WSIRN Ep 148: Rebuilding your life (and your library)

We’ve talked more than once on WSIRN about how the power of reading aloud forges family bonds… and today’s guest, Laura Summerhill, puts that thought into action in a brilliant and life-affirming way. But she’s also been out of the pleasure reading game for a long, long time while working on her PhD, and today I’m attempting to reconnect her with what everyone’s been talking about in the book world while she’s been gone.

You’ll hear that Laura is in Houston, and since Laura and I talked, I’ve made plans to visit Blue Willow Bookshop on book tour. I’d love to see you there on September 26! Find out if I’ll coming to your area on my events page.

Now, get yourself ready for bookshelf tragedies, paradigm shifts, and stories that give you that much-needed crying session. Let’s get to it.

What Should I Read Next #148: Rebuilding your life (and your library) with Laura Summerhill

Make sure to take a peek at the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas after the show!


Books mentioned in this episode:
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If you’d like to support your local indie, check out And by all means, go grab one of these from your local library!

• The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South, by Rick Bragg (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkein (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Pinkalicious, by Victoria Kann (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Pete the Cat, by James Dean (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Blindness, by Jose Saramago (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Secret History, by Donna Tartt (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, by Anthony Ray Hinton (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• What We Lose, by Zinzi Clemmons (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Stay With Me, by Ayobami Adebayo (AmazonBarnes and Noble)
• Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones (AmazonBarnes and Noble)

Also mentioned:
The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas
• The Women’s Storybook Project video
Read To Me Mommy/Daddy in Washington State
• Big Love on HBO


What do YOU think Laura should read next? Let us know in the comments!


Leave A Comment
  1. S says:

    I definitely relate to Laura’s feelings about books with unlikable characters…I hate to be close minded but I felt the same way about the Nest and I couldn’t get into The Secret History either. I read Stay With Me based on your recommendation of 5 summer reads on Just The Right Book – it was just ok for me so I will be interested in Laura’s thoughts after she reads it. Hillbilly Elegy was a book that really stayed with me in terms of shining a light on a population I have little direct experience with.

    Although I read Just Mercy and strongly empathize with those wrongly incarcerated,especially if placed on death row, but I struggle with the idea of highlighting those appropriately on death row as examples of human kindness or support when they have committed atrocious crimes in most cases and would do it again when given the chance while their victims and families are in pieces. The storybook project sounds wonderful as the children should not suffer for crimes of their parents and many of those incarcerated for lesser crimes need the connection to allow them productive re assimilation once they have served their time.

  2. Stephanie says:

    What about Educated by Tara Westover for Laura? A memoir that definitely holds your attention and it is about a person living in a very different way than most other people.

  3. Michele says:

    I just read “Shakespeare Saved My Life” by Laura Bates. Laura Bates taught Shakespeare in the Indiana prison system and in this book focuses a lot on one prisoner and how the Shakespeare program helps him.

  4. Margie says:

    Blue Willow is such a lovely shop. It’s not local for me (I’m in Houston, but not that part of it), but I’ve been several times and the staff is great. We eat at a Mediterranean place called Fadi’s that is nearby if you have time while touring!

  5. ellen a says:

    This was one of my favorite episodes, and I’ve listened to them all. I loved hearing about The Women’s Storybook Project. It sounds like such a meaningful and beautiful way for prisoners and their children to connect and bond. I also just finished reading Just Mercy. It was also an eye opening read for me. I have great admiration for Bryan Stevenson and the work he is doing. A non fiction book I read recently that I think Laura would enjoy is I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda.

  6. Laura, I had to force myself to finish this episode before commenting because the minute I heard your opener, I wanted to tell you how truly sorry I am for your loss. I am from Beaumont (near Houston) and we were also hit hard during Hurricane Harvey. Also, in 2005, we lost our home to Hurricane Rita, so I just vibrated with compassion and empathy at everything you said. I am SO sorry for your heartbreaking experience and, particularly the loss of books and your mother’s Bible. I know how it feels to lose irreplaceable items.

    Quick story: My parents’ home flooded in Harvey. My dad has kept a journal and written every day since 1976. These are precious, precious heirlooms in our family – the literal and complete history of our family. All those journals would have been lost in the storm if my parent’s church group – the Mormon Helping Hands – hadn’t come and literally dried and cleaned each journal and put absorbent paper between each of the 1,000s of pages. Wow. You just can’t put a price on that kind of love after a natural disaster.

    Also, I wanted to say I truly resonated with the Storybook Project you discussed. I’m so interested in helping. I’m curious if this program is already in my community? I will definitely check it out.

    While, I personally love so many of the books that were discussed, I would recommend The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. This is a story about a family that lives in a municipal trash dump in Cambodia. Their entire existence revolves around trash – what they can scrap for food and what they can recycle for themselves, while also trying to protect themselves from the diseases, crime and misfortune that plagues the people in this area. It is a story of redemption and hope that will definitely give you the good cry you need.

    Also, for a graphic novel for you and your nine-year-old daughter, check out Real Friends by Shannon Hale. It’s amazing!

    • Laura Summerhill says:

      Holli, thank you for the kind words. I’m so sorry for your losses! What a treasure that your dads journals were saved! You’re just less than an hour from Dayton, where we volunteer in two state jails, if you want to join us!

          • Hi Laura. I just listened to this episode today and have to agree with what others have said – this is hands down my favorite episode. I live in Houston too, and while our home was not flooded we had many friends who were (and our kids’ school had water as well). My heart goes out to know you and your family for all you have suffered. From what you said about the books you lived and didn’t like so much, I feel like we just may be kindred spirits.? I am reading Just Mercy with my book club from church, and oh my goodness it is WRECKING me. And The Storybook Project will have a Jew volunteer soon. ☺️ I’d love to meet up for coffee one of these days – and if you’ll be at Blu Willow when Anne comes to town, perhaps I’ll get to meet you then. Thanks for a great episode!

  7. Sarah Kochert says:

    I am only 20 minutes in and with tears on my face, I have to say that this is my favorite episode. I was moved hearing Laura’s story about her move and the hurricane. Learning about the storybook project, of which I had never heard of, was wonderful and added to the tears. What a wonderful episode!

  8. Terri says:

    As Laura talked about what she likes in her reading, I immediately thought of “Varina” by Charles Frazier. It’s a novelization centering on the wife of Jefferson Davis near the end of her life as she looks back across her own history. Who knows how much this character resembles the real person, but Varina of the novel faces adversity time and again. There’s even a dystopian quality to her attempt to escape with her children after the fall of the Confederacy. A strong character, a fascinating story, and no quotation marks!

  9. Anna Rowe says:

    I feel quite sure that Laura would enjoy Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship by Michelle Kuo. It is the author’s personal experience of mentoring a young man that ends up in prison. She is able to use reading and the power of story to remain connected to him and it has a profound effect on his life. It’s a great read for anyone interested in social justice or anyone who appreciates how powerful a book can be in someone’s life.

  10. Carrie says:

    I didn’t like The Nest, either-and now I really know why! It totally was that “I cannot care about your rich people problems” thing. I have not read The Secret History-and definitely won’t now. I am actually pretty ambivalent towards The Goldfinch, but I didn’t hate it-probably because it didn’t focus on rich people problems. Ahh.. Thank you, Laura, for that insight-always helpful to be able to add more depth to the whats and whys of what I do and do not like to read.

  11. Marla Jensen says:

    Educated was mentioned in another comment and I agree I think Laura would like that one . Also Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. The other one(s) I was thinking about that might be interesting with her social worker lens were A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold and Columbine by David Cullen.

  12. Kate says:

    I am so, so happy to hear about the Women’s Storybook Project! In grad school for library science I worked with another student on outlining the basic plan for a very similar project for male prisoners with a greater focus on literacy, but our contact left and we never heard if it was ever implemented.
    Had also never heard of Blindness by José Saramago but really want to read it now.

  13. Mary Landrum says:

    I’m a children’s librarian, and I volunteer with a program that mentors children who have incarcerated family members. I nearly cried listening to Anne and Laura talk about the Texas Storybook Project and similar programs. I’ve shared this episode with my friends who run the mentoring program (and yes, we really have become friends while doing this work together). I’m also going to see if we have a program here in Kentucky that my friends could partner with. Thanks so much for sharing about this life-changing project. (PS and thanks for all the library love I hear from everyone on the podcast!)

  14. This was probably too close a match for Anne to supply, but The Best awe Could Do by Thi Bui is a great graphic novel about the family’s leaving Vietnam and how it influenced parenting decisions.

  15. Lauren says:

    I LOVED this episode – especially hearing about The Storybook Project. I recently read “Stay with Me” after hearing Anne talk about it (or perhaps I saw it on one of her reading lists). I thought it was absolutely wonderful – particularly as an audiobook! The narration is truly more of a one-woman performance and is flawless! I think that, especially for us white, American women, it is helpful to have authentic voices representing characters from such different cultures. I highly recommend it as a “MUST-Hear!”

  16. Sue says:

    So, there I was listening to this great episode of What Should I Read Next while sitting at a stop light. Laura mentioned “Blindness” and said she enjoys post-apocalyptic novels that take place in countries other than her own. The next thing I know, I’m waving my arms around and shouting STATION ELEVEN!! STATION ELEVEN!!! Once I composed myself and checked to see if anyone was watching (they weren’t, with the exception of a curious schnauzer in the next car) I made a mental note to leave a comment here.

    On another note, Laura, if you need characters to like (and I totally understand that) I do NOT recommend you read The Goldfinch. Just…nope.

    Thanks Anne, for another great episode.

    • Margaret says:

      I’m with you, I was also shouting out this title. I’m always recommending it to people, especially those who say they don’t like post-apocalyptic novels.
      This was a wonderful episode. I really enjoyed it.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    I’d recommend ‘The Prison Book Club’ by Ann Walmsley. I Bought this book completely from its blurb but it turned out to be a great read. It’s about a couple of women (true story) who volunteer at a prison to create a Book Club for those who are incarcerated. It reminded me of Laura’s work with the Mums in prison who read for their children.

  18. Elisabeth says:

    Loved this episode and wondered if Laura might like The Fact of a Body? Given her social work and interest in justice, this is a little bit of a different spin. Subtitled A Murder and a Memoir, the author alternates between the story of Ricky Langley, a confessed pedophile & murderer of a 6 year old boy and whose death-row conviction becomes the focus of a civil liberties organization, and her own. For non-fiction, it is so well written and both stories are much more than what they seem on the surface. I reviewed the book on my blog (link below – is this allowed?) Anyway, I think Laura would really like. Anne, triggers abound, so tread carefully.

  19. Julie says:

    I would disagree with the Sun Does Shine recommendation, I’ve read both and people who have read Just Mercy recommend The Sun Does Shine often. HOWEVER, I found it very repetitive after reading Just Mercy. It also felt like recommending something that is almost exactly the same, Educated seems like a good choice. Or if she likes something with hardship, hope, and books people are talking about, I’d say When Breath Becomes Air and The Brightest Hour. I haven’t read it but just listened to an interview with the author of I Should Have Honor, and that sounds like it’s up Laura’s alley too.

    If Laura likes things that are hope, struggles, identity, AND interesting sentence structure, Tin Man would also be a good choice. It also feels like a mystery as you’re not sure where it’s going. It’s a very beautiful read.

  20. Kasia says:

    Very interesting! I’m sorry the guest had to go through all the stress linked to the storm! I’m scared to lose my diaries I wrote as a teenager.

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