Episode 68: Beyond the Halls | Author & Anthropologist MacKenzie Finklea

On this week's dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, our Library Laura Podcast guest is author and anthropologist Mackenzie Finklea. She's written "Beyond the Halls: An Insider's Guide to Loving Museums" and has a work of fiction set to come out in December 2021. She's also given a Ted Talk and is a publishing coach. We talk historical fiction and museums, swap some great book recommendations, and more. 

Find Mackenzie on her website, Twitter, her personal and author Instagram accounts, and on Facebook. Pick up a copy of Beyond the Halls online or from your local indie bookstore. 

Books from today's episode are on the Library Laura storefront on bookshop.org

Follow the Library Laura Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and on the Podcast Blog. 

While MacKenzie has found a niche in writing, publishing, anthropology and displays of human culture, she didn't always know that was where she would end up. She actually started out college as an engineering major before switching to anthropology. She really enjoyed the strong writing component of her anthropology classes as well. 

She was contacted by a professor from Georgetown University about the potential of writing a book. He was teaching a course that helped students through the process of writing and self-publishing a book, answering the question "What are you passionate enough about to write 38,000+ about it?" For MacKenzie, that was museums! She took some writing that she'd already done for her coursework, combined with interviewing many industry professionals to get their stories and experiences in and around museums. All that and a lot of work led to what is now "Beyond the Halls: An Insider's Guide to Loving Museums", which was published in December 2019. 

The book is broken up into seven areas of interest, including the history of museums, questions novices might ask and the "So what?" of museums, different types, curation and ethics, and even includes some activities you might do while visiting a museum!  It's for a general audience, as MacKenzie said she wanted to write something her friends would actually enjoy reading (and not just because they feel like they have to). It would be at home in a museum gift store, a college bookstore, or your indie bookstore shelves. 

One of her favorite museums is probably the Houston Museum of Natural Science. MacKenzie loves museums, especially for what they teach us about what life was like for different people throughout history, how they allow us to catalog human history uniquely, and objects can outlive human lifetimes to be studied and enjoyed. She appreciates what history can teach us about who we are, where we came from, and where we're going. 

In April 2019, MacKenzie gave a TED Talk at UT Austin about internet meme culture. She chose to do this topic based on a term paper she'd written previously for a linguistic anthropology course on speech play and verbal art. "Basically a class about jokes," she explained. She said that the process was both rewarding and terrifying. She practiced her talk, "until it was like a song stuck in my head." 

MacKenzie works as a publishing coach, primarily through New Degree Press, but also for other self-publishing authors. She helps authors through the publishing process, from getting to final drafts to marketing their book and preparing for their book launch. "No one writes a book alone," she declares, explaining the many people that are part of any book being published. 

That conversation reminded me of an essay from Anne Bogel in I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of The Reading Life, where she explains why she loves reading acknowledgement sections and authors notes so much. Since reading this essay, I've paid even more attention to these sections in books I read, and I am reminded every time of how many people are part of the process, and how good books aren't written in isolation, but rather in community. 

"Great writers read" ~ MacKenzie Finklea 

MacKenzie avidly enjoyed reading as a child, before most of her reading was books assigned in school. She loved serial books such as The Magic Tree House and Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo as they were short, easy and fun to read. She found books assigned in school to be much less fun, mostly. There were some classics that she enjoyed, but ultimately felt burnt out by academic reading.

Feeling burnt out on reading didn't keep her from buying books! "Book buying and book reading are two very separate hobbies!" she quips. 

One of the last books that she read as a teen of her own free will is The Glass Castle. She remembers not being able to put it down, and claims it as a favorite because of how much she enjoyed the reading experience. 

While she was writing Beyond the Halls, MacKenzie started reading much more non-fiction, which she devoured for a while. She found this reading helped a lot with her book and other essays she's enjoyed writing. She still enjoys a good non-fiction book, but has started getting into fiction as well.

Part of the impetus for getting into fiction is that she's actually trying her hand at writing a work of fiction. She's appreciating reading fiction, especially historical fiction, as she works on her own novel. If it includes a museum in the story as well, even better!  She especially appreciates books set in either the Victorian era or 1920's France. 

Books MacKenzie Recommends 

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner - MacKenzie highly recommends! She likes the historical setting, multiple viewpoints in both past and presence, and the element of archeology. 

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig - This book has contributed to MacKenzie's recent ponderings about how the past affects our present. In this book, by the author of The Midnight Library, Tom has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he's been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history--performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life. MacKenzie found his flashbacks, how he deals with loss, and how the world has changed throughout the book to be really fascinating. 

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi - A time travel story that takes place in a coffee shop, told in vignettes. Visitors to this Tokyo coffee shop can travel back in time, but only within the coffee shop and only until their cup of coffee gets cold. 

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders - MacKenzie is gleaning some valuable insights about writing from this book, and feeling inspired to write as a result. She highly recommends. 

Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson - From a writer who worked at the Metropolitan Museum for more than twenty-five years, an enchanting novel that shows us the Met that the public doesn't see. One of the sections, for example, is from the perspective of a chair on exhibit in the museum. 

Crimson Time by Emily VanderBent - a bonus recommendation from after we finished recording! This YA historical / time travel fantasy is written by a friend of MacKenzie, and you'll be hearing from Emily on the podcast in a few weeks! Stay tuned. 

Books Laura Recommends 

Lovey War by Julie Berry - I know I can't shut up about this book, but I truly think it will tick some boxes for MacKenzie as it is set in 1920's Europe, and I love the narration of the story by Greek gods. I think she will too. 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg - I don't know how MacKenzie made it this far in life without having read this book, but she needs to this very moment! Two children are disenchanted with life at home and run away to live in the MET. From bathing in the fountains to trying to solve a mystery involving one of the priceless artifacts, they have quite the adventure...but might not decide to live there forever. A Newbery award winner. 

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab - With the fact that MacKenzie found fascinating the lengthy lifetime of the character in How to Stop Time, I thought this might be a good book for her. It's also set in France for a big part of the book. Addie is cursed not to be remembered and to live forever, but she finds a loophole that involves artists and museums. It's funny because I didn't love this book, but I think Mackenzie will like it more than I did.  

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow - This book involves travel between worlds, which is awesome. But I think MacKenzie will appreciate the eccentric old man whose home is full of treasures and trinkets almost as much! I love how magical this story is and how it all comes together. 

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow - I didn't love this book as much as Harrow's first novel, but I think MacKenzie will get a kick out of the alternate history of the women's suffrage movement, the tower library, the collection of "spells" as nursery rhymes and poems, and especially the witchy museum in Salem that provides a key to the sisters' journey. This book gets dark and a little weird, but it's an interesting tale. 

How to be an Artist by Jerry Saltz - MacKenzie likes to mess with her friends while they're in art museums looking at modern art and ask them why they're bothered by some of the pieces. Based on that conversation, as well as Mackenzie being a writer and creative, I think she'll appreciate this book. And she already owns it...so I'm probably on the right track. Saltz gives tips for artists and creatives in this short and punchy book. There's also art interspersed throughout. 

The Veronica Speedwell mystery series by Deanna Raybourn (starts with A Curious Beginning) - This recommendation is for the Victorian era! These mysteries star a lepidopterist who is a strong independent woman, and her often-shirtless taxidermist sidekick. She has a secret about her past, and he's not-so-secretly been disgraced. They get involved in solving mysteries, often on the seedier or more risque side of Victorian London. I've enjoyed this whole series. 

What's the coolest museum you've been to? Drop a comment below and let us know! 

With lots of literary love from my library to yours,

~ Laura 


My photo
Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


The Library Laura Podcast


Affiliate links disclosure

As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop.org Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through links on this blog. Thanks for your support!

Popular Posts

Laura 's Goodreads bookshelf: read

The Slug Queen Chronicles: Season One
Christmas Night 1776
A Perilous Undertaking
The Mostly Invisible Boy
Please Close It!
On the Bright Side: Stories about Friendship, Love, and Being True to Yourself
The Giving Tree
At Home in Mitford
The Last Year of the War
The Goblin Emperor
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
Goodnight, Anne
Such a Fun Age
Every Heart a Doorway
The Underground Railroad
The Hate U Give
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
A Kind of Paradise

Laura Miller 's favorite books »

@library.laura on Instagram

The Library Laura Podcast on Facebook

Laura's Profile

Contact Form


Email *

Message *