Today we’ll be listening in on my recent event in Huntsville, Alabama in collaboration with Snail On the Wall and the Rocket City Moms Book Club. Shannan Malone hosted a conversation with me about my new book, Don’t Overthink It, and then I held a LIVE literary matchmaking session with Erin, a reader from the audience who loves books about the simple life.
I have to tell you, I absolutely adore meeting you in person. Events like these are an absolute delight. And at the same time: I am terrified that Erin is going to tell me three books she loves, and one book will doesn’t, and will say, so Anne, what should I read next, and I … will have absolutely no clue. None at all. That doesn’t happen here, thank goodness.
I hope you enjoy hearing what the show is like live and off the cuff. Let’s get to it!
ERIN: For a book about how important trees and protecting our forests are, I felt like it used a lot of unnecessary paper. [ALL LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 222.
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. It comes out March 3rd, and I’m so excited to meet so many of you in person. Some of our events, like our evening at the Strand in New York City and The Story Shop in Monroe, Georgia are even planned What Should I Read Next LIVE experiences that’ll be extra fun for our listeners. I’d loved to see you there. You can get all the info on book tour dates at modernmrsdarcy.com/events. I’d love to see you this spring.
For a live experience from the comfort of your home or office, join me and What Should I Read Next producer Brenna Frederick at our Patreon LIVESTREAM on February 13th at 2pm Eastern time. We’ll be answering your questions, chatting about behind-the-scenes What Should I Read Next secrets, and of course dishing out personalized recommendations! Learn how to participate at Patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.
Today we’ll be listening in on my recent LIVE event in Huntsville, Alabama in collaboration with Snail On the Wall and the Rocket City Moms Book Club. Shannan Malone hosted a conversation with me about my new book, Don’t Overthink It, and then I held a LIVE literary matchmaking session with Erin, a reader from the audience who loves books about the simple life.
I have to tell you, I absolutely adore meeting you in person. Events like these are an absolute delight. And at the same time: I am terrified that Erin is going to tell me three books she loves, and one book she doesn’t, and will say, so Anne, what should I read next, and I … will have absolutely no clue. None at all. That doesn’t happen in Huntsville, thank goodness. It hasn’t happened yet, though I’m not saying it won’t in the future. And even if it did, of course you know we would still all have a great time together and it would be fine. But, as you listen today, I hope you enjoy hearing what the show is like live and off the cuff. You’ll also hear me make two very live and off the cuff and obvious mistakes, including attributing the authorship of a book I love to a fictional character, so listen close and see if YOU can spot them. We can call this the scavenger hunt edition of What Should I Read Next. It’s a lot of fun. There’s great energy in this room here and I’m excited that you get to step inside it in this episode.
Let’s get to it!
SHANNAN: Thank you. Welcome. So we’re thrilled that this is finally, finally happening.
ANNE: Y’all, Shannan doesn’t just host Rocket City moms. She’s on my Modern Mrs Darcy What Should I Read Next Pemberley team
ANNE: And I’m so happy to have her. And it’s always a pleasure to make virtual relationships a physical reality and it’s just always so good to be in the same place as your book and people.
SHANNAN: It is, it is. So this is taking on an entirely different dimension when I started working for her. ‘Cause now she’s my boss.
ANNE: Uh-huh. I mean, you read a book, and look where you can end up. Right, right, right. [BOTH LAUGH]
SHANNAN: So initially, when we were talking-
ANNE: Watch out.
SHANNAN: Initially, when we were talking about having this event, it was just, oh, Shannan, I was on episode 179 of What Should I Read Next, whatever, she’ll come, and then she’ll go away and I’ll never see her again.
ANNE: If you keep talking, nobody’s going to say yes to a podcast invitation again. [SHANNAN AND CROWD LAUGH]
SHANNAN: I doubt that. [ANNE LAUGHS] Alright, let’s just jump right in. So you said you’ve been in Huntsville before on one of your Instagram stories, when was that and why didn’t I know about it? [CROWD LAUGHS]
ANNE: We - we as in my family of six, two of whom are obsessed with rockets, two of whom really don’t care, and that’s a fun family dynamic, and two of whom are kinda interested in everything and I’ll let you all decided who’s who - finally went to the U.S. Space and Rocket center, I think, it was like a year and a half ago, but time is a slippery thing.
SHANNAN: Yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: My iPhone knows. We can check those photos. But it was a delight. We went not a day much like this, but I mean-
SHANNAN: Wet and rainy?
ANNE: The Rockets were tall and cool. Also my parents are obsessed with German food, and they were just here last week dining specifically they wanted to eat German food in Huntsville, Alabama, so.
SHANNAN: Who knew that was a thing?
ANNE: I know.
SHANNAN: I want to know about your journey from blogger from Modern Mrs Darcy to now. I started following you in 2012, so...
ANNE: That was a long time ago.
SHANNAN: It was a long time ago.
ANNE: In Internet years, that was a really long time ago. So, I do books. Like I talk about books and I sometimes move in literary circles, and I feel like the word blog is like synonymous with lowbrow, so we’re just not going to go there.
SHANNAN: Oh no. Okay.
ANNE: But I started a blog in 2011, like right around New Years. I don’t remember if it was before or if it was after, but it was one of those things that came about. The kids were in bed, and we had take-out sushi and a bottle of wine, so, like, that’s where the magic happens, right?
ANNE: We were talking about what had happened the year before, and our hopes and dreams for the year to come, and my husband had done a little bit of business blogging. And I was like, you should keep doing that. That was kind of cool. And he was like, eh, it was fine, but I’ve been thinking about who should really start a blog. And I was like, who? [SHANNAN AND CROWD LAUGH] And he said, you totally should! And I said, the only blog I read is yours. That is stupid.
ANNE: But I am easily persuadable, and 20 minutes later, I was like, what can I call it? What would the categories be? And it took a couple ….Iit felt like forever at the time to see an idea from reluctant conception to actually doing something on the Internet.
SHANNAN: Right. That’s always a thing.
ANNE: It felt like forever. It was like 2 1/2 months. It was not that long.
ANNE: But the first post went up in like February of 2011.
SHANNAN: So when did you decide it would be about books?
ANNE: Is it about books? I know, I know, I know. So, I protested for a long time, and now I’ve just embraced the fact that it’s pretty much a book blog. But it ... I mean, that was not my original intention at all.
ANNE: Like I wanted to write about issues that mattered to me as a woman specifically and a person in the world who just wanted to, wanted to talk about the things that mattered and I also wanted to talk about things that existed at the intersection of the timeless and the timely. Like that’s where the Modern Mrs Darcy came from.
SHANNAN: I know it was a lifestyle blog, but it seems to have...
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Another phrase I would have protested from, except my friend Tsh Oxenreider, when she told me she thought of it as like a lifestyle blog for nerds, I thought, I could live with that.
SHANNAN: What you have done is formed a community around books and reading. Since that wasn’t the original plan and it’s not still the plan, but it’s kinda morphed into that, right?
ANNE: Yeah, it has.
ANNE: It has.
SHANNAN: Did you decide oh, I need a book club? Oh, let’s do a podcast? Oh, let’s have a book retreat?
ANNE: Mm-hmm. So I wanted to talk about issues that really mattered in real people’s lives, but you can’t be too precious about that or self-important because that gets real boring and real obnoxious real fast. Not that I knew that at the time, but I think I sensed it, and I realized that when I wanted to talk about these bigger ideas in my life that I’d been wrestling with, that often the way in, the way to begin to understand it, the way to like introduce it to someone else I was talking to would start with, well, I was reading this book last week and it got me thinking about …. So I’d end up writing these blog posts that were not in any sense book reviews. And I wasn’t necessarily talking about the literature, but I was saying I read a book and it opened a door and it made me see the world in a different way. Or it made me think about this issue. Or it made me wonder if my attitude toward this thing was correct. And I quickly began to see that not only did reading like really open my own - my own mind and change my way of thinking and cause me to reflect about things that I wouldn’t have thought about if I hadn’t read something first. But I found that it also opened a door not only in my own mind, but to conversation with others. I was not an English major for banishing common misconceptions.
ANNE: But I have always loved to read and I love the power of books to build bridges and change the way you think and take you exciting places. But seeing how that could happen as an adult who wasn’t engaged in formal educational pursuits, who was trying to have a nerdy kind of fun, to see how effective that was, it was really surprising to me. But also it was so fun, and I thought I want to do more of that, so naturally the blog content started to go more and more in that direction. At first, it was accidental, but then I started to think, hey, that worked. Like I liked that. How can I do that again?
SHANNAN: Right. Well I’m happy that you did go in that direction.
ANNE: I am too. Super glad.
SHANNAN: I got a lot of bookish friends now that I didn’t have. How many of you guys have a lot of friends in your life that love books? I need to be friends with all of you. [CROWD LAUGHS] ‘Cause I do not have that, and so, Anne has really opened up that door and it’s - it’s wonderful. Wonderful. I have to thank her for that. How many of us are moms here? How many of us wonder how Anne does it all? [ANNE AND SHANNAN LAUGH] So, please share.
ANNE: Well y’all, Shannan’s on my team to make things happen. So there’s your first indicator.
SHANNAN: Right, right. You’re writing your third book or you’ve written your third book.
ANNE: Oh, that is done. That is actually. I turned in my page proofs. We’re not going to talk about this all night ‘cause it’ll get real boring, real fast for 96% of you. But you have to … When you write a book, you have to edit it like approximately 17 times, and I just did the last one. if I find a typo tomorrow, they’re going to be like yeah, tough luck. Good chance. You had 17 of them. Yeah, it’s done.
SHANNAN: And it’s entitled Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second Guessing, and Bringing More Joy to Your Life. Who wants all of those things? Right. So pre-order today. I’ve heard this, that’s it kinda a departure a little bit maybe from I’d Rather Be Reading, which you guys got today. And Reading People. How did that come about?
ANNE: It’s funny. So I end up writing the book that is the thing that I’ve been thinking about really hard for a really long time. It took me so long to realize that I don’t write what I think I write to find out what I think. And that’s one of the reasons I think a blog, which you know, if you read it, thank you for doing that. I wouldn’t have done it for all these years if it hadn’t been personally valuable to me as well because the process of writing those posts forces me to think about things in a way that I just don’t think about if I’m going about my day.
ANNE: I can’t tell you how many times I would sit down … Oh, I’m going to sit down and write this post real quick about X and then I’ll sit down and I”ll go wait, I don’t actually know anything about this, and then four hours later, maybe there’s something I can publish, maybe if I’m lucky.
ANNE: Don’t Overthink It is the book that best reflects the post I’ve written on Modern Mrs Darcy over the years that don’t have to do with books and reading. And it’s really funny. Like who in this room reads the blog? Have you noticed that there haven’t been like a ton of reflective essays posts in the last nine months? I love writing those. Those are my favorite thing to write. But it took me a long time to realize this book is different than my others and this book has about like two stories from the blog in it. It’s definitely not one of those books that started with, like, here all the essays you wrote in your blog over the years, and lucky you, you only have to write like 20 more pages. It’s not like that at all. But it’s the same kind of writing in this book as in those posts, and I realized like why do I not have the energy to write those blog posts? I finally realized I can only write so much of that in a week, and it was all going in the book. So you’ve got some delayed gratification coming your way in March.
Yeah, it is definitely more explicit personal growth, and when I started talking about this with my editor and my agent. Y’all, writers can be so obnoxious. [ALL LAUGH]] I was like, I have this idea and it’s really good! But I don’t want to write because I don’t want to write personal growth, but it would be so good! But it’s personal growth and I don’t want to tell people … I’m a 9. I just did an Enneagram talk in Nashville, so like, I’ve been bathing in it for the past week, but I don’t want to tell people what to do. And poor Shannan works for me, and I don’t want to be your boss. But that’s been a real journey for me, like to learn, like I do need … I do run a business now, and so I gotta run it. And I do write books now, and sometimes you gotta … I have ... I created a podcast where I tell people what to read. I mean, at a certain point, you have to own like that you … You set yourself up to tell people to do things, so you gotta do them. So yeah, Don’t Overthink It is personal growth.
SHANNAN: Do you mind telling us the story of Trader Joe’s?
ANNE: Here hold it up. That’s where the cover came from. Now, I am not presuming that you do this, but let me tell you a story of what used to happen to me every Tuesday morning at Trader Joe’s ‘cause I go on Tuesday morning. I go in the store. I grab my cart. I see the flowers first thing. Like who doesn’t love Trader Joe’s flowers? Like y’all in March, for two weeks, it’s ranunculus season, and they’re $5.99, and they’re my favorites.
ANNE: Yeah. And if you order them online, they’re like $60 a bouquet I mean come on. It’s the best. So, I’d walk … Oh, but I’m like a natural born cheapskate, you should know this about me. And I hate clutter. And I got plenty of groceries to bring home ‘cause I got four kids.
So I go in the store, I look at the flowers, I think about the flowers, do they look good today, do I want some? $3.99, $5.99, oh, but if I get hydrangeas, I should get two bouquets, that’s $12, that’s more than I want to spend. I don’t really need flowers. So you go through your list, but then you think, I should have gotten the flowers and you’re not out of produce yet, so you’re going to circle back and get the flowers, but do you get the pink or do you get the yellow? Should you get mixed? No, you shouldn’t. I don’t know, they look nice kinda together. Do I have a vase that go … I mean, can you imagine this, right? This sounds ridiculous because I’m saying your inner monologue out loud and frequently, if you say your inner monologue out loud, yeah, yeah.
SHANNAN: Not something you want to hear.
ANNE: Yeah. So then I’d … I put the flowers in my cart. I’d circle the store. Crush them with the avocados. I decide this is stupid. I don’t need flowers. I go to check out. I put them back. I check out. I get home and I’d realize I was so busy thinking about the beautiful flowers that I forgot something essential on my grocery list, and also I’d be like oh, we have people coming over tomorrow. Or like, oh the peonies aren’t in bloom. Or Anne, they’re $4 get over yourself and buy the flowers. [SHANNAN AND CROWD LAUGH]
They’re not have always been times in my life where I should have spend $4 on Trader Joe’s flowers, but at this time, I was at a time in my life where I could have spent $4 on Trader Joe’s flowers. I could have handed anyone $4 to not have that conversation with myself in my head that wasn’t doing me any good [SHANNAN AND CROWD LAUGH]. And I know, I mean, you all, this is the conversation of 100 girls nights dating back to being like 15 years old. Not only do we like take a bath in the bad stuff and just like splash around in it, but we also talk ourselves out of the good stuff.
ANNE: I think because it’s habitual. No need to do that.
ANNE: Daffodils are a $1.49 in the spring. I mean, come on. Just put them in your cart.
SHANNAN: [LAUGHS] Put them in the cart, people.
ANNE: Metaphorically speaking, Huntsville.
SHANNAN: You did talk about something on page 196, a quote from Wendell Berry-
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I have no idea what’s on page 196.
SHANNAN: I’m about to tell you. [ANNE AND CROWD LAUGH] It was by Wendell Berry, and he talks about-
SHANNAN: He talks about small destructions on page 196.
ANNE: He does. I mean, he’s talking about our waterways.
SHANNAN: Right. So he says, small destructions add up, and finally they are understood collectively as large destructions. Berry was speaking of the health of our mountains, but I’ve come to understand that overthinking has similar effect on our lives. At best, overthinking is a waste of effort and energy. At worst, it wrecks absolute havoc in our thought life. That is so very true. You equate these overthinking ways as small destructions. Can you expand a little bit on that collective results in our lives?
ANNE: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So I loved what Berry says, where he says that the health of the oceans, that’s an enormous issue that starts as a very small issue that trickles down to a major source. So I don’t want to, I mean, I’d love to camp out on Wendell Berry. Y’all, he’s my Kentucky author, and I love him with my whole heart.
But I also got to quote Annie Dillard in this book who says, what we’re doing with our minutes is what we’re doing with our hours, and what we’re doing with our hours is what we’re doing with our days, and what you’re doing with your days, you’re doing with your life. So whatever you're doing in this minute, and that one, and that one, that is what you’re doing. And when I think about my poor, scattered brain, the thing is obviously not the flowers it’s what are you doing with your minutes and what are you doing with your life? ‘Cause ain’t nobody got time for that.
SHANNAN: I think there was one zinger that I’m going to go and share with everyone that got me and then we’re going to go into our What Should I Read Next little mini episode portion. But you said if we can’t trust ourselves to make the right decision about a $3.99 bouquet, it’s no wonder we’re slow to trust ourselves with the big stuff. I’m just going to leave that right there. [ANNE AND CROWD LAUGH] Thank you, Anne.
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SHANNAN: So we’re going to go to the next phase of our program, which I’m the most excited about. Erin Burke is here and she has applied to be a guest on What Should I Read Next.
ANNE: This is going to be fun. So the most frequently asked question about the podcast is how long a gap is there between when a person tells you what they love and what they don’t, and when you recommend books, and we don’t stop. We just keep recording. I think usually there’s an ad break in the podcast, but there’s no gap. I don’t, like, go hit the Googles or call my librarians or go to the bookstore, which means that every week like, people often tell me they’re nervous. Are you nervous? Be honest.
ERIN: A little bit.
ANNE: Okay. Well, you’ve got a mic and a bunch of people watching you…
ERIN: I’m excited. Yeah. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Sometimes people are like, I don’t know, I got my cat in my lap and I’m in my pajamas. And I’m like great! Let’s have some book talk! That sounds about perfect. But I have set up a show where every week, I like put myself in the hot seat and sometimes I think, what were you thinking? [LAUGHS] Now what I usually do right now is I ask you if you have any questions.
ERIN: I don’t think so.
ANNE: Well, pretend you’re nervous. Say, “Anne, I’m really nervous.”
ERIN: Okay. I’m really nervous.
ANNE: Okay. This is what I’ll tell her. [CROWD LAUGHS] Say I get that. You’re going to sound great because you’re a book lover talking about something you love, something you’re an expert on, something you know about. Another question we get all the time, when will you have some regular readers, not my phrase, this is one listeners came up with ‘cause like nobody’s a regular reader, right? [CROWD LAUGHS] You have a special reading life that’s unique to you, and I think that’s amazing. But when are you going to have somebody who’s not a professional literacy author, publishing person on? I’d like to think that I can be in the hot seat.
And I’m like, like, six of the last ten episodes, but everybody sounds like they’re super intelligent and polished talking about something they’re an expert on, which is their reading life. Also this is the part where I show you like, Brenna will have to edit me far more than she has to edit you. [ERIN LAUGHS] Honest to goodness, I promise you, why is it so hard to talk about books you love in a way that makes you sound like an articulate and intelligent human being? Not that I profess to be those some days, but that is the dream on the podcast. So that is what I would tell you.
ERIN: Well it comes across well on the podcast. It really does.
ANNE: [SIGHS] Brenna is a miracle worker. [ERIN LAUGHS] And you know what, Shannan and I didn’t say before we got started is if you do listen to the podcast, who listens to the podcast in here? What Should I Read Next? Thank you for doing that. I appreciate it. You can find it whenever you find podcasts, Brenna makes me say that. [ERIN AND CROWD LAUGHS] Y’all, that show is edited and this situation is not. So, you’ve been warned. [CROWD LAUGHS] So what I usually do now is say, Erin, I’m going to say welcome to the show and then we’ll get rolling.
ERIN: Thank you for having me.
ANNE: No, no, we’re not rolling yet.
ERIN: Okay. Sorry! [CROWD LAUGHS]
ANNE: I’m about to say this, but you’re perfect. That’s a great line. [ERIN AND CROWD LAUGH] Are you ready?
ERIN: Yes. I’m ready.
ANNE: Erin, welcome to the show.
ERIN: Thank you for having me. [CROWD LAUGHS] I’m excited. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I can’t wait to talk books with you this evening in Huntsville, Alabama.
ANNE: Usually we would chitchat for awhile, but we’re not going to do that ‘cause we’d be here until 10:30. And we all know we need to read before we go to bed. [CROWD LAUGHS] Do you all know that the original concept of the show was hi, Erin, I’m Anne, tell me about three books you love, no talking. Just like tell me your books, boom boom boom, vending machine, done. That was the original concept. I wanted it to be 18 minutes an episode. But you were willing to take the hot seat in front of an audience. Not everybody is.
ANNE: What inspired you to submit your books?
ERIN: [LAUGHS] I’ve actually applied to be on the podcast, and I did it a few months ago, and I was like, well, I’m never going to make it to the top of that list ‘cause I know you have a ton of applicants.
ANNE: We get a lot.
ERIN: And so, then, I was buying the ticket for this event anyway and it just worked out. I’m excited I get to talk to you.
ANNE: Yeah, yeah. So glad. So how did you choose your favorites?
ERIN: it really was not hard for me. They are the books that really mean something to me very deeply and the books I can read over and over again.
ANNE: Do you keep a running list in your brain?
ERIN: Yeah, actually at home, so-
ANNE: Cause I don’t know. It’s very rare for someone to be, oh, you know, who doesn’t know this stuff?
ERIN: [LAUGHS] At home, we actually have a big entertainment center with our TV in the center. It has bookshelves on both sides. I have one side, and my husband has one side, and we both keep like our ten favorite books at the moment on our shelves.
ANNE: Are you serious?
ERIN: Yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: That’s adorable and we all want pictures, right? [ERIN AND CROWD LAUGH] Okay. Guarantee you that if we put this on the air, we would get so many requests of the husband’s photos because-
ERIN: It’s very different from mine. He reads a lot of presidential biographies and sci-fi and I don’t. So … [LAUGHS] He’s sitting right there.
ANNE: Is that the same genre or different genres?
ERIN: Presidential biographies... [CROWD LAUGHS]
ANNE: Who said if you think you don’t like to read, you just haven’t found the right book for you yet? [ERIN LAUGHS] That’s the right book for somebody.
ERIN: Yeah. That’s true. [CROWD LAUGHS]
ERIN: So anyway, have a separate shelf I keep my books that I’ve read throughout the year, and then I kinda like stack them onto the normal shelves at the end of the year and so I’ll go through my favorite shelf and kinda say okay, well, take this one off and replace it with this one, and I keep the top ten right there. So.
ANNE: Okay, so you’re a visual thinker.
ERIN: Sometimes, yeah.
ANNE: Okay. Let’s cut to it. This is hard for me, but let’s cut to it.
ANNE: What did you choose for your first favorite?
ERIN: My first favorite is Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Short stories. I could have picked any Jhumpa Lahiri book. I love all her books, and I’ve read ...Most of them, I read more than once. I think her latest one, I need to reread it. I read it in college. I had to read it first year composition class, and it was first contemporary literature I read that like I liked. She has just a nice and simple prose style and more delving into the emotionalness of it. And we read this for the class and we had to write a short story in response reading the book, and we had a really tough teacher. I don’t remember her saying this, but a friend of mine told me that at the beginning of the year, she had said, I don’t give As because if I give an A, I have to call my mother, and I don’t call my mother. [ALL LAUGH] So most of my grades in that class were Bs and Cs.
ANNE: We could evaluate that statement, I mean on a different podcast.
ERIN: [LAUGHS] Yes. So I did not get very many As, but I wrote the short story, and I got an A-, and that was I think the experience of reading a book and writing that was what made me feel like I could write. I can do that. So, that’s my first favorite. I really love that book, and I’ve read it a couple times. Not recently. I need to reread it.
ANNE: Jhumpa Lahiri, so deceptively simple. Those are not necessarily happy stories.
ANNE: Are you able to articulate about what it is that draws you to that style?
ERIN: It’s not overly written. But she’s still says so much and what she writes. And I find the subject of what she writes very fascinating, because she’s writing a lot about the immigrant experience and intergenerational family drama.
ANNE: What did you choose for your second favorite?
ERIN: My second favorite is…
ANNE: Wait, hold on, this is where Brenna tells me to repeat. [ERIN LAUGHS] So that was Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. [CROWD LAUGHS]
ERIN: So everyone can get the title.
ANNE: I mean, they’re in the show notes, but still.
ERIN: Yeah. Second favorite is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I could just cry talking about that book. I love that book so much.
ANNE: I was on a local show, Five Things, at our local NPR station. It’s a lot like What Should I Read Next actually, in that every week a guest brings five physical objects into the studio and you’re telling your life in five physical things. So when I was on the show, I brought my walking shoes and a camera and a copy of Pride & Prejudice and some coffee, which meant more than you think it does. [CROWD LAUGHS] My friend said half her guests cry talking about these five objects they bring to represent their lives. Y’all, we’re only running like 10%, but you’d be in good company, and maybe bump up our odds. [ERIN LAUGHS] We can be an emotionally charged show. Alright. With that being said, so Gilead.
ERIN: For those of you don’t know about it, I guess, so it’s narrated by John Ames who is a minister in Iowa. And he’s writing a letter to his son because he’s found out that he has a heart condition or something, and he has a young son, and he’s an older father. And it’s just beautiful and it’s full of beautiful theology. I do like reading faith stories like that that are more mainstream, but have that element in them, and then I think I underlined like something on every page in that book.
ANNE: Okay. Have you read her other work?
ERIN: I’ve read Lila, and I really liked that too.
ANNE: Is that how you say it?
ERIN: Oh, how do you say it?
ANNE: Well, I say it Layla in my head, but that could totally be right. This has never been fact checked in any way.
ERIN: I don’t know.
ANNE: But the What Should I Read Next standard is NPR. Like my first choice is to like I hope they talked about on NPR and I go with that. [ERIN LAUGHS] Otherwise I try to find where the author has been interviewed in person, or they say their own name. That’s a big deal. When they’ve been interviewed in person, they’ve talked about their work, but sometimes you’ll hear them like present at the Carnegie Library and the interviewer will go, and … Bog … el? And that’s just not, that’s why we go with NPR when we can.
ERIN: Yeah. I’ve read that one, and I really like it too, and I have the rest of them on my list but have not gotten to all of them. So take it slowly because I don’t wanna you know, run out and treat myself to one just every-
ANNE: I don’t understand this instinct, but I admire it and I like that it exists in the world. [ERIN LAUGHS] You know what’s fun is if you did want to, I try not to throw in books by the same author unless I’m like come on, you have to read this right now, like what are you waiting for? But I’m listening to The Dutch House which I already read, and I really loved. I saw for sale out there. I’m not saying you’ll love it, but I really loved it. There aren’t many books if any books discussed in that book except for Housekeeping, which two of the characters-
ERIN: Oh. That’s on my list.
ANNE: Read and can’t stop talking about with each other. [ERIN LAUGHS] Like they’re own little book club. So that is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
ANNE: Erin, what did you choose for your third favorite?
ERIN: Third favorite is The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits.
ANNE: I haven’t read this one. Tell me about it.
ERIN: It is a diary. I am a sucker for diaries. I love reading about, like, the mundane details of people’s lives. So she’s writing about motherhood and just worries as she’s getting older and her career. But the catch of it is it’s not in order, so all of the diary entires, they’re not arranged in order. I think that she had a system where she put them in order, but they’re not in date order, and I think the point of that you kinda see how the themes of your life circle back to you again.
ANNE: I haven’t read this, but I know it’s often called experimental and that’s a heavily edited diary.
ERIN: Well, it might be heavily edited.
ANNE: Yeah, of course it is. Like it got published. Anything that got published, like … [LAUGHS]
ERIN: I feel like saying experimental makes it seem like ...
ANNE: Not weird enough?
ERIN: Not weird.
ANNE: Like experimental.
ERIN: It’s not weird.
ANNE: Did you use the word mundane? You like the mundane?
ERIN: I do.
ANNE: Okay. Well, shoot, this is where I screwed up. So your third favorite was Folded Clocks by -
ERIN: The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits.
ANNE: Heidi Julavits. [ERIN LAUGHS] There we go. How did you choose the book that wasn’t for you?
ERIN: It’s probably the book I’ve read most recently that I didn’t really like.
ANNE: Oh, that’s a good way to choose.
ERIN: So, and I feel like if I really don’t like a book, I have gotten a lot better about putting books down.
ANNE: Well what was it?
ERIN: It was The Overstory by Richard Powers I think.
ANNE: I like your way of choosing because it shows what you were drawn to that you were willing to take a chance on, but that ended up not being the right book for you.
ERIN: So [LAUGHS] my husband’s laughing because I have to tell the reason I was drawn to this book.
ANNE: Yeah. Is it on his favorites shelf?
ERIN: Yes. Well, not … [CROWD LAUGHS] He was on a trip to Colorado and had finished the book he had brought with him on the trip. And he stopped at the airport bookstore knowing nothing about this book, picked it up, then got home and had read like the first 100 pages or so and was like, oh my gosh, Erin, this is so good. You’re going to love it. You have to read it. And then the next day, it won the Pulitzer Prize. So it felt like a sign.
ANNE: Wow. [ERIN LAUGHS] So your smug level was like, 1 - 10. [ERIN AND CROWD LAUGH]
ERIN’S HUSBAND: Somewhere in there. [ANNE AND ERIN LAUGH]
ERIN: So I felt like I should read it and I just, I didn’t really like it. I felt like it was overwritten.
ANNE: Alright. So The Overstory by Richard Ford won the Pulitzer the day after it was declared worthy. [ERIN LAUGHS] It’s almost written like it’s a series of short stories.
ERIN: Yeah, kinda.
ANNE: It’s about the trees.
ANNE: Research and unhappy people.
ERIN: Yeah. It was a lot of prose. I … The thing I say about it … This probably sounds bad, but for a book about how important trees and protecting our forests are, I felt like it used a lot of unnecessary paper. [ALL LAUGH] I’m going to contradict myself when I tell you what I’m reading now, but I don’t typically like longer books. I feel like, I usually feel like they could be edited down.
ANNE: Well that’s usually true. So I remember my 7th grade English teacher saying the thing about a short story is that there shouldn’t be a word in there that doesn’t have to be there. And I remember thinking at the time, shouldn’t that be true of everything that gets written? [ERIN LAUGHS] And now I understand why she didn’t say that.
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ANNE: Okay, let me think. So you loved Gilead.
ERIN: Interpreter of Maladies.
ANNE: Oh. Which my mind is resisting ‘cause that kinda messes with my theory. [ERIN LAUGHS] I’m thinking that The Overstory, I feel like you aren’t compelled to relate to the characters in the same way. Well I guess Lahiri, she pulls you in.
ERIN: Yeah, she does.
ANNE: You don’t necessarily like like them and want to go step into their lives.
ERIN: Yeah. I … The Overstory characters though, by the end, I just didn’t care.
ANNE: But that’s not the point.
ERIN: That’s true.
ANNE: The point isn’t like to walk into their life and like hang out for 300 pages.
ERIN: That’s true. It’s 500 pages.
ANNE: Do you like those experiences though?
ERIN: Yeah. I think so.
ERIN: It depends. Gilead is very much in the person’s life, very humorous.
ANNE: Yeah. You want stories with heart. Does that sound too cheesy to say yes to?
ERIN: No, it doesn’t. I don’t know. I also feel like I need to look at all the books I read and see does it have heart or not. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Erin, what are you reading now?
ERIN: So what I’m reading now … Well I’ll tell you another book I finished recently that I liked which was Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. I really liked that book a lot.
ANNE: That’s different than the other ones.
ERIN: It is different. It’s a lot lighter, but she - she is so perfect at writing something that’s lighter but makes you feel smarter for reading it at the same time, so, so I liked that one. What I’m reading right now is Ducks, Newburyport, which contradicts what I said about not liking long books because it’s 1000 pages long. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: What page are you on?
ERIN: I think I’m almost on page 600. And I like it, but I have read a few other books interspersed. Like I’ve taken a break and read something short because it’s a lot.
ANNE: So that’s the kind of thing you’re willing to take a chance on. Y’all, the reason for the what are you reading now is it shows me where you’re willing to go. What you’re willing to take a chance on.
ANNE: Even though it could end very badly.
ERIN: Yeah. I like it.
ANNE: Or it could be amazing. We don’t know yet. But you’re willing to try. What are you looking for in your reading life?
ERIN: I want more books that make me want to write.
ERIN: And that have stories that I love but also prose that I love because when I read a book that doesn’t have prose that I think is interesting, I don’t care about it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: More books that make you want to write. Bonus points if there are writers in the book or do you care?
ERIN: I don’t know, I don’t care.
ERIN: In fact, I think maybe rather not. Just normal people. [LAUGHS] Not that writers aren’t normal people. [CROWD LAUGHS] No, it can, but it doesn’t have to for sure.
ANNE: Gilead, Interpreter of Maladies, Folded Clocks, mundane is not bad.
ERIN: I do like mundane.
ANNE: Slice of life. A little achy, earnest, weepy okay.
ERIN: Oh yeah.
ANNE: Okay. I mean, there’s a book about a writer.
ERIN: Oh, you can recommend it. It’s fine.
ANNE: Okay. Alright. I’ll think about it. [ERIN LAUGHS] First of all, let me think. You gotta read Housekeeping.
ERIN: I know I do.
ANNE: It’s so short. It’s so little.
ANNE: Marilynne Robinson, she’s so good. I know you’re like parsing her out but if you could read like five Marilynne Robinson books before you finish this Ducks, Newburyport.
ERIN: I know, and that’s the thing. I really am enjoying this book, but also, I’m feeling the ache of all the books i’m not reading while I’m reading this, so.
ANNE: This really bothers you for your reading challenge, track pages, not your books. You’re welcome. [ERIN LAUGHS] Okay. What do I want you to read? Y’all, problem I have here is oh my gosh, you have to read Crossing to Safety.
ERIN: Oh, I love that book.
ANNE: Okay. Thank you. I have to not recommend that. Also A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. Also, the one with the writer that I think you may really enjoy is Writers & Lovers by Lily King. She wrote Euphoria.
ANNE: Oh, which might also be really good for you. Have you read that one?
ERIN: I have not.
ANNE: Her prose is compact. Not like Hemingway stark. So this isn’t coming out until March, which is kinda a problem, and it’s about a writer which might be kinda a problem for you, but it’s a writer whose life is going terribly, horribly, no good, very bad. She’s waitressing with jerks. She’s writing stuff that’s not selling. She’s living in a crappy apartment being actively overrun by black mold.
ERIN: Oh. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I know. But she pulls it together. And it is such a joy to watch her do so. It’s literary. It’s Lily King.
ANNE: So it’s serious and it’s like 300 pages.
ANNE: The dialogue is so good and the characters who were kinda jerky for the first 50 pages, you’re going to be like what? Like get away, dude. That’s what you’re going to be thinking. The arc she takes her character on, so fascinating, and because the book is set adjacent to the literary world of Boston. Y’all, I read a piece in the New York Times how everybody’s saying adjacent now, [ERIN LAUGHS] and now I can’t stop editing myself. What I mean is, it’s not a book about the literary world of Boston, but the character’s an outsider who like voyeurs into that world occasionally. Like she goes to a book signing. You go to book signings.
ERIN: I know. This sounds like how I feel about a literary world, so, so it sounds good. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Yeah. It can be really fun. She is a writer who is trying to make it, but I think that could be fun for you to read
ANNE: Because of the way the book is done and not depressing. So that was Euphoria by Lily King. The bad news is it’s not coming out til March.
ERIN: Okay. I’ll put that on my list.
ANNE: Okay. I forgot to tell you that when you tell me the three books you love and what you don’t and all that, and I think well now let’s talk about what you should read next, my terror before every time I sit down to record is that at this point in the show, I’ll be like, oh, I don’t know. [ERIN AND CROWD LAUGH] What do you think? It’s not funny when it’s you. [CROWD LAUGHS] Do you like to read new or do you like to go old?
ERIN: I like both. I’m always very tempted by the new. I like to keep up with the books that are coming out, and I’m always wanting to read them but then I try to ilke, I know there’s so much backlist that is so good too. So, I kinda mix it up.
ANNE: Okay, for something more new than old, have you read the Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall?
ANNE: Was that a match for you?
ERIN: Yes. I really liked that a lot.
ANNE: Do y’all know this book? Heads are going in all directions. [ERIN AND CROWD LAUGH] The reason I thought about this is because you said you like stories about faith and you also like literary criticism, and those worlds overlap a little bit but not terribly much. Oh my gosh, why didn’t I think of that before? But okay.
ERIN: Well it’s a very quiet book and I really liked that about it.
ANNE: It is quiet. It gets compared a lot to Crossing to Safety, which I kinda think … Oh, I totally see it, and I kinda think, back off.
ERIN: [LAUGHS] I had heard that comparison and so I really liked that book a lot but I had, because it was compared to Crossing to Safety, I had expected a longer timespan of the story.
ANNE: Okay. So this is a story of two couples who are linked even though the wives-
ERIN: Don’t like each other. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: They don’t like each other at all, but the husbands are called to co-pastor a historical church in Greenwich Village in like 1963.
ERIN: Yes, something like that.
ANNE: I think? When things were happening in the United States, and in New York City. So it’s historical fiction and it’s about two people in very different circumstances and their wives who are dragged along kicking and screaming. Well, at least one of them is.
ERIN: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
ERIN: Yeah, I did like that one a lot.
ANNE: So Wendell Berry. Talk to me about Wendell Berry.
ERIN: I have a book on my shelf and I haven’t read it.
ANNE: Which one is it?
ERIN: Hannah Coulter I think.
ANNE Oh my gosh. Okay.
ERIN: [LAUGHS] I haven’t read any Wendell Berry. I’ve read like some-
ANNE: Well what made you put Hannah Coulter on your shelf?
ERIN: I heard it recommended and that i would probably like it, and I bought it at a bookstore, but it’s on my shelf of at some point I’ll get to these books. Is that the one I should start with or should I start with a different one?
ANNE: You should start with Hannah Coulter.
ANNE: So I think Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow are great ways in. If you’re reading nonfiction, The Way of Ignorance is a fantastic one to start with because then you get to read about small streams. Also what are people for is good because then you get to read his snarky take on why he doesn’t own a computer, which is still true today.
ANNE: It is interesting. His wife edits all his long-hand work, and then it get typed up.
ANNE: Which I imagine sounds very satisfying and yet I’m glad I don’t work that way. [ERIN LAUGHS] So Wendell Berry writes quiet, I feel like happier, like oh, that’s my least favorite word, you’re thinking like ooh, I hope.
ERIN: Yeah. I know. Yeah.
ANNE: He writes quiet compact fiction about real people living in small communities who bump up against each other in ways that are not necessarily obvious to the community. But he takes you into their hearts in a way that .... oh my gosh, does this sound so boring?
ERIN: No. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I think you’re going to love it. I think you are going to love it. [CROWD LAUGHS]
ANNE: Although I do have to say as Kentuckian, it requires maybe more imagination from me than it might for you. He has this series of novels called the Port William novels, and Port William is based on Carrollton, and Carrollton is not what it used to be, but I never saw it what it used to be. So when I see Carrollton, Kentucky, I think, but it sounds so much more romantic in the novels, but you’ve not been to Carrollton, Kentucky, so you won’t have that problem. If you’re from Carrollton, I’m sorry. [ERIN AND CROWD LAUGH] And I love you and I want to see pictures from days gone by.
Okay, so of the books we talked about today, Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry … I’m not going in order because I don’t have my notebook. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry, Writers & Lovers by Lily King, and the one in the middle. What was it?
ERIN: I don’t think we did one in the middle. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Did we do one in the middle?
CROWD: No. You just recommended …
ANNE: Oh, that doesn’t count though. Two from the same author? You can’t count that. I have to come up with one more?
ERIN: You have to come up with one more. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Have you read any Anne Lamont?
ERIN: Yes. I love Anne Lamont.
ANNE: ‘Cause what I was thinking was what she does so well is she takes these things that she’s anxious about and she’s afraid of and she turns the volume up [ERIN LAUGHS] but she takes these like neuroses that we all have to some degree. She likes turns it up to 11 and it’s just hysterical. Okay. So I’m visualizing the bookshelf in my home that I think you would be most comfortable with. Have you read any Maggie O'Farrell?
ERIN: I read one of them. I read the one that you recommended a lot on your podcast like last year.
ANNE: Was This Must Be the Place?
ANNE: Okay. How was that?
ERIN: I liked it.
ANNE: ‘Cause what I liked about This Must Be The Place for you is it does really interesting things with time and narrative...
ERIN: Yes, yes.
ANNE: In the way Folded Clocks does.
ERIN: I did find that interesting.
ANNE: But I wasn’t sure if it would grow long-winded.
ERIN: It did a little bit, yeah.
ANNE: Okay. Oh. In which case The Hand That First Held mine is a 300 pager that tells a more straightforward narrative of a family that has been plunged into an unexpected situation rooted in the past, but the issue has just been brought into the present. And so what you have is you have a bunch of characters who have to deal with their old junk all of a sudden really fast ‘cause they’ve been putting it off and putting it off and putting it off, but all of a sudden it matters right now today ‘cause they have to find a loved one. It’s set in Ireland.
ERIN: That’s a plus.
ANNE: Oh, I mean, it’s always a plus. [ERIN LAUGHS]
ANNE: I hope there’s an audiobook that has a wonderful Irish brogue that somebody listened to. I read this on paper, but I think she has kind of writing like Robinson and Lahiri that shows you people’s inner hopes and fears and concerns. Not as much joy ‘cause it’s literary fiction. I mean, you gotta hold out for the joy, or it comes in the beginning and then-
ERIN: Or you never get it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Right, right. That’s true, that’s true. What they do so well is you see what’s happening on the surface of things and you see what’s happening below.
ERIN: I like that.
ANNE: Ooh, have you read Ursula, Under?
ANNE: Do you know this?
ERIN: I’ve heard it, yeah.
ANNE: It’s too long. [ERIN AND CROWD LAUGH] So Ursula, Under. It’s by Ingrid Hill. It’s 600 pages, but you want to read more books that may show you how to be a writer. What she does with narrative, she likes connects the dots between these characters in a way that is fascinating that you would never know in real life that I think as a writer would have you thinking, oh, the power of fiction.
ANNE: Because real life doesn’t work like that, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work on page. I think that can be really interesting. Go into it knowing this book is too long. Like they go off to China for a bit, and especially they go way back in time, and you’re like can we please get back to the 20th century where it’s a little like tighter? But bare with it through that section because I think it would pay off, and I don’t know what fiction you would like to write, but I think as a novelist, reading widely is really good and what she does, her specific kind of style, does it really, really well.
Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill because I actually have three books now. Writers & Lovers by Lily King, Hannah Coulter by Jayber Crow … Of those three books, probably not going to be the Lily King since it doesn’t come out until March, what do you think you’ll read next? It has to be Hannah Coulter, right? Cause it’s sitting on your shelf.
ERIN: Cause it’s sitting on my shelf. Yes. Yes.
ANNE: I like this. Okay. We’re going to send you home. You have homework. You’re going to read that one.
ANNE: And then you’re going to report back I hope.
ERIN: Okay. Yeah. I will.
ANNE: And tell us what you think. Thank you for talking books. This was a lot of fun. [CROWD CLAPS]
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Shannan and Erin today, and I’d love to hear what YOU think Erin should read next in our comments section. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/222 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today, plus pre-order information for my new book Don’t Overthink It.
Subscribe now so you don’t miss next week’s episode in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more. We will see you next week!
If you’re on twitter, let me know there @AnneBogel. That is Anne with an E, B as in books -O-G-E-L. Follow me on Instagram @annebogel and at our all books, all the time podcast, whatshouldireadnext. We’re doing fun things there like What Should I Read Next reader recommendation series. Our newsletter subscribers are the first to know all the What Should I Read Next news and happenings; if you’re not on the list, just go to
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If you enjoy this podcast and want to support it, please share it with a friend, leave a review on Apple Podcasts, check out my new book Don’t Overthink It, all those things spread the book love and we appreciate them all greatly.
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.
ANNE: Usually there’s not wine when we record podcasts. [CROWD LAUGHS]
Become a supporter on Patreon:
Our next live stream with our Patreon supporters is this week! Join me and our producer, Brenna, and ask us anything live and off the cuff just like today’s episode. The livestream is February 13th, so become a supporter on Patreon and start thinking up your question. Read more about this event here.
Books mentioned in this episode:
● Don’t Overthink It, by Anne Bogel
♥ Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
♥ Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
● Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
● The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
● Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson
♥ The Folded Clock: A Diary, by Heidi Julavits
▵ The Overstory, by Richard Powers
● Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub
● Ducks, Newburyport, by Lucy Ellmann
● Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
● A Place For Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza
● Writers & Lovers, by Lily King
● Euphoria, by Lily King
● The Dearly Beloved, by Cara Wall
● Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry
● Author Anne Lamott (try Bird by Bird)
● This Must Be the Place, by Maggie O’Farrell
● Ursula, Under, by Ingrid Hill
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