WSIRN Ep 87: Popcorn books, page-turning thrills, and reader regret

WSIRN Ep 87: Popcorn books, page-turning thrills, and reader regret

Today I’m talking with Aaron White, a runner, content developer, INTJ, and married father of two who lives in Minnesota. His taste in books is broad, but he leans towards books with elements of the fantastical.

Aaron's lifetime favorite book will make some of you jump up and cheer, and maybe make some of you yell back at your podcast player (and not in a happy way). We also cover that AWFUL FEELING when you’ve read what feels like a bunch of underwhelming books in a row, and discuss how choosing to add a book to your personal, permanent collection is a Very Big Deal.

Connect with Anne:

Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | WSIRN Instagram 

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.

• Author Bill Bryson
• Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall
• The Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis
• The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
• The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
• Byzantium, by Stephen R. Lawhead
• Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
• Author John Grisham
• 11/22/63, by Stephen King
• Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
• The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
• Stiletto, by Daniel O’Malley
• The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley
• And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
• Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
• The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
• Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin
• The Golem & The Jinni, by  Helene Wecker
• The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
• The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story, by Douglas Preston
• Author Lee Child
• The Ruins, by Scott Smith

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68 comments

  1. Kimi says:

    I have a lot in common with this reader on paper… other than I’m a girl from the South. I will listen later, but am trying to guess if we have the same ‘hate’ as one of mine is definitely on the list, but then, so are some of my loves as well.

  2. Lauren says:

    Aaron—have you heard of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series? It’s a BIG undertaking, but if you love adventures, you may need to give it a try.

    • Liz says:

      I was coming here to recommend that exact series! Yes, Aaron – you should definitely read this one.

      Before reading the Dark Tower series I had never picked up a Stephen King book. Now I am fully on board with calling him one of the greatest writers of our time (even though I still won’t read any of his “horror” books!)

  3. Jess says:

    The Lost City of the Monkey Gods was a fast, great read. I absolutely love learning and thinking about lost civilizations and this was no exception to that. They also picked up a terrible disease, and as a former microbiologist, that was fascinating as well. There is some great advances being made in archaeology in terms of the ability to find things faster, and I was was surprised at how much some high profile people are against it. Without saying too much, I think it’s fantastic, although I do see how it sort of destroys the Indiana Jones discovering something while blindly going through the jungle and then spending the rest of your life devoted to uncovering it. I didn’t buy this book, but it’s worth a few hours to read.

  4. Sydney says:

    I almost crashed my car when Aaron choose Oryx and Crake as his dislike! I tried reading this and just handed it off to someone else a couple days ago. I wasn’t enjoying it for the EXACT SAME REASONS Aaron talked about. It’s a co-workers favorite book, and I wanted to like it. The writing was fantastic, I just could handle some of the graphic content, especially around Oryx’s childhood.

    • Completely agree! I wanted to read it as it was a part of her trilogy but I felt the same, didn’t finish it and sounds like I abandoned it before Aaron. It was too much and it just simply made me sad. I had the same experience with The Sparrow. Sometimes a book must be abandoned, no matter another person’s opinion.

    • Tina says:

      The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of my favorite books of all times. Aaron did a fantastic job describing it– not easy to do. I tried once and ended up just talking about all the cursing. 🙂 I listened to it on audible and the narration was engaging. Also loved Name of the Wind.

      I didn’t like the Handmaid’s Tale. I felt like it was scandalous in an inauthentic way – I kept imagining a high schooler wrote it, trying to shock her teacher. On the other hand, I liked Oryx and Crake, because there were some very disturbing parts but they (sadly) seemed more “realistic.” The second and third books of the series better, but even more brutal.

  5. Amanda says:

    Aaron, I really recommend The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, if you haven’t already read it. It’s a fantasy book with a very sweeping feel, and it’s got a page turner plot along with some unique world building that has made me do some of the deepest spiritual thinking I have ever done. As I listened to your books, this one kept coming up as a must read for you!

  6. Laura J says:

    Sorry, no recommendations but wanted to thank you for introducing me to LeVar Burton Reads. Love his voice and the chance to hear some short stories. I always like short stories but never seem to choose them. Here is my chance! Is there anyway you could interview LeVar? I would love to hear more about how he decided to do this and how he picks his stories.

  7. E says:

    Try Guy Gavriel Kay–his China based ones in particular are great. They’re historical fantasy epic adventures and are wonderful

  8. Kristie says:

    Someone from Minnesota! I think I heard that Aaron is in a southern suburb; I’m in a northern one.

    I also know there are a number of indie booksellers around the area, but like Aaron, they’re not really in places I go. I will stop and buy something if I am near one. I was thrilled that one was selling books when I saw John Scalzi at a branch of my suburban county library last year, especially since I had only heard about the event that day and didn’t have time to go home to get something to be signed!

    Hearing someone talk about Byzantium was a blast from the past. I’m pretty darn sure I’ve read it, but it’s not in my Goodreads records, which are pretty complete going back to 2000, so it was probably in the 90s. I don’t really remember anything about it except I bought other Stephen Lawhead books which I have yet to read. It was probably the reason I insisted on seeing the Book of Kells when a friend and I went to Ireland in 2001, though!

    I used to read a lot more fantasy and science fiction (and mysteries, for that matter) than I do these days, and after today’s podcast, I really want to get back to my old favorite genres. The mention of The Rook reminded me I’ve been meaning to read that since it was selected by Sword & Laser (podcast and Goodreads group) as their group read in December.

    I might suggest the Milkweed Triptych to Aaron, though I am probably slightly biased because the author, Ian Tregillis, was a good friend of mine in high school. The first is Bitter Seeds. (He has a stand-alone and another trilogy that I need to find some time to read. See above for not getting to my old favorite genres much in recent times.)

    • Laura says:

      The Rook is a crazy ride- as someone who doesn’t read a ton of fantasy, I had to just go along with the bizarre things that kept popping up (vampires and dragons and slime, oh my!) but I was glad I read it.

      • Rose H. says:

        I loved The Rook and Stiletto. It took me about half way through The Rook to realize I should be reading it more like “Men in Black” and less totally serious. None of my friends have read it so its fun to see someone else like it!

    • Aaron White says:

      Hi Kristie! I’m actually in one of the northwest suburbs. Wouldn’t it be great to get a nice bookstore going up here? Or, do you know of any other than the big Barnes & Noble in Maple Grove?

  9. Robin in New Jersey says:

    Hi Ann! I have been trying to figure out how to get in contact with you. I filled out your survey, but wanted to recommend a book I read earlier this year: You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, by Heather Sellers. It’s amazing to read what she lived through. Also, do you ever suggest cookbooks? I love to read the modern day ones. They all have stories to tell and some of them are so interesting. Recently I read Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard. There’s also a good cookbook called, Dinner, A Love Story. I rarely make the recipes, but love to read the stories. And finally, take a look at A Year Between Friends, 3191 miles apart. Have a great day!

    • Anne says:

      I LOVE a good cookbook … but don’t think I’ve ever recommended a bona fide cookbook on the podcast. I would love to one day—thanks for the idea!

  10. Marion Hill says:

    Hello Anne,
    I’m so glad you did this episode. I really appreciate the fact that you invited a guest that reads books outside of your normal reading comfort zone. You do have a show for all types of readers. Much appreciated. I’m a huge fantasy fan and I do agree with your theory about the fantasy book descriptions being more about the elements of the fantasy world instead of the characters in the story itself and why we should care about it. Fair point. Also, I would like to write I agree with Aaron’s reason with liking fantasy as a metaphor for real life. Moreover, I like to read this genre because it is taking me away from everyday life. I do not always want to read fiction just reflects everyday life. I do not always need my fiction to be a direct reflection of my everyday life. Reading needs to feed my imagination and take me somewhere I have never been and still speak about the world around me. I just read The Name of the Wind by Rothfuss a few weeks ago. I really liked the novel and looking forward to reading the second book in the trilogy soon. You can read my review on it: http://marion-hill.com/book-review-108-the-name-of-the-wind-by-patrick-rothfuss/ Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is one of my favorite novels and I have recommended that novel over the years. You are right that it is a polarizing novel. If you love it, then you love it and the same thing if you hate it. Thank you for this show and hopefully the recommendations provided will help other readers step out of the reading comfort zone to try something a little different.

  11. Victoria says:

    Anne, I think you meant Lincoln Child rather than Lee Child. Lincoln writes with Douglas Preston, Lee writes the Jack Reacher books. Having said that I noticed it on the podcast which proved I was listening as I’m a huge Lee Child fan and have never read Douglas Preston!! I have to say that you may have inspired me to read Lost City of the Monkey God!

  12. Laura says:

    Aaron, you stole my “hate” book! I read Oryx and Crake for book club and could barely tolerate it from the beginning (the names, the careless ingestion of violence and sexual abuse). The plot finally went somewhere in the last third of the book, but for me that didn’t make up for the rest of the experience. It was my first Atwood, so it may be a while before I can forgive her enough to pick up The Blind Assassin or The Handmaid’s Tale! I’m looking forward to reading your fantasy picks!

    • Libby says:

      If you’re willing to try Atwood again, I’d recommend starting with “Blind Assassin” over Handmaid’s Tale. It’s less futuristic but still showcases her beautiful writing style well, and to my recollection had much less objectionable content than Oryx and Crake. It does have some hard-to-swallow content, but it was less pervasive and not at all gratuitous, as in the icky stuff actually mattered to the plot of the book.

  13. Stacy says:

    This episode left me excited and worried about a couple of books on my shelf waiting to be read. The Lies of Locke Lamora has been on my shelf for a few months after several online book friends kept raving about. Unfortunately, Oryx & Crake is on the same shelf and based on the discussion it doesn’t sound up my alley. I’ll still give it a try but maybe it’ll take me longer to get to it than planned.

  14. Whitney says:

    I almost squealed when Anne suggested “The Name of the Wind.” My husband got me to read the King Killer Chronicle books after a year of suggesting (vehemently) that I give them a try and I’m SO glad I did. It’s a read that’s lasted with me and impacted the wonder, beauty, and joy in my life the same way that Harry Potter did (I know, I’m tiptoeing on dangerous territory here). The whole time I was listening to this podcast episode I was anxiously hoping the book would be brought up. Though Aaron didn’t pick it as his first “next read” I HIGHLY suggest he read it soon and report back to us fellow readers and Name-of-the-Wind lovers 😉 I will go as far to say he will want to add this to his permanent book collection, as I did, and maybe even invest in the signed copies that Patrick Rothfuss sells through his nonprofit organization (full disclosure: I also did this, and considered buying more in languages I don’t even know because the different country’s covers were cool. That is how much I love the book).

    • Libby says:

      I felt like Anne should’ve given an “uncompleted series with a slow author” warning here though! I recently tallied up and I’m currently reading 6 uncompleted series, which is a special kind of hell for readerly people 😉 So Aaron, be warned that you will LOVE this series, but it’s not completed and has no completion date yet.

  15. Kate says:

    As a runner, I have to suggest two autobiographies, Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” and Rich Roll’s “Finding Ultra.” (Maybe Dean Karnazes’ “Ultramarathon Man” too because it’s nuts and he’s just such a nice guy). I also enjoyed the Runners World compilation “Going Long,” which collected some of their better longform articles.
    Stephen King wrote a dystopian novel under the name Richard Bachman called “The Running Man,” which is a kind of precursor to The Hunger Games but with running.
    On the fantasy side, you should check out Anne McCaffrey. At first I was thinking her Dragonriders of Pern books, but she also has a dinosaur series that begins with “Dinosaur Planet.”
    For London-based magic hyjinks, try the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch, about an average London cop who finds he has a knack for magic.

  16. Susan says:

    If you want another nonfiction that reads like fiction – Michael Crichton did the Great Train Robbery as one of his first books – your mention of the Orient Express made me think of it!

  17. Beka says:

    I loved Winter’s Tale. I think Aaron will really enjoy it!

    I have had The Name of the Wind on my TBR for a long time, and now it’s moving even closer to the top. Love listening this podcast!

  18. Amelia says:

    I was never a big fan of fantasy until I read my boyfriend’s favorite book series: The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. The first book is The Eye of the World and completely caught me up. It is a great, fast-paced, action packed novel. The whole series can seem very intimidating (6 years later and I am still working through it) because it is somewhere around 14 books long with each book around 1000 pages. Robert Jordan actually passed away before the series was finished but he left such comprehensive notes that Brandon Sanderson was about to complete the last couple of books. I highly recommend Eye of the World even to those who aren’t usually fans of fantasy.

  19. Libby says:

    Fantasy is so my wheelhouse! I love it for the purposes of escaping reality and the world building skill that both fantasy and sci-fi require. I always require character development and writing that doesn’t make me want to claw my eyes out for any book, so all my suggestions below contain these prerequisites as well (in my subjective opinion, of course). I grouped suggestions for both Aaron and other readers below by “hardcore fantasy” and “introductory fantasy”.
    Intro:
    -The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. This is a novel with fantasy elements, but the entire world feels very recognizable. It’s a very atmospheric with beautiful writing.
    – Blackout by Connie Willis. Sci-fi not fantasy, and again with elements of another world juxtaposed into a familiar setting, namely WWII in Britain. This book and the sequel both kept me up past 2 am reading. Especially if anyone is a bit of history buff, they’ll love this novel.
    – The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi. This is really more of a dystopia/sci-fi novel, but I think folks who were intrigued by Atwood’s premise in Oryx and Crake but disappointed with violence and depravity, you’d enjoy this one more.
    Hardcore Fantasy:
    – Mistborn Trilogy + follow up novels. These are by Brandon Sanderson, and Mistborn is completed! They’re so well written, such interesting world building, and he explains theology better than 90% of the clergy I’ve met in my life. His Words of Radiance books are so far fantastic as well, but I always hesitate to recommend uncompleted series because I understand that special kind of pain.
    -Raven’s Shadow by Anthony Ryan. This is a completed trilogy with superb world building, great character development, and lovely writing. It’s pretty dark, but with many spots of redemption, so be forewarned about that.

    I’m loving everyone else’s suggestions on this comment thread too!

  20. Aaron White says:

    Thank you, everyone, for the wonderful recommendations and responses to my picks! Some of these I’ve never heard of…others now need a nice bump closer to the top of my TBR list as a result of your suggestions.

    Again, many many thanks to each of you! What a great community.

    • Erin in CA says:

      Aaron, my son is 13 and read Jurassic Park this year (before he saw the movie). He LOVED it. So I was really delighted to hear you list it on the podcast! I will be combing through the books in this episode in the hopes that I can add some books to his TBR pile. Thanks!

  21. Marion Hill says:

    Here are some of my fantasy favorites:
    1) Tigana and Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay. Kay writes his “own brand” historical fantasies. Quite interesting and a good entry point for non-fantasy readers.
    2) The Little Country and Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint. de Lint writes most of his books in the fictional city of Newford which modeled after his hometown of Ottawa, Ontario.
    3) The Wooden Sea and Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll. I will admit that Jonathan Carroll has become one of my favorite authors. His brand of surrealist fantasy is genre bending and more literary-oriented than conventional genre fantasy. If you like him, you will become a fan. Here’s my review of The Wooden Sea: http://marion-hill.com/book-review-75-the-wooden-sea-by-jonathan-carroll/
    4) The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This was my first Gaiman novel and I enjoyed it. He’s a favorite of many fantasy readers.

    Those are my favorites and worthy of trying out!

    • Roy Hakes says:

      Big thumbs up for Jonathan Carroll – I have been waiting for everything as it comes out since I discovered him years ago. Luckily, the family knows now and beats me to it.

      I also enjoyed hearing you recommend The Winter’s Tale, Anne; it bowled me over when I first read it in my 20s. Haven’t been able to reproduce that with his other books, though.

      Great show – my wife just pointed me to this podcast. It’s a fabulous idea, and this community in here looks great too.

  22. I think I’m going to have to buckle down and read The Name of the Wind! It’s one of my husband’s favorite books. I thought The Rook and it sequel sounded RIGHT up his alley – he told me it’s on his very short TBR and already on his Kindle! So it’s good to hear another thumbs up there.

    I’m always a little intimidated by fantasy, I think, but I am open to any genre, and some of these recommendations sound really interesting.

  23. Alicia says:

    Hi Aaron,
    It seems we have some similar likes and dislikes. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. It is a rather long trilogy, but I think you would enjoy it.

  24. Ginny says:

    The Rook and Name of the Wind are two of my favorite fantasy books. Megan Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series is another to add to your list. It is YA, but it has twists and turns and well-developed, likeable characters. The first book starts slowly, but just keep reading. A Monster Calls is another one for fans of Gaiman and Tolkien.

  25. Mary Ann Garcia says:

    Aaron, I would like to recommend The Great Zoo of China as you are a fan of Jurassic Park. Here the Chinese Givernment has a secret project they are preparing to unveil that is sure to amaze, and naturally everything is expected to go safely and perfectly according to plan… And if you are looking for a Neil Gaiman follow up to The Ocean at the end of the Lane, Neverwhere is sure to please. “Under the streets of London there’s a place most people most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murders and angels, knights in amour and a pale girl in black velvet.” Happy reading.

  26. Aaron, I loved that you read fantasy, but are picky about it. Me too. My favorite is soft core fantasy as one of my students calls it. That’s what I write because it is my favorite to read.

    Since you said you love adventure stories where the characters go on an internal journey and learn something, I have a suggestion for you. THE SWEET TRADE by Debrah Strait. It’s a pirate novel. It takes place in the early days of pirates in the Caribbean and begins with a group of boys sneaking out to go on a midnight adventure. But the adventure turns deadly when Spanish pirates destroy their village. This was written by a writer friend of mine. I decided to read it because I had read early drafts of other stories and screen plays she had written, and found her to be an extremely good writer. I was hooked from the first page, and that’s saying something because I would never have picked up a book about pirates. I know, more possible books to add to your long TBR list. I enjoyed listening to your interview very much.

  27. Rachel says:

    Hi Aaron,
    If you want to give Margaret Atwood another shot, my favourites of hers are The Robber Bride and Cat’s Eye. They are totally different than Oryx and Crake.

  28. Dana says:

    Aaron, happy you loved Jurassic Park! I just picked it up this summer at a used bookstore for $3.00! It’s in my to read pile!

    Anne, what John Grisham did your son have to read? What was his summer reading list? I would be interested to see the list of titles! <– if it's in the post above I apologize. I haven't finished the episode yet and don't want to see any title spoilers! 🙂

  29. Sean Durity says:

    This was the episode I have been waiting for – a fantasy fan with very similar interests to mine! I have been mining the comments here for new books on my TBR.
    As for suggestions, I would second the recommendation of Brandon Sanderson. He is ridiculously prolific right now, and I have enjoyed everything I have read by him. And there is the lure of the Cosmere – a deeper story linking (almost) all of his work. The Mistborn series is a good introduction: the first trilogy has some of the best premises in the genre with great action, characters, and a highly developed world and magic system. The second trilogy advances technology in that world and introduces some hilarious characters and dialog – a totally different tone.
    The Alcatraz vs books (5) are fun middle grades/YA but still display Sanderson’s mastery of building a deep, sophisticated world, but slowly revealing it as the stories unfold.
    A one book intro would be Warbreaker, a delightful world with some fascinating female characters and some gods who aren’t really cut out for the role…
    As a previous commenter mentioned, Stormlight Archive is a work in progress. Two out of ten books are out, with #3 due in the fall. So far it is the best of his work and stirs all those great feelings I enjoyed as a teen reading Tolkien, Eddings, Brooks, Weis/Hickman, Lewis.
    Sanderson has really bucked the (disturbing, IMO) trend toward dark, gritty fantasy and recovered the wonder and magic of new worlds. I had almost given up on the genre. Sanderson is even bold enough to explore ideas of philosophy and religion, which I really appreciate.

    • Sean Durity says:

      I forgot to mention that I, too, enjoyed many of Stephen Lawhead’s works, especially Byzantium. I loved the Celtic-themed Song of Albion trilogy and the Arthur/Pendragon series and the stand-alone Patrick. Lawhead is one of my early influences toward an interest in Celtic history, theology, and myth. My wife loved his most recent series – Bright Empires, which is more of a time-hopping, magical realism adventure (5 books). I read the first two and wandered off to something else.

      • Aaron White says:

        Sean, thanks for all the recommendations and confirmations of recommendations. I have several Sanderson books on my TBR, but just haven’t gotten to him yet.

        Your experience with Lawhead almost exactly mirrors mine. I found him through his Pendragon Cycle, but have gone on to digest everything, except for the entire Bright Empires series–which I own all of, but have only read the first two. At the time of reading, it didn’t grab me as much, so I’m giving it some space and planning to return later and plow through the whole thing.

  30. Becky Brady says:

    I strongly urge you to give Stephen King a chance. He is a great writer, and his books simply can’t be summarized as “horror”, just as some of your favorite books are much more than “fantasy”. I never thought I liked fantasy, but then fell in love with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Good writing is good writing and a good story is a good story. Some of my favorite King books are Misery, Christine, The Stand, and Cujo. You will not be sorry!

  31. tdgl says:

    I literally said “YES!” out loud in my car when “Orxy and Crake” was the hated book. I don’t remember what they said on NPR about this book when it came out in 2004, but it made me go right out and buy it brand new (something I almost never do). I had read “The Handmaid’s Tale” in college, so I must have thought I would like this one too. Then I sat on it for nearly 10 years before I finally read it a couple of summers ago. It made me feel SO BAD when I was done. The only thing that made me feel worse was learning that it was the first in a trilogy! Another funny thing was that after ALL THIS TIME, my son just asked me if I knew this book because someone had recommended it to him. I told him to read “Station Eleven.” 🙂

  32. Michele says:

    The Golem and the Jinni – One of my very favorites. So glad to hear it mentioned on the podcast! I listened to the audiobook and loved the narration.

  33. Maggie Holmes says:

    I recommend two books. The first is a narrative nonfiction, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. This is the story of the US crew that took part in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. You find yourself wanting to take up rowing or at least wanting to go build a boat. Beautiful language.
    The second is a fantasy book, Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay. The theme is revenge and the toll it takes on everyone involved. The book has stayed with me for years because it is one of the few books where you empathize with the villain as well as the victims. (Since you liked Lawhead, you might like Kay’s other more historical fantasies.)

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