WSIRN Ep 177: When your reading life is a roller coaster

Many listeners and past guests on WSIRN have shared their stories of reading dry spells due to chronic illness, anxiety, and disability. Today’s guest Kate Mitchell has experienced polar opposites in her reading life, going from a period of time when reading was literally her job, to stretches where reading was literally impossible because of chronic illness. Today Kate is sharing some of the wisdom she’s gained on her roller coaster of a reading life, including practical tips for how to accept reality and adapt your reading life if you’re having a rough go of it yourself.

We’re also chatting about what realism looks like in the fantasy genre, books wayyyy too big to keep in your purse, and Kate gives me the student-debt-free cheat sheet to reading like you’ve got a Masters degree in literature. (Her answer, I was happy to hear, involves highlighters.) Let’s get to it!

What Should I Read Next #177: When your reading life is a roller coaster with Kate Mitchell

You hear more from Kate Mitchell about her reading life and chronic illness at

Click here to read the full episode transcription (opens in a new tab).

Books mentioned in this episode:

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The Percy Jacksons series, by Rick Riordan
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin J. DiAngelo
Outlander, by Diana Gabeldon
Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
World Without End, by Ken Follett
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carolos Ruiz Zafón
Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult
The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi
Lost and Wanted, by Nell Freudenberger
The Sunne in Splendour, by Sharon Kay Penman
Richard III, by William Shakespeare
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

What do you think Kate should read next? Tell us in the comments section!


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  1. Laura says:

    I so appreciate hearing from Kate about how she handles reading with rheumatoid arthritis. I too have an autoimmune disease and have had to deal with brain fog that kept me from reading. Good suggestions for how to handle brain fog. I have been following the Autoimmune Protocol for the last year and a half and am feeling so much better and the brain fog is becoming rare. So I’m back to reading and loving it. Thanks, Kate, for your encouraging words to people with chronic illness!

  2. Sarah says:

    Kate-I was thinking about Timeline by Michael Crichton and The Eight by Katherine Neville for you. Both are set partially in history, partially in present day. The Eight is one of my all time favorites. Was lovely listening to your interview today.

    • Laura says:

      Me too! I’m on book 6 and can’t believe how much I’ve enjoyed the series after being sure it wasn’t for me initially.

      • Laura Salles Schwartz says:

        I’m also an Outlander fan although some parts of some of the books can be a little bit of a slogfest!

  3. Yvonne says:

    I was thinking you might enjoy “A Piece of the World” by Christina Baker Kline. It is the back story of the woman who lives with a degenerative disease who crawls across a desolate field in Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting, “Christina’s World.”

  4. S says:

    Great episode although still not planning to put Outlander on my TBR this year.

    I am wondering if Graphic Novels might work for those struggling to continue reading while dealing with chronic illnesses? Many classics are being released in graphic form. I have discovered titles (non classics) that I’ve really enjoyed in this new to me genre (Hey Kiddo, Book Love, Check Please, and Relish are all fabulous!)

  5. Christie in MT says:

    After a previous guest named it as her “hated” books, I almost drove off the road yelling, “YAYYY!” when Kate’s first favorite pick was my beloved Outlander! I’ve read them all (some 2-3 times) and I’ll admit the first time I picked it up after MUCH prodding from friends – I put it down within the first 100 pages. It can be challenging (Gaelic words, Scottish accents), not to mention the intimidating size, so I highly recommend the audiobooks. The entire series is narrated by Davina Porter – who is beyond amazing at the voices and multiple languages. After listening to them, I read them all and it was much easier knowing how to pronounce the names and places!
    I hope we get to hear what Kate thought of her recommendations, I have yet to find anything even close to Diana Gabaldon’s works.
    Right now, I’m making my way through the list of Scottish fiction I found from the WSIRN episode recorded in Wigtown, preparing for my OWN trip to Scotland this summer!

  6. Luc says:

    Kate, I’m happy that you love the Outlander books too. I’m planning on reading the fifth book this year ahead of the release of season five of the series. I also connected with the types of books you enjoy reading.
    I was wondering if you have read the Temerare series by Naomi Novik? The first book is, His Majesty’s Dragon. It’s part historical, the Napoleonic Wars, and part fantasy. Dragons are part of the air corps for each of the countries involved in the conflict. Temerare is a rare Imperial dragon from China who bonds with Captain Laurence, a naval officer, when his egg is part of the booty of a captured French ship. Laurence is immediately transferred to the air corps and must learn how to command a crew as well as build his relationship with Temerare. The dragons are intelligent, they talk and can learn all the subjects humans do. And the General, or Admiral of the air corps is a woman with women captains and crew members as well. Throughout the nine books Temerare and Laurence travel to China, Australia, South America, Africa, Eastern, and Western Europe on all kinds of missions and adventures. The details about the war are based on actual events, with the dragon air corps thrown in.
    I also liked Novik’s next novel, Uprooted which I think is based on the Baba Yaga legend. I hope you will have a chance to try Naomi Novik’s work. In my opinion, she is an excellent writer.

  7. Kate, I REALLY think you would love the Rivers Of Time series by Lisa T Bergren if you haven’t read them. I can’t do Outlander because of the heavy romance scenes, but I’d classify Rivers as Outlander Lite – time travel, romance, medieval Italy, action and war … it’s my favorite! And YA, as the heroines are in their teens – and strong females. Just adore it!

    Anne, I kind of hated the one book I’ve read by Nell Freudenberger but your review made me want to read this one anyway! Such an interesting topic.

  8. Karen OConnor says:

    Hi Kate, I want to recommend Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. It’s about a history student who is transported from 2048 back to 14th century England at the onset of the Black Plague. My favorite genre is historical fiction and I loved Ken Follett’s series about the cathedral. My book club pushed me out of my comfort zone to read this science fiction book and I loved it. I read it in 2014 and I’m still thinking about it!

  9. Angela Frith says:

    Historical fiction is my favorite too. Outlander is my absolute favorite book, and I just finished Wolf Hall. Some suggestions: Half of a Yellow Sun by Adichie, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, London by Edward Rutherford, and Pachinko by Lee.

  10. Sarah J Askins says:

    I think you will love Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy. I loved The Discovery of Witches. The second book goes back to Tudor England, and the main characters meet Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh.

  11. Wendy Derechin says:

    Great episode! Here are some recommendations for Kate:
    1. The Thief (and the series) by Megan Whalen Turner
    2. Wool by Hugh Howey
    3. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
    4. Secrets Behind Chronic and Mystery Illness and How to Finally Heal by Anthony William = this book and ALL his books are healing me and saving my life for the first time ever after 14 years of a chronic illness (neuro Lyme disease, including brain fog). It addresses and focuses on healing the root cause. There’s a chapter on rheumatoid arthritis. His instagram page (medical medium) is filled with healing stories, inspiration, support, guidance and offers a warm and compassionate community filled with people conquering and healing from years of chronic illness. Sharing it just in case it might help ❤️

  12. Kassie Joslin says:

    I wonder if Kate would enjoy the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, given her penchant for historical fiction from earlier centuries.

  13. Lisa says:

    Loved this episode. I have listened to all of the Percy Jackson books as well as White Fragility. I finished White Fragility while driving 18 hours to get to my mom after she had a stroke.

  14. Anne says:

    I must second the Wolf Hall recommendation, and if you like that, there is a sequel! So good.
    I would also recommend The Heaven Tree trilogy by Edith Pargeter. An older publication but with similarly well-researched history. Fictional but fascinating characters. It explores the complexities of being an artist in medieval times when everyone’s place was “fixed” where God had placed them. So good.

  15. Adrienne says:


    As you’re a fantasy buff, can I recommend the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner? It’s vaguely early-Renaissance fantasy grounded in a world similar to the Greek Peninsula. It has a lot of the same feel as Leigh Bardugo, except that it focuses more on a single character.

    And for historical fiction? Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. It’s sooo good – and starts in the late-1500s Scottish Border Wars.

    • Adrienne says:

      Also! The Thief is a heist book! Technically YA. And a major character struggles with a disability in the sequels. Soooo good.

  16. Jana says:

    Kate, you might enjoy Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth”. This is a fat fat historical novel that follows someone through many years, rich with detail, interesting characters. (I had a car wreck while listening to it 18 years ago!)

  17. Joanne Booy says:

    Kate, I think you would enjoy the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley and I think Anne Bogel would enjoy it too. I’ve been listening to WSIRN for quite awhile and never heard her talking about this series. Pa Salt is a mysterious, rich man living in a castle in Geneva, who adopts 6 girl babies from different corners of the globe, and names them after the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades star constellation. When he dies, he leaves each adopted daughter a small clue as to their origins and each consecutive book focuses on each sister’s journey to discover where they came from. There is a historical fiction element to each and the stories take the reader to different parts of the world (Brazil, Australia, Norway, etc.) and are so compelling! I’ve read 4 already and the cool thing is Riley is still writing them. Here’s my review of the first instalment.

  18. Hannah says:

    Another great episode. Would highly recommend that Kate reads The Morland Dynasty by Cynthia Harrold Eagles. A fantastic series which follows the lives of the Morland family from 1400s to 1930s. It is set in York although as the series goes on they do include London and parts of America. They incorporate all kinds if historical events with the characters often in the midst of the action. The early books cover a large number of years but as the series goes on the time covered in each book is shorter. The first one is called the foundling. Oh and there are 36 books in the series.
    Would also recommend another historical fiction set by Norah Lofts and her House trilogy.

  19. Naomi A Jones says:

    I have psoriasis and Crohn’s Disease. Lately, I have had to mentally accept they aren’t just going away and I have to make lifestyle changes to cope. I really appreciate your encouragement in this episode. AND I also carry along a book to all my appointments!

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