WSIRN Ep 184: You’ll never conquer your TBR—and that’s a good thing

Today’s guest is Will Schwalbe, devoted reader and host of the But That’s Another Story podcast. Will believes if we all asked the question “what are you reading” more often, it could change the world, and has a few literary superstitions that I found absolutely delightful.

We’re chatting all about the downside of conquering your TBR, misremembering poetry, bookstore serendipity, and Will’s attempt to convince ME to read a super ambitious classic that I just haven’t had the nerve to pick up yet.

What Should I Read Next #184: You’ll never conquer your TBR—and that’s a good thing with Will Schwalbe

Listen to But That’s Another Story on the podcast platform of your choice!

Connect with Will Schwalbe: Website | Twitter | Facebook

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

Books mentioned in this episode:

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• The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe
• Books for Living, by Will Schwalbe
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls
Love Poems, by Nikki Giovanni
The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck
The Importance of Living, by Lin Yutang
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanigahara
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
The Lord of the Rings series, by J. R. R. Tolkein
The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
• The River, by Peter Heller
• Maps for Lost Lovers, by Nadeem Aslam
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, by Melinda Gates
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof

What do YOU think Will should read next? Do you have any literary superstitions? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Jennifer Moss says:

    I loved the Lewis/Tolkien test! I have the same theory about Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. M. Montgomery. I find that people either loved the Little House books OR Anne of Green Gables. Also, I highly recommend the podcast But That’s Another Story. Wonderful interviews with interesting guests about how a single book can change your life.

    • Ocho says:

      I do believe books can magically come to you! I was struggling with finishing a teaching degree for art and didn’t know what to do. I had read in a different book (about writing a personal mission statement), that if you are adrift, you should read “I Could do Anything if Only I Knew What it Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get it.” I was shelving books at my corporate bookstore job and idly wondered if we carried the book. I reached for the next book and looked down to see THERE IT WAS, in my HAND! I don’t believe everything is meant to be, but I do believe magical things can happen. The book put me right on track to finish what I started, knowing that I could change careers, but needed to prove to myself I can finish what I set out to do. I ended up loving my job. Now it’s 16 years later and I’m considering leaving teaching, I’ll have to look at that book again…

  2. I think I am in the minority on the Anne of green gable versus little house on the Prarie or even lion and the witch and the wardrobe versus lord of the rings. I love all these now I did not read them at the same time in my life. I grew up watching the show Little House on the prairie, as a result, i had to read the books. Then I moved on about late middle school early high school to Anne Shirley and i think it BBC version of the books. I did not read Lord of the rings or the hobbit until the hype of the movies came out. My book suggestion would be a debut author that I just finished The Shifting of Stars – it a young adult fantasy but the unique twist really makes it stand out in this heavy filled genre.

  3. Teri Hyrkas says:

    Wonderful podcast with so many titles that are new to me which now have a personality and a description from both you and Anne. Thanks for that! As to “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”: I enjoyed the story but felt the book was a little disconnected and some things were anachronistic and out of step, somehow. That same kind of “what am I missing?” seemed to run through the entire Narnia series of books for me. Apparently, others had sensed this from the earliest days of publication. Maybe this is what stops you in your reading, Will? It has only been since 2010 that an answer for this “disconnect” has been offered that makes excellent sense. You can read about it in “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis” by Michael Ward. The biggest clue is to know that Lewis held the Chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, and it plays a formational part in his Narnia books. Hope this is helpful information.

  4. I LOVED this episode. The End of Your Life Book Club has been on my TBR for such a long time and this podcast with Will Schwalbe inspired me to bump it all the way to the top.

    The thread of conversation that I really appreciated from this episode is the discussion about friendship and the connective power of books. So, the similar titles that I’d recommend would be:

    1. Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs by Caroline Knapp. This book is written from a personal and sociological point of view. Knapp takes you through the relationship she built with her dog Lucille in a newly sober world. But, she also provides facts/studies about how our connection with dogs affects our lives, as well as anecdotal stories from other dog owners. This book is profound if you’re a dog lover but I think anyone would enjoy it because it really explores friendship, bonds and what it means to be human. (Pro tip: Hillary Swank reads the audio book and it’s PHENOMENAL!)

    2. Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck. You mentioned Buck, so you might have already read this, but this book is ALL about friendship, relationships, making mistakes and the messy, complicated business of being a human. I think this is Buck’s finest work (of those that I’ve read).

  5. Natalie says:

    Hi Anne,
    I was so happy recently to discover that you are providing the transcripts to your podcast! I’m not sure if I’m being impatient but today’s is not available to click on it (says click here but no link). Not sure if you’re aware. I shall wait anxiously! 🙂


    • Anne says:

      We’ve been having such a hard time with this since the recent wordpress update, sigh. Hoping they get the kinks worked out, but for now, I think we’ve persuaded it to show the transcript. (Thanks for flagging this issue for me.)

  6. Deborah says:

    I had read End of Your Life BookClub while I was working for a local hospice! How awesome to hear him on your show!What a gift, even though I read a different genre than the speaker, I gleaned lots of good stuff from listening Anne, like I always do! You broaden my horizons!

  7. Christy says:

    I loved this podcast! I too have a library full of books (about 2,200 of them) of mostly books that I have never read. I laughed when Will said he likes to go shopping in his shelves. I do that too! It’s just so wonderful to have a library full of TBR’s. So nice to hear someone mention Sidney Sheldon! I loved reading his books in the 90’s. Thanks for such an enjoyable podast.

  8. Kate says:

    Alistair MacLean! I discovered him in junior high when the boy I had a crush on was reading Puppet on a Chain so of course I had to get a copy for myself and devoured it, followed by Athabasca, Goodbye California, and so many others. Such fun reads.

  9. Adrienne Southard says:

    Do you have a recommendation for Tolstoy translations? I keep using this as an excuse to pick a book different from Anna Karenina…

  10. Kathleen says:

    I loved this episode – I have read Will’s books and loved them and I love “But that’s another Story” . Will’s kindness emanates from his books and his podcast. As for C.S. Lewis – my aunt’s best friend read her the Chronicles of Narnia as she was dying. A deeply spiritual person, my aunt was greatly comforted by listening to Narnia. Thank you for this.

  11. Lauren D says:

    This was such an excellent episode. Many thanks to you both. I have read quite a bit of Dostoevsky (and loved it all), but no Tolstoy – to my husband’s dismay! Thank you for the gentle encouragement to give it a go.

  12. Marie says:

    Will has no need to apologize for disposing of “War and Peace” to lighten his traveling load. Hey, Cheryl Strayed famously did the same with her trail guide while hiking in “Wild.” So, a great literary precedent!

    But I have to say, my husband, who studied Russian in college, guessed before I finished recounting the interview that Will’s mistake was to throw out the character glossary. Hubby says the glossary is something like 20 pages!

    Oh, and we figured out that I finished all the Narnia books but not LOTR, while husband finished all of Tolkein but not C. S. Lewis. So, proof that opposites attract?

  13. Sue says:

    Well, I’m a Narnia fan, Narnia is light and goodness, while I found Tolkien to be dark. As I read the transcript (Yes, I appreciate that, too!) I couldn’t help but think of the Star Trek/Star Wars divide. Sci fi fans usually love one or the other. They may watch both, but there is usually a clear preference. (STAR TREK rules!)

    This podcast was especially good!! I’m not familiar with Will or his books, but he touched so many ideas (the fun of having LOTS of books to look forward to, rather than to get through) and the quotes and the thought provoking, and the reasons to read War And Peace! I just relished every paragraph of the transcript!!

    Oh and I remember the list of characters in War and Peace, but I noticed how the Russians just LOVE to pronounce all the syllables, all the titles, all the honorifics, all the names they can come up with!, and I’m noticing that right now as I listen to A Gentleman in Moscow. And I’m wishing that Americans hadn’t shortened everything to casual first names. We are missing out on an experience!!

  14. Denise Losh says:

    Anne, finished The River a few days ago. At one point, I just wanted to put the book down and bawl….
    I have read The Dog Stars (a favorite of mine), and now looking forward to reading the rest of Peter Heller’s novels.

  15. Janice Cunning says:

    This is one of my favourite episodes. I so enjoyed listening to Will. And love the idea of asking everyone about what they are reading.

  16. Michele says:

    I love the availability of transcripts that’s an excellent feature

    Are some books that get mentioned in the podcast missing in the show notes links section?

    Is there any way to have the books in the transcript of each podcast also be linked ?

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