WSIRN Ep 70: The book Anne can’t shut up about

WSIRN Ep 70: The book Anne can’t shut up about

Tuesday is here, readers! It's time for a new episode of What Should I Read Next. 

It's Episode 70 (WOW) and I'm delighted to welcome Jessie Weaver on to the show! I have known Jessie from the internet for ages, but this is the first time we got to chat. Jessie is a married mother of four who loves to read, which sounds pretty normal, right? She lives in the Chattanooga area with her family... AND a gaggle of teenage boys in a private school dorm. We talk about her interesting setting, what life as a dorm parent is like, and Jessie braves the topic of lifetime favorites.  Plus, we talk about how last year Jessie got most of her book recommendations from the internet. She knows she isn’t the only one, so we talk through what that meant for her own reading life, and what it meant for her fellow readers everywhere.

About that title: I didn't realize until I listened through the final cut of today's episode that I inadvertently recommended (okay, gushed about) the same book in three of the last five episodes. Do you know which one it is? I hope so!

Connect with Jessie all across the world wide web: 

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads 

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links, which means at no extra cost to you, you support what we do here on What Should I Read Next. More details here.

• Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus, by James Dean
• 11/22/63, by Stephen King
• Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
• The Flavia de Luce series, by Alan Bradley
• Echoes, by Maeve Binchey
• Saint Maybe, by Anne Tyler
• A Prayer for Owen Meaney, by John Irving
• Evening Class, by Maeve Binchey
• Circle of Friends, by Maeve Binchey
• Tara Road, by Maeve Binchey
• The World According to Garp, by John Irving
• Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray
• Giddy Up Eunice, by Sophie Hudson
• The Wonder, by Emma Donaghue
• Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
• Light a Penny Candle, by Maeve Binchey
• Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly, Safe Faith Is No Longer Enough, by Kristen Welch
• My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
• Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout
• 44 Scotland Street series, by Alexander McCall Smith
• The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, by Alexander McCall Smith
• Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
• The Whole Town's Talking, by Fannie Flagg
• Author P.G. Wodehouse

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80 comments

  1. Marci says:

    Jessie, all I could think about when I heard your picks was Rosamunde Pilcher! I feel certain you would love her. Winter Solstice is my favorite. But the Shell Seekers, September, and Coming Home are also exceptional. (Do not be put off by the bad covers!). She is a beautiful writer and storyteller. The characters are typically lovely, life-giving people with unexpected friendships. A book you can settle into and get wrapped up in the setting (England/Scotland) and the people (warm). I just adore her books!!

    • Marci says:

      I just realized I may have made Rosamunde Pilcher sound too syrupy sweet. The plots involve family relationships and the people are not perfect. However, overall the tone is one of looking for goodness in people, and that is what I meant to articulate. And the writing is superb. Okay, I’ll stop! :-). Someone else can say it better than me!

      • Anne says:

        Annnnd I just realized I only gave you two kids in the intro, Jessie! It’s fixed now. (From one mother of four to another…. you would think I’d get that right!)

    • Megan says:

      I too, love Rosamunde Pilcher, and have read all her books. I sometimes consider her a guilty pleasure, but more often think of her as “comfort reading.” If I am out of sorts I know I can pull her books off my shelf and escape into them.

    • Carrie says:

      Yes! I feel the same way about her books! I have re-read Winter Solstice several times, usually when I am feeling blue or stressed.

      • Michelle says:

        Making note of this, Marci. I just read The Shell Seekers and have Winter Solstice waiting. You’re right in that there are flawed characters, messy family relationships, hardships, but somehow Rosamunde Pilcher draws you in and makes it still seem inviting. Thanks for the further recommendation. I know I’d be looking for another one of her books to read next.

        • Samantha says:

          I was so pleased to hear from an unabashed Maeve Binchy lover. And from all the Rosamunde Pilcher fans! I adore them both. I’ve reread Coming Home many times, especially around Christmas. Jessie, I hope you enjoy Light A Penny Candle – I think it’s one of Binchy’s best, really.

          • Oooh! That makes me even more anxious to read it. I have NO IDEA why I never have. I can’t believe it took me so long to start reading Rosamunde Pilcher, too. I read Winter Solstice last summer, and then I donated it … and now I am wishing I had held on to it because I think it might be a read again and again kind of book for me. Such a delight.

  2. Kari Ann says:

    I can relate to picking long books when abroad. I did the exact same thing with ‘The Secret History’ when I was in Japan as an exchange student. The more English words the better!

    When you talked about how the internet and podcasts impacted your reading life in 2016 it was as if you took the words out of my mouth. I feel exactly the same way. Not good or bad- just the truth.

    • This is crazy how we all relate to this! I read The Secret History while I was an exchange student in Spain and felt the exact same way. There was comfort in coming back to the same story with such rich English language.

  3. Melanie says:

    When hearing Jessie’s picks I immediately thought of Anna Quindlen’s Miller’s Valley. I read that one shortly after reading A Spool of Blue Thread (my first Anne Tyler). The plots are not at all the same, but the focus on family and tones of both novels are similar.

    • Interesting, Melanie. I love Anna Quindlen but I didn’t really like Miller’s Valley. Not sure why! It definitely fits the “family tale that spans many years” qualification.

  4. Rachel says:

    I so look forward, not only to your podcast, but to the resulting list of books every week. It’s such a great, constant source of material. 11/22/63 seems to be a popular choice lately, I like Stephen King but I did not like this book. Vanity Fair sounds right up my alley. If I had known it was full of English customs and aristocratic culture, if have picked it up sooner!:)

  5. Sue says:

    I think you would like “Jewel” by Bret Lott. It’s been many years since I read it, but it spans many years and it’s based on his grandmother’s life story. It stretches from the South to Los Angeles and it’s about a family but more specifically about the mother and the youngest child who is disabled. He writes so perfectly about being a mother it’s amazing to realize it was written by a man.

  6. Ashley S says:

    Before the recommendations were given, I immediately thought of Kristin Lavransdatter (I liked the Tina Nunnally translation). I read it over about 9 weeks in the summer and loved how it followed on woman and her family for basically her whole life. Plus the names are phenomenal.

  7. Sandra mosolgo says:

    An unforgettable memoir is Glass Castle by Jeanne Walls, could not get it out of my head. A great non-fiction soon to be a movie is The Zookeepers Wife.

  8. Lisa G says:

    Jessie – I can relate to your desire to read more non-fiction, but unable to resist the pull of fiction. One non-fiction book that I did really enjoy was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta was a 31-year-old Black woman from Baltimore who died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge or consent, doctors took tissue samples from her cervix to study. The result of studying Henrietta’s cells led to many medical discoveries including the vaccine for polio. It read much like fiction and was so very interesting.

  9. Ellen W says:

    Putting in a plug in for the 44 Scotland Series. The chapter are short (they originally ran in an Edinburgh newspaper), so they are nice to read when you have short chunks of time to read like school pick-up line. My favorite character is a preciouses boy named Bertie.

  10. Sarah says:

    Jessie, it sounds like our tastes are pretty similar. Back in January I read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, and to use an expression that Anne often uses, I think it’s firmly in your wheelhouse. It’s not entirely realistic, but it’s believable enough. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, but it’s a story about a single father and his three children (told from the perspective of the middle child) and the difficult situation that they end up in. You have some religious themes, a great mix of humor and tension, and some really lovable characters (the narrator’s sister in particular is absolutely delightful). My favorite thing about it is that it almost feels like you’re sitting in an all night diner sharing a cup of coffee with the narrator while he tells you his life story. I don’t often reread books, but this is one I could see myself wanting to read again in a couple of years. I really think you’d like it!

  11. Rissie says:

    In order to read more nonfiction, I try to read one chapter at a time … like it’s a magazine article. When I approach nonfiction as though it’s a novel, I am generally disappointed.

    • That’s a good way to look at it. Maybe I want my nonfiction to be novels too much! I’ve found putting nonfictionon my phone and reading while nursing has helped me make some progresss.

  12. Jana Botkin says:

    Jessie, when I heard you say that you love Maeve Binchy, and that you want to read more non-fiction but seem to have trouble finding the right books to hold your interest, I knew I’d probably track right along with your tastes. I checked your website and see that we also share a love of Rosamunde Pilcher, so your website is going to make my TBR list really grow!

    Here are a couple of fairly old fiction books (not like Jane Austen old) that I have loved: Christy by Catherine Marshall and (this one is almost a little embarrassing in its sappiness) The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough.

    To help you find great non fiction, here are a few more I have loved, because they flow like novels.
    Farm City by Novella Carpenter, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick and Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen.

    I’m looking forward to following your website.

  13. Jaime says:

    Jessie, I don’t have a recommendation but I wanted to say that I completely related to what you said about reading so many books in 2016 but feeling like it was “off.” For me 2016 was like a tsunami of reading and i was always adding to my TBR and reading, reading, reading. But at the end of it i realized I had read a ton of books I didn’t really enjoy very much (and that’s not counting all the books I abandoned). Something about it began to feel frantic and totally unlike my normal, enjoyable reading life. This year I have averaged one book a month (plus a couple short ones here and there.) January: Middlemarch, February: Alexander Hamilton, March: Count of Monte Cristo. This is my year for reading quality over quantity. (Not, of course, that there aren’t quality current books, but after a point a lot modern fiction starts sounding the same to me)

      • Jaime says:

        They are indeed hefty and after I heard Anne talk about “being out of balance” with reading I think that’s what happened to me. It’s possible after finishing Count I will want to read totally light and fluffy for a while! As for Middle March, it is now one of my all-time favorites. I thought it was so, so good. I knew almost nothing about the book when I startef it and I hadn’t talked to anyone about it so I think that helped as far as not having any expectations to meet. But Jane Austen is one of my top 5 favorite authors and I love classics and historical fiction so I will say this is totally up my ally.

    • Mary says:

      Jamie, I totally get your feeling. I feel last year was off-balanced, too. I thoroughly enjoyed Middlemarch, though it was not a fast read and I loved The Count. Enjoy! 👍👏

  14. Tracy Tobias says:

    Jessie, A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my all time favorites as well. Jana, above me, mentioned The Thorn Birds, which is also on my all time favorites list. You mentioned that you wanted to read more parenting books, and it sounds like all of your’s are elementary age and below, so I will recommend some of my favorites since I teaching parenting. The two books I always give new moms are The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Mitten Strings for God -Lessons for Mother’s in a Hurry by Katrina Kenison (memoir). Both are excellent reads. Another must read and it’s short and only on audio is Brene Brown’s The Gift of Imperfect Parenting. I do a whole lesson on this book. Love it. As for a nonfiction you might enjoy, and it’s short, so you can make it the end, Mark Saltzman’s Iron and Silk. He was a Chinese major at Yale and this book is a memoir of his time teaching English in China. It’s witty and charming and I think you would enjoy it having studies there as well.

    • Thanks you so much for the recommendations! My kids are 4 months to 8, so I have a long journey still! The China book sounds wonderful. I adore reading books about China and Chinese culture.

  15. Kathryn Zeuthen says:

    If you are looking for great memoirs, my favorite from this year has been The Sound of Gravel. For a book about family, I highly recommend Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.

    • Just read the description of this. YES and YES. Southern. Family. Drama. Can’t wait! Now I just want to snuggle under some covers with a stack of books and a pot of tea. (Because that is so different from my normal desires.)

  16. Joan says:

    The best non-fiction book I’ve read recently is “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande. It discusses end-of-life issues and the limitations of the medical profession. If you are old or terminally ill, care for someone old or terminally ill, or foresee a future in which you may be old or ill, this thought-provoking book is for you. It is beautifully written by a gifted storyteller. The author is a surgeon and many of the people he writes about are his family and his patients. It took me a long time to get around to reading this, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.

    • It’s slipped in there, but Being Mortal was on my original “three books I love” that I submitted. Definitely one of the best books I read in 2015! And one I really think everyone should read.

  17. Erin in CA says:

    Anne, I had to laugh about your comment (15 minutes from the end): “I feel like it’s so much easier to have a book in progress than it is to start fresh on a Tuesday night and decide what I’m going to read next.” Because I realized that this is not true for me at all! Must be a personality type thing. I LOVE deciding what to read next — it’s like deciding which gift to unwrap. Admire the paper, shake a few, do you want the big, heavy one, or the small, sparkly?? I do love the podcast, but I guess I never really put much thought into the tagline (“the question that plagues every reader…”). Thanks for helping me get through boring chores every week!

    • I think I was too tired to leave this comment last night. In case you didn’t get it, I mean in 2015 I read 20 books published that year. And in 2010, only 3 books from that year (that I can tell on GoodReads, although sometimes their dates get messed up).

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Just listened to you all at the gym this morning! Have you read any Jan Karon? She is my favorite…such sweet books.. I love Sophie Hudson, too- have you read any Melanie Shankle? She is hilarious as well. Thank you for your podcast! You did great!

    🙂

    • Yes, I read all the Mitford books after I inherited the set from my grandmother. They make me so happy! I have read Sparkly Green Earrings and The Antelope in the Living Room, but not Shankle’s book on friendship.

  19. Okay, I loved this episode. I’m the one who left the comment on Instagram about the non-fiction books.

    I felt that I could have been you describing your non-fiction book relationship… in 2014.

    A big game-changer for me with non-fiction was audible. It’s much, much easier to listen rather than to actually read non-fiction. Definitely listen to all the Christian non-fiction. Some of them are really two star books but I think the listening makes them more enjoyable.

    Some great memoirs I read recently – Stories I only tell my friends, When breath becomes air, The year of living danishly, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother… and Christian non-fiction that I recommend? Present over Perfect, Smart Money Smart Kids.

    I just finished a parenting book recently which I loved (listen on 1.25 X as her voice is a bit slow) – Parenting without Power Struggles. And of course, it would be remiss of me to not recommend Better than Before.

    I have just pre-ordered Nevertheless by Alec Baldwin because…. well…. Alec Baldwin can read anything and I’m hooked 🙂

    Hope this helps!

    Make friends with me on Goodreads 🙂

    (PS don’t bother with the friendship one from Bigmama)

    • Thank you! I do find nonfiction easier via audiobook. I just don’t find a ton of time where I can listen and I get sad about missing my podcasts. I did manage to listen to a whole book recently and then I downloaded For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. She reads it, so it’s like she’s hanging out with me while I fold my laundry.

  20. Amanda S. says:

    I’m currently reading The Boys in the Boat and was just gushing about it to my husband. (I’m late to the past on that one, but especially love it since I live near Seattle!) It reminded me of another non-fiction book I’ve loved in the past couple of years: The Girls of Atomic City–about the (non)existence of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during WWII. Those are both non-fiction books that have enough character driven storylines that I felt drawn in for more than the historical storytelling. (And I’ll just add that I’m a diehard Flavis deLuce fan as well! You must listen to them on audio if you haven’t yet! Jane Entwhistle is the perfect narrator for that series.)

  21. Yiphat says:

    This is so funny- it’s the first time ever that I want to read a book someone didn’t like based on the reasoning why they don’t like it- what drove her crazy, sounds exactly what I like in books :-)) Vanity Fair here I come!

  22. Megan says:

    Jessie,
    Have you read any fiction by Wendell Berry? Jayber Crow or Hannah Coulter came to mind while listening to your episode.

  23. Maria J says:

    A fellow Saint Maybe lover! We are rare! I always thought it got short shrift. (And has a rare crossover character from the beloved Homesick Restaurant!) I have a friend who said after my many Anne Tyler recommendations she got ‘Tyler eyes’ and finally could see the world of her books as I did instead of just drab, it was such a great moment! Jon Hassler and Kent Haruf have always reminded me of Anne Tyler too, human nature driven stories. Thanks for making my day!

    • Oh, I love Kent Haruf. So lovely and quiet and just beautiful characters. I’ve never heard of Jon Hassler, though, so thank you! And I’m so glad there is someone else on the planet who LOVES Saint Maybe!

  24. Britany Arnold says:

    Hi Jessie,

    For Non-Fiction that reads just as good (IMO) as Fiction- I would recommend anything by Laura Hillenbrand- Unbroken or Seabiscuit. Have you read either of these yet? From a memoir standpoint, I actually really enjoyed listening to Leah Remini’s book about Scientology- absolutely fascinating and her voice makes me feel like she was telling me her story right across from me.

  25. Elaine Clements says:

    I had several ideas: Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter also by Wendell Berry, and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. The last three have small town settings, the Berry books are Southern, and each are narrated by wonderful, interesting characters with spiritual themes. Also Gillead by Marilynn Robinson.

    • I have read Poisonwood Bible and Jayber Crow! But not Ordinary Grace, so I will check that one out. And YES. One of these days I am actually going to read Gilead. I don’t know why I haven’t yet.

    • Andrea says:

      I second Wendell Berry! Yes, deep character studies of very real, familiar people living ordinary life, beautifully done.

  26. Andrea Sellar says:

    Hi Jessie
    I heard the podcast and the book that came to mind right away was “Mitten Strings For God” by Katrina Kenison. It’s non-fiction, written by a mother of young children and details aspects of their family life and how Katrina seeks to slow down their modern day lives and appreciate the beauty in the every day. Although my children are older now I absolutely loved it when they were young and helped me to remember that “the days are long but the years are short!”

  27. Carolyln McCready says:

    HI Jessie – Your favorites are all my favorites! I love Owen Meany, Saint Maybe and all of Maeve Binchy! It’s something about the strong characters with the melancholy and bittersweet edge, I think… I was going to recommend Kent Haruf, Jon Hassler, Cold Sassy Tree, all of Ann Patchett’s, Crossing to Safety (Wallace Stegner) and all of Elizabeth Berg’s – but I think most of those have been recommended already.
    Have you read the memoir A Girl Named Zippy. Funny and enjoyable non-fiction. 🙂
    Thanks for being on the show!

  28. Sarah K says:

    Jessie, when I heard Anne mention Alexander McCall Smith to you, I thought “Yes! Jessie is going to love those!” But I was thinking of another series of his, the Isabel Dalhousie mysteries (sometimes called the Sunday Philosophy Club series). I like his Ladies Detective series and the 44 Scotland Series (how is the man so prolific?!) but I ADORE Isabel Dalhousie. They are mysteries in the gentlest sense–Isabel is moral philosopher who edits a journal of applied ethics and spends her days living in a tight-knit Edinburgh community where she is applied to by friends to solve small (non-gory, non-creepy) mysteries in their everyday lives. But the best part of the books, in my opinion, is her literate, warm, relatable interior dialogue with herself and the relationships she has with the people in her life. I have laughed and cried and been deeply touched, more and more so as they books have gone on. About book 3 or so, I thought they might be going off the rails, but I was so wrong. They are gems and I think you would love them!

    I also second Middlemarch and Kristin Lavransdatter–two of my all-time favorites and books you are sad to see end!

    Thanks for being on the show! Also, as a fellow English major and former teacher, I am totally jealous of the by-letter book club with your English professor best friend. 😉

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