WSIRN Ep 242: Sharing Good Reads with good friends

WSIRN Ep 242: Sharing Good Reads with good friends

Way wayyyy back in WSIRN Episode 64, we ran a special episode called The next best thing to reading, in which 15 readers shared how they track their read-book lists, TBRs, and whatever other information interested them in their reading life. So many of those readers, and countless others of you in the comment section, mentioned a little website called Goodreads as an essential tool to organize your book life

Today on WSIRN, I’m thrilled to be joined by two readers with a unique perspective on summer reading. Suzanne Skyvara, Goodreads VP of Marketing & Editorial, and Danny Feekes, Goodreads Managing Editor, to have an in-depth chat about how star ratings, reviews, and other nuggets of information we share online help connect our fellow readers to their next great read, support the authors we love, and change the way we see the world. As you’ll hear in the episode I have become a much more active Goodreads user in the past year, click here to connect with me there.

Since Suzanne and Danny’s business is all books all the time, we’ll be taking turns in the matchmaking seat today. I’m recommending 3 titles I think they would really enjoy this summer, and they’re returning the favor with 3 books that might just be perfect for me. We went so overboard with book recommendations that we had to cut 5 or 6 books to keep this episode a manageable length!

We’re releasing all those extra recommendations as a bonus episode this Friday for our Patreon supporters, if you want to hear what recommendations ended up on the cutting room floor.

This conversation was a ton of fun, so let’s get to it

Two photos, one of Danny Fekes, a smiling blonde man wearing a collared shirt and sweater, and another or Suzanne Skyvara, a smiling dark blonde woman wearing a blue blouse and blue necklace.

DANNY: But I already read and loved Anna Karenina, and I thought sure, this book will be just as good. It is not. [ALL LAUGH]

[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 242.

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, way, wayyyy back in What Should I Read Next episode 64, we ran a special episode called, “the next best thing to reading,” in which 15 readers shared how they track the books they’ve read, the books they want to read, and whatever other information interest them in their reading life. So many of those readers, and countless others of you in the comment section, mentioned a little website called Goodreads as an essential tool to organize your book life.

Today on What Should I Read Next, I’m thrilled to be joined by two readers who have a very interesting perspective on what books readers like you and me are picking up this summer. Those readers are Suzanne Skyvara, Goodreads VP of Marketing & Editorial, and Danny Feekes, Goodreads Managing Editor. Today we’re going to have an in-depth chat about how star ratings, reviews, and other nuggets of information we share online help connect our fellow readers to their next great read, support the authors we love, and change the way we see the world.

Since Suzanne and Danny’s business is all books all the time, we’ll be taking turns in the matchmaking seat today — I’m recommending 3 titles I think they would really enjoy this summer, and they’re returning the favor with 3 books that might just be perfect for me. Well, actually, here’s a little secret — it wasn’t just 3 books each, we went so overboard with book recommendations that we had to cut 5 or 6 books to keep this episode a manageable length!

But don’t worry, they won’t go to waste, we’re releasing all those extra recommendations as a bonus episode this Friday for our Patreon supporters. Sign up at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext if you want to hear what ended up on the cutting room floor.

This conversation was a ton of fun, so let’s get to it! Suzanne and Danny, welcome to the show.

[00:02:25]

SUZANNE: Thank you. We’re really excited to be talking books with you. It's our favorite topic. [LAUGHS]

DANNY: Yes, thank you so much. I’m ready to dive in.

ANNE: Tell me a little bit about where you are this morning and what you do.

SUZANNE: I’m VP of Marketing and Editorial, so my job is half to be an evangelist for Goodreads and half working with the editorial team to be an evangelist for books. Danny is totally the leader on editorial, so I’ll let him talk about that. But Goodreads, for those of you who don’t know about it, is the world’s largest community of readers. We have more than 105 million people on Goodreads, and our mission is to help people discover books they love and get more out of reading. We can help you discover the books, we can help you remember which books you discover. [ANNE AND SUZANNE LAUGH] We should say …

ANNE: Are you saying it’s not just me?

SUZANNE: Exactly. It’s one of the favorite things of everybody. Like when you hear it on NPR or with you, Anne, or you read about it in the newspaper a friend recommends a book to you, whip out your phone and open up your Goodreads app and add it to your want to read shelf so you can remember it for later. So yeah, that’s Goodreads, and that’s my role.

[00:03:32]

DANNY: Yeah, and my name’s Danny, and I’m the managing editor at Goodreads. I oversee our blog, our newsletters, and our social media accounts. Like Suzanne said, we are really in the business of helping people discover books, and that’s our primary objective on the editorial team. To really showcase new books that people might not know about, so really excited to kinda do something similar in a new format with you today.

ANNE: Well that’s so much fun. I’m happy to have you. Now it’s no coincidence that we are talking in the middle of the summer reading season, which around here we take really seriously and we get really excited about. One of my team members joked that her husband was walking around the house on the day our summer reading guide came out singing, it’s the most nerdiest day of the year [SUZANNE LAUGHS] to a Christmas tune, which isn’t exactly grammatically correct but basically captures the spirit of how we feel about summer reading. How do y’all approach summer reading from where you sit? Are people singing in the hallways about how much they love this time of year as readers?

DANNY: [LAUGHS] We get really excited and we do a huge event on our site called “summer reading” shockingly. The biggest books of summer, the biggest books of the year so far, and we’ve also interviewed people like Ali Wong and Colin Jost and Alicia Keys to see what they’re recommending to their friends and fans. We do take it very seriously. We talk a lot about it in the office. But we also do a really big job showcasing it back to our readers as well.

ANNE: I know that many of our readers not only use Goodreads to capture what they want to read, what they intend to read, and what they’ve read, but they use it to discover new books and I’m so interested in hearing how Goodreads does strive to put new books that you might not have discovered front and center. And I gotta be honest it’s only since I met Mimi Chan, the Senior Marketing Manager at Goodreads, I bumped into her in Nashville and she’s like, Anne [LAUGHS] this can do more than you realize and I just … I hadn’t realized the extent to which it was a social network.

I’ve been using it a lot more for discovery and sharing ever since, but I’ve been a long time user and I just didn’t know. So I would love to hear more about from your perspective how does that work and how do you fulfill this goal of putting new books in front of readers that they may be interested in reading but not know about yet?

[00:05:42]

DANNY: That’s the great work of what we do on the editorial team at Goodreads. A lot of our audience are actually early readers of books and they’ll get advanced reading copies or galleys of the book and be able to rate and review books that come out before the general population gets a chance to read them. And so what we’re able to do as an editorial team is really see what books are spiking before they’re released. So not only what books are spiking, but also what books people are loving. So we’re able to use that data to then reintroduce the larger audience to books that we know that they’ll love because their friends and the reviewers that they trust on Goodreads have already loved it.

SUZANNE: In addition to the editorial side, we also work to drive discovery in kind’ve a serendipitous way. When you’re looking at your newsfeed which is your updates from your friends and authors that you follow, you’ll often hear about books that they’re interested in and it just makes you go ooh, let me check it out. Let me see what Danny’s reading. Oh my gosh, Danny liked that one, and I’ve heard that Anne loved it as well. I want to check it out as well. And then we also have an algorithm which develops personalized recommendations for you based on what you’ve told us about your reading by adding books to your shelves.

ANNE: A question we get a lot from our listeners is how can I support the authors I love in addition to buying, borrowing, talking about their books? And something that I have said hundreds of times is just tell people you’re reading them and it’s interesting how what you’re saying about how the site works, really does speak to that saying, “I read this. I loved this,” is really valuable in helping other readers discover it.

SUZANNE: Absolutely and something so powerful, I think it taps into word of mouth. So if I see that Anne, you’ve marked a book as currently reading, you’re in the middle of it, Danny is too, Mimi is too, that’s a really powerful social signal. Suddenly my group is reading the same book and I want to find out and be part of that conversation.

ANNE: Oh, Suzanne. I have so many books marked currently reading right now. [DANNY AND SUZANNE LAUGH]

DANNY: Same. [ANNE LAUGHS]

[00:07:38]

SUZANNE: Yes, I think that’s part of the positions we’re all in, right? Where we’re all just trying frantically to stay on top of what’s out there ‘cause there’s so many amazing books.

ANNE: It’s a great problem to have. And yet the struggle is real. I think my current number is something like 45. It’s [SUZANNE GASPS] a little out of hand.

DANNY: [LAUGHS] I think my number is 10, and I thought that was bad. [ALL LAUGH]

ANNE: I’m just here to make you feel better, Danny.

DANNY: I have a rule oh like for every new book, I have to revisit a book that’s been on my shelves forever that I’ve ignored. So I have to balance kinda what’s coming out and what I already own. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Ooh, I will keep that in mind when we talk about your books.

SUZANNE: Yeah, that is a great rule. But Anne, okay now I’m curious. Do you literally have 45 print copy books piled up somewhere all half read or partly read?

ANNE: Oh well now I’m afraid to say this since I know that Danny has 10 and he thinks that’s a lot, but it used to be something like 90 on my currently reading shelf. [DANNY LAUGHS] My reason was it’s so easy to add a book you’re reading and I love to do that because I don’t forget that I started reading it. But I had to go back earlier this year and delete the books that I had come to terms with the fact, this book and I were not continuing our relationship so I deleted them.

A lot of it is just the quirks of the job. When I was reading books for our summer reading guide and our summer reading season, I would often mark them currently reading when I started them. I didn’t want to review them on Goodreads until the guide came out. Just so that our guide readers would feel like they were getting the first peek. So now I’m slowly going through and catching up on those reviews, so as not to drop 25 all at once.

SUZANNE: Which is a super smart move and for listeners of the podcast, if you’re not already following Anne on Goodreads, this is your moment to do it because all of these great reviews are coming through which is another way to capture and learn more about the books that you’re talking about.

[00:09:25]

ANNE: Well thank you for that. I hope so. Now you have access to all this really interesting user data. You get to see what people are interested in reading this time of year. What are some patterns you’re seeing for this season?

DANNY: What we’re learning is that people are really gravitating kinda in two areas. One kinda that traditional classic beach read and then actually a little bit of thriller and horror. I think what we’re discovering is that people are really needing an escape. Books like Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer, The Jane Austen Society, Mexican Gothic, these are all books that offer that escape through reading, which I think during these times people really need more than ever.

ANNE: With Black Lives Matter protests continuing through the U.S., I know that bookstores have seen spiking sales in lots of anti-racist titles. Is that very evident on Goodreads as well?

SUZANNE: Absolutely. Yes. We’ve totally seen that interest on books trending on Goodreads as well. In response to what was going on in our world, a lot of people want to turn to books. Help me understand better. Help me learn to be better. And so we put together a really fantastic list called “an anti-racist reading list.” Nonfiction books by 20 Black authors that are all being incredibly highly rated and appreciated by Goodreads members and we’re trying to bring a wider audience to them.

ANNE: Something that we firmly believe on What Should I Read Next and in everything we do, I imagine if you’ve devoted your career to books, you would agree that books are our favorite hobby, our favorite escape, our most enjoyable pastime and yet, they’re also a shortcut to get to the heart of what really matters in life and they change minds and they change lives. And you can have a lot of enjoyment doing it but also essentially reading is serious work. It’s interesting to hear that important culture markers are reflected in people’s reading lives in this really measurable way as well.

SUZANNE: Absolutely. I’m the same as you, reading is enjoyable; it’s escapism. But it’s also a source of comfort, and it’s always my go-to resource when I have a problem. I know that someone somewhere has dived deep and will have answers for me. And so we really wanted to help other people who feel the same.

We’re very lucky one of the perks of working at Goodreads is that every two months you get a free book of your choice, and in June we said everybody you get an additional second book to choose from a book about diversity and inclusion, and we want to encourage all of us to be doing the work here and then we’re going to be having smaller discussion groups so that people can be getting together and sharing what they’re learning from the reading.

[00:12:00]

ANNE: What titles did you all choose, Suzanne and Danny?

SUZANNE: I chose So You Want to Talk About Race.

ANNE: I listened to that on audio and that it was absolutely fantastic.

DANNY: I listened to that one on audio too last year, and the narrator was fantastic too, so I really recommend that one. And this weekend I just finished How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones, which I also found incredible. The book that I chose was called Thick, and it’s a book of essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom.

ANNE: Danny, my first instinct is to say I want to read that immediately. I have to add it to my list, and this is how I end up [DANNY LAUGHS] with 42 currently reading titles. [SUZANNE LAUGHS] But I’m not going to forget about it at least.

SUZANNE: Exactly. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Now what we get to do today is share a plethora of reading recommendations for our readers, but we’re going to do it What Should I Read Next style. Every week a guest shares three books they love, one book they don’t, and what they’re reading now and I recommend three titles they may enjoy reading next. So today I get to hear about your favorites.

SUZANNE: We can’t wait actually. ‘Cause It’s so much fun to have someone else recommending books to us. [ANNE LAUGHS] We’re very, very intrigued what you’re going to come up with.

ANNE: It really is so much fun to get personalized reading recommendations which is why when we’re done talking about your favorite and not so favorite books, I’ll be sharing mine, and you two are going to recommend three books you think I would enjoy reading next.

***

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***

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***

ANNE: All right, Danny, do you want to go first?

[00:15:40]

DANNY: Yeah, I’ll start it off. And I think my favorite book of all time is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This book was published in 2015, and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the National Book Award finalist. It is a big book, both literally and figuratively. It clocks in about 800 pages. Hanya is the current editor and chief of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, but she wrote this book when she was an editor at Condé Nast Traveler and I have no idea how one writes an 800 page book while also keeping a full time job. That is just shocking to me.

But this book follows four college graduates as they begin their lives in New York and flounder and succeed as they search for fame and fortune. Takes about a hundred pages, I felt, to really get into the crutch of the story, which is Jude St. Francis, the main character, and the book really explores the trauma that he endured as a child and how he rose above those childhood traumas.

I want to include a quote from Hanya Yanagihara ‘cause I think in describing how she wrote the book, I feel like it really describes how I read the book. She called it: “Glorious as surfing. It felt like being carried aloft on something I couldn’t conjure but was lucky enough to have caught. It felt oddly like being one of those people who adopt a tiger or lion when the cat’s a baby and cuddly and manageable, and then watch in dismay and awe when it turns on them as an adult.” [BOTH LAUGH] And I feel like this book is that little kitty cat that you adopt and then you slowly throughout the course of 800 pages realize that no, you have adopted a tiger and it is going to bite you.

I have gifted this book to many friends. Most of whom love it. Our readers give it a 4.4 average rating on Goodreads, but every once in a while it’s just a little too much for someone, so do your research, but I think you’re going to love it.

[00:17:32]

ANNE: It sounds so good.

DANNY: It is so good.

ANNE: But, uh, yeah, I’m scared of getting bitten because I heard it is really, really hard.

DANNY: So my second book is Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. This book came out of May this year and it’s not for everyone, but it was definitely for me. Curtis is best known for her book American Wife which is loosely based on Laura Bush, and clearly if you know the middle name Rodham or the maiden name Rodham, you’ll know what this book is about. It’s about Hilary Rodham.

It’s almost like fanfic. It imagines Hilary meeting, dating, and even moving to Arkansas with Bill Clinton, but then deciding not to marry him. So the book follows her leaving him in Arkansas and moving to Chicago and building her own political career. And it was a fascinating way to view this woman in a totally different light. And I won’t spoil anything, but Bill does come back in a very surprising way. [ANNE LAUGHS] I found this book super compelling. I read it over two days which is a very fast read for me. And I think if you think you might like this book, it will definitely be for you.

ANNE: I couldn’t help but laugh because I just finished this one recently. Also there’s this very meta comment at the very end where Hilary is imaging, is there another life where I actually do marry Bill? [SUZANNE LAUGHS] Which I appreciate that little cheeky nod.

DANNY: It was great.

ANNE: What did you choose for your final favorite, Danny?

DANNY: My last pick was Wow, No Thank You by Samatha Irby. I loved it because someone on Goodreads said this title summed up 2020. Wow, no thank you. [ALL LAUGH] And I couldn’t agree more. Her other big book is called We Are Never Meeting In Real Life, so I think she wins the award for best titles. She also wins the award for best dedications. This book is dedicated to Wellbutrin, and her last book is dedicated to Klonopin.

For anyone who needs something light, escapist, relatable, I definitely recommend this book. It follows Irby as she leaves her job working at a veterinary clinic and moves to a small town with her wife. She’s a fish out of water, but at the same time she’s offered a job to write on the Hulu show Shrill, so this book really shows her navigating both worlds, LA and the small town. It is literally the funniest book probably I’ve ever read, but certainly the funniest book I’ve read this year. [ANNE LAUGHS] I’ve gifted it to three friends and they all gushed about it as well.

[00:19:56]

ANNE: Danny, I’m picking up on a theme. You seem to give a lot of books away.

DANNY: I’m a big book giver. [LAUGHS] I think I’ve given Wow, No Thank You out, A Little Life out, and Tiny Beautiful Things. That’s the book that I gift the most, Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Anytime someone’s going through a hard time they get sent a copy.

ANNE: I love it. Suzanne, now we get to hear your favorites. What did you choose?

SUZANNE: I’m sure everybody says this but it was very hard to do it [ANNE LAUGHS] and what I tried to do …

ANNE: If it’s easy, you’re on the wrong show.

SUZANNE: Exactly. [LAUGHS] And then it was also, because I knew that I’d get book recommendations from you, so I’m like how can I get varied enough that you can kinda see some different themes or so, so that’s where I was going from. So the first book I chose is a nonfiction book. It’s Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, and it’s by Candice Millard.

Back in the day, I really didn’t understand why people would want to read nonfiction. Nonfiction was for studying or reading about work stuff, but it wasn’t for fun. And then I discovered this amazing category of books called narrative nonfiction and they are amazingly gripping stories. If you haven’t actually ever tried it, I’d start with something like Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand or maybe The Boys in the Cave by Matt Gutman. I gave that to my husband and he disappeared for 24 hours. [ANNE LAUGHS]

But this book Destiny of the Republic, why I really love it is it’s about James Garfield who was the 20th president of the United States. As you can tell by my accent, I didn’t grow up here so this is very new territory for me. But he’s an amazing man. He’s a fatherless one year old who’s living in poverty and he ends up as president. But he only served 200 days because he was shot and eventually died.

And what this book does so brilliantly is it weaves together three strands. There’s politics. There’s medicine. And there’s technology. All in the late 1800s. And the politics about the Republican party, and how they chose him to be the candidate. Oh, and by the way, once they chose him, then he went back and stayed in his house for several months because it was not considered dignified to go around the country trying to get votes. [LAUGHS] I was just like ...

[00:22:13]

ANNE: Wow. Different times.

SUZANNE: Wow life has changed … Yeah. [LAUGHS] So the politics was really, really interesting. The medicine just had you going no, oh my God! But what was fascinating was the late 1800s, different parts of the world was starting to understand germs and antiseptic, etc., and washing, but it hadn’t quite reached here in America, and so you’re just going oh my God, I can’t believe what they’re doing and think is okay to do.

And then finally there was the technology side of it. The whole country, this man was lying in absolute agony for months and people were just like, how can we save him? He has the bullets lodged inside him. And they couldn’t get to it. And so Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the phone, he worked around the clock desperate to invent a device to find the bullet without having to cut into him.

So there’s these three different elements that you learn about, which are really gripping, and reading it, you’re struck by how much is the same versus how much has changed. The saddest part of the book is you’re left with this haunting feeling of [GASPS] what if?

ANNE: I’ve heard wonderful things about that and I’ve been meaning to read it for years. So maybe this is my reading sign.

[00:23:21]

SUZANNE: [LAUGHS] I’m hoping it’s going to bump up not only through the want to read pile, but then through the currently read, open book piles. [BOTH LAUGH]

ANNE: Fingers crossed.

SUZANNE: And my second book is The Lost Man by Jane Harper. Now Jane Harper is a favorite at Goodreads. We actually fight over her new books when they come in. [BOTH LAUGH] It’s a story that’s set in Outback Queensland in Australia, so think red dust, huge open skies, and a ridiculous number of flies, and ranches so vast they take hours to drive across. The book opens with two brothers discovering that their third brother is dead out in the middle of nowhere by an old stockman’s grave. No one can figure out why he’s even there. Why has he left his air conditioned vehicle with his food and his water to trek out there? It makes no sense. Everybody knows how you have to survive in the really harsh conditions there.

And so it’s a murder mystery at its heart, but it’s also a very complex family drama full of lots of secrets and regrets. I used to live in Australia. I’m British by birth, but people can pick up the Australian twang still in my accent. And I loved how much this book captured the feeling of being in rural or outback Australia. You can practically taste the dust when you’re reading this one.

And then my third book is, I believe, a favorite with you as well. It’s A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

ANNE: I did love that one.

SUZANNE: Beautiful book, isn’t it? I initially chose to read this as a deliberate way to better understand the Muslim-American experience. It’s a story that starts as a family wedding. The eldest daughter is getting married, Hadia. And then Amar, the youngest son is being invited and he’s been absent for three years, so there’s very much this element of the prodigal son to it. The wedding stays there, but we keep dipping into the past, coming back to the wedding, dipping into the past, and we trace the roots of the different tensions, look at the choices the parents made and the siblings have made.

But what really surprised me was how much I related to the relationships in this family. It really reinforced me again that we may all come from vastly different backgrounds, but the competition, the expectations, the faith, the love, can all be eerily similar.

[00:25:36]

ANNE: I’m flashing back to the scene of the dinner table in sibling rivalry which apparently knows no cultural boundaries. [ALL LAUGH]

SUZANNE: So true.

ANNE: I love what you all chose for your favorites. But we also know that the truth about your reading life emerges in contrast and yet a book may be well done but still not to your taste. And so it helps me narrow down what to recommend to you if you share a book that wasn’t right for you. Danny, what did you pick for this one?

DANNY: I picked a big book. Again literally and figuratively. [ANNE LAUGHS] I picked War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I knew it was long. Nearly 1400 pages to be exact, but I had already read and loved Anna Karenina and I thought, sure, this book will be just as good. It is not. [ALL LAUGH] I found it to be a slough and a mess. It was not for me. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: I have not read this, but I intend to.

DANNY: Good luck to you. [ALL LAUGH]

ANNE: Suzanne, what wasn’t right for you?

SUZANNE: So this was a classic case of a wrong fit or even a wrong need book. It’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, which has incredibly high ratings on Goodreads. I’m an extrovert, but I have an introvert husband, my eldest son is introvert. I’m a daughter of two introverts. And the Goodreads team actually heavily skews introvert. And so this book came out and I thought great, let me learn how to work more with introverts and understand them. How can I do better here?

But as I read the book, unfortunately, I ended up feeling like I was the enemy. It just didn’t work for me, but in talking to my friends who are more on the introverted side of the scale, I did realize that what came through loud and clear is that extroverts are not really understood how frustrating if not downright painful it is for introverts to deal with this heavily extroverted world. So I tried, but I think as I said, wrong need, I went going help me as an extrovert to understand you, and instead it was much more, hey introverts, we have so much to offer. Let’s actually talk about that.

[00:27:45]

ANNE: All right, now my challenge is to recommend three books … I decided to go with three books that you both may enjoy pulling out threads from what you shared.

DANNY: We’re so excited.

SUZANNE: I know! I’m really excited. I feel like it’s Christmas or something. [BOTH LAUGH]

***

ANNE: Readers, since we cancelled our family beach trip this year, we brought the beach to us for a mini staycation. We packed the cooler for an afternoon picnic in the backyard, ordered takeout on a weeknight, and I finished two books in an afternoon.

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***

ANNE: You all both shared two novels each and a nonfiction book, and I’m going to recommend two nonfiction books and a novel. The first one that came to mind is Underland: A Deep Time Journey by the British nature writer, Robert Macfarlane. Do y’all know anything about this?

DANNY: I do not.

SUZANNE: No, that’s new to me as well.

[00:29:14]

ANNE: Okay. I feel like I should tell you the Goodreads rating, which [SUZANNE AND DANNY LAUGH] I have to confess, Suzanne and Danny, I’m on the record as having complicated feelings about star ratings. In one sense, you know at a glance like if a book is a three star read, you might go, hm, a lot of people … We’re not wowed by this book and yet so satisfying to find a book that is a three star read that was perfect for me even if a lot of other people found it not to their taste.

And something I’m always trying to share with listeners, a star rating captures your taste often more than it captures the objective quality of the book. How do you personally think about star ratings, and then professionally how do you help your audience rate books in a way that those ratings can be genuinely useful to others?

SUZANNE: So much meat in that question.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] We could talk about that for four hours.

SUZANNE: Okay, a couple of elements in this. One is I think what you’re referring to is this kind of magical chemistry and alchemy that happens between readers and books. It goes back to those sorta cliches that we say that not every book is right for every reader, right?

ANNE: Yes, it’s a cliche because it’s so true.

SUZANNE: Right?

ANNE: And also something that makes me nervous is when readers proudly say I will never read any book with less than a four star rating, and I just want to think ha ha! Do you know how many amazing books that are perfect for you you could miss out on if that’s how you interact with the star ratings?

SUZANNE: And also there’s timing as well. A book may not work for you in a certain stage or element that’s going on in your life, and then might be perfect for another. So there’s all this really interesting concoctions that go into this chemistry. When it comes to the rating the way I think of it is exactly as you just said: it’s a shorthand. It's quick at a glance. What I also look for is well, how many ratings are there?

Once you start getting into just a few thousand and then on upwards, it’s a book that’s really holding very strong with a wide number of readers. And you’ll see a book like Unbroken, what I was talking about recently, and I think there’s probably 400,000, 500,000 ratings …

[00:31:24]

ANNE: Oh wow.

SUZANNE: I know. And it’s still 4.2, 4.3, I’m making the numbers up, but I just know it’s super high. And it’s like oh my God, how can a book do that? If you go and look at Unbroken, there will also be one star reviews. ‘Cause the book doesn’t work for everybody.

So what I like to do is for me is I’ll look at the rating, look how many ratings there are because that gives you the context, but then it’s really fun to look at the reviews, and that’s why we do reviews as well as ratings. ‘Cause I think the shorthand can miss the nuances of a book. And so with the reviews, what’s really fun is, particularly if you’re on the fence, like you like the concept, the publisher’s blurb about the book, but you can see the ratings not quite where you would think it to be. So go down into the ratings to see what worked for people and what didn’t work, and so it helps you kinda get into the nuances of how a book has reacted with different readers.

ANNE: After every What Should I Read Next episode we hear from readers who say, ooh, that book that your guest in this episode said they hated that it was not right for them? I’m reading that immediately. That sounds perfect for me.

SUZANNE: Exactly. Exactly. I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of people who’re like, oh, if that was … If Quiet wasn’t right for Suzanne, it’s totally right for me. I can see why it wouldn’t work. [LAUGHS]

DANNY: I mean, you told me that you were going to read War And Peace after I told you how terrible it was. [ALL LAUGH]

ANNE: Oh, some things you just have to experience for yourself. Another rule of thumb that I know many readers rely on is they’ll read three positive reviews and also three negative reviews before they take the plunge.

SUZANNE: It’s fun to do that, to kinda get the different perspectives.

ANNE: Okay. All that being said, Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane, has nearly 5,000 ratings and the average is 4.24.

[00:33:06]

DANNY: People love it. [ALL LAUGH]

SUZANNE: Yup. That’s a good, strong rating.

ANNE: I thought so. Well this is narrative nonfiction, Suzanne, which we know you like.

SUZANNE: Yes.

ANNE: But something that’s so interesting about this book which is substantial. This one is nearly 500 pages, so Macfarlane does have ample time to spool out his thoughts. So the subtitle here is “a deep time journey.” This book is an exploration of the space under the ground, and Macfarlane talks early in the book about how you know how there are people who see those mountains and think, oh, what worlds are up there? I want to climb them. I want to discover. Well just picture the inverse of that and that’s what he’s exploring here.

“Deep time journey” refers to time under and in the earth doesn’t unfold in days or weeks or minutes or years or even centuries but eons. This book is not for the faint of heart. But it’s not nonstop adventure. It’s alternately action packed and contemplative, as Macfarlane travels the world and goes to these very interesting under the ground spaces. He uses his exploratory time under the earth to launch off onto these scientific and contemplative meditations about what it means, like what is dark matter and how do we find it? Why are we more often tender to the dead than to the living?

Macfarlane is a professor at Cambridge. He’s at Emmanuel College. A reader in literature and the GeoHumanities there, I don’t know how often that specific combination goes together. But what I love here is he draws on so many different fields to advance this one story and yet it feels very coherent and like these topics belong together even though they’re not often packed together. And he is so well read and just the range of metaphors and myth and poets and novelists and writers across all fields that he pulls in to discuss things, like dark matter and art history and nuclear science, all in one place, it’s an especially satisfying journey for someone who loves books and is familiar and appreciative of their history. That’s Underland by Robert Macfarlane. How does that sound to you all?

DANNY: I’m going to read it. It sounds fascinating. [LAUGHS]

[00:35:32]

SUZANNE: Does it also have elements of H is for Hawk, that kind of feel of it, the natural side but the meditative side to it as well? Do you think?

ANNE: Yes and no. I feel like in many parts the tone is similar but Helen Macdonald’s writing about a very personal journey. I feel like Macfarlane writes a lot about the human condition and why how we treat people matters. He visits a lot of graveyards and he discovers a lot of fossils. When I say graveyards, I mean, tombs deep in the earth and he tells these stories about how these people lived devastatingly hard lives when you look at their remains it’s clear that they lived short lives, hard lives that they didn’t have enough food, that they were not well nourished, that they were shorter than they should have been because they didn’t have the nutrition.

So the fact that they trekked far from where it was clear where they lived to bury their dead shows that they were so tender to the dead, but a theme that he returns to throughout the book is we are often more tender to the dead than to the living, though it is the living who need our tenderness most. So while he’s speaking about human condition, he doesn’t do it in as highly specific a way as Helen Macdonald does.

Oh, I have to tell you something that’s fascinating about the book, when you go down deep, there’s a moment at which you emerge and the contrast in the book going into the dark and then coming again into the light, the irony that to truly to understand the light you first must understand the dark. This is something that he dwells on a lot and he said that he wanted the reading experience itself for the reader to mimic his experience in going into the dark, going into the earth, and coming out of the earth, and he tries to make you feel that, which is really interesting. But as far as using actual tangible things in nature to talk about the human emotional experience, then yes, absolutely.

SUZANNE: All of that sounds super appealing. The one thing I’m going to struggle with is that I get … I have claustrophobia slightly … Very slightly.

ANNE: Oh, you are going to struggle. [DANNY LAUGHS]

SUZANNE: Yeah. At the very least I will try it.

ANNE: Okay. I have to admit this one definitely has strong Samantha Irby vibes. It’s an essay collection by R. Eric Thomas called Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America. On Goodreads it has 1,470 ratings with an average star rating of 4.2.

[00:37:51]

DANNY: I’m familiar with it, and I have been definitely wanting to read it.

SUZANNE: I’m not familiar with it, so I’m eager to hear all about it.

ANNE: All right, well, let’s go. Eric Thomas is a writer. He’s a host of the Moth Radio Hour, and he wrote a column called Eric Reads The News for a long time for Elle magazine. Something that Thomas does in this book is he takes this idea of being other. He writes a lot in this book about always feeling like he was not the mainstream, like he was the one who was the other, and he’s specifically writing as a Black man who grew up in the Baltimore area and let me read you his own words.

He says, “I think the idea of the other, of otherness in general is such a fascinating concept because it presupposes there is not only a mainstream, but there is something that you should be, and so I wanted to take with humor, take exception to the idea of being an other. They’re parts of my identity. I’m a queer person. I’m Black. I’m also Christian and a man and American. And so some of those identities are other, and some of those “the main identity,” and I wanted to say what if all of my identities could be in the center of a particular narrative?”

He wrote the narrative. It’s his story. This is his book. He writes about work and friendship. He writes a lot about growing up. This is laugh out loud funny in some places, but also really touching poignant moments where he reflects like about what his parents, specifically what his mother did for him. So he writes about very serious issues but then he’ll have a piece about culture commentary that’ll just have you cracking up. And I think part of the reason this collection is so much fun to read is because of the juxtaposition because that’s what real life is like and that’s certainly what Eric Thomas’s life is like, the juxtaposition of all those things. How does that sound?

DANNY: So I’m here for it. [BOTH LAUGH] I - I have been so excited to read this book. I know his writing from his Elle work, and I always found him to always be relatable and hilarious and you’re right, just like Samantha Irby in that juxtaposition of hilarious, but also you know, still living the struggles of everyday life. So I’m definitely here for it. I’m ready to read this one tomorrow.

SUZANNE: And I’m definitely here for some humor while also just walking in the shoes and living in the mind of someone else and seeing a different viewpoint. I love doing that. So this is a great choice.

[00:40:20]

ANNE: I’m glad to hear it. And thank you for that introduction because we’re going to talk about seeing a different viewpoint. Now Suzanne, one of the books you loved is The Lost Man, so next we have another book set in Australia, although it’s a very different kind of story. This book is called The Yield. It’s by Tara June Winch, and let’s see, on Goodreads it has 1,025 ratings with an average of 4.28. This book was first published in Australia last July but it just came out in June here in the United States.

It’s a Wiradjuri book by Tara June Winch, she is Wiradjuri herself. It was important to her to write a story that told the truth about Australian history. She said Australians want to know the truth of their history and there is a renaissance of truth telling in Australia right now. So this is a novel, but what’s she doing is getting to an untold history that has only recently really started to appear with any sort of frequency in Australian literature.

And Suzanne, I hope you’ll be happy to hear that like Destiny of the Republic, it weaves together three strands. This is the story of a young woman whose name is August Gondiwindi. She goes by Gus. And she’s been living in Europe for more than ten years when she learns that her grandfather has died, and so she comes back home for his burial, and she’s grieving. But you find out quickly that her grief goes way, way back to when she was nine and her older sister was ten and her older sister Jetta disappeared and for a long, long time, you don’t know what might have happened, where she went, or if anyone will ever find out exactly what happened.

But like Destiny of the Republic, this story weaves together three strands. The first strand, we get Gus’s narrative as she returns to this place where she lost so much, grieved so much. She had a childhood that wasn’t universally bleak like she’s coming back to see her grandmother that she loved so much, and to bury her grandfather who she was very close to after he died. But it is definitely a bittersweet arrival back home as she confronts people who know her past and who were there with her for some of the worst times in her life.

She also discovers that the family farmstead which has a history that goes back 200 years is also in danger because a mining company wants to exploit a 90 year lease to mine tin, which is terrible for the environment. It’s going to drive everybody away and do very bad things to the land and everything is feeling very bleak in the beginning of the book.

But that’s just one of the narrative threads here. Another one goes back hundreds of years and it is a long letter from a reverend who founded this mission that turned into a prosperous house. It was meant to be a home of safety for the poor waifs and strays of the Wiradjuri people. Then finally this other strand, and this is the one that I think really elevates the book. Gus knows that her grandfather Poppy, for a long time, was compiling a dictionary of the native language he spoke before his death. Where he shares the word and then what it means to him. But it’s not just strictly a definition. To define the word, he also weaves in these stories about Gus and Jetta and their childhood, about his wife, about the neighbors, about the land, about his interactions with animals, his musings and his mind. The little stories in the book really give a richness and a history and also really illuminate what it meant to him, to his family, and to the community to be Wiradjuri and what they might be losing as they move forward and the mine threatens to come in.

There’s so much grief throughout and to be reading that in the United States right now, it’s really powerful. So I know I told you many times that this was not the humorous escape we want to read for other reasons, but why you would want to read it. The story is unknown, unfamiliar in a way that feels really fascinating. I think especially based on what you both said, especially you, Suzanne, about discovering new worlds and new cultures through your reading. The prose is just gorgeous, the way she weaves together a sentence is beautiful, though much of its subjective matter is hard.

I listened to the audio version. It’s narrated by the Australian actor Tony Briggs, who I was unfamiliar with, but it was absolutely excellent in that format. Especially for the Wiradjuri pronunciation and the Australian accent really made me feel like I was right there. So that’s The Yield by Tara June Winch. How does that sound?

[00:44:50]

SUZANNE: It sounds amazing. It really does. I mean it sounds hard, but there’s something about bearing witness and remembering and knowing about what happened that I think is so important.

DANNY: And this is what I love about talking to fellow readers. It’s just discovering books that you’ve never heard about. To know that it resonated with readers around the world is really exciting to me.

SUZANNE: One of the silver linings of the shelter in place that we’ve been doing over these last few months is that my Australian friends, we all reached out and started doing Zoom calls and we actually started a book club, and so I think I’m going to recommend this one to them as our next pick.

[00:45:25]

ANNE: I hope you enjoy reading it together.

SUZANNE: Thank you.

ANNE: Okay. Now it’s my turn. When I chose favorites to share, I wanted to choose books that I read and loved, at least one of which I talked on What Should I Read Next before, because selfishly I just wanted to know what you would recommend what I should read next. And I also just got to recommend several books that I already enjoyed this summer like Here For It and The Yield, so I managed to sneak those in there too. [DANNY LAUGHS]

I chose three books I really enjoyed that I’d loved to find more of. So the first I chose is The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin. I don’t read a ton of fantasy. I read a little, and the same is true of science fiction, and I said that I’m not like a huge sci-fi fan, but I am a huge N. K. Jemisin fan. Because [LAUGHS] I read her books and I think how on earth does she come up with these amazing premises? I have no idea but I love to read them because they’re so fantastically inventive and imaginative.

And I do like that with The City We Became I have a built in two books I can read next because it’s the first in a planned trilogy. But of course the bad news is The City We Became just came out in March, so I have a long time to wait to read those next books. And I’m probably going to need to reread to get my momentum and remember what happens.

But the idea here is that every city has a soul and the great cities of civilizations like Rome, Athens, São Paulo, and now maybe New York, reach a point where they come to life. It’s New York’s time to be born, but the city is too weakened by a gruesome attack by this amorphous power. So if New York is to live, these five people who represent each of the city’s boroughs have to unite to demolish this villain.

This book is like reading an action movie, and I should probably tell you that I also have a deep and abiding nerdy love for the genre of urban planning books. I just really enjoy reading about that topic, and something I really loved about this book is she’s writing this very high concept modern urban fantasy. She writes in a lengthy afterword, like I love you, New York, I hope I got it right. I tried really hard. Here are all the people I checked with, and I found out the new corners of New York City and all the research she did which I thought was really fascinating. But she’s laying her highly imaginative, fantastical book on top of a deeply realistic city grid, and I thought that was a lot of fun.

The next one I love is Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn. It’s a contemporary romance that’s not only about love but also about female friendship. But what I really liked about this book was its unexpected motif. This is about a hand letter who designs customs journals and she sees the world in fonts and signs. She fell in love with New York City by walking through New York learning the grid and seeing the signage, the actual letters and fonts and the way they are chosen and the way they represent what the places they signal to are.

Our protagonist here encodes a secret message into a couple’s wedding program. She uses little fairies to designate that the wedding is a mistake and they end up not getting married. She’s terrified it’s her fault. You’ll find out in the book if it is or she isn’t, but when the groom, well the would-be groom shows up on her door one year later and says, how did you know? And what was I missing? They kinda get to know each other and then interesting things happen.

And finally I chose a book that I just noticed was on your top 40 hit books of the year so far lists, that just came out in the beginning of June. This is Beach Read by Emily Henry, which I went into expecting this light and breezy rom com ‘cause it’s got this happy cover and it’s called Beach Read. But it ended up being a romance that also dealt with very much with grief. I’m a writer. I work in the world of books. Y’all do too, and anyone who’s fascinated by that world whether because you live in it or you’re just really curious about it because you like to know how the books you love are made and you want to know more about the people who make them and that process will really appreciate this because it’s about two writers who are both for their own reasons in a really hard time, in a corresponding really awful writing slump. They’ve both got writer’s block for different reasons.

Okay, so January is an almost-30 romance writer but because of something devastating that happened in her family that she didn’t see coming, she doesn’t believe in happily ever after anymore, and yet she’s broke and under contract and needs to deliver a finished happy ending manuscript real soon to her publisher or bad things are going to happen. She moves into this beach house on the shore of, I think, it’s Lake Michigan, but it turns out her neighbor is this darling of the literary fiction world, Augustus Everett. It’s her college rival, once upon a time crush, and she didn’t ever want to see him again.

But they strike up a tentative, awkward friendship situation to discover they’re both going through hard times and they make a bet about trying their hands at different genres. Whoever gets their book sold first wins and that puts the fun back in January’s summer. Although there are plenty of complications along the way of course because January’s trying to write the bleak literary fiction that Gus writes, and he is going to put his spin on a romance novel.

[00:50:49]

DANNY: That was our reader’s number two most anticipated book of May, and it bubbled up so high that I was like I have to read this, so I’m currently listening to it. And I’m enjoying it immensely.

ANNE: I’m so glad to hear that. And as far as a book that’s not for me, I’ve read a couple of books so far this spring. I’m not going to name names, but these books have featured a substantial plot line where a dad, like a 40 year old family man, is aggressively pursuing a teenage girl, like a young teenage girl, and wants a really inappropriate relationship with her and just everything in me shuts down. Ugh. I just can’t go there content wise. So none of those please. [DANNY LAUGHS]

SUZANNE: Yes. Absolutely. We can avoid those. Gladly.

ANNE: Thank you very much.

SUZANNE: [LAUGHS] Okay so our turn to make recommendations and I have to say this the reverse of feeling like it’s Christmas. [ALL LAUGH] So the first recommendation we have for you, we’re going a little bit out on a limb.

ANNE: Oh, I like limbs. Let’s do it.

SUZANNE: [LAUGHS] It’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix.

ANNE: I’ve heard so much about this, but I haven’t read it.

SUZANNE: Oh, good! Yay, you haven’t read it! Excellent. This one, funnily enough, Danny and some of the editors on the editorial team, were loving it and talking about it so much that I said, okay, I think I’ll try it. ‘Cause I do not like horror. I’m just a scaredy cat and way too imaginative, and you know, if I read something too scary, then I can’t sleep at night and stuff. But they were just going like you’ll like it. You can do it. You can do it.” So I was like okay, I’ll try it.

It’s kinda a cross between Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias meets Dracula and with a dash of Stepford Wives thrown in there as well. [ANNE LAUGHS] Which sounds like it could be completely hodge podge of wouldn’t work, but Grady Hendrix is amazingly deft with this.

So it’s a southern flavored, supernatural thriller. It’s set in the ‘90s and there’s this women’s book club in a suburban community. What they find out is they actually do have to protect their community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who yes, actually turns out to be a blood sucking fiend. [ANNE LAUGHS] There were definitely two bits where I had to flip, flip, flip over the pages ‘cause I didn’t want to read in all of the glory details, but otherwise, I was really, really good.

What I really like about it is that the chapters refer to the books that the book club is reading, so you have this extra bookish geek out element to it. But ultimately what I really loved about it is that it’s really a story of courageous women and how they’re fighting to protect their families and their communities. So there was humor and horror and families and bookishness all wrapped up in it, and it was a really entertaining read.

[00:53:28]

ANNE: Well that sounds really interesting. I appreciate the heads up on the flip, flip, flip.

SUZANNE: Yes, exactly. [LAUGHS] And Danny, you really loved it, too, didn’t you?

DANNY: I really loved this book and I do think this kinda speaks to you getting out of your comfort zone with N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, trying a new genre on and yes, it sounds like you have to skip a little passages in both books, but we hope you’ll love it. We certainly all did.

ANNE: Well thank you.

DANNY: The second book is called One to Watch by debut author Kate Stayman-London. Since you loved Love Lettering and Beach Read, this is kinda in that vein. It’s a very fun romance. It’s about Bea Schumacher, who is a devastating stylish plus-size fashion blogger and she, like the rest of the United States, is obsessed with the show called Main Squeeze which is basically The Bachelor.

But Bea’s really sick and tired of the lack of body diversity on the show, and so she kinda swears off dating. She swears off the show, but interestingly enough, a twist, she gets a call from the producers and they want her to be the next star. She’s going to do it, but she’s not going to do it for love. She’s going to do it for her career and to also show that beauty comes in all sizes, but of course not everything goes according to plan, and will Bea fall in love and get a chance at her happily ever after? I think just maybe.

[00:54:53]

ANNE: That sounds like a lot of fun, and you know, I have that in my house right now.

DANNY: I figured you might. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: So maybe it’s meant to be.

SUZANNE: I love that. And then your third one, I’m going to admit that we sorta cheated a bit because before we got your list of books, we’ve been delving through your summer reading guide and really using that to kinda go ooh, ooh, what are the themes? What does - what does Anne like? [ANNE AND SUZANNE LAUGH]

ANNE: I’d like a written psychoanalysis report please.

SUZANNE: [LAUGHS] And so this one we’ve chosen because you have a whole section of coming-of-age books, and also because A Place For Us was a favorite that you reiterated some of the top books from previous years.

ANNE: Yes, I like the way you’re thinking.

SUZANNE: [LAUGHS] Good. It’s kinda flying onto the radar. It’s a debut novel and we’ve always liked to give an extra boost to the debut novels, and this one is Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa.

ANNE: I don’t know this one.

SUZANNE: Excellent. It has an average rating right now of 4.55, 108 ratings right now but even with 108 ratings, it’s holding at 4.55 is an excellent signal. The reason we chose it is it takes readers into the everyday lives of the Kurds. Now the Kurds, you hear about them in the news, but if you don’t really know about them, they’re a homeless nation. There’s between 25 and 35 million of them. They have no country to call their own, and they live in this mountainous regions straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Armenia.

This is set in Iran I want to say and it’s Layla who’s an ambitious young Kurdish girl and she dreams of going to university and making films about the oppressed life of her people. But then her younger brother disappears and so she has to start dealing with that. And it’s a powerful and moving coming-of-age story about resilience. And reviewers are saying that you’ll be thinking about this one for a long time afterwards.

[00:56:53]

ANNE: Well that sounds really interesting, and I do love a book that stays with me that I find my thoughts drifting towards weeks, months, longer after I finish it.

SUZANNE: It helps reading books like this that when you’re seeing the news about the Kurds, you have a different viewpoint. Suddenly those people are very real to you because you’ve been reading about Layla.

ANNE: Okay, Suzanne and Danny, of the books we talked about today, I think Daughters of Smoke and Fire is the one I think I’m most interested in reading next. Although one to watch is on my shelf. What are you all thinking of reading next?

DANNY: Well I think I’m going to take your recommendation and go for Here For It. I’ve been wanting to read it and I know that I’m going to need something light and funny, but still talks about some of the heavy things that are happening in the world today. So I think that’s going to be my next read.

ANNE: [SIGHS] I mean, I’m here for it. I can’t wait to hear what you think. [DANNY LAUGHS] How about you, Suzanne?

SUZANNE: The Australian side of me is really leaning towards The Yield. By also having my friends read it as well is just going to be a great experience for all of us.

ANNE: And I hope it is. Danny, Suzanne, this has been a delight. Thank you so much for talking books with me today.

DANNY: Thank you for having us. This was so fun.

SUZANNE: Absolutely. Thank you.

[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]

[00:58:07]

ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Suzanne and Danny, and I’d love to hear what YOU think they should read next and what I should read next, too. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/242 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.

Subscribe now so you don’t miss next week’s episode in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more. We will see you next week!

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And 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:

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• Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
• The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
• Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
• So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
• How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
• Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
• American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
• We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
• Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed 
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
• The Boys in the Cave: Deep Inside the Impossible Rescue in Thailand by Matt Gutman
The Lost Man by Jane Harper
A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
• Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane
• Here For It: Or, How to save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
• The Yield by Tara June Winch
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
Beach Read by Emily Henry
• The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
• One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London
• Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa

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15 comments | Comment

15 comments

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  1. Judy Gibson says:

    I was glad to hear you talk about the GR algorithm that comes up with suggested books to read, because sometimes they baffle me! Here’s the third of a recent Facebook post that greatly amused my friends. If you can explain it I want to know! (Oh, Anne! You like N. K. Jemison, so you’ll appreciate this.)

    “Okay, well, I thought I was done mocking Goodreads but then this–
    Goodreads: Because you’re reading The City We Became, we recommend الإكتئاب: اضطراب العصر الحديث فهمه وأساليب علاجه
    Me: Yeah, sure.”

  2. Do you ever cheer when someone else *dislikes* the same book you do? That was me today listening to Danny say that War & Peace was *not* for him. I love the Classics, and do not shy away from long books, but honestly, this was hours of my life that I’ll never get back. “Slog” was exactly how I felt! I’ve seen a few War & Peace read-alongs on Twitter & Instagram recently, and had to reign myself from jumping in to the group to ask “Why??” Anne, I know you will read it either way, since it *is* one of the Great Books, but no need to rush. 🙂 Thank you, Danny, for helping me feel less alone on this one!

  3. Donna H. says:

    I was very excited to hear Destiny of the Republic picked as a favorite. I love Candice Millard’s three nonfiction history books (they read like novels) and I was just saying to a couple of friends that I wish more people would know about her books!

  4. Mary says:

    I loved War and Peace. I read it slowly and deliberately. Do give it a go, Anne! There is a lot to uncover! I do suggest keeping a character list because of the many Russian and European names.

  5. Brandon Harbeke says:

    I agree that Destiny of the Republic is a great book, especially for anyone reading through a bunch of presidential biographies. It is a breath of fresh air in that field of books.

    If I am looking on Goodreads for books, I do use 4.0 and above average rating as a guideline. There can be exceptions, but until my TBR gets much smaller (if it ever does), I need a way to limit my books to the best possible prospects. I was not as strict with this earlier in the year, and it led to a fair number of DNF’d books.

  6. Madelyn Ferris says:

    What a fun listen! I love the ones where the “experts” suggest for each other and lots and lots of books get mentioned.

  7. Claire Long says:

    Just to add weight to Anne’s recommendations, The Yield has just won Australia’s top literary award – the Miles Franklin. For interested readers a lot of recent book awards in Australia have honoured indigenous writers and their stories, including other nominees from this year and last years winner – Too much lip.

  8. Ellen W says:

    It was fun to get some inside scoop on Goodreads. I like using Goodreads, but wish there was an option for half stars – lots of books are 3.5 or 4.5 reads.

  9. Sarah Silvester says:

    Oooo. Loving all the narrative non fiction recommendations! I always end up getting christmas gifts for my husband and father in law that go down a treat when I hear these episodes 🙂

  10. Kellie W says:

    My favorite, newly discovered Goodreads feature is the ability to compare books/ratings with another reader. This is helpful when I’m deciding on a book: if a friend (or even a random reviewer) loved the book, I can go and compare our books to see if our overall reading tastes are the same.

    The feature is a bit buried. When you are on someone’s profile and click “More” under Bookshelves, all of their books will come up. Then towards the top you can pick “Compare Books.”

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