WSIRN Ep 195: Wanted: book enthusiast at large

Today’s guest Mary Laura Philpott is an essayist, bookseller, and a big fan of memoirs of people living “everyday lives”. I’m sure many of you will be interested in her “everyday life” as a Book Enthusiast at Large—yes, that is her job title—for Parnassus Books in Nashville.

Today we’re having a great conversation about the reading and writing life, working through her readerly guilt of hating beloved childhood classics, and we explore book flights and reading symphonies. 

Let’s get to it!

What Should I Read Next #195: Wanted: book enthusiast at large with Mary Laura Philpott

Connect with Mary Laura Philpott: Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Join our Patreon community to get more bookish goodness including bonus podcast episodes and our super secret spreadsheet vault with all of the books recommended on WSIRN. Today at 2:00pm EST, Hardback level supporters can join our producer Brenna and I for our quarterly livestream!

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!

• Penguins with People Problems, by Mary Laura Philpott
• I Miss You When I Blink, by Mary Laura Philpott
• Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
• And Now We Have Everything, by Meaghan O’Connell
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
• Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
• All This Could Be Yours, by Jami Attenberg
• The View From Penthouse B, by Elinor Lipman
• The Good House, by Ann Leary
• How Proust Can Change Your Life, by Alain de Botton
• The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton

Also mentioned:
• Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN
• Mary Laura’s published essays
• Word Bookstores in Brooklyn, NY and Jersey City, NJ
• Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, NY
• Avid Bookshop in Athens, Georgia
• The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA
• Musing, a Parnassus publication
 Surviving the Ordinary: Why We Need Memoir of Regular Lives, by Mary Laura Philpott via LitHub
• WSIRN Ep 164, w/ Chelsea and Curtis

What do YOU think Mary Laura should read next?


Leave A Comment
  1. Patti Weldon says:

    I LOVED this episode! Mary Laura and I are book mates, for sure. Her comment about books carrying on a conversation in your head describes my reading life to a T. Usually my “symphonies” are arranged quite by chance – all the better. And, for the record I, too, did not love “Little Women”!

  2. Julie says:

    I didn’t like Little Women either! I think I liked it when I read it in high school but I hated it when I read it again last year for a book club!

  3. Tyna says:

    Never Let Me Go is on my list of most disliked books!
    And I love childhood classics. Heidi is one of my favorite books of all time. (I think I love all the butter churning books).

  4. Melanie Steimle says:

    Listening to this episode I kept thinking of Jhumpa Lahiri’s works. They are mostly stories of the day to day lives of people…people who are immigrants or children of immigrants. Sometimes big things happen but more often her characters are just dealing with life’s twists and turns.

  5. Lucinda says:

    Mary Laura, I hope this is not too late for you to get my suggestions to you. Since you said you thought you didn’t like historical fiction, then changed your mind. I hope you might like these three historical novels from different time periods and places in the world, *Shogun* by James Clavell, *Cold Sassy Tree* by Olive Ann Burns, and *Pope Joan* by Donna Woolfolk Cross. Then two memoirs, *The Dressmaker of Khair Khana* by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and *Juniper: The girl who was born too soon*, by Kelley and Thomas French. I could write a lot about each book, but I’ll let you read the descriptions for yourself.

    I enjoyed this episode very much. I loved what you said about books being connected. I have found that too.

  6. Donna Hetchler says:

    I loved this episode and was so happy to hear Mary Laura talk about one of my all-time favorite books-Hyperbole and a Half (which I recommend all the time and usually people haven’t heard of it). If you want another laugh out loud set of comics I recently read Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby from The Oatmeal and loved it. Also, The Course of Love is a fantastic recommendation and that book is one I think of often.

  7. Celiwe says:

    Hi Anne
    I was hoping you could point me towards more content on the idea of ‘inoculating’ children by exposing them to things too soon.


    • Katie says:

      I’m not sure this is exactly it, but it makes me think of how when I select independent reading texts for students, it’s important to find things at a reading level that challenges them but doesn’t frustrate them. The same goes for the content of the book, I think.

  8. Tracy says:

    This episode created its very own TBR stack. I purchased almost every book you discussed that I hadn’t already read.

  9. Abigal M says:

    I haven’t read the Meaghan O’Connell, but the description of it reminded me of Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions. I think it’s her best.

    (And now I’ve checked out Mary Laura’s LitHub piece and see that she made the same connection. Maybe there’s someone who hasn’t read it.)

  10. Stephanie N says:

    I didn’t like Little Women as a kid, but didn’t hate it when I reread it as a teenager. As a kid, I preferred the sequel, Little Men, and reread it a dozen times or more. I was also a huge fan of all of the Little House on the Prairie books, and still am (butter churning and all).

    I read Never Let Me Go after seeing previews for the movie years ago and loved it. I still haven’t seen the movie.

  11. Jenna says:

    I’m in the middle of this episode right now, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I love both of your voices — the tone, the delivery and especially the excitement! Thank you for adding to my reading life, Anne. Thanks, too, for the idea of book symphonies or book flights. I’m a librarian, and I’m excited to create a display with a grouping of book recommendations in mind. Keep up the great work, Mary Laura, Anne and your respective teams!

    PS – Thank you for including a transcript. Much appreciated.

  12. I’m a little behind so just listened to episode 195 today. I thought it was ironic that I literally just finished listening to her memoir last week on audio. I LOVED her memoir in essays and wanted to write down many quotes from the book. I’m sure she has already read Lori Gottlieb’s memoir “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed”- if not read it! I’d highly recommend as a companion read with Mary Laura’s book.

  13. I had a four-hour drive today so once my audiobook finished (Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce and it was delightful) I caught up on WSIRN episodes. I really loved this one and since my BFF lives in Nashville I told her she HAD to listen to this one as well. I would suggest The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo. This is her debut novel and she is not quite 30 years old, but this novel doesn’t show it. It is thick…526 pages but you don’t notice because you get so wrapped up in the family and all their drama and secrets…but it really is just a regular family going about their days and years….with a few secrets and drama thrown in. I just loved it and think there will be big things from this author in the future. I will link to my interview with her. She was a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop near where I live.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.