WSIRN Ep 170: Fascinating fiction for the relentlessly practical reader

Happy Tuesday, readers! This week I’m chatting with Anna LeBaron, author of the memoir The Polygamist’s Daughter, about how literacy kept her going through a difficult childhood, and how as an adult she turned being an author’s biggest fan into a full-time career. You’ll hear how nonfiction put her dearest fractured relationships back together again, her tips for being a “patron of the arts” on a budget, and the redemptive nature of memoir-writing.


Anna asked me to pair her with some novels that would convince her fiction isn’t a waste of her time, and that’s a responsibility I take seriously.

What Should I Read Next #170: Fascinating fiction for the relentlessly practical reader with Anna LeBaron

Find out more about Anna LeBaron’s work: Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook


Books mentioned in this episode:
Some links are affiliate links. More details here.
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 Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir, by Anna LeBaron
• For The Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, by Jen Hatmaker
• The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir, by Ruth Wariner
The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, by Dallas Willard
The Rhythm of Life: Living Everyday with Passion and Purpose, by Matthew Kelly
Think Differently, Live Differently: Keys to a Life of Freedom, by Bob Hamp
• Think Differently, Lead Differently: Bringing Reformation in Your Heart, Your Home, and Your Organization, by Bob Hamp
• Think Differently, Learn Differently: Communication with Change in Mind, by Bob Hamp
Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers
• The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You, by Shannan Martin
• I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations, by Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart-Holland
• North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both, by Cea Sunrise Person
• The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls
• Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
• The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah
• Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro
• Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, by Dani Shapiro
• Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny Lawson
• What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty


Has a book brought you back together with family or friends? What nonfiction title changed your life? Tell us in the comments!


Leave A Comment
  1. Lisa Snead says:

    I read The Blood of Emmett Till last year and it sort of started me on a quest to know more. I am from Mississippi. I am white. My upbringing and life were so carefree. I never had to be afraid. I was just undone by this book.

    • Elisabeth says:

      Have you read Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Ghost Boys? It’s middle-grade contemporary fiction where the ghost of Emmett Till plays an important role.

  2. Elisabeth says:

    What about Barbara Kingsolver? The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible would be my suggestions, though I think any of her novels might be a good fit.

  3. Debbie in Alabama says:

    Just finished listening to your interview on episode 170 and was so moved by the provoking insights fro Ms LeBaron. I cannot delete it as I have to set aside time to listen again and make written notes. It was hard to put down Waiting on Eden, which is a difficult but worthy read to listen today but I WAS completely uplifted by your pure and poignant question and gentle probe of what has clearly been painful to her, and yet as in the best, a true redemptive outcome! Thank you so much!

  4. Karen Heath says:

    Every time I hear a podcast with a listener who wants to get meaning out of their fiction I scream “The Poisonwood Bible!” Or really any Kingsolver book really. This is the kind of fiction that makes me happy as well. Another thought, Half Broke Horses – the prequel to Glass Castles was so good. And so important when reading GC. I’m excited to read your recommendations for this week!

    • Patti says:

      I just finished it and also loved it. I’m surprised by how emotional I felt. I cried several times reading it. Have you read her previous book on love and marriage? Also worthwhile, I think.

  5. Teri Hyrkas says:

    Amazing podcast! Thank you. I have resisted reading The Sound of Gravel and the Polygamists Daughter because of the memories I have of my own abusive father, although I did read Educated and am glad I did. I love fiction and have experienced a lot of joy and healing by reading widely. My suggestions for beautiful, meaningful, worthwhile fiction are Gilead, Home, and Lila by Marilynne Robinson.

    • Dana Martin says:

      Agree. I love those Marilynne Robinson books for the same reasons you cite. Especially Home—I’ve read it and listened to it multiple times.

  6. BarbN says:

    I totally understand that Anna wouldn’t want to read Educated because of triggers, so this is a suggestion for people who did read and like the Tara Westover book, but maybe not for Anna. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne would make a perfect flight pick to go with Educated. It’s fiction, but the main character was similarly raised in isolation by a psychopathic father- she just doesn’t know he’s a psychopath because their life is all she’s ever known. Coincidentally I happened to read these two books about a month apart and I kept thinking of one while reading the other. Both authors make some really creepy, eerie points about how hard it is to break away from an abusive situation when it’s all you know. And although they’re set in entirely different parts of the country, there is a really wonderful connection to the natural world in both.

  7. Laurie says:

    I’d love to recommend a few fiction titles- 1. “Wednesday Wars” I highly recommend this one on audio. When I read this, I was transported back to my childhood in the 70’s. It’s very “normal life” but I think Anna might enjoy it. 2- “Cold Sassy Tree” is another slice of life book that is a joy to read. 3- “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” just because it’s my favorite book.

  8. Hilary says:

    I’d suggest The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah . This book is wildly popular for a reason. I’m pretty sure i experiences every emotion while reading it.

  9. Brigette says:

    As I Christian, I’ve found inspiration from the fiction book “Christy” and the Yada Yada Prayer Group series. These are on the lighter side, but I still got great meaning from them.

  10. Coreline says:

    Is anyone else dying to know what other book Ann had in mind when she gave Anna LaBaron the choice between dark and brooding vs lighthearted at the end of the podcast? Anna chose a lighter read .. and Ann’s suggestion was What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty .. me I so want to know the other option! Please share Ann!!!

  11. Sue Endacott says:

    I would recommend Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. And Jewel by Bret Lott. Both are well written fiction with elements of redemption but not heavy handed in their message. I think she would enjoy them. I’m reading Virgil Wander by Leif Enger now and she might like that if she likes Peace Like A River. I think The Great Alone might be too traumatizing for her to read as a fiction choice.

  12. Sandra Mosolgo says:

    Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan is a memoir about a city careerwoman relocating to help her physician father
    in a rural area. It is warm , moving and humorous. My takeaway was the reminder that sometimes you just have to “be there” for others.

  13. Anna and Anne, Wow, what a great episode! Anna, thanks for being so open with us. That’s something I struggle to do in my own writing. I have no book suggestions for you. I just want to say it sounds like you are growing into a happy place. That’s a wonderful encouragement to the people you help. You’re an inspiration to me.

  14. Janet Kinsella says:

    Anna & Anne,
    I never feel my time is wasted reading novels from Charles Martin. His writing is classified as Christian however I refer to it as Human. I never hesitate to claim Charles as my favorite writer, and I eagerly await his books.

  15. Erin says:

    I’m a very practical reader also but still love Fiction. I especially love fiction when it provides me with a new point of view or an ethical dilemma I have not experience. That said I would highly recommend a place for us by Fatima Mirza, silence by Sushako Endo, necessary lies by Diane Chamberlain, or Turtle all the Way Down or The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I’m worried The Great Alone will be triggering for you given your history. Don’t give up on fiction if you don’t like it!

  16. Holli Petersen says:

    I really enjoyed this episode! I’ve had the Sound of Gravel and the Polygamist’s Daughter on my TBR list for awhile. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so polygamy and the abuses suffered from those within those sects truly hurts my heart. Last year I read Educated and was absolutely wrecked by her experiences. Though these types of books hurt to read, I feel like they expand my empathy in really healthy ways.

    In the vein of some of Anne’s recommendations, I also wanted to suggest two memoirs. They’re also about trauma in childhood, but take a lighthearted approach – much like Jenny Lawson, except less crude humor. (I do still love Jenny Lawson though!)

    They are:
    – A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
    – She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel

    They tell the story of a girl growing up in a very small town with very few of life’s comforts. Her family is nothing short of dysfunctional. But, she finds a way to use her imagination and sense of humor like weapons to fight her way out. I particularly loved She Got Up Off the Couch because it shines a light on Zippy’s mother who literally got off the couch one day and made something of her life, despite extreme obstacles. Both are stories of triumph! I highly recommend!

  17. Dawn says:

    This goes in the top five of my favorite episodes. I must read her book. I loved her voice and it made me think about issues in new ways plus gave me some great book ideas. Loved it!

  18. Jeanine says:

    I think you might like books by Jodi Piccoult. My most recent favorite of her novels is insightful and is Small Great Things. Larger than Life is also really great for a novel, dealing with issues of family.

  19. Sarah J Askins says:

    I really enjoyed this episode because I am fascinated by people who choose not to read lots of fiction. For my own work as an English teacher, I have read some interesting research that says that people who experience deep trauma struggle to engage with fiction because fiction requires us to feel safe when we read it. To completely let go of our reality and emerge ourselves in a fictional world does requires feeling safe.

    I think another good title to add would be Gilead by Marilynn Robinson. I love the quiet prose, the beautiful language, and the redemptive love woven through the whole story.

  20. Debbie says:

    Maybe Jane Eyre? A girl is sent from an abusive home to school and finds a spiritual mentor in a fellow student. As a woman, her faith and integrity help her to make choices she can live with, even when they take her away from the man she loves. There is a happy ending (although also a madwoman in the middle).

  21. Marie says:

    Great episode – Anna you are inspiring! I have a recommendation that is non-fiction, but feels like it would be the lighter side of some of your themes – “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.” It’s a memoir – the author’s daughter raised her 10 children through winning jingle and other creative contests in the 1950s. Very entertaining and inspiring. There is mention that the father was an alcoholic who spent all his earnings, thus the financial need, but it’s not dwelled upon.

  22. Diane J. says:

    I absolute loved this episode and was on pins and needles waiting to see what you would recommend to to her. Have to say, I was a little surprised she chose The Great Alone and am wondering if she was able to finish it all. Think I’ll be reading Inheritance next! Thanks so much, Anne!

  23. Gena says:

    I highly recommend A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. It’s a sweet love story about his wife, and a wonderful story about his friendship with C.S. Lewis.

  24. Victoria says:

    I loved this episode (as always!) and just wanted to make sure that readers of Inheritance by Dani Shapiro are aware that it’s book of the month on the Happier Podcast – there’ll be an episode coming up where it is discussed by Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft.

  25. Ashleigh says:

    I want to recommend something to Anna. I have a similar reading history (leaning towards self help/Christian self help) and recently read Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Callahan and loved it! It is a fiction work about the wife of C.S. Lewis and what she could have felt like in the period leading up to becoming his wife. Lewis’ son, interviewed on another podcast, said it was very close to what he imagines their relationship was like, so even though it was fiction it was thoroughly researched and somewhat biographical. Might be another good fiction place to start!

  26. Julie says:

    Another recommendation is The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman. Somehow it takes grief and moving forward in life and makes it both devastating and real and light-hearted all at the same time. Might be a nice mix of a lighter read with a serious topic.

  27. Mindy says:

    I just listened to this one and it was one of my favorites though I only recently found the podcast. Sometimes I think of my three before Anne and always love it when we have one in common and this time we did; I also thought of The Great Alone. The other fiction title I thought of was Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. It’s on best seller lists so you may already know of it. I thought of it because of the kids who were in a non traditional family setting then also the connection to children’s homes (though this wasn’t an example of a good place). It’s historical fiction and a compelling story that I remember as an easy read — but not light, really makes you think. The other book I thought of is nonfiction — The Little Princes by Coner Grennan. Another story about kids in challenging situations but this one is a different culture and told from a different voice than the books I usually read (20 something single man).

  28. Angela says:

    I also love memoirs, but especially memoirs set in other countries. All of these feature children overcoming challenging circumstances to thrive: “Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum” by Kennedy Odede, “The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change” by Adam Braun, and “Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal” by Conor Grennan.

  29. Becky Strom says:

    A book I would suggest, after listening to the podcast, is “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd. I don’t think it would be triggering, but thoughtful and beautiful.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.