Readers, it’s a weird time to be in the market for a new book. It’s safer to stay home, and many libraries and bookstores have temporarily shut their doors to the public. What’s a reader to do… but turn to their home bookshelves! Over the years, PLENTY of you have written in comments and emails about your overflowing TBR shelves, and readers, those shelves’ time has COME!
Today I’m chatting with Karla Osorno, a WSIRN listener whose 600+ precious unread books have been weighing her reading life down.
Not only is Karla searching for her next read in these stacks, but she wants to lighten the mental load by eliminating the titles that just aren’t right for her. You heard me — today we’re talking about what Karla shouldn’t read next! I hope you’ll come away from today’s episode with questions and ideas you can apply to your own book collections, and that your shelves are a true source of solace when the going gets tough.
Let’s get to it!
You can connect with Karla on her website.
KARLA: I took a little removable yellow sticker [LAUGHS] and put it on each book that I hadn’t read, and I’m now not so sure that was a good idea. [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 236.
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, it is a strange time to be in the market for a new book. It’s safer to stay home, and many libraries and bookstores have temporarily shut their doors to the public. What’s a reader to do… but turn to their home bookshelves! Over the years, PLENTY of you have written in comments and emails about your overflowing TBR shelves, and readers, those shelves’ time has COME!
Today I’m chatting with Karla Osorno, a What Should I Read Next listener whose 600+ precious unread books have been weighing her reading life down.
Not only is Karla searching for her next read in these stacks, but she wants to lighten the mental load by eliminating the titles that just aren’t right for her. You heard me — today we’re talking about what Karla shouldn’t read next! I hope you’ll come away from today’s episode with questions and ideas you can apply to your own book collections, and that your shelves are a true source of solace when the going gets tough. Now let’s get to it.
Karla, welcome to the show.
KARLA: Thank you, Anne. I’m so excited to be here.
ANNE: As am I. And if I’m not mistaken, you’re our first Nevadan.
KARLA: You know, I have listened to every episode but I don’t recall hearing about anybody that’s been from Nevada. I’m from northern Nevada. I would say I’m the first. Let’s go with that.
ANNE: Well we are glad you are here. And also you’re coming to us through an interesting way. We put out a call to Patreon, that’s our What Should I Read Next member community and Patreon is the platform we use that just makes it really easy to share bonus audio and polls and have conversations, everything with our patrons there. And, Karla, you’re one of them, and so one fine morning Brenna posted a message to our members and said, we’re looking for a reader for a special episode. And I’ll let you take it from there. How do you remember things unfolding?
KARLA: Well I have dreamed of being on this show [LAUGHS] for so long. I think in 2018 I might have listened to my first episode but I went back and listened to all the prior ones. And so I became a patron recently and when I saw that call come out from Brenna, I immediately started feeling out my submission form. And then I panicked and I thought, oh boy, I better think about this a little bit. I later went back and filled it out probably exactly the same. [ANNE LAUGHS] Sent it in.
You know, I think I actually too was reading Don’t Overthink It and so thought you can’t overthink this, just do it now. I was so excited for the special request because I am a person who [LAUGHS] is not only obsessed with reading and wants to talk about all things books, but I love buying books and some people would say I have a problem. I don’t always see it as a problem, but sometimes [ANNE LAUGHS] it does become a problem.
So when I saw the request, the request was for people who are quarantined at home and are having more of a challenge getting books from the library ‘cause the libraries are closed. And even book purchases through the mail and online sources and independent bookstores and all that are delayed and just changed right now, and so the request was for people who have a library of books at home they have not yet read to have some assistance in selecting what they should read next from their stash.
I was very excited because I have so many books that I have purchased and not read yet, and they make me so happy and I don’t want them to go anywhere. I just want to have some direction as far as what to read next and maybe should I have all of them? Or have my tastes changed? And just things like that. And so I was very excited. I submitted right away.
ANNE: I was very excited to review your spreadsheet, which I didn’t do until just now, so I’m coming to this conversation fresh. It’s just really interesting. I mean readers know that what’s on your shelves says a lot about a person, and sometimes it says what you want it to say. Sometimes it says what you hope it’ll say that might not exactly be accurate. And sometimes you’ve outgrown your bookshelves.
But reading from your unread shelves is something that’s really important to many readers of a variety of reasons because they want to out of personal motivation or because they just feel like they have a book buying problem, and they gotta read some of the ones they’ve already have if they’re gonna feel okay about continuing to buy new ones. Especially now with so many readers needing to read from their own bookshelves in a way they haven’t before or just really seeing this an opportunity to do so, we thought it’d be fun to talk right now. So thank you for throwing yourself into this readerly breach. We really appreciate it.
KARLA: My pleasure.
ANNE: Also it was really funny to see all our patron comments. I mean, listeners, I’m sure you can imagine just like my shelves are out of control.
KARLA: They really are, and it’s such a good experience [ANNE LAUGHS] to shop from your own shelves. Like it feels like double dipping almost like you got the benefit and the joy of buying the book the first time, and then you get to shop for them again. It is so much fun, but there’s also so many things out there and the summer reading guide is coming and so, yeah, it would feel amazing to be able to just understand my reading taste better and to get through some of these shelves.
ANNE: So I have here before me a spreadsheet of 630 titles.
KARLA: Ugh. It sounds so bad when you say it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Would you give me a little story about what I’m looking at?
KARLA: So what you’re looking at is a download from my Goodreads shelf that I have labelled owned and unread. [LAUGHS] It includes all of the titles that I have purchased over the last few years that I am excited about reading, I’m interested in reading, I heard about from a friend, and can’t wait to read, but have not gotten to it yet. I read a lot. But that still represents several years worth of reading even if I didn’t buy one single book.
ANNE: What’s your relationship to this owned and unread shelf? How do you feel about it?
KARLA: Helps me not to buy another book that I already own, and that’s been helpful in saving me a little grief. But sometimes now it actually feels just cumbersome and overwhelming and almost wasteful, ridiculous. [LAUGHS] Like somebody should be reading these books if not me. I have mixed emotions about it. Like I’m glad that I have them because I know I’m a mood reader for sure, so when either the mood strikes or when I hear about the book again, I get excited about it. It’s nice to be able to walk to my shelf and get it and to just sink into it immediately.
But other times when there’s, you know, maybe another collection or a library book comes in or something and I just feel pressure that I don’t know where to choose, and I get into this spiral of overthinking what should I read next and it’s not fun. It makes reading a little less fun for me during those times that it happens.
ANNE: Yeah. That’s relatable for a lot of people. I mean, as with any dilemma in the reading life, you are not alone with this situation. [KARLA LAUGHS] Karla, where are these in your physical space? Are they all grouped together? Are they scattered about?
KARLA: So this recently changed. I had them on an owned and unread shelf, shelves I should say, and I had them all separated. And then at the beginning of this year I decided that I wanted them all interspersed with all of my books that I’ve already read and so I combined them. I reassembled my shelves in my house and I moved them all together and I now have all of my books alphabetized by author.
To differentiate the ones that I hadn’t read, I took a little removable yellow sticker. [LAUGHS] and put it on each book that I hadn’t read and I’m now not so sure that was a great idea. [ANNE LAUGHS] Sounded like a great idea at the time. It took me a couple of days to do it and it was fun to do it and I enjoyed the process. But now I just see this sea of yellow and it just makes me feel overwhelmed.
So I like having my books all together. I can find them easily, but the sea of yellow is overwhelming at times. Almost makes me want to rush through the book that I’m reading because I see so many there, and that’s not a good comfortable feeling at all. Now I’m rethinking that strategy.
ANNE: Is there significance to the color yellow?
KARLA: [LAUGHS] It kinda means caution, right? [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Well it could mean caution or could mean that I had these stickers leftover from a yard sale I held in 2010, so they were handy. You know, I wasn’t sure here.
KARLA: Anne, that was it. [BOTH LAUGH] Not a yard sale, but I had the stickers in my home and so that was the color. If only I could use the books that I already owned. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Since you put these stickers on, have you removed any of them?
KARLA: Yes. But I have not stopped the flow. [LAUGHS] More books have come in. [BOTH LAUGH] I don’t even want to know how many the count is right now.
ANNE: Karla, talk to me about your experience buying books. Where do you browse? How do you pick them up? And what compels you to bring something into your personal collection?
KARLA: The better question might be where do I not buy books. I buy books from all the places. So I have some great independent bookstores here too in my town, and I like to shop there. One happens to be across the street from my church, so often on a Sunday after church I’ll stop in. I also buy books online.
I also buy a lot of books when I’m traveling, and I travel a fair amount I would say. But when I go to a town, to a new place, I always, always, always seek out the independent bookstore and I always buy more than I could take home. So it is not unusual at all for me to ship books home or to borrow or buy a new suitcase to get books back to my house.
So I buy them at all places. And I’ll often go to used bookstores too when I’m out of town, so I’m not really good at managing space or using space as a budget.
ANNE: Let’s pause for a readerly PSA. I’m sure it’s blowing somebody’s mind right now, whether it’s good or bad, [LAUGHS] that you’re not limited by the constraints of your suitcase that you can ship books home. Tell me a little more about how you discovered that, and what it’s meant for your reading life.
KARLA: When I’m traveling in a city and I’m loving the city and I’m having so much fun and I stop in an independent bookstore and the people are always so generous and so kind, and I just want to support them. And so it feels like a good souvenir to bring home, a book that I’ll read and remember where I got it.
And so I can think of one story when I was in Florida and I went for a run and I ran past a mystery bookstore. And I couldn’t obviously carry books home from my run, but [LAUGHS] I drove back later that day. And I bought 20 mystery books in this mystery store. It was so fun. And they shipped them home for me, so that’s one example.
ANNE: Did they help you choose these 20 books or were you just grabbing all the titles that jumped out at you?
KARLA: Some of them I had heard about on your podcast or other places, but some of them they helped me choose, but that was part of the experience, was what are your favorites? And she helped me decide, so, it’s almost like a consumable, like having a great lunch with a friend. Not only discover the store but then to have that time with the person that worked there.
ANNE: Yes, and then you have the 20 books to remember it by. And I can see how 20 would stick out in your mind.
KARLA: [LAUGHS] ‘Cause I had to you know, call home first and say, this was coming. [LAUGHS] I have a very supportive husband you can tell.
ANNE: I can see that. So I have your spreadsheet of 613 books, and we know that you have a complicated relationship with it and maybe we can simplify it today, but I’d loved to hear your goal. What do you hope to accomplish in our conversation today? This is weird. I don’t usually enter like bookish conversations with goals, but a lot of times the goal is to put three titles in front of a reader that they may really enjoy reading next, but that’s not necessarily what we’re doing today, so what are you hoping for?
KARLA: I’m hoping that I’ll walk away understanding better what I shouldn’t read next. Understanding more about what genres really, really speak to me. Being able to narrow my range. I had a great experience in that mystery bookstore in Florida, but I don’t read a lot of mysteries. I enjoy mysteries on occasion but I don’t read a lot of mysteries, and so one book would have been okay, not 20, and so I think I need to mature a little bit [LAUGHS] in my buying habits.
But more than anything I’d just like to narrow it down so that I understand better what kind of books speak to me at a deep level and hopefully I can cull my shelves and then also stop the inflow of books that I may have a good experience reading but maybe they’re not the best book for me. And so there’s it’s just not gonna be possible to get to it in this lifetime.
ANNE: All right. Well let’s do it.
ANNE: So, you know how this works. You are going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t, and what you’ve been reading lately and we will tackle this spreadsheet together.
KARLA: Good luck, Anne. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: All right, Karla, how did you choose these books?
KARLA: Well I chose these books because I love the reading experience and I’ve read so many great books in my lifetime, but I didn’t feel like I could go back and pick my top three. And so I chose these from the books that I had read in 2020. I figured they would identify kinda where I am at with my reading life right now.
So my first pick is The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali. And this book actually was recommended from the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club, and so I got it right away as soon as I saw it was recommended. At that time I wasn’t even a member of the book club, but then I read this book and loved it so much that I joined because I was like if they’re picking this quality of book, I want to be in this book club.
ANNE: Did you talk to Marjan Kamali with us?
KARLA: No, I joined after. [ANNE SIGHS] Now that I’m a member of the book club I went back and watched her video and so, yes.
ANNE: Okay, good. Good.
KARLA: Yes, yes, yes. It was great. But I loved this story so much. I was reading it out and about — I had to look around a few times because I knew I was totally doing the ugly cry — but there was just so much emotion in this story. It’s about two people who meet and fall in love and it’s set in a stationary shop that plays a vital role in the story. I loved the story.
We know from the very beginning that they are separated for 60 years and they come back together, but I was so interested to know what happened during that time and what separated them, and this story just goes into such depth. Part of it is in Tehran, and then Roya, the main character, moves to the U.S., and so we see her experience of America. But I loved the richness of the Iranian culture. I loved the people. The story was beautiful. The fact that it was set in the stationery shop was exciting.
There was a lot of sadness and grief in it, but for me, the story had so much hope and I just really enjoyed stepping into Roya and Bahman’s life for a season. And I just — I loved the story because it shows how our choices matter for not only our generation but for the next, but also there’s so much outside of our control, and this story just really gave you an opportunity to think about that.
It was a fantastic story. I just felt so good when I was done with it, and even just thinking about it today I just really consider rereading it again. [LAUGHS] I’m like this is not the way it’s supposed to work. I’m supposed to take books off, but I was really excited about this story.
ANNE: First of all, it’s wonderful to have a reading experience like that, and second of all, what a great book to have in your personal collection. I mean, for feeling conflicted about so many books on your shelves, it’s nice to be able to point to books and say like yes, I’m glad I could pull that down and reread that and that book meant a lot to me.
ANNE: Karla, what did you choose next?
KARLA: My second choice was The Dutch House, and this is a story that I listened to an audio because I had heard that Tom Hanks was the narrator and I like Tom Hanks. And I love Ann Patchett, and so I was excited to read the book anyway, but I chose that medium. And then of course because I love the story so much, I had to buy a hardback copy. So I own the hardback now as well.
But it was just an interesting story, like it’s not like it’s happy throughout, but I laughed and I cried with Danny and Maeve and I just really enjoyed going through the ups and downs with this family. This has a lot of great themes that I like, right and wrong, life and death, choice vs circumstance. Ann Patchett really goes a lot into why these people are making the choices that they’re making. And I just ... I found this a story that I was able to think about and understand and just really dance around forgiveness and forgiving others in a beautiful way.
I thought the house was a beautiful narrative, but it also touched a part of me. I don’t know. I didn’t have a lot of stability in houses growing up and I have a lot of stability now in my adult life, but just that whole topic of houses came up a lot for me in this. And the house plays a vital role. I would say the house is definitely a character in this story, and I liked that.
ANNE: Listeners, if you enjoyed this book or are just curious, in episode 213 with Kate DiCamillo, it’s called “Our fear in discovering great books,” I ask her about something that Ann Patchett said on book tour which was my new friend Kate DiCamillo emailed me a paragraph and said there’s the ending of your novel without having read a single page of it and knowing very little about it.
So I asked her, I said, is that - I mean - Ann Patchett said it, but it’s just too wild to be true, and she said no, it’s totally true. It’s totally true. That’s exactly what happened. Such a perfect ending. I really enjoyed my conversation with Kate, and I really enjoyed The Dutch House as well and that just might be a fun little nugget for some of you to go explore.
KARLA: I heard that episode too and I loved it.
ANNE: Karla, what did you choose for your final favorite?
KARLA: My final favorite is The Lake House by Kate Morton. I had read this in 2017, but then my in-person book club picked it for our January 2020 pick, and honestly I felt like I was reading it for the first time. [LAUGHS] There were so many details that I had forgotten that were so powerful and part of the story, but this is a story about secrets and their impact, and again, generational.
I loved Sadie and just the questions that she asked and how she dug into the past and I just thought Kate Morton did a fantastic job of just pulling you know stories that were set decades apart together and it was just a beautiful story. Multi-layered. There was a mystery in this, although I don’t know if I would call it a mystery book. Great story about sacrificial love and regrets.
It was set in both London and Cornwall, which are both places that I have yet to visit. I would like to, so that was fun to read about. But again there was just something about home and security and no matter what your home looks like, the fact that secrets often exist and so there’s just something fascinating about those themes to me.
ANNE: Okay, so we’ve got a shop, a house, and a house. Three places with physical addresses. I’m thinking that has to be a coincidence, but maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?
KARLA: I don’t know. I wouldn’t have said that, but then when I picked it out, you’re absolutely spot on. I think it’s the family dynamic within each one and the generational aspect with each one more than the location. But there must be something in it. I don’t know.
ANNE: You know, it could be a publishing trend. It could be circumstance. Or it could be that I don’t know, maybe I’m going to make some listeners roll their eyes, but spaces mean things in stories. Like a house is never just a house. You know, a mountain is never just a mountain. Like the sky is never just the sky. But houses are big in literature, whether they’re like the warm, cozy houses, where they’re in nice communal spaces where everyone is welcomed, or they’re terrifying houses like in horror. I almost said films, which is true, but also like Stephen King novels where houses are more likely going to be an unsafe space than a safe one.
And it’s not just houses, like, the bar is a version of the warm cozy house like Cheers. That’s totally the same concept. Or Casablanca, which is a, you know, a little bit warm house and a little bit terrifying house depending on the scene. It’s not terribly surprising to see three settings that give space for people to grow and change, to be part of a community but also have their own identity in their book. And what you’re saying, the family dynamics are really important, like it’s set within the house. So that could just be something fun to pay attention to, whether it’s browsing at the bookstore or thinking about what you want to read next. Or don’t.
KARLA: I will pay attention to that. Part of my experience even as I was talking about that Florida bookstore was the interaction I had with the person in the store.
The other thing I was thinking was I was thinking about the house and specifically The Lake House is just what are our expectations of if a house looks a certain way? Is it horror must happen in that house, or everything must be wonderful in that house? And yet the story is often different, and so there’s a surprise often. Authors use it ... I like finding that surprise in the same comforts of a book and also when I’m in the safe comforts of my own home. [LAUGHS] Instead of having that surprise happen in my life.
ANNE: Well I was just thinking well when you pick up a Kate Morton novel, yes you know that that’s coming, but that’s also true for The Dutch House and The Stationery Shop. It’s not giving things away in light of what we’re discussing, like to say yes, the house is very much the warm cozy space appears like, but it’s also not.
ANNE: Okay. Karla, tell me about a book that was not for you.
KARLA: Okay. The person who recommended this book is for me, but this book was not for me. The book is called Kurt, Seyt, and Shura and it’s by Nermin Bezmen. My running friend was telling me about this book because she had purchased it after watching the Netflix show that is based on the book. And so I listened to her for a few runs about this book and thought I’m going to read it. And I just could not get into it.
The book itself totally pushes many of my buttons. There’s a photo album with pictures in the back, which I love. The author based one of the characters on her grandfather, so it’s based on a true person, which I love. It’s set in Russia just after World War I which I love. Like it meets so many things, but it just was not for me.
It’s translated from Turkish, and it is romance, and I just kept thinking I have so many books I cannot spend 400 pages worth on this one. And so I eventually put it down. Again, I have guilt about that. This might be my first DNF book ever and I seriously, because I love my friend so much, have considered picking it up again but I just. I haven’t.
ANNE: Tell me more about the story. Are you able to put your finger on why this was so impenetrable for you?
KARLA: I just couldn’t get excited about reading about someone else’s romance. I think when I read a book I love to tap into the emotions of what people are experiencing. But I just don’t think I have a huge desire to tap into a romantic relationship. That’s the only thing I can pinpoint is I didn’t want to read about “and then they kissed.” [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: We can work with that. Karla, you raised something I’d like to explore a little bit. You led with I love the person, but not the book, and you said that you kept coming back to the book and trying it because you love the person so much. I’m imagining by the way that you said that this is not a one-time issue with your reading life.
KARLA: No. I think that the reason why my taste appear to be so diverse is because I pick books based on wanting to experience the book with someone I care about or someone I respect or someone even that I listened to an interview with and just felt wow, they have an amazing story and I want to connect with that story. And so I often will pick a book for that reason that this was definitely the case with this book.
But I can see it across a lot of my books. I’ll pick up a book and think, I’m going to read this because then I’ll talk to so-and-so about it, or maybe I’ll understand better if I read this book, and so I do that a lot. And I think it probably has something to do with how I’m wired. I’m enneagram 5 tapping into emotions is not easy for me, but it’s easier with a book.
Being able to connect with someone on that level I think happens for me more readily when there’s a book to launch from. I would say that that is not an anomaly. I don’t know that I fully understand that until I realized my struggle with this book. Even still I don’t want to be offensive to her, I really … It’s something that’s important to her and so I really, really, really want to like it so that I can engage with her about that. I’m reading out of loyalty! [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Reading out of loyalty is a real thing and as is having wonderful, deep, meaningful conversations with a book being your launching off point. Like I say it all the time, the books are a shortcut to talking about the things that really matter, and yet I think we often do each other a disservice when we say, “this book changed my life. You have to read it. It will change yours.” Because a great reading experience is an interesting and often complicated confluence of the right book, the right reader, and also the uncontrollable circumstance you’ve talked about of when we encounter it and where we are in our lives. And we can’t control that. And it seems very rare that a reader who picks up a book on the enthusiastic recommendation from a friend will be in the same spot that that friend was when she read it for the first time.
And I just want to say for anyone who needs to hear it, it’s okay for it to be the conversation you had with your friend about the book and how much it means to her to be the thing that changed your life. And not you reading the book and having the same reading experience. I think reading out of loyalty, it’s a wonderful thing, like the motivation behind it is beautiful and wonderful and makes it sound like I would love to have a friend like you, Karla. And yet I would feel really bad if you were my friend and you kept reading books because they mattered to me. I mean we often recommend books that we read in a time in our life when we really needed them, which we’re in a different place now and our friend likely is too.
How often do you see this come up? Like as you review books that you own but haven’t read and you’re not sure if you want to read them, is this something that’s happened a handful of times in your 613 titles or more substantial percentage?
KARLA: I can confess here, right? This is safe? [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Absolutely. We will take your literary confessions.
KARLA: My friends, this one in particular and well all of my friends, they’re not … they’re not pressuring me to read these. I’m choosing to read them because I want to connect with them. And they’re certainly not making that a requirement, so I would say I’m putting that requirement on myself.
ANNE: Oh, I figured.
KARLA: Yeah. Even though awareness of this is just so clear, like, oh, you’re exactly right. I can have the conversation and just ask more questions about the book without feeling like I need to read the book and be an expert and know about it before I can talk about it.
KARLA: So I think this is a complete self burden. Of the books that I have, I would say that at least half of them are books that I chose based on wanting to understand someone else better instead of books that I chose based what I really, really enjoy reading.
ANNE: That was really interesting the way you put that, that maybe you will understand a person who matters in your life better if you read the book. I just want to gently suggest to whoever needs to hear it that having a great conversation about the book can possibly accomplish the same ends in a more meaningful way.
Now, will you want to read books because they meant something to your friend? Like yes, absolutely. Just not all the time. And I wouldn’t want you to do it without being cognizant of that you’re picking up because that person loved it which is different than picking it up because you think it’s the right book for you.
KARLA: Right. My criteria needs to change to be what’s the right book for me, not how can I understand all of these people in a better way? Because it’s a lot of people. I have a lot of friend groups and relationships and so it’s a lot of books.
ANNE: Yeah. I mean you can read what you want but if there’s patterns guiding your selection that this is the general you, if the pattern’s guiding your selection that aren’t working out so well for you, your reading life will be better if you can see what they are. Because so many times we don’t even realize what’s, you know, we pick up one book at a time and we don’t realize that we’re choosing in a similar way and it’s not necessarily working out great for us until we take a step back and evaluate like what’s going on here?
KARLA: And having a sea of yellow sticky dots will do that for you.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] You can literally see it clearly.
KARLA: This is not working for me. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Karla, what have you been reading lately?
KARLA: So lately I have been reading The Stand and this is a book that I would not have picked. The only Stephen King book I had read before this was On Writing, which I read twice and loved, but I would not have picked Stephen King because I would say I’m absolutely not a horror reader. But my husband in his generosity brought this book home from Costco [LAUGHS] a couple years ago because it had a PBS ‘Great American Read’ sticker on it and I said I’m never reading that. But I put it on the shelf.
And then the quarantine happened and one of my dear friends from my in-real life book club said she was going to read The Stand, and I said I’ll read it with you. So we read it together. So I read that and I was surprised. I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say I would read a bunch more Stephen King, but I definitely would not rule it out again.
I also just recently read The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline and that was also a book club selection. Loved that book. Cried so much. I also read The Light Between Oceans. I cried through that and there were definitely some touching moments and some important parts, but I did not enjoy that one as well.
And then right now I just started The Enchanted Hour and I’m having a harder time reading nonfiction right now. I think I’m just having a harder time focusing like many people, but I just got started. I’m only two chapters in. But I missed out. If I had any regrets from my early parenting, it was not reading aloud to my child and so I’m trying now.
I have been trying for several years and whenever I lose hope, I always pick up another read aloud book [ANNE LAUGHS] so that we can get hope again because she is so resistant but I am just determined to do it for the future generation. [LAUGHS] So hopefully she’ll have some fond memories and share that. So I’m reading The Enchanted Hour for inspiration and encouragement and a lifeline so that I don’t give up.
ANNE: Well that’s a great strategy. And it doesn’t have to be about reading aloud, but if there is something that you want more of in your life or that you want to keep focus on, if you’re reading a book about it, then you are putting that thing and its importance in front of your mind. Like by practice.
ANNE: Now, Karla, we talked about what you want in your reading life. We’re looking to help you understand what you shouldn’t read next and get more insight into what you enjoy and what you don’t.
KARLA: Yeah. I’m very excited to hear what you’re going to say.
ANNE: I can’t scan down your spreadsheet and know which of those titles you put on there because you are really excited to read them and which titles you added because you were excited for somebody else to read them, but I’m feeling like I could do better at that guessing game than I could have half an hour ago. Cause I can tell you what I can see in your favorites. I mean, they’re all beautifully written books that feature family dynamics. They move back and forth in time. They have a really wistful tone to them because they’re taking the long view. You’re getting someone looking back in time and telling you a story about what happened. Even if it unfolds right in front of you in moments like it does in The Lake House, the story is complete even though the people don’t know what happened yet. And it feels different to read a completed story than it does, you know, “and then I rounded the corner and I saw her,” you know, like it’s just a different situation.
Also they’re not slow but they’re gently paced and some of them are, I mean, those Kate Morton books are long. And isn’t the Turkish book by Bezman a long book also?
KARLA: It is. 400 pages.
ANNE: So it seems like you have a lot of patience as a reader. You’re interested in reoccurring themes. You said it a couple times, like choice vs. circumstance is something that interests you. More than anything I wish I could put in words the feel of these books that I see pop up on your TBR or more importantly, not just your TBR but your owned and unread, but they feel like you said, you like hopeful, wistful, reflective, and complete. Now when I describe that, are you like yeah, that sounds good, or wait, hold on, let me put some more books in the mix because I don’t want to read more of that?
KARLA: Oh, no, you were describing it perfectly. I tell my husband all the time, he’s like, what do you think of this? What do you think we should do about this? And I’m like I just want it complete. Complete is important to me. Complete is definitely one of my values. [LAUGHS] Complete is not a word anyone else would’ve picked, so you picked t and it is perfect.
ANNE: And complete doesn’t mean the story’s over, but what it does is makes you feel as the reader that whoever’s telling you the story whether it’s first person like The Dutch House or whether it’s a third person narrator, it just feels like the story teller knows what they’re talking about. This is over. They’ve got some wisdom, and they’re speaking to you out of that. Because that’s what real people do and the best characters feel like they could be real people.
KARLA: Yes. That’s what I want. [LAUGHS] I don’t mind twists and I don’t mind a little bit of suspense as long as there’s closure at some point. And yes to have someone in authority who’s speaking with wisdom who knows what’s going to happen and who I can trust, who has my best interest at heart. I’m in.
ANNE: So it’s interesting to see all at a glance 613 books that have been added to your shelves over a span of time. I was really thinking about how when we’re choosing what to read next we’re doing it in the context of our lives. We know what we read before. We might have an idea of what we’re going to read later. We know what we’re doing that day and that week and that month. We know what we’re in the mood for. But we’re dropping books on our list, we’re not doing it in that context. Or we’re doing it in a different context. Some of the books on your list you put on your list in the context of what you were doing and thinking about and needing as far back as what, 2015? 2016 here?
KARLA: Yeah, I think ’14 even. Yeah.
ANNE: Nothing wrong with that. That’s how it works and that’s a good thing and you put them here and you bought these books because you didn’t want to lose them. But now it’s been 5, 6, almost seven years and it is okay to reassess through the lens of where you are in 2020.
I noticed that you had a lot of like spiritual memoir, political memoir, and how-to, those kinds of books on your shelves. A handful of those people have had a spectacular fall from grace since the time that their books I imagine were added to your TBR. So a question to ask is, do I still want to read that?
Some authors on this list and I’m just thinking of nonfiction have disavowed what they wrote way back then. These were books that were written in the ‘80s and ‘90s even or the early 2000s. If you choose to pick that up and read it now and there could be reasons for doing so. It can be really interesting to see how people change minds and positions and how the way we collectively think of issues have evolved over time, but if you’re reading it because you think what they’re saying is going to speak into your life right now, then it’s good to know that they’ve like raised their hands high and said, “I changed my mind. I was wrong.”
Also some authors write the same book over and over and over, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I have a friend that writes books in the productivity space, and he says he's basically written the same book seven times because it’s for a slightly different audience each time. But the principals are totally the same, and that is a good thing for many readers. But it doesn’t mean the same reader is gonna want to read all seven books in a row. And some books just don’t wear well. Not because they’re not good but because they’re not intended to. Like they’re some books out there that are about like how to build a social media platform in the 2014 landscape. Some things change really fast and that is one of them.
And then some of this has to do with your own life. I noticed that there are a lot of parenting books on your list, but you’re in a different place now than you were when you bought those books. So they could be like lovely memories or they could be taking up space depending on your relationship with those books. But those are all things to think about for anyone who buys books they want to read because they need them in their lives right then. How does some of that strike you?
KARLA: That is resonating so strongly with my soul. [BOTH LAUGH] Yes. Yes. I can’t even express my gratitude because I really think I needed permission. My life has changed so much in 2020 what I’m doing and what my values are and what my daily activities are and where my mindset is, and specifically that impacts reading in such a great way. It’s just changed so much in the last several years, and so, you’re right. I purchased those books in one season of life and that season of life has passed and in many cases, I can almost see the books that you’re talking about. [LAUGHS] Those books would no longer resonate with me personally and like you pointed out, they might not even resonate with that writer, that author any longer.
ANNE: Yeah. And that’s before we get into why books ended up on your list. But I gotta say just like some quick takes, looking at your list, I thought oh, I saw Julie & Julia, I just want to say, watch the movie.
KARLA: And I have! [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I read an Bon Appetit excerpt of that book before it was published. It was the best part of the book. [CARLA LAUGHS] I think it’s about the pilgrimage she made when she finished the book to lay a stick of butter in Julia Child’s kitchen, which I have sense been to but hadn’t at the time at the Smithsonsian, which for the record, you’re definitely not supposed to take butter into the Smithsonian, but she did it. It was her homage to Julia Childs. That’s the best part of the book.
I noticed some books on there that given our conversation, three books do not capture your whole reading life. It’s true. I would be flabbergasted if you enjoyed 21 Truths About Love. My friend Holland Saltsman who we’ve had on the podcast several times, she loved it, but I don’t see that jiving with your reading taste. Same with The Girl Before, like I don’t see you loving that one. I might be wrong, but we gotta prioritize somehow.
I noticed you had a lot of writing books. Would you tell me about that?
KARLA: So in 2014 … before that, I went through a pretty big, I would say spiritual awakening and so I drafted a memoir, which in hindsight was probably better called a diary. [LAUGHS] And went off to the She Speaks conference, I don’t know if you know that with Lysa TerKeurst in North Carolina.
KARLA: But at that conference, I met with, you know, a couple of editors and was just told I needed to build a build platform. So anticipated I would do that by a lot of books around that and then realized that is not who I am, that is never gonna happen. [LAUGHS] I mean, I am a writer because I write but I’m not a published writer.
ANNE: Are you still interested in writing books?
KARLA: Oh, yeah, I am.
ANNE: Okay. Well let’s talk about the best in-class books on the list because there’s so many writing books. I mean there are enough writing books that someone who’s interested in being a writer could read books for the rest of their life and not write another word ‘cause they’re so many out there, but they’re not all good.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser, totally best of class. The Element of Style, it’s so skinny. It’s classic even people who don’t believe in the rules know what the rules are. Also E.B. White is just funny. And Dreyer's English is a more contemporary one, but that’s definitely written for entertainment.
ANNE: As well as instruction, so if you’re a word nerd that could be a fun one for you to read. But there are some other writing books on your list where I was like oh, it sounds like a good book. The premise is so good but if you get writers together and you put them in a circle to talk about writing books, they all go yeah, yeah, that wasn’t worth the time.
KARLA: And you busted me. I was totally reading about writing instead of writing. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I wasn’t trying to bust you. I was just saying that if you like to buy books as souvenirs, then someone who’s working on a writing project is likely to buy writing books and the supply is endless. And when you buy it and feel like you should read it and you wonder if it’s going to have the information that you need ....
KARLA: Yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: … so you get it exactly right in your book. It’s a real thing. Karla, you had a lot of nonfiction on your shelf and I think the easiest way to vet that would be just to look at the topics and be like, do I still care? Or do I need all these books that are about, like, various aspects of living a healthy lifestyle? Again, same with the parenting. Like do I need all of them? Is there one or two that’s best of class? And this can be tricky because I think as readers it’s easy to hold out hope that we’re going to get like blindsided by this sleeper book that we didn’t know was going to be right for us but it was perfect and it changed everything, but that could also be totally overwhelming and keep us from enjoying the books we have. So I would just put that encouragement out there.
KARLA: Those are great questions. Do I still care? Do I need all of them?
KARLA: I’m taking them.
ANNE: So here’s what I did. I made basically like top ten lists of books that I think are smack in your wheelhouse and books that I think are just one step over that might be interesting to branch out. So, Karla, instead of giving you three, unless you want just three. [KARLA LAUGHS] Do you want just three?
KARLA: Can a girl who has 613 books say I want just three? [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: She can if she wants to. You are making the rules. You’re the boss of your reading life. [KARLA LAUGHS]
So one of the lists has the classics. I noticed that you had some big books and some authors that came up over and over, and I just want to make sure you see it and just ask you to reflect on what does this mean for me right now? Are these books I want to read? And when do I want to read them? And the process will either make you feel tired or will make you feel excited and just pay attention to which one that is.
But you’ve got some Hemingway. You’ve got some Thoreau. I noticed that one of your owned items was the complete novels of Jane Austen, which that’s more than one book. [KARLA LAUGHS] You have War & Peace. You have Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. There are books on your list that are smack in the middle of your wheelhouse that we talked about, the wistful, reflective, over a span of years, written at a remove that investigate family and put together family dynamics. Some of them are some we talked about on the podcast before, but this is what jumps out at me.
Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, which is also not long. It’s not much over 200 pages I don’t think. Save Me The Plums: The Gourmet Memoir of Ruth Reichl. This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I won’t read you the whole list. Ooh, although I do want to say that for a writer, Atonement is a real interesting choice because it does some really interesting and unconventional things.
ANNE: Also I noticed that you have Abigail Adams the Woody Holton biography on your list. I’ve been thinking about this book a lot lately and I’ve been thinking about doing a patreon bonus episode about it. The reason I’ve been thinking about it [LAUGHS] so much lately is there’s an extended discussion about smallpox in the day.
ANNE: John Adams goes through a lengthy debate in the book about whether or not he would get inoculated because obviously to have immunity to the dreadful disease would be wonderful, but the process itself was terrifying and because what we’re experiencing right now, you can see why my thoughts have been returning to that. So that’s certainly only one aspect of that book.
But Abigail Adams is fascinating and a woman who has not gotten enough credit and Woody Holton really put her on the map in a powerful way and if you’re looking for the right time though, the things they were facing then and especially that smallpox context could be really interesting right now.
Also for memoir Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan was on your list. That’s an amazing book. Also Dani Shapiro’s one of my favorites. Doesn’t mean she’s gonna be one of yours, but I think she might be if you haven’t read her before.
KARLA: I have. I just read Devotion this week.
ANNE: Which was on your list! Take off the yellow sticker!
KARLA: [LAUGHS] Yay! Yes. It’s gone. And I want to read Inheritance.
ANNE: It is there waiting for you.
KARLA: I know.
ANNE: And then there’s some on your list that are just one, they’re just one step over, so they’re not exactly what we talked about but I think they’ve got the right tone. I think sometimes they have the right dynamics and even if you know you love to read certain kinds of books, very few people want to read that specific kind of book all the time.
But Hum If You Don’t Know The Words By Bianca Marais jumped out at me. She gets those found family dynamics really well. It’s interesting. It’s in South Africa. I imagine you haven’t read a slew of books set in South Africa. That could be different. Americanah. I would definitely think that Chimanadah would be right up your alley.
ANNE: The Confusion of Languages is one that isn’t as well known. I feel like the narrator is trying so hard to figure out what is happening and she’s inviting the reader into that. So opposed to telling you a completed story as I recall, she is in it. But I think she might take you to a place by the end that you would find satisfying. What happens over the course of basically a day is someone discovers that she didn’t know one of her friends at all, and that’s ...
ANNE: … Quite a lot of psychological distance to travel in one day and that could make it a really interesting experience for you.
KARLA: Okay. I’m intrigued.
ANNE: But also the Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, The Overstory by Richard Powers, I could see those really working for you. But also on a lighter note, What Alice Forgot, choice vs circumstance, family dynamics, totally nails that too. Different tone, same themes. So if you’re working with those themes and tone and taking just steps a little further afield from where you’ve been, that could be a fun way to read your shelves basically. That’s what we’re talking about.
KARLA: This is so exciting. I can’t even tell you.
ANNE: I’m so glad. What do you know that you didn’t know before?
KARLA: Well you’ve confirmed some things I already knew about some of themes that I liked, reflected and things like that, but more than that, you’ve given me permission to just ask myself am I still interested in this? Is this about something I’m interested or someone else, and can I have that connection with them in a different way? Or if I am interested in this, do I need all of these? So those are just some practical things that I can do and I’ll use your phrase to read my shelf and to really have a better reading experience and a more realistic one for sure.
ANNE: Karla, I never ask readers this, but after our conversation today, is there anything you know that you’re not reading next? That you might actually take the yellow sticker off not cause you read it but because you’re removing it from your personal library?
KARLA: Yes. There are categories of books that I am taking off that no longer fit. Either they don’t fit with my values or they just - yeah there’s two authors that are gone. [LAUGHS] And I won’t call them out but I will check in too and I will tell you that the 613 yellow stickers will be greatly reduced.
ANNE: Ah, well, I’m excited to hear that.
KARLA: And some of these books will be gifted and some of them just need to move along.
ANNE: Of your books that we talked about today, what do you think you’ll read next?
KARLA: Of the books that we talked about today I am going to read Abigail Adams.
ANNE: I like it! I didn’t expect that, but I like it.
KARLA: That’s the one. It got a star.
ANNE: Well I hope you enjoy it. Karla, thanks so much for talking books and for talking about your bookshelves with me today.
KARLA: Thank you, Anne. You have taken a weight off of my shoulders and my shelf.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Karla today. Check out the full list of titles we talked about today at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/236; we also have a full transcript of today’s episode ready for you there.
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Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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Books mentioned in this episode:
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♥ The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali
♥ The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
♥ The Lake House by Kate Morton
▵ Kurt Seyt and Shura by Nermin Bezmen
● On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
● The Stand by Stephen King
● The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
● The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
● The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon
● Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell
● Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks
● The Girl Before by JP Delaney
● On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser
● The Elements of Style by E. B. White and William Strunk
● The complete novels of Jane Austen
● War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
● The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
● Before We Visit The Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
● Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl
● This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell
● The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
● Atonement by Ian McEwan
● Abigail Adams by Woody Holton
● Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning To Say by Kelly Corrigan
● Devotion by Dani Shapiro
● Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani
● Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais
● Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
● The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon
● The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
● The Overstory by Richard Powers
● What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
What do YOU think Karla should read next?