Readers, I’m about to head out on the road for my next book Don’t Overthink It, and I’m so excited to meet you in person. Some of our events, like our evening at the Strand in New York City and The Story Shop in Monroe GA, are even planned WSIRN LIVE experiences. Get all the info here.
Today, Amy Rohn is joining me to talk about literal literary matchmaking, the ups and downs of her life as a reader in search of real-life romance. We’re exploring what she looks for in a partner, whether they’re a reader or not, and truly baffling stories from her attempts at talking to men on dating apps about books.
We’re also touching on her newfound love affair with nonfiction after a lifetime of sticking to fantastical fiction, plus bookstore architecture, stylish prose, and the book she had a huge grudge against in middle school. And of course I’m delighted to play matchmaker myself, and recommend three titles Amy may enjoy reading next.
Let’s get to it!
ANNE: You read The Shadow of the Wind in one sitting? That is a really large book!”
AMY: I stayed up all night… don’t tell my mom. [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 221.
Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?
We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.
Readers, I’m about to head out on the road for my next book Don’t Overthink It, and I’m so excited to meet you in person. Some of our events, like our evening at the Strand in New York City and The Story Shop in Monroe GA, are even planned to be What Should I Read Next LIVE experiences. I would love to see you there. Get all the info on my book tour dates at modernmrsdarcy.com/dont-overthink-it. Although honestly, if you just type modernmrsdarcy.com/dont (no punctuation, just modernmrsdarcy.com/dont, it will take you straight there. Book tour dates and links are there, as well as all the info you need on Don’t Overthink It, including how to pre-order your copy and claim your pre-order bonuses.
I’ve loved hearing your reactions to the Don’t Overthink It chapter I read here on What Should I Read Next. If you haven’t heard it yet, that’s in episode 216 and it aired on New Years Eve. Many of you told me after that you didn’t really consider yourself to be an overthinker but that you related to the chapter I read on a visceral level and that it’s been a huge help in your life. I am so happy to hear that, and I can’t wait for you to read the rest of the book. It’s out March 3.
Now for today’s episode: Amy Rohn joins me to talk about literal literary matchmaking, the ups and downs of her life as a reader in search of real-life romance. We’re exploring what she looks for in a partner, whether they’re a reader or not, and truly baffling stories from her attempts at talking to men on dating apps about books.
We’re also touching on her newfound love affair with nonfiction after a lifetime of sticking to fantastical fiction, plus bookstore architecture, stylish prose, and the book she had a huge grudge against in middle school. And of course I’m delighted to play matchmaker myself, and recommend three titles Amy may enjoy reading next. And just a reminder—all the books we talk about today, plus the downloadable episode transcript, are listed in our show notes at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/221. Let’s get to it!
Amy, welcome to the show.
AMY: Hi! Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.
ANNE: We always ask if there’s anything specific you’d like to discuss on the show and you said books and dating because you’ve had some funny stories about how guys have responded to your passion for books in your career.
AMY: I’ve had a lot of guys brag to me about how much they don’t like reading as a way to try to charm me. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: What do you say that leads to that response?
AMY: Usually they’ll, you know, have asked about you know, what I do, what are my hobbies, or what I like to do. Other times it’s just responding to something that I listed on my profile. Like I always list that I love books on whatever app that I’m using. One time I was talking with a guy and he asked me, you know, what I wanted to do for my career, and I said, I would love to work with books and in publishing. My dream job is to read all day, and I kinda explained some things, and he said, no offense, but that sounds really boring.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Was he going for like an opposites attract kind of thing?
AMY: I truly don’t know. [LAUGHS] There’s one dating app, it’s called Hinge, where for your profile you can pick different prompts and you can answer questions to you know, give people an idea of, you know, what you like and who you are. And one of the prompts I chose was do you agree or disagree that and then you fill in the blank. And I filled in the blank with “do you agree or disagree that the book is always better than the movie,” which is something I love discussing with people. And I had a lot of replies. There were some replies that, you know, opened discussion, but there were others that they would just list a movie and then say period, done. That’s it. Like I got so many Fight Club. [ANNE LAUGHS] They would say like, Fight Club, done, no argument. And I'm like, but that’s not the point. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Right, right, right, right.
AMY: It felt really, you know, like they were trying to challenge me. Clearly you’re wrong, it’s not. And then I had one guy who responded with, I liked all of your other prompts, but not this one because I don’t read. [LAUGHS] And I was like, what was the point? Like did - did you think I would see that response and think, ooh, here’s someone who I definitely want to talk to?
ANNE: So is the book always better than the movie?
AMY: 99% of the time I would say. [ANNE LAUGHS] I do have some exceptions that I think could make the argument for, but usually I would say the book is - the book is better.
ANNE: But see if if the answer had been yes or no, then it wouldn’t have been a good prompt…
ANNE: … Because there’s no conversation there. You know what, we talk about our dealbreakers in the reading life sometimes. I imagine that’s a dealbreaker in the dating life.
AMY: I could and have, you know, dated people who don’t necessarily like to read and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think wherein the problems lies is not being supportive of the passions of the person that you’re dating. The last person I dated was not a reader at all, but he was very supportive of the fact that I have my head stuck in a book constantly [ANNE LAUGHS] and he would listen to me rave about my favorites. I used to work at summer camp, and there wasn’t great Internet connection and Brandon Sanderson’s newest graphic novel White Sand had just come out. I was lamenting at how I wouldn’t be able to order it for two weeks until I got to leave camp, and he sent me a text a couple minutes later of a picture of the receipt on Amazon that he had ordered the book…
AMY: For me and had it sent to the camp.
AMY: So it’s stuff like that, where it’s you don’t have to like reading, but don’t bash me for liking it as much as I do.
ANNE: Right, right, right. That’s really sweet. Okay, I saw a meme on the Internet that many of our listeners sent us. A dating app but you share three books you love and one book you don’t, and everybody was like, hey, that’s the premise of What Should I Read Next. And I thought yeah, it totally is and that’s really fun, but no, that’s not how that’s not how you decide how people should come together. You can’t agree on your favorites and least favorites or else, like, what is there to talk about? [AMY LAUGHS] But the supporting thing, I like how you put that. So you mentioned dreams of working in publishing. Have you been pursuing that dream? What do you do for a living right now?
AMY: I actually work at Simon & Schuster.
ANNE: Oh! What do you do there?
AMY: I work in the Sales department. I am an assistant for the national accounts team, so assisting all the managers who sell to the big box retailers like Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target, airports, clubs, stuff like that. To really simplify it, we go to the buyers at various stores and you know, present them with a list of our titles for upcoming seasons and we say these are all the great things that we’re coming out with and this is why you should have them in your store.
ANNE: Well that’s very exciting. How long have you been in publishing?
AMY: I just started in this role about six months ago. I started in July, and before that, I was working at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.
ANNE: Oh, I’ve been there, Amy!
AMY: It’s the biggest Barnes & Noble in the country. So it’s a very popular tourist destination. A fun fact about our store, the type of architecture that’s inside the building … I forget what it’s called, but really cool columns and everything and it’s apparently like a really rare architectural style, so we get people who come in solely to take pictures of the interior of the store. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay, now I feel short sighted because the last time I was in the store, I was just like, where are my books? I’m going to go sign them. [AMY LAUGHS] I don’t remember noticing the columns or the interior architecture at all. Like I remember all the Barnes & Noble green signs, but I’m going to be in New York really soon actually, so I’ll go back, and I’ll head out and see what I was missing. That’s so interesting.
AMY: Yeah, I always thought that was such a cool tidbit about the store.
ANNE: You went from working in books to working in books.
AMY: They’re lateral careerships. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: So, that tells us a lot about your interests in competencies. We like it.
ANNE: Amy, so tell me a little bit about what your reading life looks like right now.
AMY: I’m happy with where it is. Just started tracking what I read at the beginning of 2019 and that’s kinda changed how I read.
ANNE: Oh. Tell me more about that.
AMY: I used the app called Bookly to track everything and I categorize everything by month. When I pick up a book, I just hit the button that says “start reading,” and it times for how long that I read and I can add quotes that I find interesting. I can write down thoughts to correspond with page numbers and it tracks, you know, how many sessions your average reading speed, which I think is really cool.
ANNE: Do you enjoy doing that?
AMY: Honestly, ‘cause I’d never even thought about it before. So I found it to be really interesting.
ANNE: No, me either. So how does it give you your reading speed? Is it like pages per hour or pages per minute?
AMY: Page per hour.
ANNE: Interesting. How has tracking books like that changed the way you read?
AMY: I think it helped me create goals definitely. My kinda reading philosophy has always been I read what I want to read when I want to read it, and if I like something, I like it, and if I don’t, I don’t. And this is definitely I think helping me create goals because I realized I didn’t read nonfiction at all whatsoever. And so last year I decided to change that, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised actually. That’s definitely improved for sure.
ANNE: So, Amy, it sounds like you have had easy access to books for some time. This is true of a lot of people who work in bookish professions like you’ve been a bookseller-
ANNE: You’re at a publisher. This is true also for a lot of teachers or librarians or sometimes people married to those people or roommates with those people. What has that meant for what you choose to read?
AMY: Actually my mom is a teacher. [LAUGHS] So I definitely have had books all throughout my life since a very early age. A lot of times like when I would go into Barnes & Noble, I would choose what I wanted to read based on, you know, this cover looks really interesting, and if the summary sounded even mildly interesting, I was like okay, I’ll try this. For awhile I had a self-imposed book limited when I went shopping at Barnes & Noble. [BOTH LAUGH] Because - because otherwise I would literally just buy the entire store.
ANNE: What was your limit?
AMY: It was five.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] And how often would you go?
AMY: A lot. [LAUGHS] I’ve, you know, had floor to ceiling bookshelves that have just been full to the brim my whole life and I actually had a very rude awakening when I moved to NYC last summer is that I can’t bring all my books with me ‘cause I just don’t have the space.
ANNE: Oh no. Yeah.
AMY: So that was a very hard thing to decide, like which ones do I want to bring with me. Would I have room for? A very rude awakening. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: But it sounds like you did move a lot of books.
AMY: One really cool thing about my apartment is that my room has built-in bookshelves in the wall.
AMY: Yeah. [LAUGHS] Yeah, so I was very lucky, that I do have a space for that, and both of my roommates also work in publishing, so there’s just books all over our apartment.
ANNE: How did you decide what to bring with you?
AMY: It was a mix of long-time favorites that I know I want to reread and then things I guess at the top of my TBR, things that I really, really wanted to read. I actually am originally from Philadelphia, which is a very easy train ride from New York, and so every time I would visit home, I would pack a stack of books that I had finished [ANNE LAUGHS] so I could drop them off on my mom’s bookshelf, and then pick new ones to bring back.
ANNE: So how many books fit in your apartment?
AMY: Oh, gosh.
ANNE: I’m asking you this, but I only have a loose idea of how many books are actually on my bookshelf.
AMY: At least 50. I don’t think several hundred because [LAUGHS] I live in New York, so I live in a shoebox, but all three of us have our own collections of books in our rooms and we have a shelf in our living room.
ANNE: Nice. Has working with people who I imagine live and breathe and eat and sleep books change the way you read?
AMY: I think so. I mean, I absolutely love being surrounded by people that also love books. When I grew up, I was actually made fun of for liking to read. [LAUGHS]
AMY: Yeah. That is actually why for a very long time I had a very personal grudge with Twilight because I was made fun of for reading, and then I think when I was about, I think, it was 11th or 12th grade is when Twilight blew up and became super popular, and then all of a sudden now it’s cool to read, and everyone’s reading Twilight. And I would just be hunkered down in the corner with my Wheel of Time, just being like, hmm, I hate Twilight. [BOTH LAUGH] And of course now I recognize that it got so many kids reading, and I think that’s absolutely amazing, so my opinion on it has … I no longer have a grudge, but [LAUGHS] for awhile I was very resentful.
ANNE: I’m glad that your concern for the common good has let you find some peace.
AMY: [LAUGHS] Yeah, and I think what’s really interesting about working in an office where everyone is reading all the time, I found books that I never would have considered because everyone’s taste is so different. I think I’ve read a couple of kinda like rom-coms titles. It’s a genre that’s really popular in our office, but it’s not something that I ever would have picked up for myself. I think that definitely finding new things through the tastes of people around you has been really cool.
ANNE: What did you read?
AMY: I read Playing with Matches by Hannah Orenstein. At work we have a monthly book club that is themed for each month.
ANNE: Oh, fun.
AMY: And one theme was rom-coms and that was the one that we read. And then also read Dear Mr. Knightley, so cute. I loved it.
ANNE: Oh, a Chicago story. ‘Cause I know Playing With Matches, I read that a few years ago, and that’s set in New York City.
ANNE: And last night, I finished Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, set in New York City, and yeah, Dear Mr. Knightley, Chicago. They’re not all in New York apparently. Well that’s fun. I like that your fellow readers are getting you out of your comfort zone.
ANNE: Did you always know that you wanted to grow up and spend your work life in the world of books?
AMY: Absolutely. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Tell me about that.
AMY: Yeah, I was in high school when I decided I wanted to be an English major because I knew that I wanted my whole life just to be surrounded by books. I always said that my dream job was to just read all day. [BOTH LAUGH] Definitely doesn’t happen in the world of publishing, you know, we have a lot of other things to do as well. But I always knew that I wanted to do something with books. For awhile I toyed with the idea of becoming a librarian. It was when I was in college that I, you know, realized I think publishing is the direction I want to go.
ANNE: Interesting. It isn’t easy to get a job in publishing.
AMY: I attended the Columbia Publishing Course the summer of 2018. It’s basically a grad school crash course for publishing [LAUGHS] and it’s really, really great for networking. It was through that I was able to you know, get a lot of interviews and eventually find my current job.
ANNE: Okay. I did not know about that, but I bet a lot of people are taking notes right now. So, Amy, you’re happy with your reading life now. I’d love to hear how your reading habits have changed over the years. Some things have clearly been constant, but I know that your taste has not been constant. Can you tell me about that?
AMY: I’m a huge sci-fi, fantasy nerd, and I love a good murder mystery. Give me Agatha Christie any day of the week and I’ll be happy. And I read a lot of young adult fiction as well, and so while I don’t usually, you know, like to judge a book by genre, I did have ones that I tend to stick with. Now I found that, you know, the more i read outside of those genres, you know, the more hidden gems I’m finding, and I feel like I’m very much more well-rounded reader.
ANNE: Well I love that’s encouraging you to branch you. How do you feel when you look back at young Amy’s reading life? Sometimes I can look back on my own life and go, hey, like, there were some definite seeds of good taste there, and then some of the books I know I was obsessed with when I was younger, I just think, oh, Anne. [LAUGHS]
AMY: I think for me, it’s less in terms of taste and more of that i was really pretentious [LAUGHS] about my reading.
ANNE: Oh, love it. Tell me more.
AMY: I mean, like I read Lord of the Rings and the Wheel of Time series like in 8th grade. [LAUGHS] I would carry around a gigantic tomb, like I’m reading this huge book [ANNE LAUGHS] aren’t I so smart? So…
ANNE: First of all, I totally relate because I forget what the specific assignment was I know in 8th grade I took the unabridged Les Misérables to the beach and I just think why?
AMY: I took a European literature course my junior year of high school and for all of the books that we read, Les Mis was one, Count of Monte Cristo was another.
ANNE: I’ve still never read that.
AMY: We were assigned the abridged versions, and I ran out and used my own money to buy the unabridged versions, and I read those instead. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay, so, this is not a therapy session, and yet I would seriously love to explore ‘cause it’s not just you and it’s not just me. Like what is it with some readers that really want to take on the like huge, massive, intimidating, especially when you’re 13, tombs, and that want to do the unabridged when the abridged would be totally sufficient for the task at hand. Is this something that you’ve spent time reflecting on?
AMY: A little bit. Now I think you know, a book is 180 pages, I’ll speed through it in a couple hours and it’s, you know, I think, just a great reading experience as dragging out 800 page book over you know, a course of a month or two. So I think it’s just being open to whatever your reading life can throw at you and not discounting something you know based on what your preferred length is or preferred genre or anything like that.
ANNE: Do you still see that not pretension, but desire to aim big, do it right in your reading life today?
AMY: Honestly I’m a little bit intimidated by big books now just because I have a full-time job and I have less time to devote to bigger books. And that’s partially why I still haven’t read any Stephen King because they’re all massive. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I know. Like I remember in high school, ‘cause when I was 17 I had to write an essay about something we love that nobody else did, and I wrote about long books. I thought if you love a book then like, let’s keep it going. ‘Cause as soon as you finish, you have to choose another one but if you’ve got a good thing going like then let’s keep it up. But I’m so reluctant to pick up the bigger ones ‘cause i know that’s fewer titles I’ll be able to get to. Not because like I want to wrack up the numbers but because there’s so much I want to sample.
ANNE: You know, I’d rather have the tasting menu than like the hardy one pot meal when it comes to my reading.
AMY: [LAUGHS] And that’s why I think I’m a little reluctant to pick up, you know, longer series nowadays ‘cause I just think, oh that’s such a commitment. Like am I ready to devote all of my time to this you know, like eight book series or something when I have so many things that are just piled on my desk that i want to get to.
ANNE: Yes. And I know that there are a lot of readers who want to wait until a series is complete before they begin it, and I don’t have that kind of patience, but I absolutely respect that. However, I think, if a series is on a fore a long time and by the time you start it, you have 27 books to read, I mean, that’s really intimidating to me. I mean, I haven’t picked up Elizabeth George for example because she keeps writing and now there’s 20-something books in her series and I’ve heard you’re supposed to start at the beginning. I’m really glad I started Louise Penny when there were only like seven. And that seemed like a lot at the time. Oh, are you a series reader? ‘Cause you like genres that do series really well.
AMY: I am. Brandon Sanderson is my favorite author, and he’s all about long series. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: A bookstore friend of mine was just saying that Brandon Sanderson was her favorite find of the decade, but I’ve ever read his work.
AMY: Oh, it’s so good. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Amy, we know you love to read. Is there a book that has played a specific role in your life that you can point to?
AMY: Yes. It’s one of my three books I love. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Well, are you ready to talk about your books?
AMY: Oh, yeah.
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ANNE: Well, Amy, you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t, and what you’ve been reading lately and we’ll talk about what you may enjoy reading next.
AMY: Yeah. So the first book I chose is my favorite book of all time. It’s The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I do a reread every year. Honestly, I think it’s the most beautiful book that I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s set in 1945 Barcelona right after their civil war, and our protagonist is a young boy named Daniel who is reeling over the loss of his mother. So his father takes him to a place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where when you enter for the first time you’re tasked with picking a book and protecting it for the rest of your life.
So, Daniel picks up this book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. He reads it in one night. Falls in love with it. And so he goes to try and find other works by this author, but he discovers that someone has been going around and buying all copies that exist and burning them. And it was translated from its original Spanish, the language is so lyrical and beautiful and one thing that I really love about the book is that at the end, it includes a walking tour of Barcelona so you can follow in Daniel’s footsteps if you ever visit.
ANNE: I’ve read that book and I forgot all about the walking tour. I’ve not been to Barcelona. Have you’ve been to the setting of your favorite book?
AMY: I haven’t either. I really want to though. [LAUGHS] It’s definitely, definitely on my bucket list.
ANNE: I’m glad to hear it. It sounds like it has really earned a place there. You just said that you reread Shadow of the Wind once a year. Is this something you always begin on January 1st, or do you just know that you circle back to it?
AMY: [LAUGHS] I usually try to make it my last read of the year, so end of December.
ANNE: What made you decide to do that?
AMY: The first time I read it, I believe I was in middle school. Similarly to Daniel, I read it in one sitting, in one night, and I fell in love with it.
ANNE: You read The Shadow of the Wind in one sitting?
AMY: [LAUGHS] Mm-hmm.
ANNE: That is a really large book.
AMY: I stayed up all night. [BOTH LAUGH] Don’t tell my mom.
ANNE: I wouldn’t dream of it.
AMY: [LAUGHS] Then I, you know, started reading different things and then I realized that I’ve been saying that this is my favorite book but I haven’t read it in a while, and so I sat down to reread it and I decided that I love this world so much that I just want to keep coming back to it.
ANNE: I love that. [AMY LAUGHS] Okay, so, I probably do the math, but how many times have you read through it now?
AMY: I think six or seven.
ANNE: How many more times do you think you’ll reread through it?
AMY: Endless. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Amy, what did you choose for your second favorite book?
AMY: So then next one I chose is A Winter’s Promise, which is book one of the Mirror Visitor Quartet by Christelle Dabos.
ANNE: When I saw that Europa was publishing a YA edition, I was so excited and couldn’t wait to read it, and I can see that book from where it is on my shelf, but I haven’t read it yet.
AMY: I discovered this series last year. The world building I thought was really unique. That the characterization is definitely something that grabbed my attention. The female protagonist, Ophelia, I think that she is really different from heroines that I usually read in young adult fiction. I find that a lot of times they’re characterized as you know, very blustering and very ferocious and fierce and Ophelia is the complete opposite. She’s quiet and she’s unassuming; you would think that would be her weakness, but she actually uses it to her strength. Because she’s been placed in this political game and she’s so unassuming that everyone underestimates her. I think that’s something that’s really unique about her character.
ANNE: So this is a planned quartet. I believe there are two installments out right now. Have you read the second one yet?
AMY: Yes. And I also loved it.
ANNE: Okay, so you’re not a wait until the series is complete reader.
AMY: For this one, no, although, when I realized that the third one isn’t out yet, I was … I’m a little impatient, so I’m very excited. [ANNE LAUGHS] I’m very excited for when it does get translated.
ANNE: Is it a blessing or curse to work in publishing and have a very intimate knowledge of how the timelines work and what can affect them? And why you might be waiting longer and why it really is impossible to get you these books as fast as you’d like them? Does that help you or hurt you?
AMY: Yeah, I think it helps, definitely. You know, you can see, you know, the thought process that goes behind all of the work that it takes to publish a book.
ANNE: Amy, what did you choose to round out your favorites?
AMY: So, my last pick was The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It was one of my first reads of 2019 and I loved murder mysteries, and read so many that I found sometimes it’s hard for me to be surprised. And one thing that I really loved about this one is that it felt fresh and exciting and I didn’t expect any of the twists. And when I was done, I immediately wanted to reread it so I could pick up on all of the clues I had missed during my first read.
ANNE: Oh, nice. Did you go back through and read it a second time?
AMY: I did.
ANNE: What was that experience like?
AMY: It was honestly really rewarding to see all the little clues that were being dangled in the beginning the book and being like, oh, I know what’s going to happen because of that now, and kinda having that perspective. Like even though you know the ending, it’s really cool to get new information on each reread. I think that’s really cool.
ANNE: Yes, definitely. Now the structure of this book is really interesting, isn’t it?
AMY: Yes. So you follow the main character Aiden who walks up in a body that isn’t his own. He realizes that he has to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder. He’s in a cycle, and so, if he doesn’t figure it out by the end of the week, then the cycle will start again, and he’ll lose all of his memories of the previous cycle, so he has to start from scratch. And the twist is that every day that he has, he wakes up in a different person’s body.
ANNE: What. So when I heard it described as having a Groundhog Day like set up.
ANNE: We’re talking about the Bill Murray movie. Interesting. That sounds almost like a comic novel, but I don’t believe that’s the tone at all, is it?
ANNE: Tell me more about what it feels like to read it.
AMY: It’s got a very gothic vibe. ‘Cause it’s set in this big, sprawling manor. I guess like 19 … I guess 30-ish vibe? You know, very aristocratic guests in a gigantic mansion and you know, there’s murder afoot. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: That sounds very Agatha Christie.
AMY: Yes, very.
ANNE: Do you like her? Or too predictable?
AMY: Oh, growing up, we had an entire container full of her books underneath our guest room bed.
ANNE; [LAUGHS] I’m imagining you knew your way around them.
AMY: Oh, yeah. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Amy, tell me about a book that wasn’t right for you.
AMY: So a couple months ago, my book club read Layover by David Bell and it was not my favorite. [LAUGHS] Our main character travels a lot for work, so he has, he spends a lot of time in airports like on layovers, and so, one day he’s in the airport when he meets this woman basically falls in love with her immediately. They start chatting. And she is acting weirdly, but he doesn’t you know think anything of it, and then she has to leave. She leaves him with a parting kiss and says, don’t worry, we’ll never see each other again. And he decides to follow her on her plane and she says that she doesn’t know him when he tries to talk to her, and he’s really confused. And so when they land at the airport, he sees a missing person’s report and it’s her. And so he basically tries to unravel the mystery of this woman.
ANNE: Did it generate good conversation?
AMY: It did because we all kinda felt the same way. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, really? Oh, that’s so interesting.
AMY: Usually in this book club, that’s not the case. Usually it’s very, you know, differing opinions on things, but this one, everyone was kinda in agreement that it really wasn’t anyone’s favorite.
ANNE: That premise reminds me a little bit of The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson. Is that one you’ve read?
AMY: I don’t know that one.
ANNE: I believe this was a debut, and he’s been cranking them out since then. He has a new one out called Eight Perfect Murders.
AMY: Oh, that’s on my list.
ANNE: I haven’t read it. It’s not high on my to-read list just because of priorities and, you know, book needs that I have. This is a real thing that I have. But a perfect murder, that cover is not, not heartwarming. [BOTH LAUGH] Ugh. There’s dripping blood. It’s a little gross.
ANNE: Okay. Layover, not for you. Amy, what have you been reading recently?
AMY: I just finished Starsight by Brandon Sanderson. It’s the sequel to Skyward, which is his young adult sci-fi series. There’s a human colony that crash landed on a far away planet on the run from an alien race and they’ve had to band together and train as pilots in order to defend themselves.
ANNE: Brandon Sanderson is prolific. He’s written so many books. What is it about them that keeps you coming back?
AMY: I’m a huge fan of world building. In every series of his, the world is so unique in either the magic systems or, you know, the planets, the characters are always a great way for him to ground, I guess, his world, even if, you know, we’re on this far off planet in the galaxy but our main character, you know, she’s just trying to survive. The worlds are always great and also his books are really character driven, which I really connect with.
ANNE: That is good to know. [AMY LAUGHS] So that is Skyward by Brandon Sanderson.
AMY: Yes. And I just finished the sequel which is Starsight.
ANNE: Okay. If one wanted to jump into Brandon Sanderson, where would you recommend they begin?
AMY: Ooh. Okay. Probably his most popular series is The Mistborn Trilogy. I started with Elantris, which I think is the first one he wrote, and it’s a standalone. I discovered him because he finished Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and so I decided to check him out, and immediately I fell in love with his writing. Mistborn is probably a good place to start and then his The Stormlight Archive series, those are all the gigantic, like 800-page books. They’re amazing, but I’d probably wouldn’t start with them.
ANNE: Amy, you mentioned that you wanted to read more nonfiction this year, but not necessarily memoir or nature writing.
ANNE: Would you tell me a little more about this goal and how you’re hoping to achieve it?
AMY: I know that I already like nature writing and memoirs. That’s how I kinda got into reading nonfiction, and so I definitely want to branch out with genres since I don’t really know what I like in terms of I guess history or food writing. I’m kinda up in the air of what could catch my attention and so I definitely want to branch out and see, you know, what genres I really start gravitating towards. I did the math and I read 12 nonfiction books last year so I have a goal of 15 for this year.
ANNE: Okay. How many have you read so far?
ANNE: And what was it?
AMY: The Courage to Be Disliked. We read it for my book club at work. January theme is self-help.
ANNE: Do you have themes in mind to help you pick? You’re just going to see what looks good?
AMY: Pretty much, yeah. Just see what, you know, catches my attention. I have a couple on my desk that I do want to start soon.
ANNE: Oh, what are they?
AMY: Midnight in Chernobyl and also like a little intimidated to start because it’s so big. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Well, the nice thing about those huge nonfiction books, I mean, the nice thing to readers who are intimidated by the longer books is frequently a significant percentage of the book in the back is notes.
ANNE: And an index and the footnotes. My son has a 900 page book he’s reading right now for school. He felt a lot better when he saw that 120 pages in the back were not part of the page count that he needed to be reading. 8th grade Anne would be like the longer the better.
AMY: Me too. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Do you feel like you need help choosing those nonfiction titles?
AMY: The ones that I have read were kinda picked for me, you know, through book clubs, so I definitely want to be able to recognize something, you know, interesting on my own.
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ANNE: Okay. This’ll be fun. But good gracious, I’ve circled a lot of really promising titles on my list for you.
ANNE: So what you loved was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos, and The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Layover by David Bell was not for you, and recently you’ve been reading more Brandon Sanderson and The Courage to be Disliked. You’re looking for nonfiction that’s not nature writing or memoirs. You always love murder mysteries and atmospheric novels, is that fair to say?
AMY: Yeah. I think so.
ANNE: And great world building is something you really notice. How about a brain bender?
ANNE: That’s masquerading as historical fiction. Have you read Kate Atkinson?
AMY: No, I don’t think so.
ANNE: Okay. Your picks all have very stylish prose put together by people who know their way around the written word. The reason why I thought Life After Life is she does really interesting things with structure in this book. Groundhog Day would not necessarily come to mind, but it totally could have ‘cause there’s a lot of symbolism in this book. This is historical fiction. It’s set in the early 20th century. It’s set up in the run up to World War II. And the protagonist name’s Ursula Todd. She’s a young woman whose life you come to discover and you discover faster if you know what you’re looking at and pay attention to the symbolism, is an ouroboros or a snake eating its own tail. I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing. I knew that she had written the Jackson Brodie mysteries. This was actually the first book I read by her, and it definitely took me awhile to get my bearings.
Ursula Todd is born. She lives. She makes decisions. They go badly. She dies. And then she comes back and gets to do it again. And each time she comes back, she is her. She doesn’t wake up as a different person seven different times. But it’s like she incorporated what she learned before and so she comes back a little wiser and a little stronger. And with each life, she goes further. So in the early versions of her life, she meets very different demises, but interesting to see how starting form such a similar point when she chooses differently the fork in the road, she ends up in a totally different place. And I don’t want to tell you too much because it would be spoilerish, but in some threads, she’s unclose to hugely important historical events.
If you like this, there’s a quasi follow up to this book called A God in Ruins and this one focuses more on her brother who’s a fighter pilot in World War II. And he’s one of the pilots who knows like when you have a mission go poorly, you are going to die. You’re going to be shot down and he really feels like it’s just a question of time until he dies because that’s what happens to the pilots around him. But that book does very interesting things with time and structure and narrative and how the choices we make affect our reality in ways that are almost painful to grasp. She’s got this wry, darkly comic British voice that really works for a lot of readers. So that’s Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. How does it sound to you?
AMY: Sounds amazing. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. You said world building and of course I started thinking about Neal Shusterman and Neil Gaiman. I never realized those are both “Neils” before. [AMY LAUGHS] Interesting, but the world building also made me think it’s getting a lot of buzz. It’s called Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin. is this one you know?
AMY: I don’t know that one either.
ANNE: It is murder and there is a mystery, but it’s not like Louise Penny, Tana French, Jackson Brodie that we’ve been talking about. This is a book thoroughly set in its time and place. So it’s not sci-fi [AMY LAUGHS] and it’s not Barcelona 1945, but I still think you may enjoy its setting. Also its protagonist works in publishing.
ANNE: I’m not sure why exactly. It may be just so she can have a job where she’s largely self-directed for a long time and so, nobody can know things are going badly when she checks out because she’s investigation her long-dead sister’s murder. It comes time to pay up. This book is about what happens after a teenager dies on vacation on the fictional caribbean island Saint X. It’s not a real place, but the way they describe it and the island near it and the excursion spots, and one of it’s like, it did make me wonder, like, is Saint X short for something? Have I read about this? Surely this would be terrible for tourism. They can’t. It’s completely fictional.
So what happens is this very wealthy New York City family goes on vacation to again fictional Saint X, like they always do. They always go to some swanky resort. The older daughter is in college. The younger daughter is quite a bit younger. The older daughter dies at the resort. It is never determined what happened. They don’t know if she was murdered or if there was a horrible accident, just know that her body was found a couple days after she disappeared. So we fast forward and the younger sister Claire is all grown up, living in New York City, and death of her sister is still hanging over her life. Her parents have moved on. Not in a callous way, but they are able to pull it together and have a life. But Claire is still very much struggling with this 20 years later.
So, she’s living in New York City and one day she takes a taxi and she gets in the car and she sees the ID, she realizes that her taxi driver is one of the two men who was accused and briefly held in Saint X for murdering her sister. And she becomes obsessed with this man. And it sends her on this whole journey, like back in the past again thinking what could have happened, what could have happened, what could have happened? And she gets her sister’s diaries from her mom, and she starts researching, everything else in her life falls away and she becomes seriously obsessed with her sister’s death. And with this man, who was involved in it somehow. It’s such an interesting tale of obsession and what ifs and the unknown. It’s an edge of your seat kind of story. It’s constantly keeps you guessing. I think it’d be really fun for you. The world building is great. I will say for sensitive readers, obviously think what this book is about. There are a couple racy scenes, too, so it’s definitely not for everybody. But how does that sound?
AMY: Oh, this sounds like it’ll be a new favorite. For sure.
AMY: Um … [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh my gosh. Please do. Can I tell you something amazing I just found out about Neal Shusterman and Scythe?
ANNE: You’re a sci-fi nerd in your own description, but this is a book that so many readers will say, I don’t even read sci-fi, but but but but, this book was so good. It’s like a little bit Utopia, a little bit dystopia all at once. This is set in a future where death has been eradicated and now the only ones who can bring life to an end are called Scythes. And there are these two teenagers who are apprenticed to the Scythe, and this a role they didn’t want. This is the kind of book that like plunges you into the midst of their moral dilemma and makes you wonder like uh, what would I do? What does this mean? Like so much good science fiction does, it’s a book that prods you to evaluate what it means to be human through the lens of a really compelling story.
AMY: I do have a copy on my desk. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Are you serious?
AMY: It’s one of those ones that I know I should have read by now and that I will get to hopefully this year, since the third one did just come out. But unfortunately I just haven’t gotten to it yet.
ANNE: You’ve got a lot you’ve got to read. [AMY LAUGHS] I read that Neal Shusterman’s favorite thing to jump start his writing was to go on a cruise. And he’s like yeah, yeah, yeah, it sounds super lavish, but let me tell you what. Cruises are super cheap in the off season, they include your food; someone else cleans up your mess; you focus better than you do at your desk at home; you wake up in a place that you didn’t go to sleep that’s kinda cool, but you don’t have to actually think about how you actually go there. He says he goes, he doesn’t get off the ship, and he hangs out in the coolest place he can find on board and he just writes, and it’s easier to get in the zone.
I read specifically that when he was working on completing Scythe, he had a tight deadline. It wasn’t going particularly well, but he knew he wanted it to be the best book he’d ever written, so he scheduled an emergency cruise ‘cause apparently that’s a thing. He ran away or 7-days, worked 12 hours a day, got the last 80 pages written, and submitted it. Please read Saint X first, and then visualize Neal Shusterman like sailing around Hibiscus Bay like they talk about in the book. That’d be a really nice meeting of bookish worlds.
AMY: I would love to have the kind of life where I could go on emergency cruises. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: You know, there’s some real downsides to the writing life, but I think he’s got a perk. Especially when you’re getting advances to pay for it.
ANNE: Oh, but we didn’t give you a nonfiction book! [AMY LAUGHS] Can I tell you about a book I just read?
ANNE: Okay. Now I understand that people in New York City do not only need to read about New York City, but I just finished reading a book about sanitation workers in New York City.
AMY: Oh, okay.
ANNE: Does that sound interesting to you?
AMY: Definitely, yeah.
ANNE: I gotta say there was more history of trash and sanitation in here than I expected. It reminded me strongly actually of certain chapters of Witold Rybcyznski’s A Clearing in the Distance, that goes into the life of Frederick Law Olmsted, who had some important informative years in his young career in New York City and the city was kinda a mess at the time. So it really reminded me of that. That’s an excellent book that’s not nature writing or memoir if architecture and urban planning and landscape architecture appeals to you.
But back to the sanitation book. It’s called Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City by Robin Nagle. This book did go into lengthy discourses about topics that I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s get back to the good …. So with that qualifier in place, oh my goodness, there was so much I didn’t know I didn’t know about sanitation workers in general. Sanitation workers in New York City specifically. It’s a fine tuned machine that the city could not function without. There’s just so much I did not know. Some of which applies to my neighborhood here in Louisville, Kentucky and some of which is extremely specific to New York City. For people looking to discover a topic that they had no idea they wanted to know about, this could definitely count. That book is called Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City. It’s by Robin Nagle and it came out in 2013. How does that sound to you, Amy?
AMY: That sounds really awesome. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: And this was actually recommended to me by a passed podcast guest Rissi Lundberg. She sends me great book recommendations. That was episode 123. It was called “books that will totally make you cry with laughter.” Okay, Amy, of the books we talked about today, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, and also we didn’t go into it, but Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City by Robin Nagle; of those books, what do you think you’ll read next?
AMY: Logistically speaking, probably Scythe since I already own a copy.
ANNE: That makes a lot of sense to me.
AMY: But of the other ones, definitely Picking Up. I think that sounds fascinating and I love learning about New York City, you know, where I live, so I think that’ll definitely be next after that.
ANNE: Well I can’t wait to hear what you think. Thank you so much for talking books with me today.
AMY: Yes, thank you.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Amy, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. Leave your recommendation in a comment at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/221; that’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today. Follow Amy’s reading life at amysbookreviews.com or on Instagram @amy_rohn That’s Amy_R-O-H-N.
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Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening. And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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Books mentioned in this episode:
● Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk
● The White Sand series, by Brandon Sanderson
● Playing with Matches, by Hannah Orenstein
● Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay
● Tweet Cute, by Emma Lord
● The Twilight series, by Stephanie Meyer
● The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan
● Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo
♥ The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
♥ A Winter’s Promise, by Christelle Dabos
♥ The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton
▵ Layover, by David Bell
● Eight Perfect Murders, by Peter Swanson
● Starsight, by Brandon Sanderson
● Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson
● The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson
● Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson
● The Stormlight Archive series, by Brandon Sanderson
● The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness, by Ichiro Kishimi
● Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, by Adam Higginbotham
● Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
● A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson
● Saint X, by Alexis Schaitkin
● Scythe, by Neil Shusterman
● Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
● A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century, by Witold Rybczynski
● Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City, by Robin Nagle
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What do YOU think Amy should read next?