WSIRN Ep 105: Reading makes the whole day better

Today I’m excited to chat with Rider Strong, a director & screenwriter (you might know him from Boy Meets World) who spends free time reuniting with his readerly college friends on their books and reading podcast Literary Disco. As a busy dad, Rider says his reading life “needs work”, and the books he wants to read have multiplied from a single shelf to an entire room. Today Rider and I discuss being baffled by YA, the book Rider hates to love, the making of a bookish best friend, good TV vs. good books, & much more. This is a fun one. Let’s get to it.

What Should I Read Next #105: Reading makes the whole day better with Rider Strong

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Give Rider Strong’s podcast Literary Disco a listen.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

Sweet Valley High series, by Francine Pascal (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
The Hardy Boys series, by Franklin W. Dixon (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
The Book of Daniel, by E.L. Doctorow (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
• Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
Absalom, Absalom, by William Faulkner (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
Butcher’s Crossing, by John Williams  (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
Stoner, by John Williams and John McGahern (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
Equilibrium, by Tiana Clarke (Amazon | Barnes and Noble  IndieBound)
My Struggle: Book 1, by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
What I Saw & How I Lied, by Judy Blundell (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
A Spy Among Friends, by Ben Macintyre (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, by Pamela Paul (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
Visible Empire, by Hannah Pittard (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)
Nobody’s Fool, by Richard Russo (Amazon | Barnes and NobleIndieBound)

Also mentioned: 

William Faulkner’s Hollywood Odyssey, via Garden & Gun


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What do YOU think Rider should read next? Tell us all about it in comments. 


Leave A Comment
  1. Rider, I’m still listening to your interview. I connected to it because I’ve taught drama at the high school level and now theater classes at the college level. I do teach acting, and I can relate to what you were saying about actors. It’s such a vulnerable “activity” to engage in. Maybe that’s why I stopped acting. When I took a playwrighting class while getting my Master’s degree in theater, I loved being in charge of the story and the characters. Thanks for sharing your story. I live in a kind of theater black hole, so it’s nice to hear someone else talk about their experiences. I’m going to check out your podcast. I don’t have any book suggestions for you, I just wanted to thank you for your comments.

  2. Deb Coco says:

    This was a fantastic episode (I still have 20 minutes left but had to comment! I was ELATED to hear of Rider’s love of Faulkner, more specifically Absalom, Absalom! Rider did a great job of expressing why this book is important in American literature and as someone who has read it over and over and over again, I was smiling as drove along listening to the podcast! Many readers shy away from Faulkner and he is a tough read for sure, but thanks for doing such a great job of citing why he matters. One of the best WSIRN!

  3. Marla Jensen says:

    I may be way off but I think Rider should try The Hate U Give. I’m not a huge fan of YA but I did think that one was great.

  4. Amy says:

    Strong recommendation for The Hate U Give – a book that I wish wasn’t saddled with the YA label. Also check out The Crossover or Solo by Kwame Alexander.

  5. Brandyn says:

    I really enjoyed this episode, but it does get my back up when YA is denigrated (also when romance is denigrated for that matter). YA is primarily read by teenage females. It’s really easy and cheap as a society to immediately deem anything teenage girls get excited about as mediocre. I catch myself doing it all the time with music. YA can be melodramatic – because that’s how many teenagers are feeling. We dismiss teenage love as “puppy love” when the hormones teenagers are dealing with ARE amplifying all those feelings. They treat things we deem as insignificant as life or death because their brains are reacting like it is.
    I wish YA had existed in it’s current form when I was a teenager because I read all the time, but loved very little of it. I remember reading John Grisham’s entire backlist even though I only really liked 2-3. And I have to point out that he’s definitely not YA and the writing is not impressive by any means. I probably read 5 Lillian Jackson Braun books and hated all of them. I think most YA authors are within 5 years of my age and are writing books they with had existed when they were in high school.
    In general, I think teenage years are ones of a lot of insecurity. It’s scary and isolating, because no one has the confidence to talk about those insecurities so they feel like they are the only one. Since YA characters are teenagers themselves it helps them feel like they are not alone.
    I’m 36 and I love YA. I try to read as broadly as I can and while I have favorite genres I can’t think of a single genre that I have written off. There’s good books and bad books in all of them. There are also good books that aren’t for me in all of them.

    • Leigh Kramer says:

      I had a similar reaction, Brandyn. I’m a big romance and YA reader and so many of those novels are filled with beautiful writing, intricate plots, and deeply nuanced themes and issues.

      • Brandyn says:

        Thanks Leigh! I loved your podcast episode. I loved The Passage too so it’s really embarrassing that I haven’t gotten to City of Mirrors, yet.
        I’ve been trying several South American/Central American authors this year (BookRiot Challenge) and I DNF’d One Hundred Years of Solitude very fast.

        • Leigh Kramer says:

          Oh, awesome! Thank you for letting me know. I hope you’ll make City Of Mirrors a priority. The epic scope of that trilogy…the plotting, the character growth, all of it still blows me away.

      • Jennifer O. says:

        I agree with all these comments about YA (and romance). Just because something is genre doesn’t mean it isn’t well written (which is what I was getting from his comments about romance). I don’t think YA really existed as a defined subset when I was a teenager in the 90s, so I’m not sure I know it that well, but I just think of it as a genre where the protagonist is a teenager. That can go in a million different directions, so I don’t think anyone should dismiss the entire genre if you don’t like one variation (romance is similar in it’s something for everyone capability). I’ve never read Fault in Your Stars because my brother, who survived cancer as a tween, had huge issues with it. Maybe I’ll read it eventually – I couldn’t get into the one other John Green book I tried.

  6. Anna says:

    Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward!! As soon as Rider said the thing about small stories that are broadly applicable to the American experience, I was yelling that title at the radio. If fits that description perfectly and I think that he would really enjoy it!

  7. Abby Sham says:

    I also have a hard time loving YA novels, but I absolutely loved The Hate U Give and Dreamland Burning. These novels are technically YA but have something to say about life for all age groups. Dreamland Burning might especially connect with Rider, since it is based on a mostly overlooked historical event in American history.

    • Sarah says:

      Abby, I totally agree with you about Dreamland Burning! I was thinking of that book the whole episode because of the crossover between historical fiction and YA. And it’s not super saturated, so it’s not like the YA Rider said he didn’t care for.

  8. Stephanie says:

    HI Rider!
    I have a YA recommendation because I typically do not find any worth finishing except for “The War that Saved Me” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. The setting is WW2, England. A brother and sister are sent away to the countryside for safety to the home of a single woman who is not excited about their arrival. I won’t give it all away, but the story is tragic, sad, sweet and joyful. If you like it, there is a sequel.
    Happy reading!

  9. Debi Morton says:

    I think Stephanie, above, means “The War That Saved My Life,” which I just finished yesterday, and would also strongly recommend. Also, agree with the above recommendation for “Dreamland Burning.”
    I don’t care for typical YA, either, but find that some authors are writing for that age group, and not just for romantic teenage girls. You just have to look a little harder. My 13-year-old granddaughter recommends books to me, and she doesn’t like regular YA. She’d rather read middle grade or adult books.

  10. Lauralou says:

    Ugh. I was so sad to hear YA criticized. We have movies geared towards teens. I loved Some Kind of Wonderful, Say Anything, and the John Hughes films when I was a teen. I felt they understood me. The television and music industry also market to teens. Why would we think teens wouldn’t want or need books at a certain time in their life? Furthermore, I think there is a lot of great writing available to adolescents. Laurie Halse Anderson is one of my favorites. I recommend Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy as a great read. As a high school English teacher, I celebrate whatever gets kids reading. I don’t think Twilight is great literature, but I do think it gets kids reading, and once they become readers, they will find their way to other books.

  11. Ani Tomasic says:

    “The Female Of The Species” by Mindy McGinnis is one of my favorite YA novels that explores heavier themes with beautiful writing.

    We read “Ragtime” in my high school English class so I’ve always just assumed it was a YA novel though I know that’s because of how old I was when I read it. Loved it then and would love to re-read it now to see how it holds up!

  12. Amanda W says:

    I agree with everyone who noted that genre readers will usually agree: genre is NOT an excuse for bad writing. Some genre writers are better than some literary writers in my opinion. That said, I don’t like John Green’s books either. A couple of YA recommendations: Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater and anything by Melina Marchetta (I’m partial to The Piper’s Son).

  13. I’m a bit picky about YA myself, but I do hope Rider finds some he enjoys —I think any kind of label a book gets whether it’s YA, middle grade, children’s or any genre or other categorization can pigeonhole books and while we are all entitled to our own tastes, i hate to see entire categories of book crossed off the list!

    I have a couple recommendations based on the beginning of the interview when Rider talks about reading books vs. reading online and always clicking, skimming, etc — I feel much the same way lately — I LOVED The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs and Slow Reading in a Hurried Age by David Mikics — one caveat on the Slow Reading one is that I really only read the first few chapters which were fantastic — the rest relied too much on examples from classic literature I have not read, but it could work better for someone more “well-read” than myself! Both these books though were thought-provoking and celebratory of books and reading in the digital age. I’m not anti-technology (clearly, since I’m here!) but looking for a better balance and loved these titles. I also have a 2.5 year old, so I feel the struggle!

  14. Charla Oppenlander says:

    I flinched when Rider said we don’t need a separate YA section – especially when he said that an issue like cancer could be addressed with adults in adult literature. Teens aren’t adults – they still need support for their specific stages of development. Teen characters who think and act like teenagers can really help a teen to think about their own world in a different way.

    That said, I don’t love to read YA fiction – I think it’s great if you are an adult who really likes to read YA. But, I always assume that I might not like YA because I am not the intended audience – not that the book is poorly written.

  15. Faith Bell says:

    I’m recommending Beloved by Toni Morrison to Rider. Morrison did her thesis on Faulkner and has a similar structure in Beloved: the reader knows the what and who at the beginning of the story, but the narrative circle closer and closer to the why until it is finally revealed. Absalom, Absalom is a particular brain itch with the structure and the subject. Beloved is a different kind of a brain itch, but it’s a novel I revisit often.

  16. Nancy Mcquown says:

    Some YA books I love are Speak, A Monster Calls, The Giver, Echo, Esperanza Rising, and Monster. All these books deal with serious subjects,but they didn’t talk down to the reader.

  17. Amanda says:

    YA has been around since I was a kid. I remember checking out “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume from the YA section of my library back in the 80s. The genre has developed and changed a bit since then, but it’s not new. It has, fortunately, grown exponentially. I’m glad there are so many great novels for teens.

    I read YA when I was in elementary because I was a precocious reader. By the time I reached my teens, I was reading adult material like “The Stand,” “Silence of the Lambs,” and “The Vampire Lestat.” I would have loved to have some of the YA novels that are out there now.

  18. Lisa says:

    I am really surprised that as much as YA came up that the Percy Jackson series has never been mentioned. I enjoyed this series as a mom in my 40s. It might have appealed to me as a mom of young boys and trying to keep them interested in books.

  19. Rebecca says:

    You are not alone. I am the one other reader out there who has not read and is not interested in Harry Potter! I was a huge reader who graduated in the mid-80’s and had no idea what the term “YA” was all about until the last five years. I read it in 8th grade and thought Flowers in the Attic was horrible!
    All the best to you in your YA reading!

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