It’s our last Sages Reader Spotlight of the year! We’ve had a great time hearing from some of the amazing book lovers in our community — and getting some excellent recommendations and inspiration for the 2021 Sages Read Challenge! Check out the links below for a final round of recommendations. The deadline for turning in your challenge sheets to Hartfield is Friday, December 31, at 6:00 p.m. Look for the 2022 launch in February!
Jaleigh Johnson is a local author (and tax professional and accountant) who has written several books and short stories, including some of our favorite middle grade fantasy books, some D&D Forgotten Realms books, a Marvel’s X-Men novel that came out a few months ago, and another X-Men short story that’s packed with multiple high-stakes action-hero adventures and just hit the shelves this month in School of X: A Marvel Xavier's Institute Anthology. Originally from Arthur, Illinois, Jaleigh and her husband moved to Monticello a little over eight years ago and fell in love with it. We’re so glad they’ve made Monticello their home and have contributed to this awesome bookish community! You can find out more about Jaleigh’s books and other adventures at JaleighJohnson.com and on Twitter @jaleighjohnson and Instagram @jaleighjohnson23.
SAGES READ: When and how did you discover a love of reading?
JALEIGH JOHNSON: My love of reading came mostly from the fact that my parents read to me from the time I was very young, and there were always books in our house, though I think one of the most magical moments of my childhood was when I learned to read on my own and started to seek out books for myself. My biggest regret at the end of my life — if I’m lucky — is going to be all the books I didn’t manage to find.
SR: What about your love of writing? How did you become a professional author?
JJ: My love of writing and stories goes all the way back to middle school. By that time, I had become a gamer as well as a reader, I was an avid Dungeons & Dragons player, and I’d been introduced to fantasy novels like The Hobbit, The Dragonlance Chronicles, The Hero and the Crown, and A Wrinkle in Time. I was smitten. I knew I wanted to create fantasy worlds and stories of my own. My first published novel came much later, but it was part of the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms fiction line, so my love of gaming ended up forming the foundation of my writing career. To this day, I’m so thrilled and grateful that I got to make those contributions to a game I’ve loved for most of my life, and that it in turn led me to eventually create my own fantasy world of Solace for younger readers.
SR: We love the World of Solace adventures! Speaking of adventures, did you write your most recent book, Triptych, during COVID times? What was that like?
JJ: Triptych was a strange journey, to say the least. I pitched the novel a few weeks before my mother passed away, at a time when I didn’t want to write anything at all. In the end, I only did it because I knew Mom would have been extremely irritated with me for passing up a chance to write an X-Men novel, another thing I’d loved since childhood. She would have given me the Mom Look™ and told me to get on with doing what I loved, even if I didn’t love it right then. So I did. By the time the novel was approved and I started writing in earnest, she was gone, I was grieving, and we were in the middle of a pandemic. So, writing Fantomex’s story became my escape, another world I could slip into and forget about everything for a while. It didn’t always work, of course, but I cling to routines when I need them, and having a goal of 1,000 words a day definitely helped keep me sane when everything else seemed to be falling apart.
SR: What was it like to have the book come out in the midst of a global pandemic?
JJ: Quiet, is the best way I can describe it. Publishing has had to rethink the way it promotes book releases during this time, in-person events are much rarer, and in general, everyone is trying to figure out a new normal. But when I got the finished book in my hands for the first time, I realized the magic feeling of holding something you brought into existence is still there. It made me glad the essential things hadn’t changed as much as I’d thought.
SR: Now to the tough questions. Do you have a favorite book or author?
JJ: Picking favorites is so hard, but Robin McKinley will always be one of my favorite authors, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle one of my favorite books. For things a bit more recent, Maggie Stiefvater and Susanna Kearsley are authors I’ll automatically buy, no matter what they write, but particularly Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races and Kearsley’s The Shadowy Horses and The Firebird.
SR: What about a favorite genre?
JJ: Fantasy, romance, and mystery, probably in that order, depending on my mood. Actually, to be perfectly honest, I’ll read anything but horror, because I need to be able to sleep at night.
SR: Is there one book or author that you recommend to others most often? Do you have a go-to gift book?
JJ: The authors I recommend most to young readers are Natalie Lloyd, Jason Reynolds, and Jonathan Auxier, because they are amazing human beings as well as amazing writers. The author I recommend most to adults is Jenny Lawson, for the same reason, and for her off-the-charts sense of humor, even in the midst of dark times. Picking one gift book is so hard! Reading is such an individual experience, I like to give the book that I think that particular person is going to love. But for reluctant readers, I go with Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. For romance fans, I gravitate towards books by Alyssa Cole or Talia Hibbert. If I want to knock them over with breathtaking prose (who doesn’t want to do that!) I go with When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore.
SR: What’s the best book you’ve ever gotten from someone else?
JJ: I could answer with practically anything my brother has ever given me, but probably the best book he ever put in my hands was Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. Talk about being knocked over, or maybe it was just having the right book at the right time. I’m a big believer in that, by the way. The right book at the right time in a reader’s life can change everything, whether you’re nine or ninety.
SR: Yes! And that’s why Sages Read is an all-ages, all-community reading program that aims to inspire a broad range of reading. Thanks so much for your time, Jaleigh!
Here’s some reading inspiration from Jaleigh (2021 Sages Read challenges are noted in parenthesis):
Books and stories by Jaleigh Johnson (all meet 2021 Sages Read challenges 2 & 19):
- The Door to the Lost (Find it at Hartfield | Find it at Allerton Public Library)
- The World of Solace series
Triptych: A Marvel Xavier’s Institute Novel (Find it at Hartfield)
“Your Fifteen Minutes” in School of X: A Marvel Xavier’s Institute Anthology (Find it at Hartfield)
Jaleigh’s inspirations, favorites, and other recommendations:
More favorite authors to explore:
Jonathan Auxier, Alyssa Cole, Talia Hibbert, Natalie Lloyd, Jason Reynolds
Sages Read Challenges met by books listed above:
1 Read a book about love
2 Read a book by a local/regional author or illustrator
6 Read an #OwnVoices book with LGBTQ characters
14 Read a mystery by an author you've never read before
18 Read a nonfiction history or historical fiction book not set in WWII
19 Read a science fiction or fantasy novel written by a woman