Today, Sirens co-chair Manda Lewis interviews Danielle Cicchetti—who, we have to say, reads way more books than you do!
MANDA LEWIS: When did you fall in love with fantasy literature? What do you love about it?
DANIELLE CICCHETTI: I fell in love with fantasy as a teenager—my dad gave me a fantasy novel by Eddings when I was fourteen and I felt like I had found a gateway to another world. Looking back, it also introduced me to the concept of a found family which is still one of my favorite tropes today. I love the places fantasy can take you, the people you can meet along the way, and how much it shows you that love is a strong force that comes in many forms. It is also how I found my new family as an adult—my book clubs, my travel companions, my fellow adventurers in life. Fantasy literature helped me find the words to express who I am as well as find the people who understand those words.
MANDA: What do you look for in your reading? What kinds of stories, worldbuilding, characters, or craft really speak to you? Has that changed over the course of your life?
DANIELLE: I can never say it enough: I love a good found family. I was always a bit “weird” growing up and while I wasn’t necessarily ashamed of it, I did feel like an outsider. Stories where that weirdo found other weirdos that appreciated them will forever have a place in my heart (and on my shelf!). Becky Chambers, Sarah Gailey, and Möira Fowley-Doyle are some favorites for a good found family. For worldbuilding, I don’t care about the kind of world I am taken to because a good writer can make even the world I see around me feel completely different. Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia was just as transporting for me as A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney or The Deep by Rivers Solomon.
My taste has definitely changed over the years and a lot of it has to do with exposure. I love my father for introducing me to fantasy literature, but I wish he had known about Tamora Pierce as well as Eddings or Tolkien. These days, I look for books by women, nonbinary people, and BIPOC, not only because I tend to like the stories better, but also because I want to do what I can to make sure they continue to be published and are given more opportunities to do so.
MANDA: How many books do you read a year? Do you finish them all? If you don’t—gasp—what are the factors in whether you decide to finish a book or not?
DANIELLE: I read between 150 and 170 books a year. I would say I finish 99% of those. The ones I do not finish are those that have some element of a story that makes me angry or I get so bored that I dread having to pick up the book again. For book-club books (I am in three), I tend to listen to the audio version on a high speed while doing something else.
One example is a case where a book-club selection abused, maligned, and generally mistreated women as well as having the murder of a young child. This is a book club with content warnings required and this book’s warning had only “violence.” I finished the book simply so I could later list all the content warnings that should have been there.
MANDA: You’re a long-time attendee of Sirens. How has this conference or this community changed your reading—or even your approach to reading?
DANIELLE: I have found some of my favorite authors because of Sirens, both from the reading lists and the attendees. I then seek out books that those people have read and enjoyed. I also share the books I love, and people from those three book clubs quite often go and read them. I have become so conscious of how the books and media we discuss can affect the books and media that others consume, so I try to share the good works I consume as much as possible.
I had also mostly converted to primarily buying ebooks before my first Sirens. I now have so many full shelves…but I also do my best to pass along extra copies (it happens) and those I do not love to those who will love them.
MANDA: Speaking of Sirens, why did you first decide to come to Sirens? And then why did you decide to come back to Sirens?
DANIELLE: I first found out about Sirens from a Book Riot article about different yearly reading challenges. Then I saw the guest list, and decided “Why not?” I originally planned the trip on my own, as I enjoy taking solo vacations from time to time. When I saw the programming list, I was even more excited. It was the first event I went to where it was hard to choose between overlapping programming. It was a year that Sirens doubled in size, but I never felt like an outsider. It was the first time that I was told I was valuable as a reader.
I came back because it was great. And I brought friends my second year! They heard how I talked about the experience, and they wanted to feel some of that magic. And oh goodness, did they. The following year, our group grew again. We all speak of the wonderful experience that is Sirens and look for others to share it with that we know will appreciate it as we do.
MANDA: Sirens is about discussing and deconstructing both gender and fantasy literature. Would you please tell us about a woman or nonbinary person—a family member, a friend, a reader, an author, an editor, a character, anyone—who has changed your life?
DANIELLE: One character from my formative years that has very much stuck with me is Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5. She was the only woman on a command staff, grew up in a non-Christian tradition, had a dangerous secret….but she refused to ever be a victim or seen as weak. Sometimes her fear of perceived weakness worked to her detriment, but she was a strong woman who showed me early in life that building your career and making your own family can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience. She is not the person I wanted to be growing up, but ending up a lot like her is not something I regret at all.
Danielle Cicchetti is an avid reader and lifelong geek. She works a desk job with numbers by day, and uses the free time that gives her to travel, read the never-ending pile of amazing books on her many lists, and encourage friends to join her on her latest adventure. She is a Southern California native but still runs in fear from the sun.
Manda Lewis served as an engineer in the Air Force for seven years. She currently works for a children’s museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, hosting after-hours special events. She is also the caretaker of two small bundles of chaos. Manda has always made it a habit to draw, color, and doodle on just about everything within reach and loves themes far more than anyone really should. She has been a volunteer for Narrate Conferences since 2007.