This week we’re continuing our celebration of Summer reading with Zibby Owens, host of the podcast Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books. I had the pleasure of visiting Zibby on her show a little while ago, and today it’s my turn to host.
Zibby and I are chatting about what we’re excited to read this Summer, whether those books are brand new or quite old. Many of you will be happy to hear that Zibby is an avid reader of memoirs, so get ready for a slew of summer-ready non-fiction recommendations for your TBR.
Let’s get to it!
You can visit Zibby and learn more about Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books on her website.
ZIBBY: It was required reading at the time, but it doesn’t matter. Everybody else was like, what? Who is that? What is she doing? We’re going water-skiing. [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 235.
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, the 2020 summer reading guide is out! This is my annual attempt to take the hundreds of books, thousands of books, being published this season and whittle it down to a manageable list of 30 titles so YOU can more easily choose your next read. These are all books I’ve read cover to cover, and I chose them all with What Should I Read Next listeners in mind. And just like we do here on the podcast, I aim to give you the information you need to choose the books you think you’ll love for your summer reading.
Newsletter subscribers already got the guide by email. If you haven’t gotten yours, sign up for our What Should I Read Next email newsletter by texting summerreading to 44222. We’ll send you our weekly Tuesday email with information on that week’s show, plus, the same 3-1-1 we do in every episode: in each newsletter I share 3 things I love, one thing I don’t, and thoughts on what I’m currently reading. Plus when you sign up you’ll get this year’s summer reading guide immediately. Just text summerreading to 44222.
Today we’re continuing our celebration of Summer reading with Zibby Owens, host of the podcast Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books. I had the pleasure of visiting Zibby on her show a little while ago. You can check the show notes for to get more information on how to listen. Those are at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/235. Today it’s my turn to play hostess; Zibby joins me to talk about what we’re excited to read this Summer, whether those books are brand new or quite old. Many of you will be happy to hear that Zibby is an avid reader of nonfiction and memoir, so get ready for a slew of summer-ready non-fiction recommendations for your TBR.
Let’s get to it. Zibby, welcome to the show.
ZIBBY: Thanks so much for having me.
ANNE: I had the pleasure of getting to record with you in person in Manhattan not that long ago for your show Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books and thanks for returning the favor and coming onto What Should I Read Next.
ZIBBY: Thanks. It feels like a lifetime ago, but yes, I was delighted we got to meet in person.
ANNE: Zibby, would you tell our listeners a little bit about what you do?
ZIBBY: Sure. First I have a podcast called Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, which you mentioned. Which now during the pandemic I’m releasing seven days a week new episodes, but prior to that it was five episodes a week. So I have that, which I love. I also prior to the pandemic was doing a lot of live events at my house and in bookstores where I would get multiple authors together, interview them and have groups come. I replace that now with a virtual book club and instagram lives daily with different authors so I can keep up the interviewing and the community aspect of what I do.
I also am a writer and I write articles for places like The Washington Post and Parents Magazine and wherever will take me. [LAUGHS] And I’m a mom of four, so that’s really my job. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh. [SIGHS] Full time job these days. I want to start right off by talking about something controversial. When I was in your home recording your podcast, which is lovely by the way. We’ve hosted What Should I Read Next and Modern Mrs Darcy events, I mean, a limited number I can count them on one hand, in my home, and it just feels so different than meeting in a bookstore as lovely as they are, or definitely like a hotel ballroom someplace. So that was a joy, thank you.
But, Zibby, you have these beautifully organized books that are displayed by color and those are fighting words in some sectors of the literary internet. I had my books arranged by color for a long time. And honestly the only reason I went back is I started having them in different rooms of the house and I could remember where my red books were in one room, and another room, but I couldn’t remember which red book was where. But they’re just so beautiful. Would you give our listeners a vicarious glimpse of what those shelves are like and how you decided to go that route?
ZIBBY: Thatcher Wine who wrote For The Love of Books is this amazing library designer and his vision sorta inspired the room. He decorates bookshelves by color, which for me, I’m a really visual person, and that makes it so much easier for me to find the shelves, but yes. Around the room I have this sorta cerused oak bookshelf thing going on and each shelf has different stacks horizontally of different colors. So, there might be a red one next to a pink one next to a white one all around the room. I miss it. I’m not there right now. For the pandemic, we left and went to Long Island, and so I have all my books like scattered behind me and I find that … I can never find the book I’m looking for ‘cause I’m so used to it being by color.
ANNE: Oh, no!
ZIBBY: I like finding books that way and organizing that way.
ANNE: Oh, that’s rough. I’m sorry. So the books that are so beautifully displayed on your shelves, are those all books that you’ve read? Books that you might want to read? Or a happy mix of both?
ZIBBY: A happy mix of both.
ANNE: And then right by your desk you have all those advanced review copies, that I’m sure would have many listeners drooling if they could see all the good stuff. [ZIBBY LAUGHS] I mean, sometimes I share photos of my messy, messy office where I think I’m sharing this real life pic of how the book now gets a little out of control and I don’t mean to unintentionally provoke jealousy. ‘Cause I see clutter and readers are like ah! I want to read that book coming up October, and I thought, oh, I didn’t mean to taunt you but I get it. So do I.
ZIBBY: Yeah. I love advanced copies. It never fails to bring a thrill, no matter how many I get. It’s exciting.
ANNE: Zibby, well that’s good to hear because I always want to think that the people I want to listen to, talking about books, mean what they say, you know, like you really love reading. What’s your background as a reader? I don’t know how you got into doing what you do.
ZIBBY: I have always loved to read. From the second I learned how to read, I have not stopped reading. I was like the nerd at sleep away camp reading Jane Eyre on my cot. [BOTH LAUGH] Seriously.
ANNE: That mental picture is so much better that it’s Jane Eyre of all things.
ZIBBY: Yeah. It was required reading at the time, but it doesn’t matter. Everybody else was like, what? Who is that? What is she doing? We’re going water-skiing. So I just [ANNE LAUGHS] I’ve always loved it. I’ve just always wanted to be such an escape and something I just can’t get enough of. From the time I was really little, I felt this connection with authors and I would look up with my mother in the back of some books the address of where I could find the publisher, the author, and I would send letters to authors whose books that I loved. Like in the mail [LAUGHS] when I was little.
ZIBBY: Yeah. And I even … There was another author who shared my first name, Zibby, her name was Zibby Oneal and she wrote -
ANNE: This gets stranger and stranger.
ZIBBY: Yeah, I know. I know. She wrote a book called The Language of Goldfish and many others, and so as we, you know, we got into the habit of doing, we wrote a letter to her. And she lived in Ann Arbor, MI and we struck up this whole pen pal relationship until finally in 5th grade she came to New York and took me to tea at the Plaza, which was like the greatest thrill of my life. [LAUGHS]
ZIBBY: She’s like one of the first authors I had met in real life, and I could not have been more excited and I will never forget that day. And I always just viewed authors as these rockstars really, and I’ve been so in awe of them and have so much respect for them so. My love of reading runs deep.
ANNE: Oh, it’s good for my soul to hear that Zibby wrote Zibby back.
ZIBBY: Right? She could have totally ignored me.
ANNE: Is Zibby short for something? We’ve never talked about this.
ZIBBY: It’s short for Elizabeth.
ANNE: Oh, that’s precious.
ZIBBY: To be honest, I’ve actually hated having a nickname my whole life and when I named my four kids, my first requirement was not giving them names that could have nicknames attached to them.
ANNE: That’s harder than I would have thought it to be.
ZIBBY: You know, people nickname them for fun, but it’s not like the first day of school you have to say, oh, my name’s Elizabeth, but I go by Zibby. You go by what? How do you spell that? I don’t know. It was such a pain, so. Yeah. My one victory with my children. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: It’s all about small wins these days.
ANNE: So, Zibby, you’ve always been a reader. You love to read at any time, but we are talking on the cusp of summer reading season, which in Modern Mrs. Darcy land we talk about being the most wonderful time of the year. I’ve been putting out a summer reading guide every year since 2012 and so many of our readers are like it’s Christmas for book lovers. [LAUGHS]
We have big feelings about this time of year, which it’s funny. We’ve got a great few years of publishing. There are good books coming out all the time. Last fall was really strong. This winter and spring I thought there are so many good books, even with so many being pushed back, and yet I still feel like there’s something particularly wonderful about summer reading season. Do you have opinions here?
ZIBBY: I agree. I look forward to summer on every front and I think reading goes hand in hand with that sort of feeling of relaxation and sunshine and escape, and it’s just yes. I can’t wait for summer books.
ANNE: Oh, I like all those things. That sounds great. Well I read all the time with two exceptions. There are two weeks a year where I just read a book a day and it’s so satisfying. I don’t think I’d want to keep it up honestly unlike say, Liberty Hardy, who we had on the show from Book Riot who reads 600+ books a year. That sounds amazing, and I kinda want that to be my life but also I really practically don’t. But two weeks a year I read a book a day, and that’s the week between Christmas and New Years, which you note is not in the summer, and the week we go to the beach every summer. And I say every summer but I don’t think it’s gonna happen this summer.
But when I think about summer reading I think about that time where my biggest priority is my milk crate full of books that we packed for vacation. I can read whatever I want, not on deadline. While I may end up talking about the books on the podcast or write about them on the blog, so in that sense, like, it could become work? It doesn’t feel like work at all. It just feels like ahhh. Like you said, happy, relaxing, sunshine, indulgence time.
ZIBBY: Sometimes I feel like I’m cheating on myself when I read a book I haven’t scheduled. [LAUGHS] But I’m like ooh, I really want to read this. I’m putting it to the front of the line and you know. [LAUGHS] I’m gonna read it anyway.
ANNE: Okay, tell me about scheduling your reading.
ZIBBY: First I schedule all my podcasts and now my instagram live shows, which I’m doing daily and I have been doing one to four authors every day on that, which is getting to be a lot. I started doing it at the beginning of quarantine and I was like I’m gonna do this until we get out of the house! Thinking that was like two or three weeks. [ANNE LAUGHS] And now it’s been two months and I’m like what am I doing? I cannot do this anymore.
But I have to pick what I’m reading based on how I schedule it, so I always look at my calendar before I go upstairs to bed, which is my prime reading time I’m like all right. Who do I have tomorrow? What have I not started? What is coming up? And that’s how I schedule what I’m reading.
ANNE: So when your calendar revolves around books, your calendar basically holds your reading schedule.
ANNE: Does that feel like a pleasant restriction? Or do you chafe against that sometimes?
ZIBBY: I don’t even view it as a restriction. I wouldn’t have scheduled the podcast if I wasn’t really excited to read the books to begin with, so no, I don’t view it as a restriction at all. It’s sorta a pleasure. Sometimes [LAUGHS] late at night, my decision making skills sorta fall by the wayside after a day full of kids and all the rest, so I welcome the fact that I’ve scheduled out my reading. At least there’s one thing that I know what’s coming next.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] There’s one thing to count on.
ZIBBY: Yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I love it. I always feel like when I have a loose idea in my mind of what I’m going to read next, actually you know what. I could have a plan. I like knowing there’s a plan. I will not be without a book to read and of course this goes beyond the reading life, like I like when there’s a plan.
ZIBBY: Me too.
ANNE: But I also like knowing that if I wanted to, I could mix it up. But I have that default in place that is a good plan, but then leaving a little room for bookish serendipity too sounds awfully nice, especially this time of year.
ZIBBY: Anytime for any kind of serendipity sounds great.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Well I’d loved to talk about your summer reading. So we are kicking off summer reading season. The summer reading guide just came out on May 14th full of 30 good books, or 42 if you got the expanded guide, listeners. And Zibby, I’d like to really set the tone by talking about our favorite summer reads. Do you have some lifetime favorites you’d be willing to share?
ANNE: Ooh, okay.
ZIBBY: It’s hard to narrow it down, but I picked three that are old favorites and standbys that you can’t go wrong with. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding...
ZIBBY: … is one of my all time favorite books. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese which is heavier but sometimes I find that in the summer I have more time and energy to really dig into a longer book. And I remember carrying that book around me one summer and taking all sorts of diary-like notes in the back, which I really shouldn’t admit in case anybody ever finds my copy [ANNE LAUGHS] because they were very private. I always remembered, like, traveling with that one book and how much I loved reading it that summer.
And also Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I love memoir. I love adventure. I love pretending I was sorta out there on the trail with her. So those are three of my all time favorite summer reads.
ANNE: Oh, I love it, and I remember going through one summer at the beach where i took a big stack of adventure memoirs and it was such a great kind of escape.
ZIBBY: That’s a good idea. I haven’t tried that. Like one type of genre or series or something like that. I should do that.
ANNE: It was an accident. I don’t know that it was my [ZIBBY LAUGHS] this is the summer of reading adventure, but that’s what just happened end up in my book crate. We drive to the beach, which means we don’t have the limitations of flying with books, which is lovely. You can basically take whatever you want. And that’s what ended up in the crate.
ZIBBY: Is it literally a milk crate?
ANNE: I don’t even know where it came from. It came from my husband’s college days. [ZIBBY LAUGHS] I’m actually …
ANNE: It seems like at one point he might not have been on the one who was supposed to be having this milk crate, but it’s ours now and it’s been ours for a long time.
ZIBBY: It’s like stolen from the cafeteria at college or something, and here it is, transporting all this literature. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Let’s keep that between … you know, I never stopped to think about that until just now [ZIBBY LAUGHS] but it is an actual milk crate, but we only use it for books.
ANNE: I am definitely sympathetic to the view that any body that’s on the beach is a beach body, and any book that’s on the beach is a beach book, and I can remember taking Les Misérables to the beach in the eighth grade because I had seen the musical and I’m like, oh, obviously you have to go to the source material. So I insisted on getting this massive, unabridged version from our local indie and I was like, this is going to be great! And I took it to the beach, and you know, I read every word. I would not say it was great. [ZIBBY LAUGHS] I kept thinking for the music scenes … And they didn’t just jump out at me. That was a beach book, but when I think about a beach book, that is not what I think about.
But I do want a great story I can really sink into and with that in mind, I pick a few of my lifetime favorites as well. So I love Jane Austen in the summertime. Not all of them. Like I would never pick up Persuasion in the summer because it doesn’t feel like a summer read. It just feels like a fall kind of book. But Emma, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, I read them over and over during the season. Usually I read them like once a year and it always happens in the summer. It’s not like I get to the end of Pride & Prejudice and go oh! Let’s do that again. [ZIBBY LAUGHS]
After reading all these new releases for the summer reading guide, and I’m sure based on what you do, I mean, I’ve seen your office. Like you got advanced review copies, like, stacked to the ceiling, which I absolutely love, but also I find myself craving the balance of the old when I spend a lot of time with the new. And so I go really old. I think back, you know, a couple centuries to Jane Austen, and I just love a story I can get lost in that feels familiar but always feels rushed to me too. It’s just a really nice balance for this time of year.
I love a good mystery series. I know that through the years I’ve really enjoyed reading, you know, a dozen novels by the same author in the same series over the course of a summer just because you can get lost in the story. It’s mentally challenging but also the beats of many mystery series are familiar, so it feels comfortable but fresh at the same time. There’s so many good ones. I know it was in the summertime that I first found Deborah Crombie, the series begins with A Share in Death, and just blazed through those. And then I caught up and now I have to read one at a time, which stinks. But I know that I also came to Louise Penny in the summer and had a delightful summer catching up on all those books. I love that for the summer time.
And then I don’t want to get into this because I talked about it with Jen Weiner last week, but I love The Shell Seekers. That’s a book I first read in the summer. It’s not like American beachy. The only beach they go to is Cornwall on the British coast. It’s not like an American kind of beach experience, like I had in my childhood or have in my adulthood. But it’s a family saga and I love that kind of book in the summertime, and I think that’s a particularly good one.
ZIBBY: I remember reading that. I can picture the dog-eared paperback copy that I had and I remember my mother reading it too. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: You’ve referenced a couple times the actual physical books that you’ve read. Is this how your memory works? Do you remember where you were and what it looked like and how the paper felt?
ZIBBY: Yes. Absolutely.
ANNE: Yeah, I relate to that. Will and I were talking the other night, he mentioned a title, and I was like oh! I read that in Colorado. He’s like, how do you know that? I don’t know, but sometimes it’s useful ‘cause I can picture reading Louise Penny at our old kitchen table in our old house early in the morning, so I can narrow down when that was and it comes in handy sometimes.
ZIBBY: That’s definitely the way I think. I can picture exactly the pool I was sitting by reading Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters.
ANNE: Oh, I love that image. [LAUGHS]
ZIBBY: It’s like … I can smell it. I can feel it. I can feel the breeze. I know who I was with. I’ve seemed to have lost, like, all of college in my memory and yet these little things, I can see a book cover and remember the entire scene.
ANNE: I love how a book can take you back like that.
ZIBBY: It takes you back to that story but also how your story intertwines with it. It’s really special.
ANNE: Yes, exactly.
Zibby, is there anything you don’t particularly enjoy reading in the summer?
ZIBBY: I feel bad saying anything I don’t … really [BOTH LAUGH] I do feel bad.
ANNE: We’re all gonna lean in to hear.
ZIBBY: [LAUGHS] No, I just don’t want to discount any books. You know, I don’t really enjoy heavy World War II era books in the summer or something that feels depressing. Although it’s like springtime and beautiful and I’m reading Ester Safran Foer’s book about a post-Holocaust memoir, so that kinda goes against my - my rule. And that’s amazing and I’m glad I’m reading it, but in general I like to stick to lighter, sorta happier summer reads or more intellectual, less emotionally draining.
ANNE: Ah. That’s a good descriptor. For me in the summertime I want a story. Like I’ve read some fascinating nonfiction books in the summertime that are information driven, like for example, I just finished The Address Book by Deirdre Mask and it’s a book about why we have street addresses and what they mean. I mean, it’s a pretty specific topic, so that might at first glance seem like do you really want to take that to the pool? But it’s just story after story after story illuminating why this issue matters and what it means. And I am happy to read that in the summertime, but like say, personal growth, not so much.
In the summertime also I don’t want to take notes. Like I love to mark things up as I read. I’m reading a book right now where I keep flipping to the cover to make a note, make a note, make a note with my pencil, and I wouldn’t want to read it any other way and this book I’m reading would be perfect to read by the pool. Yet in the summer and at home I want to feel like it’s not work. I want to feel unburdened. I don’t want to feel like oh, I have to remember my journal. I still probably will make notes when I’m reading, but I don’t want to feel like I have to.
ZIBBY: That makes sense. I don’t usually take notes but I do dog-ear the pages of anything that strikes my fancy and then I can go back and if I can remember why I dog-eared it in the first place, then [LAUGHS] there must be something good on that page.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] That is the key symptom. I’m a dog-earer as well. I love book darts, but again you have to take your tool with you to have it. And I can’t always remember what was going on through my mind when I turned down the page.
ZIBBY: Right. Me neither.
ANNE: Do you have a system? Like if it’s really important, sometimes I’ll dog-ear it in then I’ll fold it down again, or I’ll turn up the bottom corner if it’s closer to that.
ZIBBY: [LAUGHS] Yes, sometimes I turn up the bottom corner.
ANNE: Readers, if you’re listening and you’re like, I can’t believe you’re doing that to books, I’m sorry. [ZIBBY LAUGHS] But a book, like, is a joy and it’s also a tool, like this is how I see it.
ZIBBY: Yes. And I’ve been reading a lot of books on my iPad or the computer these days because the advanced copies have, you know, slowed to trickle due to the pandemic so I have been screenshotting each page and then shrinking the picture and saving the quote that’s just interesting in my photos.
ANNE: Oh, nice, so you can just flip through it at a glance.
ANNE: I really abhorred e-galleys for a long time and then I figured out how to export my highlights so I could get this nice document that I could refer to when it came to talk about it.
ZIBBY: I’ve been highlighting but I didn’t know how to export the highlights. Now that I even know it’s an option, I’ll go back and figure it out. I didn’t even know you could do that!
ANNE: Yeah, I hear what you are saying. It was a total game changer … Just to use a sports metaphor since you’re not playing them right now. [ZIBBY LAUGHS] As a total game changer … I mean, it really changed my process and I couldn’t figure out how to do it from my actual e-reader, but I could do it from my phone so I just load the e-reader app on my phone and you can export from there.
And if you’re listening and you’re like, this is going to change my life. First of all, I hear you, and it’s not just limited to e-galleys. You can do this for all your ebooks. I wrote about it in a blog post of what I learned on Modern Mrs. Darcy and the post is 7 Things I learned in September, we will put it in show notes so you all can see how it is.
Zibby, I would love to hear what you are looking forward to this season. So we’ve heard several times that you’re reading ahead. You know what’s coming and you already enjoyed some of the books that readers are going to be able to put their hands on for the first time in May, June, July, and August. But I imagine that you’re not looking forward just to the new. Is there … Let’s see. Do we want to start with the old or with the new, Zibby? Do you have old books you’re looking forward to?
ZIBBY: I don’t have any old book … Now I feel, like, ashamed that I don’t read old books, now that I know that you’re going back all these classics. I feel like there’s —
ANNE: [LAUGHS] No, there’s no shame. No shame.
ZIBBY: I do. I do. I feel like I don’t know. I mean I’ll go to someone’s backlist who has a new book out if I fall in love with their writing style and then I’ll go back but I am just overwhelmed with how many new books I have to read so the thought of sprinkling in an oldie but goodie for me just stresses me out. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: There’s so many new great books, and I totally get that. Like I definitely feel it’s an abundance of riches in many seasons, but especially in this one. There’s so much I want to read. And yet like I said I know when I read new, new, new, it is not good for my reading life in the long term, even though I am always cognizant of reading a variety of authors and genres and plots and settings and it’s still … A professor told me once, like there’s something about that 30-year mark where like yup, that book has staying power if it’s been around that long. And if I don’t consciously mix in those older selections then my brain will start screaming at me, or worse, I’ll just like get in a reading funk and feel like why does nothing really feel great right now? Why am I not excited about anything? It’s probably because I’ve gotten out of balance without realizing it.
But I do love sometimes you encounter authors that you love enough that you want to keep reading more of their words. When’s the last time that happened?
ZIBBY: When I read Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. I went online and tried to read every essay, short story, anything she had ever written ever. I started reading. [LAUGHS] I just could not get enough of her writing style, and I didn’t want her book to be over.
ANNE: Well I’m currently reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab, which I am loving. I also get a big chunk of reading done like the hour before bed every night. I’m often reading in bed, so I was telling Will like hey, that was a really good plot twist [LAUGHS] and he’s like I don’t even know what you’re reading. What are you talking about? I just needed to tell somebody that was great.
At first I thought I had never read her before, but then I realized that I have read one of her middle grade books. We were going to Edinburgh and I wanted to read some books set in Edinburgh and she has a middle grade series in the … Well it’s a series now. At the time, it was just City of Ghosts that was out. It was set in Edinburgh. The city under the royal mile that was the city back in Edinburgh, but now it’s been buried and built on top of. And we were going on a tour of that part of Edinburgh and I just … I wanted to read it for the setting and let an author walk me through streets and around the town, but it’s nothing like her adult works.
So now that I’m really enjoy- … I mean, I haven’t even gotten to the end, Zibby, but I’m really enjoying The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It comes out in October, listeners. Mark your calendars. It’s so good. I’m sure I’ll talk about it more. And it’s funny how we were just right at the beginning of summer reading season and I’ve been looking forward to this for so long, it’s like a bright spot on my calendar, and it’s nice to go like ahh. There’s still good things coming even when summer’s over. [ZIBBY LAUGHS] I think I needed that, so thank you, universe.
ZIBBY: [LAUGHS] I can’t even deal with the September, October books right now. Any email I’m getting about them, I’m like, I can’t think that far ahead. [ANNE LAUGHS] Like especially now. I’m like I can’t even imagine what life is going to look like then. I just … I’m not ready. I’m just not ready. So impressed with you for reading an October book already. You’re obviously managing your time a lot better than me.
ANNE: Oh, no, don’t be impressed. It’s a defense mechanism. So when I picked it up, I was putting the finishing touches on the summer reading guide and I knew if I touched a book that was coming out in the summer and loved it, I’d just want to reconfigure everything to squeeze in one more title and I wanted to read something that was like out of that zone. So it was a self-protective measure to pick up this October book.
ZIBBY: Well now I don’t feel as bad.
ANNE: Sorry to ruin your impression that I got it all figured out. [ZIBBY LAUGHS] But no, that’s the truth. But I’m loving it and so now I’m wanting to read more adult Victoria Schwab. I knew her Shades of Magic series, but I started asking some friends and found a ton of fans for her Villains series, Vicious is the first book. I might start there.
Actually, readers, you can tell me. Just go to the show notes like you can every week. It’s whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/235.
And then my daughter dropped a book on my reading list. It’s a YA title called Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley. I don’t read a ton of YA but I do read some, and I really enjoy a good YA story in the summertime. And this one features a family run bookshop with this thing called the Letter Library, which is a room full of books where patrons can write notes in the book and also like just tuck little letters between the pages and leave them for one another.
I like a sweet YA story. Like a YA love story can be fun, especially in the summertime, but also like, hello, there’s a bookshop with a letter library?! Oh, and I can make my daughter happy, all at the same time, so that’s on my summer reading list. And it’s not super old. It’s been out a few years, but it’s not brand new.
ZIBBY: If I can make my daughter happy just by reading a book, sign me up. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Once more, small wins are big right now.
ANNE: All right. Zibby, let’s talk about what is coming this summer. What have you read and loved that you are so excited that readers are going to get to experience as well in the months to come?
ZIBBY: I loved J. Courtney Sullivan’s book, Friends and Strangers. It’s fiction. She’s the author of Maine and other books and she is a sensational writer. And it’s about a mother who leaves Manhattan and I’m from New York city, so perhaps I’m relating to this, with her baby and ends up having a really important relationship with her new babysitter and what unfolds between them. And it’s some of the most relatable new mother writing that I’ve read in a literary way, and I just loved it. I loved it.
ANNE: I’m glad to hear that. I thought that one was a lot of fun as well. I really enjoy her writing although you know what, a major gap in my J. Courtney Sullivan experience is [WHISPERS] I’ve never really read Maine.
ZIBBY: [WHISPERS] I haven’t either. But don’t tell anybody. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh really?
ZIBBY: [LAUGHS] Yes! I’m embarrassed.
ANNE: Don’t be embarrassed. When I get to talk to readers about books or when I get messages they often start, I’m sure you’ve read everything but and I just want to say again, nobody’s read everything and definitely [LAUGHS] not me.
ZIBBY: For sure. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. A book that I loved that I’m so excited for readers to read, and actually I’m asking nicely for a lot of them to do so because this is our August Modern Mrs. Darcy book club pick and we’re talking to the author Natalie Jenner at the end of the month, but it is The Jane Austen Society. It’s coming May 26th, so real soon now. Already in this podcast I’m on the record as loving Jane Austen. I cannot resist Jane Austen retelling. Actually, you know what, it was true until about this year that I couldn’t resist a Jane Austen retelling. I just read them all. There have been a lot of them recently, like last summer had a ton. The year before had a ton.
Now it’s 2020, so for the past 10 years we’ve been ticking through like the bicentennial celebrations of all kinds of Austen things, but there have been so many of them. I mean, I just can’t read 30% Jane Austen retellings in my reading life or I’m choosing not to go that route. However, something I love about retellings is that you get to enjoy them on two levels or at least I do. So I’m reading this story for what it is, but there’s also that, like, crossword puzzle kind of element in my mind like well how are they going to hit this plot point and what are they going to do with Darcy? And how are they going to bring in the Lydia storyline? And what’s so bad in 2020? So even if the story itself isn’t great, it still can provide a lot of literary entertainment, which brings us around to The Jane Austen Society.
Going into this book I thought I don’t know, I’ve read a lot of retellings recently that weren’t that great and then discovered this is not a retelling. This is a historical novel. It’s set right after World War II and it’s set in the village of Chawton, which is where Jane Austen lived out her last days. In the storyline, her legacy is still huge in the small community. And it is just after World War II, and one by one, we get introduced to these villagers who are dealing with their own private sorrows in the war’s aftermath. Some are directly caused by the war. Some are personal and private, but this is a community that like so many communities in Britain at the time have been through some hard stuff. Because of that, they are doing what they’ve always done. They’re turning to the works of Austen for solace.
I won’t go into the plot, but what Jenner does is she shows this community of people who come together, united around something they love for a common cause in addition to the villagers, she drops in a movie star who’s always loved Austen. And of course the villagers are skeptical at first, like, you know, hey pretty lady with your big money, what are you doing in our community? But what this novel portrays so well is a community united with its love of the literature that has meant so much to them and to their village for so long.
And ah, it’s just such a feel good story. It’s really well told. I think if you’re familiar with Jane Austen’s works, you’ll get a lot more of the references. It’s not essential to have read them first, but I think Jane Austen fans will definitely appreciate this on a whole another level.
ZIBBY: Sounds good.
ANNE: So Zibby, tell me more about what’s on your radar.
ZIBBY: I also loved a memoir called Empty by Susan Burton.
ANNE: Oh, I don’t know this one.
ZIBBY: Oh, it’s so good. She’s a producer at NPR. She’s, I think, in her 40s or 50s, I can’t remember her exact age, and she’s never admitted before to having an eating disorder which she’s had since middle schoolish. And in this book, it’s her coming out about this eating disorder. It’s an analytical look at it. Heart-wrenching and open and she hasn’t quite conquered it yet, and yet couldn’t live with keeping it a secret anymore. And it’s also about how holding that secret for so long has affected her life and her relationships. It’s really good.
ANNE: Oh that sounds fascinating. You read a lot of memoirs, do you not?
ZIBBY: I could just read memoir all day every day. It’s almost creepy of me. It’s like I just want to learn more about everybody else’s life and what everybody else is thinking. I’m so interested in that? I don’t know. I’m a memoir fan.
ANNE: What makes for a good memoir in your book?
ZIBBY: I like an interesting structure. I like not just perhaps a chronological telling. I like beautiful language. I like brutal honesty, and I really love authors who have overcome something. So if it’s an addiction memoir or, you know, like this one, an eating disorder memoir, just something that they struggled with and they made their way through in someway, perfect or not, usually not, I love reading that. I respond to the openness and I get inspired by them, and so those are my favorites.
ANNE: Well that sounds like a good one, and I’m so glad that it’s on my radar now. Thank you.
ANNE: All right. I’m gonna swing the other direction and go with something, I almost said something lighter, but this … I was expecting something light with this book and it was not what I expected. Okay. Out today, Beach Read by Emily Henry. This has the most adorable cover. It’s so cute and happy and I thought it’s called Beach Read. I mean, like, come on. Like this is totally a rom com, and it is not. So I loved it, but I started reading and like my brain rapidly was like, oh, hang on, we gotta re-calibrate our expectations because this is not what I expected.
That being said, there’s plenty of fun in this book. It’s about two writers, so January is a nearly 30 romance writer who’s always been, you know, like the brighted optimist. But then her dad dies and she finds out right at the beginning of the book, this might happen on page 3, that for many, many years he’s own this house that he’s shared with a woman who was not January’s mother who he was still married to her entire life on the shores of Lake Michigan. So January makes her living writing happily ever afters, and then she discovers that the love she thought she saw in her parents’ marriage was either not existent or something completely different and more complicated than she ever dreamed. It ruins her, and also it ruins her career, ‘cause how can you write romance novels when this is your bleak situation now?
Even worse, her dad leaves her this beach house that he shared for years with this woman. So she’s just completely demoralized. She moves back into this beach house and cleans it out, and she’s gonna live there for the summer and lick her wounds and get it back together in her professional life and finish her manuscript. But then it turns out another writer lives next door and he’s kinda doing the same thing, and he’s not just any writer, it’s her college rival and once upon a time crush and she was hoping to never see him again. But he also can’t finish his manuscript for … They make all the jokes in the book about bleak literary fiction. [ZIBBY LAUGHS] ‘Cause that’s what he writes, and the literary world loves him and just thinks oh, he writes all these like soul wrenching stories about human awfulness. And they’re so many jokes about, like, what each of them would consider a happy ending.
So they gotta get back in the groove. And they end up making this best that okay, January will write bleak literary fiction and he’ll have to write a romance novel. So they end up doing fun things like going on field trips like she goes with him to interview someone who escaped a cult, had a family member in a cult. There’s something about a cult. And he has to like go ride rollercoasters with her. But it’s such a fun mashup of genres because it’s like sweet and silly in some ways, like you know, they’re going to ride rollercoasters. But it’s about love and grief and work and second chances, and ugh, I just really loved it. This one took me by surprise. I thought I was going into something, you know, that would be light and fluffy and forgettable and there was so much more there than I expected.
ZIBBY: [LAUGHS] I actually … I read Beach Read and I had Emily on my podcast and it’s probably coming out today, too, and I also was surprised that it didn’t feel as much like a beach read as it could have. But I loved the sorta inner literary whole snakiness thing [BOTH LAUGH] she included about how literary fiction authors are looking down their noses sometimes at beach read writers, despite the fact that both are completely valid wonderful forms of literature for readers to consume. So I thought that was one of my favorite parts of the book.
ANNE: It’s so meta for readers and writers.
ZIBBY: Yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: It’s fun to think about all these jokes about romance novelists rolling their eyes and the literary snobs as January would also call it looking down their noses at people who write happy endings. She didn’t just dream that up out of the blue sky. [LAUGHS] It’s fun to think about a writer writing some of that out of her experience.
ANNE: All right, Zibby, what else you got for summer 2020?
ZIBBY: I have really loved a book by Zaina Arafat called You Exist Too Much which reads like a memoir. It’s fiction. It's about a woman’s quest for her sexuality and she actually also has an eating disorder, I didn’t even realize that, but that’s also a prominent part of the book. And it’s about her mother’s disapproval of her lifestyle choices and how she has a working DJ has to change her life to accommodate her weaknesses and she goes away to a ranch like spa like detox place for her love addiction, and what happens after.
And I liked it because it was so different and it revealed a unique point of view from the LGBTQ community that I hadn’t read before and it was just beautifully written. And it’s about cultures and the Middle East and having to assimilate in the United States and deal with the old-fashioned values of a parent, and it’s a lot of issues wrapped into one. And the soundtrack of it sorta as her DJ-ness makes it really interesting and unique, so I enjoyed it.
ANNE: Oh, that sounds really interesting. Another book I’m really looking forward to is The Vanishing Half Half by Brit Bennett. It’s slated for June 2nd, but this one has been so highly anticipated for so long I’m a little bit paranoid the publisher’s going to push it back like they’re doing for so many books right now because of Coronavirus. But I just loved this. It’s the followup to her hit debut The Mothers. I’ve been checking up on like when is Brit Bennet going to write another book for years, and this one was absolutely worth the wait.
The story took a little bit longer than most for me to get into. I think because she’s setting up several different storylines happening in different times and places, but once it all came together for me, it really came together. This is about identical twins who grow up in a town so small it doesn’t appear on maps. And that ends up being important in the book later. They are closer than close, so one sister is shocked when the other vanishes one night. She suspects she knows what happened, but she doesn’t know the extent of it. This is a town that is known for being populated by African-Americans with very light skin. So light in fact that when one sister Stella has the opportunity to marry a white man and go live as a white woman, she takes it. He doesn’t know she’s Black. He doesn’t know about her family. They’ve never met. So when she leaves, she thinks she’s leaving forever. And then later the other one goes off to California.
But then they have daughters and over the course of a novel that goes from the Jim Crow Era to the 1980s, it’s these daughters that bring the sisters together again in ways that no one could have expected. Ah. It's such a great set up because what she’s done is created a family that has cut themself off from each other forever in a way that is hard to do. But oh, she covers so much family, race, identity. Something else that’s interesting is every character is wrestling in different ways. Some are very physical, being incomplete or not comfortable in their skin. It’s so good.
ZIBBY: It sounds good. Love that we all have different books. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I do, too! And we only both read one of them.
ZIBBY: Yeah. Amazing.
ANNE: Which I think is a very pleasant level of overlap. What are you looking forward to that you haven’t read yet that’s coming this summer?
ZIBBY: I’m excited to read a novel called Want by Lynn Steger Strong. It’s a novel about a woman, it sounds very memoirish to my original theme, a mid-life, corporate struggle who has to reinvent herself. It just sounds really good and it’s nice and slim which is a nice change from some of the thicker books. [LAUGHS] So I'm really excited for that.
Also Marian Keyes has a new book this summer called Grown Ups which I can’t wait to read for a lighter but still funny and entertaining read. And then my last one I’m excited for this summer is a memoir by Sara Shaefer called Grand, about her trip to the Grand Canyon. So I don’t know. Those sound really interesting and they’re on my bookshelf and I can’t wait to grab them, so. Those are the ones I’m also really excited to read.
ANNE: Oh those sound really interesting. Okay, so I have several books put on my radar. Mostly by readers and independent booksellers I know and trust and I’m excited to get good books from. Okay, and I’m especially looking at you, Beth from Bookmarks N.C., so thank you. Imbolo Mbue has a new book out called How Beautiful We Were coming on June 16th. She’s the author of Behold The Dreamers, and this is another author who I loved their debut and I’ve been checking and checking for years to see when we may expect another one. This is a story about what happens when an American oil company’s carelessness impacts a small African village.
And finally, you know I love a mystery in the summertime, so the new Megan Miranda, The Girl From Widow Hills is coming in June, and I am looking forward to reading it. Zibby, it’s been a joy to talk summer reading with you and all the books, old and new, that we might enjoy reading this summer.
ZIBBY: It’s a pleasure to talk to somebody who’s a kindred soul. You on the beach with Les Mis, and me and my camp bunk reading Jane Eyre. [ANNE LAUGHS] You know?
ANNE: Now before we go, Zibby, what is your next read for summer?
ZIBBY: My next read is Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I’m a little behind on reading it and she’s coming on my bookclub soon, so I’m really excited to be reading hers.
ANNE: Well as for me, I haven’t read any nonfiction in a little too long so I’m picking up a Karen Abbott book that I’ve had in my possession since a Cincinnati literary festival in the fall, but I’m going to read it now. That is The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America. I think I can go for that in the summertime.
ZIBBY: It sounds good.
ANNE: Zibby, thanks so much for talking books with me today.
ZIBBY: Thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Zibby today. For every episode we compile a book list of the titles we talk about on the show: to get today’s list AND to get a transcript of today’s episode, visit whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/235. While you’re there, we’d also love to hear what titles YOU have on your summer To Be Read list.
Learn more about Zibby’s podcast Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books at zibbyowens, Z-I-B-B-Y owens, www.zibbyowens.com, or search for Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books on your favorite podcatcher. Zibby is also active on Instagram. You can find her there at zibbyowens and at momsdonthavetimetoreadbooks.
Speaking of podcatchers — subscribe to What Should I Read Next now so you don’t miss next week’s episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, and more. We’ll see you next week!
Readers, we have new social media accounts for the show! Follow us on twitter @readnextpodcast, and find us on facebook at What Should I Read Next podcast. That podcast part is very important. What Should I Read Next podcast.
You know we’re excited about summer reading right now, and I want you to know we have a wonderful calendar of summer reading-themed bonus episodes planned for our What Should I Read Next patreon community. We offer perks, like these bonus episodes, as a way to say THANK YOU to our listeners who choose to financially contribute to producing the show. Readers, it is not cheap to make a great podcast, and now more than ever independent podcasts like ourselves could use your contribution. To support the show and to get those special perks, visit patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext. That’s patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.
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.
Books mentioned in this episode:
Some links are affiliate links. More details here.
● The Language of Goldfish by Zibby Oneal
● Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
● Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
● Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
● Persuasion by Jane Austen
● Author Deborah Crombie (try A Bitter Feast)
● The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
● Author Louise Penny (start with Still Life)
● Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
● The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask
● Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
● The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
● City of Ghosts by V. E. Schwab
● A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
● Vicious by V. E. Schwab
● Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
● Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
● Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
● The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
● Empty by Susan Burton
● Beach Read by Emily Henry
● You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat
● The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
● Want by Lynn Steger Strong
● Grown Ups by Marian Keyes
● Grand by Sara Schaefer
● How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue
● The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda
● Untamed by Glennon Doyle
● The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America by Karen Abbott
● Anne’s episode of Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books
● WSIRN Ep 180: Rearranging your life to read 600 books a year, w/ Liberty Hardy
● Anne’s famous summer book crate
What are you adding to YOUR crate of summer reads?
If you’re excited about reading, but are never sure what to read next, the MMD 2020 Summer Reading Guide is for you. Skip the overwhelm, bypass the much-buzzed-about-but-underwhelming and find your next great read. Click here to get your copy!