WSIRN Ep 194: No plot, no problem!

For today’s guest Nicole Mattke, a clear and driving plot isn’t the most important thing. She loves beautiful, introspective writing that makes her think about everyday emotions. As a writer herself, she likes getting into the author’s head. And she also spent a year roaming a hotel, doing a job that sounds like it belongs in the pages of a novel.

Today she’s sharing some of the stories she heard during her time there, and the literary community-building project she started and has continued to this day. If I’m being vague, it’s because Nicole tells her own story so well, and I don’t want to spoil it!

So let’s get to it. 

What Should I Read Next #194: No plot, no problem! with Nicole Mattke

Follow Nicole Mattke and her sister’s reading lives on Instagram.

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

Books mentioned in this episode:

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• The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
• Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Other Stories, by Lewis Carroll
• A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
• The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey
• The Veins of the Ocean, by Patricia Engel
• The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
• Forest Dark, by Nicole Krauss
• Circe, by Madeline Miller
• Daisy Jones & the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Alphabet of Grace, by Frederick Buechner
A Place For Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza
The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, by Carey Wallace
Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
• Blackberry and Wild Rose, by Sonia Velton
• The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali
• Rumi: Poems, by Jalal Al-Din Rumi
• On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old, by Parker
• Palmer
• Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker Palmer
• The Girl from the Metropol Hotel, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Also mentioned:
• The Pfister Hotel’s artist-in-residence program
• The Pfister’s narrator-in-residence program
• Nicole’s contributions to the Pfister blog
• Watch the Pfister’s event page for upcoming book club meetings

What do YOU think Nicole should read next?


Leave A Comment
    • Laura says:

      I’m going to Milwaukee next month to visit my husband’s family and now I’m going to try to sneak in a visit to the Phister and Boswell’s books. I just wish I was going to be there during your book club meeting!

      • Nicole Mattke says:

        Laura, I hope you have an amazing time in Milwaukee! You’ll have to plan your next visit around our book club! Almost every month we meet on the second Thursday of the month. Would love to meet you there someday!

  1. Kate says:

    As soon as I heard Nicole mention her love of lyrical writing, I knew I had to tell her about my favorite author, Brian Doyle. Then when she mentioned Buechner, it confirmed it. Her mention of Soul of an Octopus (missing from list of mentioned books), cinched it. Boyle was prolific in both fiction and nonfiction. In fiction, I’d start with Martin Marten. While Boyle gives voice to an animal in the Marten character, this isn’t really magical realism. It’s more of a traditional, though more existential then event driven, story. Mink River is even more existential. Doyle loved his world. He saw it with a rare eye for detail. For his nonfiction, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. Even his nonfiction about wine making is lyrical: The: A year ambling & shambling through an Oregon vineyard in pursuit of the best pinot noir wine in the whole wild world’m amazed Doyle’s books are rarely known outside of the Pacific NW. It’s probably due to marketing, but I suspect he declined to take time away for national books tours. He loved his day job as editor of the award winning, University of Portland alumni magazine. He was a loving and caring mentor to many at U of P, and a committed parent to his children. I loved this episode of your program. I resonated more strongly with this guest than any since you interviewed the bookstore woman in Scotland. I always love the program, but seems like it has been heavy in recent months with lovers of fantasy, distopian, and YA books, my least favorites.

    • Mark says:

      Just to let you know that Brian Doyle is also popular in Cape Town, South Africa! He’s one of my favourite authors!
      1.Grace Notes
      2. How the Light Gets in
      3. A Shimmer of something

        • Kate says:

          Mark’s suggestions are all wonderful, but hope you’ll the novels that I mentioned, as well! You can hardly go wrong with Brian Doyle. Might want to search on YouTube for some of his interviews, too. When I read his books, I hear the words in his voice!

    • Jerri Miller says:

      I’ve probably listened to about half of the episodes, but this was my favorite to date. I will check out your recommendations!

    • Nicole Mattke says:

      Kate, thank you so much for such thoughtful recommendations! I’ve never read anything by Brian Doyle but will be sure to soon— these sound wonderful!

      • Kate says:

        Love that you found him! May I ask how you heard about him? I’m not Roman Catholic, but worked 20 years at the R.C. Archdiocese of Portland as Employee Benefits Manager. A coworker loaned me her copies of the UP alumni magazine, which often had essays by other well known authors.

  2. Barbara Atkins says:

    “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean was mentioned as a favorite non-fiction. I suggest “The Library Book” by the same author. I listened on audible.

    • Nicole Mattke says:

      Hi Barbara, I just finished listening to the audio version of The Library Book and it was wonderful— thank you!

  3. Wendy Curtis says:

    Nicole was so interesting!! I could have listened to her talk about the Phister book club all day. This is the first time that someone’s description of the book they didn’t like made me want to read it!! Great episode Anne and Nicole!!! 😃

    • Patricia says:

      “The Light of the World” by Elizabeth Alexander is a memoir (since you want more nonfiction titles). She’s a poet so the language is beautiful. It’s sad – about the unexpected death of her husband – but so beautiful. I agree with the reader above who suggested “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed. I listened to it then bought it for my shelf. Colson Whitehead writes beautiful fiction. “The Nickel Boys” is his latest. It is devastating. Just thought of Amy Bloom’s “White Houses” bc I thought the final paragraph was so beautiful. Really stuck with me.

  4. Brittany says:

    I yelled out loud when she said Fated and Furies was the book that wasn’t for her because I wholeheartedly agree! My recommendation for Nicole is Ask Again, Yes. I also loved A Place For Us and this one had similar themes.

    • Nicole Mattke says:

      Brittany, you are so on track with my tastes because I just finished Ask Again, Yes last month, loved it, and chose it for our September book club title!

    • Essie says:

      Haha, so did I! Seriously! This was a great interview, wish it were longer! Also, History of Love is one of my all-time favorites for all the same reasons Nicole articulated. For non-fiction recs I’d suggest Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (listed to the audiobook version-incredible!) and Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Both are lyrical, atmospheric and well-written. A byproduct of AVM-makes you examine your landscape and food in an entirely different light. I’ll have to check out Ask Again, Yes. Happy reading!

      • Nicole Mattke says:

        Essie, I’ve been meaning to read (and already own) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil since we traveled to Savannah! Can’t wait to get to it, thanks. And I did really enjoy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle so that’s a wonderful suggestion too!

  5. Marm says:

    I LOVED this episode too. My taste must be similar to Nicole’s because A Gentleman in Moscow and A Place for Us are two of my favorite reads from the past few years. I’m sure she has read Marilynne Robinson, but if she skipped over her book, Home, I would recommend it. It gets some unfavorable reviews because of lack of plot, but what is said and not said in the dialogue is so beautiful and real. I think of it often. I had read Gilled first, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to enjoy the story and relish the writing.
    I’m already thinking about who would go to Milwaukee with me to attend her bookclub. What a unique and fabulous idea!

    • Nicole Mattke says:

      Marm, Gilead is such an incredible book that I have Home and Lila on my shelves but haven’t picked up either yet, so thanks for encouraging me to do that soon! Hope to meet you at a Pfister Book Club meeting one day!

  6. Debbie says:

    Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of aWild Snail Eating is a short, beautifully written, non fiction book. I would highly recommend.

  7. Michelle Bernstein says:

    Wonderful episode!

    Another “no plot, no problem” recommendation is
    “Rules for Visiting” by Jessica Frances Kane, a quietly
    compelling story.

    “The Stationery Shop” is a wonderful audio listen, and
    Marjan Kamali’s first novel, “Together Tea” is a good book club read as well.

  8. Teri Hyrkas says:

    Great episode.The description of the Cowles job Nicole’s job at the hotel was very interesting from beginning to end. Her book club sounds so terrific! Very inspiring discussion about being brave enough to propose and pursue a customized career which focuses on stories of people in the community and stories in books to read and talk about with many others. This sounds exactly like something Parker Palmer would say is finding your special work. Three cheers for Nicole!
    Nonfiction recommendation: The Sakura Obsession by Naoko Abe. Although it is long, it is fascinating. It is about an Englishman’s obsession with the beautiful ornamental cherry trees of Japan, how they almost became extinct in Japan and how this same Englishman restored the trees to Japan. Written by a Japanese woman, this story has lots of angles that keep it moving. I listened to an audio book of it which was a good way to overcome the difficulties of deciphering the trees’ botanical names.

    • Nicole Mattke says:

      Teri, thanks for your kind words! I just finished an audio book yesterday and needed a new title so The Sakura Obsession (which sounds like something I’ll love!) will be my next listen!

  9. Torrie says:

    My favorite episode yet! The Narrator is the coolest job I have ever heard of and I wish I lived near Milwaukee so I could join the book club (you had me at fancy dessert). The History of Love is also one of my favorite books (and I am in complete agreement about Forest Dark). I got so many good recommendations for my list from this episode. Thank you, Nicole & Anne!

  10. I say this every time I post, but I loved this episode. What inspired me was your creative approaches to writing. I’m a fairly new writer and since my degrees are in Religious Studies, Theatre and Education, I’ve struggled to be creative with the way I write my blog and novels.

    If you are willing to read outside the Christian box, I suggest the *Tao Te Ching*, or maybe *The Tao of Pooh* and the *Te of Piglet*. The bits of wisdom challenge the way we normally see the world. These books can be read a little at a time. Another suggestion is *Night* by Elie Wiesel. It’s a devastatingly beautiful book about his experiences in concentration camps during WW II. I read it in one sitting, which is unusual for me. I still think of this book all these years later.

  11. Wendy Derechin says:

    Hi Nicole – have you read either of these?
    1. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
    2. Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin
    They are 2 beautifully written and amazing non-fiction books that I highly recommend. I’m now excited to read some of your book club selections especially The Blind Contessa’s New Machine. P.S. I’m a huge Gentleman in Moscow fan!

  12. Janet K says:

    This episode was so fantastic! I loved all of it and will now go check out some of the books. I have never belonged to a book club, though have been thinking lately that I may enjoy it. This episode makes me think that I really need to find one. Thanks so much.

  13. Keren says:

    I used to go to Milwaukee a bunch on business and always lobbied to stay at the Phister but it was out of our budget LOL. But, it is also home to a used bookstore in the airport, which coupled with the “Recombobulation Area” sign after security makes MKE one of my favorite airports in the world! 🙂

  14. Alisa Stanfield says:

    Just got around to listening this morning, and wow!! A Place for Us was my favorite book from last year
    (and possibly an all time favorite) and I’m running the book discussion at our library on it in a couple weeks. Also, I’m doing Circe in a few months! I have a hold on The Stationary Shop, and now I truly can’t wait to get my hands on it. Of course I immediately looked up the next book club at the Pfister, as Milwaukee is our neighbor to the north…and I loved Ask Again Yes, and was just telling a coworker what a great book club choice it would make. So, think I see a road trip in my future!

  15. Karen Jeske says:

    Well, Buechner and Palmer do sit very comfortably on my bookshelves, so well done! I would recommend The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit for Nicole. It is a book of essays with some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read. Solnit is a writer and an activist and I’m sure if you Google her you will come away with all sorts of links in the activist vein. But I heard her do an interview with Krista Tippett where she describes us as “citizens with souls” and The Faraway Nearby is a soulful book about how we are all connected in ways we can’t even imagine. The book might help you understand her activist heart a little bit but it does not deal with those topics head on. BTW, this is one of my favorite books and I would NEVER suggest it to my book club. I wouldn’t be able to stand one bad thing being said about it.

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