WSIRN Ep 131: Living in the land of Jane Austen

WSIRN Ep 131: Living in the land of Jane Austen

Readers, a special summer reading episode is coming your way this month! I’ll be talking to bookstore owner and friend Annie Jones about the books we can’t wait to read this summer, and we want to hear from YOU. Go to to leave us a brief message about the one book you can’t wait to get your hands on this summer, and you may hear your voice on the show!

Jane Austen devotees will get a big kick out of today’s guest – Clara Breitenmoser is originally from New Zealand, currently lives in England, and now spends her days smack in the middle of a favorite literary landmark (any guesses, before we get into the episode?)

We talk about heritage preservation, tracking reading with the help of our friends, excellent foodie memoirs, and we also dive into Clara’s special request, which I found it to be surprisingly tough: She wants to read more books about characters in their 20s, without romance as the central theme. Let’s get to it.

What Should I Read Next #131: Living in the land of Jane Austen with Clara Breitenmoser

Check out Clara Breitenmoser’s travel blog, Cafes and Culture


Books mentioned in this episode:
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•  Persuasion, by Jane Austen (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  The Baby-Sitters Club, by Ann M. Martin (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  My Berlin Kitchen, by Luisa Weiss (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Author Ruth Reichl (Try Garlic And Sapphires: Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  The Defining Decade: Why Your 20s Matter and How to Make the Most of Them, by Dr. Meg Jay (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Eligible: a Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Curtis Sittenfeld (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Emma: a Modern Retelling, by Alexander McCall Smith (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  How to be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much, by Samantha Ellis (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Uncommon Type, by Tom Hanks (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Author Sophie Kinsella (try Finding Audrey: Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Author Rainbow Rowell (try Attachments: Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  One True Loves, by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Girl In Between, by Anna Daniels (Amazon)
•  The Two of Us, by Dr. Andy Jones (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Life after Life, by Kate Atkinson (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Britt Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Beartown, by Fredrik Backman (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Talking As Fast As I Can, by Lauren Graham (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It, by Lauren Graham (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  Belong to Me, by Marisa de los Santos (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, by Marisa de los Santos (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
•  A Place For Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza (Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Also mentioned: 

•  Luisa Weiss’s blog The Wednesday Chef.
• Meg Jay’s TED talk: Why 30 is not the new 20.

Readers, we’re starting to add events to the calendar for summer and fall 2018, and when we’re ready to go public our newsletter subscribers will be the first ones to know Make sure you’re on the list so YOU stay in the know:

What would YOU recommend Clara read next? Have you ever lived near a literary landmark? Tell us all about it in comments. 

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59 comments | Comment


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  1. I hate to recommend something I haven’t read yet, but have you tried The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan? It’s high on my TBR list and has been on my mind lately because I want to read it over an upcoming spring vacation. It sounds similar to your reading aesthetic!

    • Ellen W says:

      Yes, I just discovered Jenny Colgan within the past year and I’m really enjoying her books. I’ve read The Café by the Sea and just finished Little Beach Street Bakery.

      • Caitlin says:

        As well as those books, she also writes Doctor Who books which are really good.
        Other British authors you should try: Milly Johnson, Katie Fforde and Jill Mansell.

  2. Gretchen S. says:

    Delightful show. Two suggestions for novels with 20-something protagonists:

    Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel — this book is about what to do when you have a school or career disaster in your early 20s. How do you restart your life? There is a romantic subplot, but the majority of the book is career and self-focused, plus this is a funny and heartwarming book.

    Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead — this book takes place in the ballet world but is really about the nature of amazing performance vs. recognizing and appreciating amazing performance, as well as the intangible contributions of teaching and coaching

    • Clara Breitenmoser says:

      I’ve read Astonish Me and Small Admissions is on my TBR list – definitely bumped up a spot! Thanks Gretchen.

  3. Meghan says:

    You might enjoy The Gowk Storm; it’s a Scottish novel from the 1930s about three sisters, and the language is just beautiful! There are some romantic plotlines but I wouldn’t say they are the focus. Sunset Song is another beautiful 1930s Scottish read that I think you’d love – it’s about a young woman “coming of age” during WWI and forms part of a trilogy. It’s often voted the favourite book of Scotland, too!

  4. Rachel says:

    Clara, I would highly, HIGHLY recommend Sophia of Silicon Valley by Anna Yen. Reviews have been mixed, I think mostly because this book may not necessarily appeal to readers outside of its target range, which is 20-something females. But I absolutely adored this book – it’s one of my favorite of the year so far.
    Here’s the review I posted on goodreads: “Anna Yen writes cleverly about what it’s like to be a young professional woman in the 21st century, without over-dramatizing the sexism or misogyny, but being realistic about what women experience. I also appreciated how she told the whole story – we got snippets of Sophia’s personal life, romance, family, health, career, emotions, things she was learning about herself, career choices, business details, etc. Because it was first person, we get a lot of Sophia’s thoughts about why she makes the decisions she does and I thought they all rang true – I loved hearing her motivation for making the career moves she did. This wasn’t just another story about someone trying to get ahead – it’s a story about a woman learning about herself and understanding what it is about her that makes her so afraid of failure. It was funny, witty, and honestly read like a fascinating memoir. Would recommend for anyone, but especially young women or young professionals who want “new adult” fiction that isn’t angsty romance.”
    Sounds like it might be up your alley. Hope you enjoy!

  5. Oh, I loved visiting Bath, England, 22 years ago. We only got to stay for a day, but it was wonderful to meet people from our state of Oregon while there enjoying the beauty of the city. We also spent a week in Glastonbury the supposed site of the grave of King Arthur. Climbing the Tor was a highlight of our stay in England. So much history in that part of England. We enjoyed visiting Stonehenge as well.

    Thanks for another fun episode. So sorry I have no suggestions for you Clara.

  6. Brandyn says:

    I would recommend “If You Lived Here You’d be Home Now” and “Families and other Nonreturnable Gifts” by Claire LaZebnik. Also “Happiness for Beginners” and “How to Walk Away” by Katherine Center.

  7. Hilary says:

    These are a little light and “fluffy” but so fun: Sammy’s Hill and Sammy’s House by Kristen Gore. The protagonist is a 20 something female working in Washington DC. There is romance but it doesn’t dominate the story.

    • Clara Breitenmoser says:

      Ah my best friend is a 20 something working in DC so that would be a fun link – thank you Hilary!

  8. Ellen Keyes says:

    I’m so excited to hear Uncommon Type is on your TBR list! I found myself wishing for almost every story to be longer and then become a movie!

  9. Shannon says:

    Clara and I have such similar taste in reading! I’m always looking for exactly the book she describes, and I realized we have read so many of the same books! Since you liked Gentleman in Moscow, have you read “Rules of Civility?” I would also recommend “Girls in White Dresses” by Jennifer Close and “The Madwoman Upstairs” by Catherine Lowell.

    Also, since you like Agatha Christie, “The Mitford Murders” is a fun read created in the tradition of Agatha Christie, and it has a twenty-something protagonist. It’s definitely more along the lines of fun, light read.

    • Clara Breitenmoser says:

      I also adored Rules of Civility! The Mitford Murders sounds so great – definitely want to check that out.

  10. Heather says:

    I second the recommendations for Happiness for Beginners and How to Walk Away as well as The Lost Husband by Katherine Center. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan as well as How to Find Love in a Bookshop might be cute too <–both set in Europe. I loved Maud, a somewhat biographical account of Lucy Maud Montgomery's youth, by Melanie Fishbane. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery might also be one you'd enjoy if you haven't already read it. I also highly recommend Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell series – they are historical fiction but the main character is so spunky!! The first one is A Curious Beginning.

    • Meghan says:

      I second The Blue Castle! I remember the first time I read it, I put it down for all of an hour before picking it back up and starting again at the beginning!

  11. Amy C says:

    MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New BFF by Rachel Bertsche is an interesting “try a year of” style nonfiction account. Basically explores how one makes friends “out in the world,” whatever that means. Not the BEST thing I’ve ever read, but I did think about things the book brought out a lot after I made a geographic and job move at 25. Just a thought!

    • Clara Breitenmoser says:

      I’ve been on the hunt for this book for ages – when I moved to Bath and had to make friends all over again, this was recommended to me! You’ve inspired me to keep searching for it. Thanks Amy!

  12. Jill W says:

    I love the Marisa de los Santos books Anne recommended. I am still so invested in those characters, and I read the first two eons ago. If you enjoy them, I would also recommend Provence Cure for the Broken-Hearted by Bridget Asher. I think you might enjoy Seven Days of Us- there are two young women figuring out their lives in that book and it is a pretty engrossing read. Susan Rebecca White’s A Soft Place to Land is a great book about a couple of sisters in their 20s. Her other books are great too. If you like her, give Joshilyn Jackson a try. She is one of my favorite authors.

  13. Mary Ellen says:

    Greetings from Wellington Clara,

    I think Sourdough (also by Robin Sloan) might really appeal to you.

    Also, have you read anything by Sara-Kate Lynch? Her books are a bit chick-litty, but the good kind, and all involving women (some in their 20s) with a Kiwi connection out in the world. She also has a memoir called “Screw you Delores”, which is really funny and is about the stuff she had worked out by the time she turned 50. That’s obviously not you, but you sound precocious, and a lot of what she talks about are things that would be better to learn sooner through someone else’s experience rather than later through your own.

    Mary Ellen

    • Clara Breitenmoser says:

      Hello Mary in Wellington – that’s where I’m from 🙂 Thank you for a kiwi recommendation – I’m rubbish at reading books from NZ and definitely something I’d like to improve on so this sounds like a great place to start. Thanks Mary!

  14. Susan says:

    Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein for 20’s something female protagonists where romance is not the central plot line. Such a great book about female friendship and bravery during WWII.

  15. Sarah P says:

    You and I have such similar tastes! What a delight this episode was to hear. Stay strong in your pursuit for great titles that are enjoyable and warmhearted without being fluffy or silly. (I also couldn’t stand Eligible and was grateful to hear your sound rationale!!)
    I love Ruth Reichl and Guernesy and count among my favorites the Marisa de los Santos trilogy Anne suggested. I read the second one, Belong to Me, annually.
    One author I really enjoy that is rarely discussed on this podcast is Adriana Trigiani. Do you know her? I think you might enjoy The Shoemaker’s Wife and the Valentine trilogy. These books do have romantic elements but they are also about young, strong, working women making their way in the world. Shoemaker’s Wife (mentioned in one episode of WSIRN) follows an Italian immigrant to NYC in the early 1900s and her work at the Metropolitan Opera to her life in and after WWII. The Valentine trilogy follows a woman from a huge Italian family as she seeks to strengthen her century-old family custom shoemaker business. There’s more romance in the Valentine books (perhaps unsurprisingly) but much for you to enjoy, I think.
    Other ideas: Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder (older protagonist but compelling female mentor/mentee relationship); In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden (fascinating and enriching novel about a female Benedictine religious community); The School of Essential Ingredients Erika Bauermeister (for your foodie enthusiasm).

  16. Susan says:

    You may enjoy Delicious by Ruth Reichl. Ruth writes a fictional story about a twenty something girl who moved from California to New York. She begins working for a food magazine called, Delicious. She doesn’t know it at the time but the magazine is about to fold. She uncovers a hidden room where she finds a box of letters that a girl named Lulu wrote to the legendary chef, James Beard during WW2. I liked it and it ends on a happy note.

  17. Barbara S Atkins says:

    I would like to recommend the books by the late Laurie Colwin. I started with “Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen” and immediately read everything else she had written.

  18. Parry says:

    I recommend The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. When I read her books it feels like I’m not so much reading but letting a story wash over me. I love that feeling. Also, I do remember as I was reading it thinking…wow, I rarely encounter characters in their 20s in literary fiction. That’s why I thought of this one for Clara. Great show!

  19. Britany Arnold says:

    I have two that I read recently and really enjoyed and seem to fit what you’re looking for:
    1) The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Perfect for summer, light in tone but somehow managed to take hold of my heart)
    2) Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (set in Glasgow, and has tough subject matter but really has a character you can root for in Eleanor– reminded me of Ove, but from the younger end of the spectrum).

    • Clara Breitenmoser says:

      I read ‘Eleanor…’ for my book club last month! Did enjoy it but gosh towards the end was tough! My library has the TJR book as an audiobook so maybe I’ll have to check it out over summer! Thanks Britany!

  20. Kristen says:

    I was shouting “Marisa de los Santos!” at my phone (does anyone else do that?!) before Anne mentioned her so it was gratifying to have my opinion verified! Love Walked In is a wonderfully written page-turner that ended in an unexpected way. The sequel, Belong to Me, is even better. I think Clara would like I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Even though the protagonist is younger than 20, I read it in my 20’s and thought it was delightful. Also, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice tells a similar story, also wonderful.

    • Kristen says:

      AND, almost forgot… in the vein of Agatha Christie, Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart and Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey!

      • Clara Breitenmoser says:

        Belong to Me has just arrived at the library, excited to read it! Thanks for all these Kristen!

  21. Taylor says:

    Another I thought of while listening is The Widows of Malabar Hill, which takes place in 1920s Bombay, about a young female lawyer who joins her father’s firm which at the time was very unconventional. Wonderful story about a young woman trying to form her identity. No romance. While I’m a lot older than you, I loved many of the books discussed on this episode and appreciate your bringing to light a type of book that I think is often overlooked. I also totally agree with your review of Eligible and have never liked Curtis Sittenfeld’s books. So thank you for communicating it so articulately. Enjoy your books!

  22. Just caught up and what a great episode! I’d like to recommend Not Working by Lisa Owens – it’s about a young woman (I think she’s in her 20s) trying to decide what to do with her life and it’s fabulous – really focuses on the career/life choices rather than romance. I can also recommend a memoir called Cuckoo in the Nest by Nat Luurtsema which is about Nat returning to live with her parents at the ages of 28 – it’s so funny but so identifiable!

  23. Clara Breitenmoser says:

    Belong to Me has just arrived at the library, excited to read it! Thanks for all these Kristen!

  24. Emily says:

    I think you would like “A Vintage Affair” by Isabel Wolff. I can’t remember the age of the protagonist, but she owns a vintage clothing shop in London and uncovers a mystery related to a child’s coat that one of her patrons refuses to part with. There is a little romance, but the core of the story is about the friendship between the protagonist and this elderly woman.

  25. Caitlin says:

    Hello from Bristol, UK! (One city over for those who don’t know the area). I’m behind on my WSIRN listening and so only just heard this episode.
    I’m so glad you’re enjoying Bath, it’s always been one of my favorite cities. If you haven’t already checked it out (and you probably have), you should visit “Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights” – it’s a fantastic bookshop and they do something called a “Book Spa” where you go and spend a few hours talking books with one of their “Bibliotherapists” over tea and cake and walk away with a huge stack of recommendations and vouchers to buy some of them.
    Also, how amazing is the Libraries West system?! I love that I can borrow any of the books from any of the libraries in the south west. They threatened to close some of the libraries in Bristol but fortunately they have recently been saved.
    Hope you continue to enjoy Bath and if you need a local book friend, let me know!

    • Clara Breitenmoser says:

      Hi Caitlin, always exciting to “meet” another local! Mr B’s is a dream – as is Libraries West! Maybe if we both request ‘Reading People’ they’ll buy it for the library system 😉

  26. Mary Kathleen Holland says:

    I am working through the backlog of WSIRN and loved this episode! I loved My Berlin Kitchen so much and think A Homemade Life is a great choice (as is the follow up, Delancey, and surely the upcoming book about big life and family changes for Molly). I also thought you might like Sourdough by Robin Sloan. It’s about young woman working as programmer in San Francisco who is bequeathed a sourdough starter from her local deli delivery brothers. Bread becomes a big part of her life, and the story, and opens her up to new avenues of work, friendship and love. It has element of whimsy/magic that makes that journey to finding what she really wants in life a lot of fun. (I’d also recommend the audiobook for the musical aspects of the story.) Happy Reading!
    P.S. I hope you’ll be getting the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society movie on Netflix soon, too. I can’t wait for it!

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