WSIRN Ep 187: Traveling the world without leaving your hometown

Today’s guest Hannah Christmas is a stay at home mom whose reading life changed forever when she had a baby. Not only how much she read, or when she read, but the big-picture long-term-plan way she wanted to share her love of reading with the world.

Today we’re chatting about fresh blood in the bookselling world, the treatment for a serious overdose of books set in New York City, literary handcrafts, and much much more.

Let’s get to it!

What Should I Read Next #187: Traveling the world without leaving your hometown with Hannah Christmas

You can check out Hannah Christmas’s literary embroidery on Etsy.

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

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 BabyLit series, by Jennifer Adams (try Pride & Prejudice)
• Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
• Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn
The Martian, by Andy Weir
We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter
• Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
One Thousand White Women, by Jim Fergus
• The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
• The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
• Madeleine, by Ludwig Bemelmans
• The Emissary, by Yoko Tawada
• Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi
• Monsoon Mansion, by Cinelle Barnes

Also mentioned: 
• Rainy Day Books in Kansas City
• Our Daily Nada in Kansas City
• Indiebound’s bookstore finder
• Taiye Selasi’s essay Bye-Bye Babar, via The Lip
• Taiye Selasi’s TEDTalk, “Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local.

What do YOU think Hannah should read next?


Leave A Comment
  1. Heather Buentello says:

    I could not get to work fast enough to come on here and recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It’s set in Afghanistan and while it has a lot of heartbreak, it ends with hope. One of my top 10 of all time.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I love this and can’t wait to listen! I’m also a stay at home mom who rarely gets to travel, and so I view my reading as vacationing through books. We have a huge map of the world on a wall, and earlier this year, I started moving some of the magnetic pins onto the countries where I’d read a book set there. It’s filling up and I like looking at it and remembering all the internationally-set books I’ve completed this year. (Although I might actually run out of pins before the year is over!)

  3. Christine Heggem says:

    I really identify with Hannah’s frustration over so many books being set in New York or on the east coast. Even though I now live in DC, I’m from Montana and find I miss the voice of the West and rural people. I’d recommend “Winter Wheat” by Mildred Walker, published in 1944 but it is still fresh and very much of a certain place. I also loved “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee, a multi-generational story of Koreans in Japan.

    • Anne says:

      I read Winter Wheat a few years ago and loved it! I have never heard of it anywhere else but on my dad’s bookshelf! 🙂

  4. my recommendation would be either the blossom street series by Debbie mccomber which is set in Seattle. Also cedar cove which is center around port orchard also in the Seattle area. Debbie from the area so they are both hart warming stories. The bonus with the blossom street is you get to hear about yarn and being creative. Also for a creative series i would do the scrapbooking or tea shop mysteries by Julia child. This was a great episode also to change up your reading maybe pick up books that are more fantasy based but in like dystopian range cause they usually are set somewhere in the world but they turned the world upside down so it definitely different. Miss you next week but i will be eagerly waiting for the next episode.

  5. Elise says:

    Hannah, you may have convinced me to shop from my own bookshelves and finally start reading The Martian – your reference to “a great love for Doctor Who” got me particularly excited. 🙂
    I had to stop partway through the episode so I could take a look at your literary embroidery. It is so beautiful and winsome. I especially love the image of Lucy and Mr Tumnus. You captured that moment very well!

  6. Kat says:

    I love the idea of tracking my reading on a map. Already I have been trying to expand my range geographically. Thanx for the idea. I think Hannah would enjoy “A Place For Us” by Fatima Farheen Mirza and “The Boat People” by Sharon Bala

  7. Donna H. says:

    It’s been many years since I read these books but both Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell take place in Kansas City. And I’m going to steal your map idea 🙂

  8. Lisa Russell says:

    I think Hannah would like the book called The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. It is set in Washington State and tells a fictionalized account of a little known piece of Chinese history. She may also like Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman which is a historical novel set in India. These are two of my favorite books – although I will admit to having many favorite books!

  9. Rebekah in SoCal says:

    This was a fun episode. I love “The Martian” and “Jane Eyre” and am 30th on the waiting list for “We Were the Lucky Ones.” I feel like the recommendations were for me just as much as they were for Hannah.

  10. Julia Kennedy says:

    Check out The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. Great story, very evocative of the time and place.

  11. Melanie says:

    These are a few books that I really enjoyed that also happen to be set in countries around the world:

    – Out Stealing Horses – Norway
    – Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage – Antarctica
    – Cry the Beloved Country or Long Walk to Freedom – South Africa
    – Cutting for Stone – Ethiopia
    – Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China – China
    – First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers – Cambodia
    – Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea – North Korea
    – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Chechnya
    – A Thousand Hills to Heaven – Rwanda
    – HHhH: A Novel – Czechoslovakia
    – Reading Lolita in Tehra – Iran
    – The Time In Between – Spain and Morocco

    These two below were both well written but I didn’t put them on my “must recommend to others” list:
    – Evening is the Whole Day – Malaysia
    – Claire of the Sea Light – Haiti

  12. Angela says:

    I also love to travel through books. Some of my favorites are:
    – Big Little Lies – Moriarty (Australia)
    – The Poisonwood Bible – Kingsolver (Congo)
    – Mara, Daughter of the Nile – Myers (Egypt)
    – The Gown – Robson (London)
    – The Piano Shop on the Left Bank – Carhart (Paris)
    – Memoirs of a Geisha – Golden (Japan)
    – Pachinko – Lee (Korea and Japan)
    – Half of a Yellow Sun – Adichie (Nigeria)
    – Outlander – Gabaldon (Scotland)

  13. Anne-Grete says:

    Such a great episode, I enjoyed it a lot.
    I would suggest Refuge by Dina Nayeri and Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri also good 😉
    Me and my sister also helped write a blog post about Baltic reading and contributed with Estonian books (tiny country in North Europe). These are some really unique books that are not known by many people 😉

  14. Lori says:

    Part of Dark Places but Gillian Flynn is set in the West Bottoms. Gone Girl is set in the Joplin/Carthage area. Sharp Objects is set in a small MO town, Wind Gap. She’s from KC so all of her books have some sort of MO connection.

  15. Libby says:

    Hey Hannah! Loved the episode and gave me a lot of ideas for recommendations. If you like to travel through your books, have you read much in the travelogue vein? I absolutely love Bill Bryson, and his book on Australia “In a Sunburned Country” is my favorite of his.
    One of my favorite nonfiction books is Imperial Requiem by Justin Vovk. It’s about the last four empresses of Europe: Queen Mary, Alexandra of Russia, the Hungarian empress, and the Prussian empress. A great deal of the book is from the letters between the royal families, which gives it a much more engaging, first person narrative style than some nonfiction. And the women start at all different places in Europe and end up in all different places, so you really traverse the continent. And if you read it please please comment back; I’ve been trying to get my mom and boyfriend to read it for ages and they keep saying “oh, I’m not that into the royals…” And I’m like I bet you are! You just don’t know it yet!
    Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is nonfiction by a New Yorker who moves to Savannah, Georgia. I think it’s fair to say that while the city is populated by some real characters, the city becomes also a character itself with how evocative the descriptions are.
    In the memoir category, I really enjoyed A Day of Honey by Anna Ciezadlo. She’s an American who married a Lebanese man and then moved around the Middle East with him, and it’s part memoir, part travelogue, part cookbook. After all, what better way to get to know a place than through its food?
    Hope at least some of those strike your fancy!

  16. Sue Baum says:

    I have yet to play this podcast episode, but based on her faves, I will definitely have to listen! I LOVED her top three – We Were the Lucky Ones is a true story I will never forget, Jane Eyre my favorite classic from high school, and The Martian was such a great book (and they didn’t mess it up with the film – yay!). I just finished an amazing book that I would never have picked up except it was a book club pick…and it was AMAZING! The title is So Big by Edna Ferber, and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924!!!! She also wrote Showboat and Giant, which I never read but loved the shows based on the novel. Anyway, So Big is set in hardscrabble rural Illinois in the 19th century, when many people of Dutch descent worked tirelessly to raise crops that they would “truck” by horse and buggy to sell in Chicago, many hours away. I love well-developed characters, and Ms. Ferber’s main protagonist, Selina, is just one of many unforgettable people. The themes (women’s rights, family, class) and the language are still so relevant. I also read that the author was a contemporary of Dorothy Parker, who is on my TBR thanks to this blog and now must read next! 🙂

  17. Andrea says:

    You may want to consider “How to be an American Housewife” by Margaret Dilloway. It is a family drama with family secrets involving an immigrant/mom and first-generation American/daughter. It takes place both in Japan and California with a lot of cultural insights, from both cultures. She also has several YA books but I cannot vouch for those, yet.

  18. Carol Sylvester says:

    Hannah and I share two favorites – ‘The Martian’ (LOVED the audiobook!) and ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’. I just finished a book I think Hannah would enjoy set in Syria – a part of the world I haven’t read very much from. It’s called ‘The Map of Salt and Stars’ by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar. It is the parallel journeys of a modern day family who become refugees when their home is bombed, and the 12th century story that the young girl’s father used to tell her. Shout out to independent bookstore Kramerbooks at Dupont Circle in DC where I picked it up on a trip last week…at 7:30 in the morning!!

    • Great episode- as an addictive reader I may have to ration how often I listen to this podcast! Otherwise I may never get anything else done! I think Hannah would like A Tale to the Time being- by Ruth Ozeki. It is set in Vancouver BC and Japan. It is a kind of magic combo between historical fiction and contemporary fantasy. Begins with a message in a bottle on the beach. Enjoy!

  19. Marla Jensen says:

    I have some ideas for getting some new places….
    The Pearl that broke its shell ….Afghanistan
    author Lisa See ….Asian countries
    author Jane Harper (my favorite is The Lost Man) Australia
    The girl who smiled beads …..many African countries
    The Rent Collector ….Cambodi
    The Snow Child…..Alaska
    Montana 1948….Montana
    Homes …..Syria
    Into thin air…Mt. Everest

  20. Britany Arnold says:

    Hannah I have two for you:
    1) Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys- set in the Baltics
    2) Girl at War by Sara Novic – set in the Balkans


  21. Jade says:

    I think with your love of historical fiction and sci-fi, The Calculating Stars would be a good fit, it’s like Hidden Figures if the women questioned why they couldn’t be astronauts as well and due to a disaster happening in the early fifties, the capital of America is moved to Kansas City if I’m remembering correctly but don’t hold me to that.

  22. Joanne says:

    I think Hannah would like Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. It is set in Canada and about the residential school system. In this book she can learn a bit of history, travel to Ontario, Canada, and wow! The ending! This emotional book has also been made into a movie.

  23. Christie Kline says:

    I recommend Budapest in the ’90s with Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts by Julian Rubinstein. Not only is the story crazy and hysterical at every turn, but it takes place in a time of great upheaval in the Eastern Bloc. Our guy is from Transylvania and moves to Budapest to make a new life for himself, so culture clash is inevitable and Rubinstein does an excellent job of taking us to someplace utterly foreign. This is a perfect mood lifter after the more serious recommendations that Anne made for you.

    I also LOVED The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria), where a family stable with four sons falls apart after the father must go to work in another city, told from the point of view of the youngest son.

    And another few, all 5-star reads for me.
    Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (childhood in rural-ish England in the ’80s)
    Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell (Ozarks)
    I’m Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti (very rural Italy)

    (Anne, how do you keep it to just three?)

  24. Brandi says:

    I listen to WSIRN at my desk and when the idea of marking and categorizing your books geographically was mentioned I said out loud to my computer “yes!!!” I love this!!!!

  25. Mary says:

    Hannah, you must read the biography “Truman” by David McCullough. It was fascinating and, to my surprise, one of my favorite books ever. Kansas City plays strongly in the book. Its and Missouri’s and, of course, Truman’s history and politics are amazing. I see this as staying on your bookshelf! It has stayed on mine!

  26. Anne with an E says:

    I wanted to recommend a memoir, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller. A true, gritty story of growing up in Africa; you get a real sense of the country through her descriptions.

    • Melody says:

      As someone who grew up in Africa I LOVED this book! I also liked Fuller’s other book “Leaving Before the Rains Come”.

  27. Lisa H. says:

    I think Hannah would enjoy The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker. It’s the story of a young American woman who travels to Burma (now called Myanmar) in search of finding answers to her father’s mysterious disappearance. I loved this book.

  28. Melody Rensberger says:

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It hits the historical fiction, World War II, different location (Guernsey in the Channel Islands) and it sounds like she likes different types of prose so she might like the epistolary.
    My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell- memoir with rich detail about the food and animals on the island of Corfu.

  29. Jill W. says:

    I’m a little late to the party on this one. But a book I read recently that was fascinating and set in a culture I knew nothing about is Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. It’s like nothing I have ever read before-in a way it explores a different setting both outside the character and in her head. You might also like Circling the Sun bu Paula McClain a novel based on a real person Beryl Markham. When I finished it, I immediately sought out and read Markham’s own book, West With the Night. Fascinating woman. Great descriptions of Kenya in both books.

  30. TJ says:

    I’m not sure if this has been recommended yet but when I listened to this episode all I could think of was A Thousand Splendid Suns.

    It’s terribly sad but also hopeful throughout. It’s so well written. And I think I was able to put aside the fact that it was a women’s story written by a man- it doesnt feel forced at all. It feels authentic and deep and wonderful.

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