What Should I Read Next Episode 214: Deconstructing your best reading year yet

Readers, today you’re invited to listen in on an ongoing conversation that’s been unfolding at my house for nearly twenty years now. My guest is my husband Will, and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that we’ve been talking books ALL THE TIME, pretty much since we first met. Will has also been involved with What Should I Read Next since BEFORE the beginning of the show. First he was the sounding board, then he was the trial guest, then he dropped into your feed for the first time in episode 61—and if you haven’t listened to that yet, I recommend you go do that either before OR after today’s episode. We don’t talk about it in today’s episode, but he’s also one of the show’s producers, spending hours each week making sure we deliver a great podcast to your ears.

But that’s not why I wanted him to come back on. Nope, I wanted to talk to him about how he pulled a reading life-180 and engineered his best reading year to date. This is such a fun conversation—we talk about finding your own “reading lane,” reading journals and revisiting star ratings, and the very specific type of book Will can’t help picking up but is often disappointed in. I also make some recommendations with the help of a former WSIRN guest. I can’t wait for you to listen. Let’s get to it!

What Should I Read Next #214: Deconstructing your best reading year yet

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

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Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here. If you’d like to support your local indie, check out Indiebound.com. And by all means, go grab one of these from your local library!

Books mentioned:

Restoration Heights, by Wil Medearis
Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave
Notes from a Young Black Chef, by Kwame Onwuachi
Chances Are…, by Richard Russo
Straight Man, by Richard Russo
Nobody’s Fool, by Richard Russo
Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, by Marcus Luttrell
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts, by Julian Rubinstein
Worm: The First Digital World War, by Mark Bowden
How We Fight For Our Lives, by Saeed Jones
Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
Eventide, by Kent Haruf
Benediction, by Kent Haruf
Gold, by Chris Cleave
Little Bee, by Chris Cleave
Liferider: Heart, Body, Soul, and Life Beyond the Ocean, by Laird Hamilton 
Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe the World, by Admiral William H. McRaven
This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life, by David Foster Wallace
Left of Boom: How a Young CIA Case Officer Penetrated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, by Douglas Laux
Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, by Mark Bowden
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, by Jon Krakauer
Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art, by Virginia Heffernan
● The Artemis Fowl series, by Eoin Colfer
The Supernaturalist, by Eoin Colfer
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
A Good Life All the Way, by Ryan White
Stories I Only Tell My Friends, by Rob Lowe
Southernmost, by Silas House
● Author David Joy (try The Weight of This World)
● Author Wendell Berry (try Jayber Crow)
Year of the Monkey, by Patti Smith
The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel
The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf
This Tender Land, by William Kent Krueger
Iron Lake, by William Kent Krueger
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson
The Janes, by Louisa Luna
American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins
Animal Vegetable Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver
Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
Whiskey & Ribbons, by Leesa Cross-Smith
War, by Sebastian Junger
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger
Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor, by Clinton Romesha
The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, by Jake Tapper
Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan, by Sean Parnell
Pale Horse: Hunting Terrorists and Commanding Heroes with the 101st Airborne Division, by Jimmy Blackmon

Also mentioned: 

WSIRN Ep 61, Will’s first appearance
WSIRN Ep 164, with Chelsea & Curtis from He Read, She Read
● We talk about my evolving thoughts on star ratings, but since we recorded I wrote Why I changed my mind on star ratings


What do YOU think Will should read next?


Leave A Comment
  1. Janean says:

    I think Will should read The Bromance Book Club! Not because I’ve read it, but because the mere idea of Navy Seal, outdoorsy book guy reading all things spicy takes, thoroughly entertains me. After all, we need a dude’s view on such matters. 🤷🏻‍♀️🤣

    • Kassie Joslin says:

      I’ve read parts of that book (evaluating the spicy content as to whether I wanted to read it or not) and do want to mention it is QUITE spicy, definitely open door.

  2. Beverly Coomer says:

    I love that you and your hubs actually banter over books! Thanks for mull-worthy insight about star ratings. Our book club chewed on this last month, and I discovered that I’m the only “rater” in the group! And thanks for suggestions for “guy lit”! It may just be Books for All this year!

  3. Katie says:

    This episode is fun! I love that you continuously called him William, even though you refer to him as Will any other time. I thought it was sweet 🙂

  4. Kathy says:

    So I’m in the middle of listening to the podcast…loving it! I had to comment over the chat about “Of Mice and Men”. I re-read it a couple of months ago because my 9th grade daughter was reading it for school. She hated it and I loved it. I loved talking about it with her and trying to see her point of view on the book. You have to read it, Anne!! I would love to know what you think of it.
    Happy Reading!

  5. Shaylah says:

    When I started listening to the podcast I started listening to episode 1. I am officially heading into episodes from 2017! However, I was missing out on so much between Instagram and the most current episode. I started listening to all of the recent episodes and then flip flopping back to the old ones. Is it wild that I listened to Will on the current episode today, and next in the que to listen to is his original interview (episode 61)!? Strange timing.

  6. Katherine says:

    Of Mice and Men is one of my favorites. Probably top 5. I loved in it high school and loved it again when I reread it a few months ago. I can see why your daughter would want to throw it across the room though. I heard from someone a long time ago that entire classes tend to either love it or hate it. It’s usually not much of a mix of opinions in the same class. This was true for my high school English class, but I don’t know how true it is overall.

  7. Karen Simmons says:

    I enjoyed this episode full of “guy” books. I realized that I give non-fiction authors a free pass sometimes just because their story is so emotional. But I do agree that Lone Survivor was not great. One of my favorite books is In The Company of Heroes by Michael Durant. I think Will should give it a try. And I’m sure he knows about The Only Plane in the Sky because it’s getting a lot of hype right now, but I cannot stop recommending the audiobook! Keep up the great podcast, my TBR is outta control 😊

  8. Susie says:

    I so enjoyed this episode!! My favorite so far. O, to have a husband that reads! On the good side, though, my husband, on a long drive, is perfectly happy to have me read to him until my voice gives out, to listen to the audiobook I’m already in the middle of, or to just have me tell him the story I’m reading and discuss the ideas from it. He suffered from dyslexia, and while it’s better now, he still finds reading no pleasure.
    I absolutely second your recommendation of The Bean Trees to Will, and I have to add to it, that Kingsolver’s writing is just delightful and original—it sounds like he really appreciates good writing.
    And I think that while he likes military stories, that he should mix it up a little and read some of the Napoleonic Wars British Navy series like Master and Commander by O’Brian, the Hornblower series, and Jay Worrall, JD Davies, S Thomas Russell and James Nelson all have super adventure stories at Sea….

  9. Mary says:

    I loved the book Truman by David McCullough. It discusses his participation in WW1 and, of course, WW2, viewpoints as a soldier and as the Commander in Chief. Also, Truman has Kentucky connections. All four of Truman’s grandparents were from Shelby County, KY and he chose Kentuckian Alben Barkley as his Vice President. Truman also dedicated Kentucky Dam. So good!

  10. Mary says:

    I have another, Will, in addition to “Truman.” Have you read or heard about “Jack Hinson’s One- Man War” by Tom McKenney? This book was gifted to my husband but I read it before he did.
    Tough to read emotionally but what a true story. From the inside cover: “A quiet, unassuming, and wealthy plantation owner, Jack Hinson was focused on his family life and seasonal plantings when the Civil War started to permeate the isolated valleys of the Kentucky-Tennessee border area where he lived. He was uniquely neutral—friends to both Confederate and Union generals…”
    That neutrality was shattered in the winter of 1862.
    This story takes place in what is now Land Between the Lakes, in Kentucky and Tennessee. Amazing names enter into the story! This type of book is usually out of my wheelhouse but it captured my attention and I learned a lot. We even had to go visit the sites mentioned in the book. There are maps in the book.
    The author is a retired USMC Lieutenant Colonel and a graduate of the University of Kentucky and the University on North Carolina.

  11. Sarah says:

    I was so confused!
    “Why would this guy be into stories about baby seals?…”
    “Do you even GET books about baby seals?… No wonder any he’s picked up have been disappointing….”
    “And how on earth did WSIRN listeners manage to find so many recommendations for books about baby seals??….”

    It took me a full 5 minutes before I realised!
    I’m British – I’ll blame the accent! lol

  12. Rita says:

    Anne, this was such a cute episode! I enjoyed it!

    I was thinking about your 5-star rating system conversation. Since stars are so subjective, I think you might consider mapping out what descriptors/characteristics each star rating means to you as a reader. It doesn’t matter if your 5 stars are equitable to my 5 stars, as long as you apply them consistently.

    For example, I am going through the annual performance process right now at work, and we have to assign each employee a performance rating by looking at 3 categories. Each category has a list describing behaviors typical for each performance rating. We use that guide to pick the rating that has the most applicable bullets for each employee.

    Is it too cold to use a corporate America process to rate beloved books? I think it has some merit.

  13. Sarah says:

    For everyone talking about Of Mice and Men, I had to say I already had it penciled in as my “Classic I didn’t read in school” for the reading challenge. Steinbeck’s East of Eden is one of my top 5 to 10 reads of all time, but shockingly, I’ve never read any of his other works…

  14. Kassie Joslin says:

    Prodigal Summer and Flight Behavior would also be great picks for Will. You mentioned them, but if he likes Bean Trees, (even if he doesn’t?), I think he would like those works by Kingsolver. My husband also really enjoyed The Kite Runner, if he hasn’t read that work by Khaled Hosseini.

  15. Molly says:

    Thank you for offering 5 military centered books at the end! This is my husband’s genre for sure and I am usually floundering to give more suggestions… they always have to be audio too since he listens at work. We loaded up those five right away!

  16. Pam says:

    I was thinking about Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. A memoir set (at least partially) in Kentucky.
    Also, do you know about fantastic fiction.com? If you’re looking for a list of all books written by a certain author this is the place to go!

  17. For the time being, I remain stingy with my stars. I related to Will’s comment (highly paraphrased) that he doesn’t think of it so much as a comparison amongst books, but more a determination of each book on its own. I’m aware of the possible comparison, but I generally stick to the Goodreads “did not like it, it was okay, liked it, really liked it, it was amazing” guideline.
    I’m not so much into military books, but the Navy SEAL thing reminded me of listening to an episode of The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg (podcast) where he talked with William McRaven. McRaven has written three books: Spec Ops, Make Your Bed, and most recently, Sea Stories. While I can’t personally recommend any of them, I did really enjoy him telling some stories on the podcast.

  18. Jessica says:

    I didn’t know if I would like this episode because I thought you would be talking about “guy books” But… I think Will may be my book twin! I love all of the authors he mentioned and the books. I am going to add all of the books to my TBR list!!

  19. Maddie says:

    I always enjoy this and love to hear your banter with one another about books. I got some good ideas for my husband even though Christmas is just a few days away. Love the podcast; never miss it.

  20. Rebecca says:

    Hi William! Thanks for being on the show with your wife today! I was listening to the podcast while driving home from MS. I found myself wanting to yell at the phone, “Damn Few: Making the modern seal warrior” by Ellis Henican and Rorke Denver. Hands down the best most memorable seal book I’ve read. I’ve heard Rorke Denver speak at Leadercast conferences. I can see why someone would follow him into battle.
    So, instead of yelling, I pulled over to send the comment. 🙂
    If you guys ever visit Natchez, MS, check out My Book House. I did this trip and the owner is a fellow podcast listener of WSIRN.
    Merry Christmas, ya’ll!

  21. Melissa Johns says:

    Hi William!
    Great listening to your likes & interests. I too am REALLY interested in military books, but as a naval officer, I lean more toward Navy surface warfare-esque books. I wanted to recommend two I really liked that you might be interested in, one fiction one non.
    The first is non-fiction titled “Crashback: The Power Clash Between the US and China in the Pacific” by Michael Fabey.
    The second is a fiction book titled “Ghost Fleet: A novel of the next world War” by P. W. Singer & August Cole.
    Both really interesting and engaging writing styles!
    Happy Reading!

  22. Julia says:

    Just wanted to say this was such a great episode! Also I loved
    Gold by Chris Cleave too (despite not being remotely interested in cycling!) and hardly ever hear it mentioned.

  23. Sarah Askins says:

    If you enjoy David Joy, two excellent read alikes are Ron Rash (I will read anything Ron Rash ever writes, and I never heard him recommended on the podcast) and Wiley Cash. Both, like David Joy, are North Carolina writers, but they are sooo good. For Ron Rash, I would start with “The Road Made Straight”, and for Wiley Cash, The Dark Road to Mercy.

  24. Traci says:

    Not a book recommendation, but a podcast episode since Saeed Jones’ book was mentioned. He was interviewed on episode 209 of Death, Sex and Money, and I found it really interesting.

  25. Denise Demers Sande says:

    New to podcasts, although I have followed your blog for almost two years. How do I rate a podcast? I love what I am listening to!

  26. Jeff says:

    As a special operations veteran and a former civilian war reporter, I wanted to say that your point on “Lone Survivor” is largely well-made: it’s a good story but not at all a great book. Like almost every military memoir, though, it did in fact have a ghostwriter/writing partner – in this case Patrick Robinson, who actually did the majority of the writing while Luttrell was deployed to Iraq.

    The book’s issues go beyond prose and pacing, running the gamut from the name of the ill-fated mission itself being wrong (it’s called “Operation Redwing” in the book, but in actuality was called “Operation Red Wings”), to blatant plagiarism (the supposed first-hand recount of Luttrell’s experiences at BUD/S are lifted directly from Dick Couch’s 2001 book “Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228”).

    I also agree with you on “Black Hawk Down.” Although this book has its own accuracy issues (primarily stemming from Mark Bowden being forced to rely almost exclusively on Rangers’ descriptions of events, which in turn resulted from his lack of access to Delta operators), it’s a sterling example of the genre done right. Bowden’s “Killing Pablo” is similarly engaging.

    If you’re interested in better-written, more engaging books in this genre, I’d recommend (among many others), “All Secure: A Delta Force Operator’s Fight to Survive on the Battlefield and the Homefront” (Tom Satterly and Steve Jackson) and “The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader” (Jason Redman and John Bruning).

    Feel free to reach out for further discussion.

  27. Lesley says:

    Loved this episode! Reminds me of conversations I have with my husband, who loves to read as much as I do. Recommendations for Will:

    Anything by Wiley Cash, William Kent Krueger, Peter Heller (just finished The River, which he said he loved, but The Dog Stars is also brilliant), The Dreamers (Karen Thompson Walker), Henry Himself (Stewart O’Nan), A Ladder to the Sky and The Heart’s Invisible Furies (John Boyne), Whiskey When Your Dry (John Larison), A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles), News of the World (Paulette Jiles), City of Thieves (David Benioff), The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell) and The Dry (Jane Harper).

    I could go on and on…

  28. Lindsay says:

    If you’re interested in moving back in military history to the Vietnam War, I really enjoyed “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” by Lt. Gen. Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway. It’s a true tale from the commanding officer and the reporter who was on the ground with them as they landed in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam and were overcome by the enemy. The loss of life was enormous, but so was the courage and sacrifice and bravery of those involved.

    There was a movie made from the book called We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson (as Hal Moore) and Barry Pepper (as Joe Galloway). The movies so one of the better military films that I’ve seen so when I realized it began as a novel, I was quick to get my hands on it and loved it. Even more so than “Black Hawk Down” which I found too dry and technical for my taste.

  29. Megan says:

    Hi Will (and Anne!),
    Outside Magazine was my first job out of college (I studied journalism), so I’m so glad to hear it has provided great reading recommendations to you over the years. 🙂 Because you like outdoorsy stories and well-researched books written by journalists, you might like The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. And it’s super short! Hope you enjoy.
    – Megan

    • Anne says:

      Megan, that sounds like an incredible first job! And as it happens, The Stranger in the Woods is already on our home bookshelves, just waiting for one of us to finally read it. Thanks for the recommendation!

  30. Brandyn says:

    I’m obviously a touch behind on the podcast (had a baby) so I’m catching up and had to throw in my 2 cents on rating books. It’s never been a comparison thing for me – I rate books based on how much I enjoyed them.
    1 – mostly limited to books I couldn’t finish because they are super poorly written or employ a trope I find problematic and make me mad.
    2 – Didn’t really enjoy it much, possible not well written, or just not for me. There can be really objectively good books that I give 2 stars because they just weren’t for me.
    3 – I liked it and enjoyed the reading experience.
    4 – I loved it, it made me think, will potentially re-read
    5 – Book hangover – how do I choose what follows this? I somethings revisit 3 star books read right after 5 star books to see if they deserve an additional star.
    Over the last few years I’ve struggled with this because I know my star ratings feed into algorithms that help other people choose books, but if I’m more generous with star ratings they aren’t as helpful to me when evaluating what I want to read next. Maybe I’ll just stop rating 2 star books that “aren’t for me” on GR. Then I’m not dragging down the average.

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