Caitlin Marsh is our director of digital marketing and events, which means she's more likely to be found at a computer than a bookshelf on most days. She's the one behind our email newsletter, website content, and even some of our graphic design, so she stays pretty busy. She's also the selector for all of our Brilliant Books Monthly Audio subscribers.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I took a roundabout way to working at a bookstore, though from the sound of things, the roundabout way is the most common route! I had actually planned to work in public health—specifically, at the CDC—but as I was wrapping up my master's degree, I realized that the frustration I felt with the pace of academia wasn't going to go away. So I took all the skills my degree had given me, and started looking for different ways to apply them. Maybe it's a surprising segue, but the ability to understand and talk to groups of people works as well in marketing as it does in healthcare, so after a few years of this and that, I found myself here at Brilliant Books!
What's the quirkiest job you’ve ever had?
Well, now that you know my degree's in public health, you'd expect me to have something pretty different, right? Well, I do, but it's not because of my background. I used to be a kids' party magician. Nothing terribly flashy, but I was pretty good at card tricks. My finest moment was making a chosen card appear in a classmate's wallet in college, though, to be perfectly honest, I'm still not sure how I pulled that one off.
What are the top five most interesting things about you?
How about the five least interesting things about me? I know six digits of pi—seven, if you count the decimal point. I like to embroider by hand, but I lost count of the number of different stitches I know. I'm a mezzo soprano in most choirs (or an alto, if necessary). I'm an ordained minister and officiate weddings. And...um...I've never been on a roller coaster. There. That's five.
What’s one thing you wish more people knew about being a bookseller?
It's really tough! I say this as not-quite-a-bookseller, so I feel like I can spill this insider information. Book people tend to be introverts, and it takes a lot of energy to be able to walk up to strangers all day and strike up conversations, especially when the other person in question is likely also an introverted book person. Of course, it's a bit easier when those conversations are about books, but it still takes some effort to get people out of their shells. I'm always in awe of how good at it my coworkers are!
You’re browsing a bookstore. What’s the first section you gravitate toward?
Sci-fi and fantasy! I've always loved these genres and the way that these imaginary worlds can hold a mirror up to our own in smart and subtle ways. That being said, I'm a sucker for fairy tale retellings, plagues (that's my public health background showing there), circus arts, overly complex heists, unreliable narrators, dry humor, and high fantasy featuring anthropomorphized animals—because why not?
If someone asked for a book recommendation, but you can only ask one question to see what they like, what would you ask?
I've only recently gotten the chance to do much book recommending, now that I've started choosing books for all our audio subscribers, but I think the best question to ask would be "Why do you love your favorite books?" I don't necessarily need to know what they are, but I definitely need to know what really struck home with the reader and why they hold onto these particular stories. Ideally, I'd ask more than one question, but if I really was limited to just the one, that would be it.
Caitlin is also one of our Brilliant Books Monthly book selectors. Learn more about how she chooses audiobooks!
Little bites of speculative fiction are such a treat, and this batch from John Lanchester mixes some interesting ideas. In one story, an unimaginative academic finds himself the victim of a digital vampire. In another, reality show contestants spend their days calculating every move and gesture for an audience that may not actually exist. It's a good blend of typical horror and digital disconnect--there's often a faint sense of satire to the stories, which makes them that much more unnerving, as if there's a punch line that never quite comes. A quick read and a good one.
This is probably the most introspective and thought provoking thriller I've ever come across. On the surface, it's a book about Evelyn Caldwell, genius scientist who's perfected human cloning, and her husband, Nathan, who's used her methods to create a clone of Evelyn--with a few tweaks to make her his ideal woman. There's plenty of secrecy, tension, and high stakes, but there are also questions I hadn't been expecting to consider in a thriller: is there a difference between a human and a person? What truly defines us, and can that every really be recreated? The audiobook, narrated by Xe Sands, sets the mood for this kind of thought experiment with understated, almost distant narration that's perfect for the clinical persona that Evelyn has constructed for herself.
In a world where super heroes and super villains are commonplace, there are some very interesting opportunities for employment. For example: henching, or signing on to handle basic (and usually boring) tasks for your local villain--think data entry. But when Anna's employer is brought down by the hero Supercollider and she's badly hurt in the process, she starts to wonder what the difference is between the good guys and the bad guys. If you've ever watched a superhero movie and wondered who's going to pay for all the damage after the baddies are beaten, this is a book you will enjoy. Anna's dry humor and astute understanding of human nature makes her a delightful narrator--and Alex McKenna, who performs the audiobook, does a superb job of bringing her to life.
An interesting look at first contact, humanity, and communication. Great as an audiobook! —Caitlin
Brash, fast-talking, quintessential New York meets cosmic interdimensional sci-fi. I loved the audio performance on this one as well. It was the soundtrack as I was unpacking boxes in the middle of moving house, and I would often find myself sitting beside a forgotten box just listening to the story unfold. —Caitlin
To be honest, this isn't my all time favorite thriller, or even really the best thriller I read this year, but it did have, hands down, the greatest twist I've read since Gone Girl, and I can't believe they pulled it off even in the audiobook. —Caitlin
A truly exquisite gothic novel. Deeply weird, dark, unsettling, and the transplantation of a very traditional foggy English manor into 1950s Mexico makes the setting somehow even more ominous. What's scarier than a haunted house? A house you had to make haunted before you could move in... —Caitlin
My favorite book this year! I enjoyed Parry's The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, but I absolutely adored this one. It reads like a rather more accessible Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, and the masterful parallels with actual history had me reviewing my knowledge of the French Revolution...and then digging for more! —Caitlin
An older book, but a good one. Lately, as I work in the gardens and flowerbeds at my new house, I've found myself reminiscing about this book more and more. It's a sweet and sometimes sad story about a foster child who's grown up but can't leave her life before entirely behind. She uses the language of flowers that her foster mother taught her to try and express the emotions for which she—and, it turns out, many others—have no words. Despite the modern setting, there are slightly gothic tones to the story, reminiscent of Diane Setterfield. And yes, if you're wondering, this one's available as an audiobook, too. —Caitlin M.
An interesting twist on a locked-room whodunnit, with the audiobook performed by a full cast! The wedding of the decade, between an outdoorsy reality TV star and the creator of a popular digital lifestyle magazine, is set to take place on a remote Irish island. The story flits back and forth between "now," with the reception in full swing, and the days leading up to the wedding as the wedding party and guests arrive. It seems everyone's got a motive for some kind of foul play, but as the story unfolds, the reader's left wondering...are any of them killers? And if so...who is the victim? —Caitlin M.
This was a weird one, but enjoyable nonetheless. It's not so much an alternate history as an alternate world with a very similar history. A king strongly reminiscent of Henry VIII, his daughters queens one after the other, and a scandal that could undo everything...but the only person who can unravel the whole thing is a lowly Sin Eater. This young woman is made a pariah by her role—consuming funeral foods meant to symbolize the deceased's sins during life so that they might enter the afterlife cleansed. Her status makes her all but invisible, and thus she sees much of the goings on of court life. But as the mystery deepens, will anyone listen to her warnings? —Caitlin M.
It's one thing to spin an entire novel's worth full of horror, but to capture it in just a few short pages is another art altogether. Joe Hill is a master. These stories range from conventionally creepy to unexpectedly unnerving. Several, like "You Are Released," I had encountered before, but they're no less haunting the second time around. —Caitlin
I read a lot, and there are plenty of books that I like, but this is one of the relatively few that I absolutely love, and I 100% recommend the audiobook read by Adam Kay himself. This book is hard to listen to, but also un-put-downable. It ricochets from cringe-worthy embarrassment to tender sentimental moments to terror to triumph with whiplash-inducing speed, which is about as close as a reader can come to understanding what it's like to work in healthcare. Though the stakes are high and drama abounds, it's also one of the most deeply human books I've read, and one in which what isn't said resonates just as loudly as what is. —Caitlin