WSIRN Ep 118: The rhythm of a reading family

Today’s guest Dena Abramson Babb is definitely a kindred spirit – we were both the girl in class who loved to choose the heftiest books possible from school reading lists, and now as adults we’ve infused our family cultures with reading. There’s a little something special about today’s episode, too – you’ll get to snoop behind the scenes of the launch of my book Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, because Dena was a special part of the process. 

Also discussed in today’s episode: nonfiction that transports who into a whole new world, accessible reading for a dyslexic child, books for self-aware readers, the rhythms of a reading family, and more! 

What Should I Read Next #118: The rhythm of a reading family with Dena Abramson Babb

Connect with Dena: Website | Facebook

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, by Anne Bogel (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Anne of Avonlea, by L. M. Montgomery (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The Other Alcott, by Elise Hooper (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home, by Jessica Fechtor (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, by Mira Jacob (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman  (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Emmuska Orczy (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, by Caitlin Doughty (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
I Know This Much is True, by Wally Lamb (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)

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


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  1. Kirsten says:

    Loved this episode, both the favorites and suggestions. Wonder if Dena was frustrated with lack of fleshed-out characters in Strouts book, since she loves the characters in her favorites. (I kinda felt the same way…I wanted more of each person’s story).
    Dena’s self-awareness of her reading life is fascinating!
    Thanks for making my Tuesday morning once again!!!

  2. Laura says:

    Dena, I loved Stir also! (And I didn’t care for Anything is Possible after liking Lucy Barton). I found Fechtor’s journey to recovery fascinating and and beautiful, plus the recipes are great. Looking forward to picking up your other favorites! Thanks.

  3. Michele says:

    Dena, please please please have your daughter evaluated for vision therapy! Two of my kids had the symptoms you described, and they are excellent readers after doing therapy. Hope this helps her!

    • Hi Michele – We have definitely considered having her evaluated for vision therapy. In fact my own sister had vision therapy for dyslexia when she was in elementary school and it did help her significantly. The evaluations we have had done show a deficit in my daughter’s phonemic awareness (far below both her grade level and also her cognitive ability). She has been in a skills building program and we have seen an increase in her phonemic awareness which has translated to an increase in her speed, accuracy and comprehension. There is still work to be done, but we do feel like this is the right path for her. I am so glad to hear though that vision therapy did work for your kids!

  4. Ruth says:

    I herartily suggest, “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. Witty, keen observations, a narrator (and author) who loves language and plays with it, several decades of the world of a single hotel… I think it hits your key preferences.

      • MARJORIE says:

        I second A Gentleman in Moscow. It is set against the dark background of the Soviet Union, but is a study of mastering one’s circumstances, friendship, finding joy in difficulty, love of literature, and gratitude for all things. “He had said that our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of lucidity—a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of the life we had been meant to lead all along.”
        ― Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

  5. Elizabeth Brink says:

    I love that you recommended The Blue Castle, Anne! I absolutely love that book. It’s probably my favorite L.M. Montgomery from my adult reading of her novels. I also love Jane of Lantern Hill by Montgomery. That book has a great, plucky younger heroine, so it may appeal as a read aloud for you and your daughter.

    • Hi Elizabeth – I really enjoyed The Blue Castle, and think my daughter will too. I will look at Jane of Lantern Hill – my daughter is pretty plucky herself, so I am always looking for characters who will resonate with her!

  6. I really enjoyed your conversation today. Dena, you’ve probably read this, but if not, David Copperfield fits the bill for a long book with a compelling plot, depth of character and an ultimately happy ending. Dickens called it his “favourite child,” and it’s my favourite Dickens, too. BTW, I remember that heatwave of ’76 in the UK, when we were on the verge of having our water turned off and having to queue to fill buckets from a standpipe. And now I live in Mississippi where that would be considered spring weather 🙂

    • Hi Susan – how interesting to hear you compare living through that heatwave in ’76 to a typical spring day in Mississippi! That is some great perspective – I was actually trying to figure out what a UK heatwave would be like compared to a heatwave in CA where I live 🙂

      I have read David Copperfield, and really enjoyed it – but I am thinking it may be worth a re-read!

  7. Tori says:

    Love your podcast. Do not love your search engine! Trying to get back to the beginning to listen to the first podcasts but your site is just not letting me get there. Any suggestions??

    • Katie says:

      Just head over to iTunes or whatever app you use and scroll to the beginning! Not sure how to get to the original posts, though.

  8. Nancy Willard says:

    I enjoyed the podcast. I think Dena would enjoy Salt Houses by Hala Alyan.
    I did like Anything is Possible, but not immediately………..somehow it made me go back and reread Lucy Barton, which I had not cared for on first reading. I ended up with endearing thoughts of both books after the reread!!!!

  9. Rachel says:

    Anne, like you I am a sucker for a good retelling. However, I also do end up disappointed a lot of the time. You mentioned Little Women in this episode, and on that note, Spring Girls (a brand new modern retelling of Little Women) is definitely NOT worth the time of reading. I finished it because I’m stubborn but it left a bad taste in my mouth. It had potential but was quite poorly executed.

  10. Stephanie Osborne says:

    I’m glad to have found another kindred War and Pece lover spirit! We could pick any classic to write a major paper on my senior year in high school. And I picked war and peace and read it twice #gluttonforpunishment But it was so good!! I’m sure you probably have, but have you read the Chronicles of Narnia with your daughter? They were a favorite my mom and I read together. Such great characters. I haven’t read Stir myself, but if you like it you may try Brain on Fire. Im not a big memoir or sciency book type but the character’s determination to overcome this crazy thing that happened to her and fight to get her life back was very compelling and inspiring.

    • #gluttonforpunishment – LOL!

      I haven’t actually read the Chronicles of Narnia with my daughter. Although, I am pretty sure my son has the entire set, so I could definitely dig them up from his room!

      Somebody else recommended Brain on Fire as well, seems like a good indicator I should add it to me TBR!

  11. Dena and Anne, Thanks for another great episode. I could relate to your experience with your daughter, Dena because my father had dyslexia. He was attending school during the 30s and 40s and his teachers called him lazy, said he would never amount to anything, and that he was stupid. So he dropped out. He taught himself how to read because he wanted to learn so badly. I began to realize as a young teen. He was a minister and when he read the scriptures and his sermon, he would struggle. Much later he told me what it was like for him when he tried to read and I was amazed because he read a lot of biographies of the founding fathers, National Geographic, anything about history. I got my love of learning from him.

    Since you love War and Peace, and Anne suggested The Scarlet Pimpernel, which I read last year and loved, I thought I’d suggest some other classics. I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens in high school and was hooked on classic British literature. Later I read Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray and Middlemarch by George Eliot. They’re all long stories of redemption with a mixture of sadness and happiness at the end. I hope you enjoy them.

    • Lucinda – My own father is probably dyslexic as well….he has often said that teachers thought he was “slow” and that the things my daughter describes sound a lot like what he experienced himself.

      I did really enjoy The Scarlet Pimpernel. I have read A Tale of Two Cities, but have not read either Vanity Fair or Middlemarch. Might be time to add those titles to my TBR.

      • Dena, Oh man, I hate it when teachers say things like that to their students. I’m sorry for your father.

        Oh, good. I hope you enjoy them. Middlemarch is very long and it takes about a third of the book to set up the character relationships and town history but it’s worth it in the end. It’s been quite some time since I read Vanity Fair. I just remember liking it a lot. Happy reading.

  12. Kelsey A. says:

    This was a great episode!

    I LOVED Stir- please, please, please make the banana bread recipe! It is the best I have ever had and really easy.

    Since you like books that cover a family dynamic over the course of several years, I would highly recommend Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan.

    I also really enjoyed Smoke Gets In Your Eyes… other recommendations in this episode sounded interesting so I’m adding a few to my list.

    • I am going to have to make that banana bread!

      I really like J. Courtney Sullivan, but have not read Saints for All Occasions – in fact I didn’t even realize she released a book in 2017. That is definitely going on my TBR! Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is on my TBR as well since it was an “almost” recommendation from Anne 🙂

  13. Hi, Anne and Dena —

    Enjoyed the show!

    The Great Brain is a favorite read aloud around our house. It’s a good combination of great writing, humor and clever stories. The chapters are long, so my kids sometimes doze off before I finish one. But, I just keep reading because I’M enjoying it so much.

    Unfortunately, none of my kids read before kindergarten, but — thank goodness — they all love books and seem to be great readers. (Knock on wood.)

  14. Melyssa says:

    Hi Dena!
    Your episode was fun! When you mentioned Stir, it made me wonder if you’ve read Brain on Fire or Tell Me Everything I Don’t Remmeber. Both of those are memoirs about women (both journalists, I think?) who dealt with brain related medical issues. Brain on Fire especially was really gripping.

  15. Chris says:

    #3 peaks my interest. Friendships built through different challenges and backgrounds make lasting connections. This book sounds like it would take me there.

  16. Amanda Espinoza says:

    Thank you, Dena, for speaking about your dyslexic daughter. We just learned about my daughter’s dyslexia in fifth grade. (She also has a brother who is a voracious reader.) My daughter recently started a specialized program to help her phonemic awareness. It was super encouraging to hear a fellow book lover talk about parenting a struggling reader through reading books aloud, getting graphic novels, and getting whatever books interests the child. We do the same thing. I can be discouraged at times that my daughter isn’t reading at her level or what her peers are reading for fun. I just need to be patient. Thank you for encouraging me today!

    • Hi Amanda – I am so happy to hear that you felt encouraged! Our daughter is also in 5th grade now and has been in a phonemic awareness program. We definitely saw some improvement in her deficits on the program – unfortunately the tutor she was working with was not a good personality match, so getting my daughter to actually put in the effort needed by her was exhausting for all of us. Right now we have her on a waiting list at another center with the same program. I definitely feel like when we get a good match with a tutor she will make tremendous progress. I hope the program helps your daughter 🙂

  17. While listening today I was wondering if Dena might like Jane Smiley’s family saga trilogy that starts with the book, Some Luck. The series covers generations of an Iowa family through wars, the depression, and up to the present day. Really well done.

  18. Katherine says:

    Hi Dena and Anne,

    Loved this episode! I wrote down a few books to get at the library, like Stir! (I love a cooking memoir)

    Have you and your daughter read “Ella Enchanted”? It was a favorite of mine at her age!

    • Hi Katherine – I hope you enjoy Stir!

      We have not actually read Ella Enchanted, but she has seen the movie roughly a zillion times. I have always been a big proponent of “read the book first” when it comes to movies made from books – but this was one that snuck in when I wasn’t paying attention. I don’t know if I could get her interested enough in the book since she has a strong idea of how it “should look” based on the movie/

    • Hi Robin – This Is How It Always Is was actually my favorite book that I read in 2017. It could have easily made the 3 I talked about on the episode, but since I had heard it talked about a few times on other episodes, I did not choose it for one of the books I listed as favorites. But it definitely is!

  19. April Jones says:

    Hi there! I loved your episode. I have a couple recommendations for ya, if you are interested.

    Your love of a long story arc leads me to think you might enjoy A Good American by Alex George. It is a generational story of immigrants to America. I just found it so charming and satisfying.

    Another that kind of sounds up your alley is Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. This story jumps back and forth in time, narrators, and story lines. This can sometimes feel a bit disjointed, but I loved the voice of the characters and the mystery is a bit fun. (Not a crime novel, but there is a whodunit feel to it).

    Just a couple of thoughts.

  20. The hate for Anything Is Possible in the last two episodes kind of cracks me up since the title of my episode was about how you couldn’t shut up about how much you loved it, Anne! I loved it, too, for all its sparseness.

    Someone lent me their copy of Stir probably a year ago and apparently I had not even looked at the blurb! Hearing about it from Dena definitely makes it sound like something I would love!

  21. Mary Decker says:

    Hello, Dena,
    I think you would love “Cutting For Stone” by Abraham Verghese if you haven’t read it yet. The broad character arcs and beautiful prose would appeal to the warmth and depth of a novel you search for. It is a longer read at 688 pages, but it does not disappoint. Your reading pace could definitely handle it. Enjoy!

  22. Lezel says:

    I am new to the podcast (my first episode!) and really enjoyed hearing the recommendations. I look forward to learning more!
    I can highly recommend White Gardenia by Belinda Alexandra. This is considered an Australian classic and follows the story of a Russian girl through the last days of WWII to the opulence of Shanghai and ultimately to Australia. Her descriptions of places, surroundings, clothes etc. were so alive and detailed, I had to check a few times whether it was actually fiction or an auto biography!

  23. MARJORIE says:

    I was thrilled to hear you mention “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing.” I have never talked to anyone else who has read it. I actually listened to the audio book which is fabulous and is read by the author. She does different voices for each character and her portrayal of her mother Kamala makes the book. If you have time for a re-read or listen, you should try this audio version just to hear the scene when Kamala guilts Amina into returning home.

  24. Heather says:

    I’m finally getting around to this episode and it resonated with me. Dena, my oldest son wasn’t reading very well and for us we homeschool so I was the one dealing with his struggles and just felt like something was off (he didn’t have the great coping mechanisms like your daughter, though). In the homeschool community so many people tell you, “Kids learn how to read when they’re ready, don’t force it. Some kids don’t pick it up until 10.” So I was never sure. I started a program based on OG for 3rd grade and his reading issues went away and I thought that maybe there wasn’t anything wrong, but I still had this feeling that there was. It was at this time that my Kinder started reading on his own and I was able to see how different each kid was in regards to reading and how reading came easily to my youngest. Even though my son was/is reading well I had him tested this year (age 9) and he was diagnosed as having dyslexia and dysgraphia. We have switched to using Barton. We were also told about Learning Ally, but have not signed up for that yet (is your daughter signed up?). Happy reading to you and your family!

    • Hi Heather – I tell parents all the time that if they “feel like” something is wrong, it probably is wrong. My gut instinct was right about my daughter’s dyslexia and right about my son’s ASD & anxiety disorder.

      I didn’t know about Learning Ally, but I just looked it up and will definitely look into it deeper. My daughter was working with a Barton tutor, but it was not a good personality fit. We are in the process of trying to find her another one, and/or invest in an online based system for her. The great news is she is slowly becoming a reader – as long as I can keep her in middle grade nonfiction that has a horse in the story somewhere she is happily reading!

      Best of luck to you and your son!

      • Heather says:

        Thank you! Since we homeschool the Barton counselor we were seeing told us that it would be financially worth it for me teach Barton. It isn’t bad and the program makes a lot of sense, but watching Susan Barton’s DVDs feels torturous to me (it’s so boring!) :). We were introduced to this past month & have been exploring the free trial, but I feel it isn’t quite a complete program, but something supplemental that my son enjoys. We know many tween girls that need to have a horse in their story! I hope that you find a good program or tutor for your daughter!

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