Ep 68: Plot summaries are the worst (with Laura Tremaine)

Ep 68: Plot summaries are the worst (with Laura Tremaine)

It's Tuesday, readers! New What Should I Read Next, coming up. 

Today’s guest is Laura Tremaine. You may know her from her former blog Hollywood Housewife... or the Sorta Awesome podcast... or The Smartest Person In The Room podcast... but no matter where you first heard Laura's voice, I think we can all agree she's a delight. I always love to hear her thoughts on what she’s reading, even though—or maybe especially BECAUSE—our taste is not the same. 

A lot of bookish ground is covered in this episode. We discuss the author Laura thinks is underappreciated, even though he’s a huge commercial success (any guesses?) We touch on how competition and insecurity in the reading world gets real. Judy Blume, Reese Witherspoon, book clubs, and how plot summaries are THE WORST.

With that much ground to cover, there's no time to waste - let's dive in!

There's plenty of Laura's energy out there on the internet! Get to know her a little better: 

Laura Tremaine
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The Smartest Person in the Room podcast
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Books mentioned in this episode:

• Starring Sally J. Friedman As Herself, by Judy Blume
• IT, by Stephen King
• 11/22/63, by Stephen King
• The Stand, by Stephen King
• The Shining, by Stephen King
• Carrie, by Stephen King
• On Writing, by Stephen King
• The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner
• Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver
• The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
• All The Ugly & Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood
• My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
• Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout
• The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
• Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid
• Columbine, by Dave Cullen
• A Mother’s Reckoning, by Sue Klebold
• The Dry, by Jane Harper

 

One of the books Laura and I discuss today is a Book of the Month pick for March! Here's judge Leigh Habor, the Books editor for O Magazine, on why it's such a timely pick: 

 

"There couldn’t be a timelier novel than migrant love story Exit West. Mohsin Hamid never names the city from which his hero and heroine—Saeed and Nadia—must escape. They fall in love like many modern men and women do, at first tentatively, and then with increasing urgency, constantly in cell phone communication, negotiating sexual and relationship boundaries, smoking pot, even tripping on shrooms.

Early on, while there are hints of the lethal destruction to come, they can tune out when they are together. Later, the violence consumes everything, which, we realize, is what it must be life for an Iraqi, a Syrian, a Somali. As we become absorbed in their world through this remarkable book, we too become migrants, feeling the differences between us fall away, leaving only the sense of what it is to be a human being with nothing left except a glimmer of hope that somewhere else, things will be better.

No, this novel is not airy and light. It contains a lot of gorgeous writing, and it is a slim volume that packs a lot of movement and action into its pages, as well as an epic romance. But you can’t walk away from it and feel unchanged, because nothing I’ve read before has made me feel what it is to have your native city become an uninhabitable war zone; feel what it must be like to flee all you know and many of those you love—as Hamid puts it, “like dying and being born”—for a wholly unfamiliar place where you will forage for food, hide from authorities, be beaten by unwelcoming, anti-immigrant mobs, have no access to hot water or clean, comfortable beds.

I guess you can sense that I am passionate about this book. It’s a novel for globalists who see the world not in skin colors or borders but as a planet populated by people who all want the same things, and perhaps, more than anything else, to one day meet a person who will say, yes, I get you."

Click here to check out all the current Book of the Month picks. (New selections announced on the 1st!) Read my Book of the Month review here.

Many thanks to today's sponsor PrepDish! Head here to get your totally free two-week trial

What do YOU think Laura should read next? Tell us in comments!

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43 comments

  1. “The Poisonwood Bible” is one of the best descriptions of expat/aid worker/missionary life in Africa that I’ve read. As a one-time aid worker in Africa, I’ve read a lot of them.
    I recommend she read “The Names of Things” by Susan Brind Morrow.

  2. Brandyn says:

    My first Stephen King was “The Stand”. I actually spent some energy looking for the original version because 800+ pgs sounded a lot better than 1100+. I was unsuccessful.

    One paragraph in to King’s foreword on why this version was longer than the original, I knew that his writing was special. The word special is actually lame, but I don’t have a better one. Further reading only increased my awe at his writing.

    Now that I’ve gushed all over King, this is when I admit I’ve only read three of his books: “The Stand”, “11/22/63”, and “On Writing”. I read “Pet Cemetery” in middle school, but I don’t even count it because I was too scared to enjoy anything about it. My peer pressure was books I didn’t really want to read, but my friends did.

    I’ve owned “Firestarter” for ages and picked up “Mr Mercedes” at an estate sale last year. Pretty sure I can handle both of those so I need to get after it!

  3. Guest says:

    Apologies for leaving a comment that isn’t directly related to this post BUT I’m reading The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller and am, surprising to me, thoroughly enjoying it. It’s a book about books (and more specifically, about C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia) so a great choice for the 2017 Reading Challenge.

  4. Teresa says:

    On plot summaries: I had a eureka when I “read” Station Eleven on audio. I went in knowing NOTHING about the book other than the title. Since there was no book jacket to read, I knew nothing about a pandemic or “civilization as we know it” coming to an end. I was just sailing along when suddenly the narrator said “Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.” And I went “Wait! what???” I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on that jolt, so I decided from now on I would try to start each book knowing as little about it as possible.

    On Stephen King: I read 11/22/63 on Kindle so I had NO IDEA how long it was when I started. It just didn’t feel that long as I was reading it. I wish he wrote more non-horror so I don’t have to be afraid. Misery is another good non-horror (and not too long.)

    On Barbara Kingsolver: I put off reading The Poisonwood Bible because I thought it would be boring. What?? I ended up reading it in almost one sitting one day during an ice storm power outage. I haven’t yet read her other books, but I look forward to it!

  5. Susan in TX says:

    Anne, I have a question about The Dry. I think you called it “an Australian Tana French,” but I’m mindful that Laura likes slightly darker books. If I’m fine with Tana French, will I be fine with The Dry? Just wanted to make sure before I got too excited about it — there’s a LONG hold list at the library. 😉

  6. Amy says:

    So happy to hear Laura Tremaine’s thoughts! I miss her blog so much, mainly because I loved her book reviews. Her taste is rather different than mine, but whenever I followed her recommendations and stepped outside of my comfort level, I was glad that I did. Thanks so much….this was great!

    • Tana says:

      Yes, I do love her recommendations. I just finished Columbine based on her recommendation. I loved the discussion about Sue Klebold’s book as a follow-up to that.

      I also really loved her approach of knowing as little about the book as possible so she can form her own opinion. Great show!

      • Rebekah says:

        Columbine is on my “Read Next” list. I think it’s going to be rough and I may skim a little. Laura’s comments about the importance of the book make me a bit more excited to jump in.

        • Jamie says:

          It’s so good. So so so good. More than expounding on the violence of the actual event, it unpacks how our perceptions are formed of what what actually happens during an event like this and how hard it is to ‘unbelieve’ what is untrue once our minds are made up as to what is ‘true.’ Columbine occurred right on the cusp of the 24/7 news, social media, cellphone-in-every-hand explosion which made it a unique case study for how information is shared and ‘believed’ during such a sensationalized event.

  7. Elly says:

    There is one book that I have been DYING to recommend ever since I started listening to your podcast, Anne! I’m so happy to finally share “The Lesser Blessed” by Richard Van Camp! It is very dark, twistedly funny, so beautifully written, and very short (119 pages, I finished it in one sitting). Not to give a long summary, it is the story of a teenage, Aboriginal boy living in a small reservation town in the Northwest Territories, Canada. It deals with teenage relationships (of course) and coming of age, but in the context of a community that is ravaged with drug abuse and violence, and his struggling to find Native identity and family amongst the wreckage left by the abuses of the Canadian government and the colonial project. Traditional storytelling also plays a big role for meta-readers! I know that sounds really dense and serious, and it is! But I really hope someone reads this and decides to pick the book up. It is well worth it and is the first book I’ve ever read that I feel a deep physical need to recommend to EVERYONE! Anne and Laura, I hope you do read and enjoy it and so does anyone else! Happy Reading!

  8. Hey ladies! I just wanted to say I love you podcast, Anne and Laura, i think it’s hilarious your read “It” in fourth grade, I read it when I was in fifth grade! I even did a book project, a mobile of information about the book and the characters I drew. My mom still has it! Anyways, another lovely show. Thank you for the book work you do!

    • Jill K says:

      They sold It at one of the book fairs in my elementary school. I still can’t believe they did that. Maybe because of the clown? Of course all the kids in school snuck a peek to see the ‘f word’. I’m amazed the parents didn’t start a riot!

    • Angela says:

      That is really funny that you did a book project on “It” in the fifth grade! I read “It” when I was in sixth grade, and it definitely contributed to a lack of hygiene because I was terrified that something frightening was going to come up the shower drain.

  9. Hey ladies! I just wanted to say, Anne, I love your podcast and Laura, I think it’s hilarious you read “It” in fourth grade, I read it when I was in fifth grade! I even did a book project, a mobile of information I wrote about the book and the characters I drew. My mom still has it!

    Anyways, another lovely show.
    Thank you for the book work you do!

  10. Breanna says:

    For the third pick, you gave her two options…..the Australian Tana French or the “WTF…..that ending”. I am dying to know about the “WTF…..that ending” book. Can you please, please, please share that title?????

  11. Shawn Mooney says:

    Two novels I’d recommend to Laura that are dark, both with some religious themes, are ‘Mr Splitfoot’ by Samantha Hunt, and ”Shelter’ by Jung Yun. The second of these, ‘Shelter’ is almost unrelentingly dark, but there’s just enough of a whiff of hope at the end that I thought it was worthwhile. I highly recommend both. Each is really good on audio too, by the way…

  12. Amy says:

    Was the WTF ending book Behind Her Eyes???? Also, just want you to know Anne, how addicted I am to your podcast. I listen everyone Tuesday while I am prepping breakfast and lunch for my kids and it’s always available by 6:00 am. This week, I was traveling and wanted to load it while I was still on Wifi and it didn’t come available before I left the house at 6:45. I wanted my WSIRN, so I pulled over at the first rest stop I came to for the free wifi and was thankfully able to download the podcast. Crisis averted

  13. Jennifer Battles says:

    Starring Sally J. Freidman as Herself is also my very favorite Judy Blume. I’m sure I read it no less than 30 times during my older childhood years. I was always a little puzzled by the way Sally’s babysitter signed her letters to her boyfriend “Love and Other Indoor Sports,” but I got it a few years later!Definitely Blume’s best work! Also, Anne and Laura, have you read Kingsolver’s memoir of her family’s year of eating only locally produced food? Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s really an eye-opening look at food production in the US and the value in eating what we can grow or access locally. I teach AP Language and Composition and this is a title we use in our book clubs. Thanks for another great podcast!

  14. Natasha Stone says:

    I LOVED hearing Laura talk about IT!! One of the best books! It’s incredible. I loved that Derry and the kids showed up in 11/22/63. Such a geek out moment for me!! This was such a fun episode!

    • Amy says:

      King interweaves many characters and locations throughout his novels…another great thing about him. I’m one of his “number one fans” 🤡

  15. Jamie says:

    I was so excited when I heard Laura mention The Sound of Gravel as one of her books she loves. One of my friends and I share the fascination of books/memoirs about polygamist families so we often swap them once we finish, and Gravel was the last one we shared. Not at ALL what I expected since most of these types of stories focus on the AFTER – after the escape, after the life as a poly-wife. This story focuses almost solely on BEFORE which is heartbreaking, soulful, and tragic.
    Not sure if fringe religious cult stories are something Laura would want to read more about, but John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven is an in-depth look at an extremist, fundamentalist society and it’s Krakauer so you know it’s gonna be good. 🙂

  16. Liz says:

    I got quite the jolt when Laura Chose “It” as her first favorite! I literally gasped! I have never been a fan of horror, so to hear her tell us that she read it in fourth grade was shocking (in a fun and surprising way)! Anyway, I have read several non-horror Stephen Kong novels, and she was right on about him being one of the greatest writers ever. Laura, if you haven’t already read his Dark Tower series (I’ll truly be shocked if you haven’t)… You must. As soon as possible. 😊

  17. Amy says:

    Laura, I’m a “Number One Fan” of SK too, and just like you I started reading him and John Saul and Dean Koontz when I was probably way too young but alas alack I am still enjoying their books. I want to recommend so many, but will stick with this one for the sake of room: Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. There is a series, some better than others, but Odd Thomas is one of the most memorable characters I’ve come across.

    Ok, I lie….I will mention one more because I am reading it right now, before the show comes out, and it is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. This reminds me so much of Stephen King’s style and flair…I am loving it. Happy reading!

  18. Cate says:

    I loved, loved, loved (if you can say that about this topic) The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner! I read it in two days and then begged my bookclub to make it one of our picks immediately – changing our usually set-in-stone calendar around to put it in. The story of women and children in polygamy is heart-breaking and Ruth’s story is hard to read at moments. But, her strength to leave and rescue her siblings is amazing.

    As a heads up, her cousin Anna LeBaron, has a book coming out this month – The Polygamist’s Daughter – telling the family story from the other side. Ruth briefly touches upon the murder of her father in The Sound of Gravel. He was killed by the followers of Anna’s father. Anna talks more about her father and his followers in her book.

  19. Ann says:

    Hello from Melbourne, Australia! I’m not usually a crime fan but I was interested in your recommendation of “The Dry”. I have just this minute finished the Audible version of it. Wow! That was a really good read. I devoured it and took every opportunity to sneak away to listen. My dog was wondering why it got so many walks! I could totally relate to the landscape and got really sucked into the story. All of your recommendations have been winners for me. Thanks and I love the podcast.

  20. Diane says:

    Hi Laura,
    I read a touching memoir called WHEN WE WERE THE KENNEDYS by Monica Wood. Please check it out if you haven’t heard of it. 🙂

  21. Phaedra says:

    So thrilled to hear someone else preaching SK as the wonderfully talented writer he is! One of my favorite all time books is The Shining and his short stories are fabulous. I realize his books are not to everyone’s taste because of the horror/paranormal topics that SK chooses so often, but they’re books/stories that have IMPACT. Years later I don’t have to struggle to think about ‘hmm, what was that about again? Did I read that?’

    I love that this podcast allows for so many different tastes to be showcased. Not everything/everyone mirrors my taste, but I love to hear the why and how of the choices each week. WSIRN is my #1 podcast and yet again this week’s episode was a winner! I’m now putting The Dry on my library hold list

  22. Jennifer N. says:

    I had to come back to spread the word about “Exit West.” I received it from Book of the Month Club on Monday and finished it last night! This novel, guys. I know it’s only the beginning of March but this might be my book of the year. It may be less than 250 pages long, but this book packs one heck of a punch. Hamid’s economy with words is awe-inspiring. The story is sweeping, magical, harrowing, beautiful and so, so relevant.

  23. Susan says:

    If you aren’t really into horror but want to read a good (and not long!) book by Stephen King, try “The Eyes of the Dragon.” It’s more fantasy than horror & was probably written as YA? Now, full disclosure, I read this over 20 years ago when I was in high school but I remember really enjoying this book. Might give it a try – I think it might be a good pick for a lot of listeners!

  24. Cori says:

    I was so tickled to hear her discussion of Stephen King. I have often sheepishly admitted that he is one of my all-time favorite authors. Granted, I don’t mind a bit of gore… I cringe but can handle it. However, he truly is one of the best storytellers of his generation!

  25. Samantha says:

    Laura, I have always been a scaredy-cat in my reading and could not even fathom reading Stephen King. I did love his memoir, though. A friend recommended I try The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon as a way into his work and it’s really good. Another plus is that it’s short, so it’s not a huge time commitment. It is scary but more like a thriller. My husband would love it if I could try the Gunslinger books – I really need to try them, I think.

  26. Jill W. says:

    I’m late to this party- I’m a couple of episodes behind, but I had to pop in and say I agree that Stephen King is one of the best writers ever. I don’t like horror much, but I love his short story collections (especially the one that includes Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption), The Green Mile, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

  27. Because Laura loved The Sound of Gravel, she needs to read The Polygamists Daughter by Anna LeBaron. She will recognize the last name because Anna is cousins with Ruth. This book is told from the Ervil side of the family. Fun fact, Anna and Ruth met for the first time because Anna helped Ruth launch her book.

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