WSIRN Ep 197: Rebuilding a bookshelf in Paradise

Today’s guest, Amelia Mattingly, went through a gut-wrenching experience that ripped her book collection away from her – shelves and all – along with countless other precious signifiers of home. As a result of this experience, the books she craves are different now, and every book purchase feels weighty.

Today, I’m connecting her with three books that will hopefully take some of that heaviness off her shoulders and let her choose a different world to escape into, just for a few hours. 

As you might have already guessed, today’s episode comes with a content warning. Amelia tells her story of surviving an enormous natural disaster in heartbreaking detail, and it might be too much for anxious or sensitive listeners. If you need to skip the detailed descriptions, our book discussion starts about 20 minutes in, and mentions of the traumatic events are less detailed after that point. 

Amelia’s story is truly remarkable, and she tells it so well. Let’s get to it. 

What Should I Read Next #197: Rebuilding a bookshelf in Paradise with Amelia Mattingly

You can find information about the Paradise, CA mobile clinic, MedSpire, at, and contribute a tax-deductible donation at

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!

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Beartown, by Fredrik Backman
Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, by Sandra Steingraber
The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan
The Cafe by the Sea, by Jenny Colgan
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
• The Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon
The Toymakers, by Robert Dinsdale
Subtle Energy Techniques, by Cyndi Dale
The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan
An Extraordinary Union, by Alyssa Cole 
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbott
Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, by Susan Meissner  

What do YOU think Amelia should read next?


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  1. Susan Tarczewski says:

    I had chills as Amelia described her experience. Thank you for sharing that with us, and I wish you all the best as you recover.

    I would also suggest reading Into the Wilderness (first in a series) by Sara Donati, which has a guest appearance by some well-loved characters from one of her favorites.

  2. Hannah says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with WSIRN listeners. Your observations on the truly important things in life are such an important reminder for us all. I was actually sobbing during my commute to work this morning when I tried to imagine what a horrible nightmare you & your community went through… and I am speechless over the fact that you had the mental fortitude to share your story with us. I hope the coming months and years bring healing to you and your family and neighbors as you work to rebuild your lives (and your book collections). ❤️

    Some books I read this year that were relatively lighthearted and/or completely absorbing:
    Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
    The Mothers – Brit Bennett
    Circe – Madeline Miller
    Seabiscuit – Laura Hillenbrand
    Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson

  3. Brigette Hill says:

    I’m so thankful that you and your family are okay.
    I think you would enjoy Adriana Trigiani’s book. Specifically “The Shoemaker’s Wife” and “Big Stone Gap.
    Also, for the kinesiology side of your brain I recommend Katie Bowman’s books. Start with Move Your DNA. She is a biomechanist and she talks about how we should move our bodies in everyday life in an easy to read way.

  4. Renea Mertens says:

    Thank you for your story. We love the same books, and after having a difficult summer, I have found immense joy in Sarah Addison Allen’s books! Garden Spells and Lost Lake are two of my favorites. They remind me of a Hallmark Movie, but with a subtle hint of everyday fantasy. I also loved the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It checks the story of hope box, WW2 box, about books box, and is a Netflix movie. I listened to the audio version and couldn’t help but smile while listening.

  5. Victoria says:

    Spoiler alerts for the Kate Shugak novels by Dana Stabenow…

    Amelia’s story reminds me of a storyline in the Kate Shugak books. I feel that you have to have read the series from the beginning to truly understand the depth of loss, as Amelia has described here. Those books are fantastic and I own them all, but they are probably heavier than Amelia is looking for right now. Isn’t it funny how likes for books go in waves? I was a huge crime thriller fan, but after some loss and life changes I just can’t read a lot of them.

    If you like British try the Angela Thirkell novels, Wild Strawberries or High Rising maybe. I also love the Daisy Dalrymple books by Carola Dunn and the Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood. Those last two are modern writing of crime just after WW2 and they’re so fun. I go back to these all the time. Phryne has, not exactly explicit sex scenes, but some description, although as much about the lingerie and the furnishings as the sex!

  6. Nanette Stearns says:

    I am so happy that Subtle Energy Techniques is of help. I work for the company that published it and I am always so pleased to hear when one of our books helps someone! All the best.

  7. Lyndsay says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry you and your family had to go through that. I had the pleasure of visiting Paradise years ago. A dear friend’s parents had lived there for many years. I remember how scared I was when I heard that Paradise was on fire. Fortunately they had gotten out right away and were safe. Their house was one of only 5 houses left standing in their neighborhood but they did lose a lot of their belongings because of smoke. Such an unthinkable tragedy. My heart goes out to everyone whose lives were changed because of it.

  8. Barbra Galletti says:

    Thank you for fighting through such obvious pain in order to share your story. I’m so happy that I have a few extra dollars to send to Medspire Health.
    As far as some book recs, well this series is about as cozy as they come. It’s ‘The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter Series’ by Susan Wittig Albert. There’s a tiny dusting of magical realism with a healthy dose of historical fiction. These stories sparked my curiosity about Beatrix Potter and I found myself looking into her real life. Just fascinating. I never appreciated what a strong woman she was. Girl Power!
    These stories just plain made me feel good and even though I usually stay away from overly cute coziness (in fact I didn’t even warm up to Ms. Albert’s other books)these just gave me a nice warm feeling while scratching that “I must be engaged” itch.

    I’ve added some more books that should also scratch that literary itch without setting off any triggers and just engage you in such a way that you can disappear for a while. None of them is a new release so they will hopefully be at your library (that’s where I get all my books).

    ~ Mobile Library by David Whitehouse
    ~ The Case of the Missing Books(Mobile Library Mystery #1) by Ian Sansom
    ~ The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
    ~ The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
    ~ Thursday Next Series by Jasper Fforde

    Of course, if these or other books don’t do it for you…Yay for Sir Terry Pratchett! You can always count on him to whisk you away to Discworld where everything is just slightly off kilter…but in a good way.

    Good Luck to you & yours. You’re all in my heart.

  9. I was listening to the podcast on my drive and tears were rolling down my face. Amelia’s descriptions were chilling. I would love to send books! Is there a list of her 1500 books that she lost? Or even a smaller list? I live in Southern California and have many friends who have lost so much due to wildfires. Take care, (my daughter is 31) so as Mom, my heart went out to her. So glad her family is ok too.

  10. Angela says:

    Jenny Colgan books are also my go-to relaxing reads. I also enjoy the books of Sarah Addison Allen and M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series.

  11. Christine Finger says:

    I think Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and Billie Letts’s Where the Heart is should be in her library. Both have wonderful characters who rise above their life trials. They are spunky like Scarlett. I would like to send her a copy of each. How can I do this?

  12. Debbie in Alabama says:

    One of the most powerful posts you have ever had, Anne. I was tearful and extremely moved. Thank you for this opportunity to hear this important story and providing info so I can send them a donation.

  13. Dee says:

    I could so relate to Amelia’s experience, although it was water not fire that destroyed my book collection (and nearly everything else). The levee failures following Hurricane Katrina inundated our house. It was bad enough that there was 7 feet of water in the house, but our study/office where our books were was lower than the rest of the house so the water completely filled that room and pulled the ceiling down. Our books became mush.

    After that experience, my book collecting habits have changed. I’m still a sucker for a used book sale. But I don’t keep books the way I used to. I find that I’m drawn to the idea of owning less – less to evacuate with, less to worry about getting destroyed. So book go to the Little Free Libraries and on to friends. And are borrowed from the library. There are a few I’ll keep forever, of course, but no where near as many as I once did.

    You’ll get past this, Amelia. The first year is hard. There’s Before and After. But you do get to a “new normal” and the Event does hold less power as you go along. Keep finding solace in reading!!

  14. I truly felt for Amelia and relate so much to her experience. I live in coastal Texas and we’ve experienced three big hurricanes (Rita, Ike and Harvey — the latest) that have dramatically shaped my life. Though we lost our home in Rita, Harvey, by far, was the scariest. Our little town became an island and there was literally no way to evacuate. Our hospitals shut down. No emergency services. People were surviving on their roofs. Huge helicopters were going by day and night trying to find people who were stranded. And, then our water supply was breached and we had to go without running water and plumbing for days upon days. Amelia’s experience captured that feeling of pure terror when your instincts tell you to flee, but you have nowhere to go and nothing you can do.

    I’ve found that being a reader is such a COMFORT during hard times. You don’t need electricity to read. You don’t need water to read. You don’t need anything but a pair of eyes and a book. I turned to my books more than anything. During the thick of the experience, light, easily-digestible books were what I needed. But, afterward, I found that I couldn’t stomach them. I wanted something connected me to the big feelings I was having. During that time, I found great comfort in survival stories. It helped me to know that my experience was shared and that there was hope on the horizon.

    If you reach that stage, here are a few titles I enjoyed:
    1. Exit West
    2. The Great Alone
    3. Educated
    4. Option B
    5. Dreamland Burning
    6. The End We Start From

    Best of luck to you, your family and your community. Empathy is pouring from my fingers as I type this.

  15. Heather says:

    Doing some writing in a gratitude journal might be helpful. You may not have a lot of stuff, but it sounds like you have great people (and a dog) in your life.

  16. Suzanne says:

    Hearing Amelia’s story truly made my heart go out to everyone in her area. This fire happened just over a month after Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm, devastated my area also. Thank you, Anne, for sharing Amelia’s story with your listeners; I feel like she was sharing many others’ story, too, including mine. And now off to order some of the books you suggested!

  17. Jeff C says:

    Not sure how you are with fantasy – this has only a backdrop of relating to other books, but I really enjoyed it. There is some good-vs-evil things going on, so not sure how much the fantasy setting helps remove that from real life, and not so much historical or a romance, but if this sounds interesting:

    _The Invisible Library_ (book 1 in The Invisible Library Novel series) by Genevieve Cogman

  18. Anita Hohl says:

    My family and I lost everything we owned to an EF5 that ripped our home away from over our heads as we huddled in a closet under the basement stairs. That was 2007, and we still have not recovered enough financially to rebuild much of my library. Thank goodness for our town’s rebuilt public library.

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