books. My favorite book from that time was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, but I was also obsessed with The Magic Treehouse and The Royal Diaries series.
How have books influenced your life so far?
I’m lucky enough to be in the position that books entirely comprise my livelihood — from Avid Reader Press to @nycbookgirl, my life is completely sustained by books and the people who read them. I don’t know if I ever expected that I would get to this point where I was so dependent on books, but I am certainly happy to be here.
What are you reading right now?
Too many things. To name a few: Fight of the Century, an Avid Reader Press book edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman in partnership with the ACLU in honor of their 100 year anniversary, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (out from Atria Books in the Summer of 2020), Anna K.:A Love Story by Jenny Lee (out from Flatiron Books in March of 2020).
Why do you read?
Books are how I learn about the experiences of others. I read to take myself out of my own situation and live in someone else’s — to learn, to be entertained, to find joy and empathy and heartbreak and love.
What types of books do you connect with personally?
Books about groups of friends over time — how they change and grow apart and fall back together. Books with wild, unreliable female narrators. Books that ask the reader to trust that they will figure out what’s going on, even if the author throws you into the story in medias res. Books powered by women.
Based on your Instagram, it looks like you also love to travel! How does traveling influence your book picks?
I try to read a book or two (or four or five) set in the place I’m about to visit before I go, and I try to always buy a book (an English translation) native to the place I’m in while I’m there. I also use all trips as an opportunity to binge read like there’s no tomorrow. When I went to Greece two years ago, I documented the trip through the books I read.
What makes New York City such a great place for readers?
Independent bookstores are abundant here — places dedicated to books where real humans have curated what books you are shown. There is a library in every neighborhood. There are book events every single night, the Brooklyn Book Festival being my favorite of all.
What book have you read recently that surprised you in some way?
It’s not a book, but I was surprised by (and marveled at) the scale of The 1619 Project, a special issue of The New York Times Magazine. It reframes our national narrative to begin in 1619, when the first recorded ship of enslaved people from Africa arrived in what would become the United States. I was surprised by the content, learning new things in every line about the history of a country I thought I knew and the legacy that history has, but I was also surprised by how beautiful and comprehensive it was.
In addition to the stunning essays, it featured creative works by 16 different black authors of various forms of art. It sweeps you off of your feet.
Who’s your favorite literary character and why?
Paulina of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. She’s been a role model for me since I first came across this play in 2011: She’s strong, she’s smart, and she’s fiercely protective of those she loves. She doesn’t allow men to hold all of the power, even though that may be what society dictates.
What’s your “reading routine?”
My favorite time to read is on a Saturday afternoon. I’ll wake up, work out, come home, and read until I finish an entire book. Then I’ll pick my phone back up, start answering texts, and rejoin the real world. But I read any moment I have time — setting my alarm for half an hour early to get up and read with a cup of coffee, stealing a few pages on the subway or while walking down the street, brushing my teeth with a book propped on the sink — the list goes on.
What type of reader would you say you are?
I’m definitely a mood reader. I’m most likely to pick up a book because someone I love said it made them feel something. I don’t read for specific plots or settings, but instead to fall in love with the characters, the writing, or the author.
What’s your best advice for people looking to create a routine of reading more?
Always, always, always have a book on you. Keep one in your bag so you can pull it out in any spare moment — in line, waiting for the train, or before a workout class. Also, set timers for yourself. It can be overwhelming to detach from the world for an extended period of time, so set a time on your phone for every 20 or 25 or 30 minutes (or however long you can afford to look away), and don’t check your phone until the timer goes off. Repeat.
What’s your general philosophy about self-care?
I don’t think I’m great at self-care, but I’m working on it. I’m most successful in taking care of myself when I feel like it’s productive in some way — taking a SoulCycle class (or two), reading (for work or for fun), taking time to be with my friends, my family, and my boyfriend and just be really present. I also try to walk everywhere, and that always brings me joy.
1. One book or multiple at a time?
Multiple! Too many good books out there to stick to just one at a time.
2. E-book, audiobook, or hard copy?
Hard copy and audiobook.
3. Favorite local bookstores?
Book Culture, The Strand, Books Are Magic
4. 3 to 5 favorite books you’ve read recently?
- Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
- Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
- Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clements
- Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould (coming April 2020 from Avid Reader Press!)
5. 4-5 books you’d recommend for the GNI audience and the fall?
I’m personally excited to read The Water Dancer but some tried-and-true favorites include:
- The Heart’s Invisible Furies
- Sing, Unburied, Sing
- Normal People
- Severance by Ling Ma
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
What are you reading this Bookish Girl Fall? Let us know in the comments, then try your first month of Book of the Month for just $9.99.
Photographed by Bridget Badore.