I’ve held many titles over the last several years, as a podcaster, author, and now… Book Yoda. That might be my new favorite, bestowed upon me by today’s guest and Lazy Genius blogger Kendra Adachi. Perhaps you remember Kendra from all the way back in Episode 27: Books good enough to make you turn off the tv (even if you love tv), over FOUR years ago. Her reading life has changed a lot since then, in no small part because of her first visit to WSIRN. That first visit did wonders for her reading life and gave her new insight into what kinds of books she loves, and WHY—and Kendra is back today to share all about it and to seek some new readerly advice.
Lately her reading life has felt like a roller coaster—you might relate—and we’re gonna talk about WHY, and what to do about it. I have to live up to my new nickname, after all. We also discuss winnowing your TBR list, being a Lazy Genius in your reading life, and the unique method Kendra uses to pick her books. Plus, as always, I give three book recommendations that I’m hoping will pull Kendra out of her current reading rut.
If you’ve been feeling the strain of decision fatigue, lack of focus, or just not being able to finish a book lately, I hope you’ll find some helpful tips in this episode to refresh and restore your reading life.
Let’s get to it!
KENDRA: I really, really loved this book. How did you feel about this book, Anne?
ANNE: I never got to the part where I understood what was happening. [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 245.
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, summer isn’t over yet. In fact here in Louisville the heat has really kicked in. But school is starting soon and Labor Day is just a month away which at least mentally signifies the end of summer.
As we look forward to fall we also get to look forward to another live event with our patreon community. On September 1st we’ll be hosting our Fall Book Preview. This event will be similar to the Summer Reading Guide Unboxing event we did in May, but instead of sharing all the titles I have read and loved, I’m sharing the books that publishers, booksellers, and other book people—and sometimes, yeah, that means me—are excited about for the fall season. And it’s going to be a good one.
To join us for our Fall Book Preview on September 1st join our patreon community at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext. Our members get to set up a private podcast feed with What Should I Read Next bonus episodes we create just for them, they get to catch the replay of our live video events like the Summer Reading Guide unboxing, and they get to grab fun and practical printables like our July highlight reel we just posted–that pretty pdf gives our members a visual recap of the month’s episodes, books we want to highlight, plus some of our team’s favorite moments and insider opinions.
To get in on the action, visit patreon.com/whatshouldiread. That’s patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N, patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.
Readers, this week I’m inviting back talking to Kendra Adachi. If you remember that name it may be from her previous What Should I Read Next episode, #27, “books good enough to make you turn off the tv (even if you love tv),” but that was MORE than four whole years ago.
In those four years, Kendra’s reading life has changed a lot, in no small part because of her first visit to What Should I Read Next. That first visit did wonders for her reading life and gave her new insight into what kinds of books she loves, and WHY—and you’re going to hear all about that today. You’re also going to hear about how lately her reading life has felt like a roller coaster—and of course we’re gonna talk about why that is, and what she can do about it.
Kendra loves fantasy and sci-fi. That love shines in this episode as she talks about her favorites and also when she refers to me as her book-Yoda. We talked about winnowing your ready list, being a lazy genius about your reading life, and how Kendra picks her books. And of course I get to recommend three titles I hope give her some readerly momentum and pull her out of this horrid reading rut she’s been in.
Readers, it’s a fun one today. I think I say that every week, but it really is. Let’s get to it. Kendra, welcome to the show.
KENDRA: Thank you, Anne. I’m so happy to be here. Like so, so happy. You can’t see my face.
ANNE: Actually I should have said welcome back to the show because you are now joining the small, small, can you have a small pantheon? Does it work like that?
KENDRA: I like that word.
ANNE: I’m going to avoid Greek words I haven’t used since high school. That may be a What Should I Read Next rule to abide by, but we only have had a handful of guests who’ve been on twice and when they do come back, it needs to be for very good reasons so, welcome to the club.
KENDRA: I feel very honored. Thank you.
ANNE: My husband Will has been on more than once. Jamie Golden’s been on more than once. Traci Thompson, Holland Saltsman, Osheta Moore, I’m sure I’m leaving somebody or a few somebodies out … I think Leigh Kramer’s been on more than once. I’m excited to taliketo you again, and it has been a really long time.
KENDRA: Such a long time. I was shocked at how long ‘cause it feels like it was maybe a year or two ago.
ANNE:Well I can’t believe this podcast is now going, we’re going to round up and be five years old. That is coming in January 2021, which will be here before we know it. Which would be great actually because then 2020 would be over. [KENDRA LAUGHS] Fingers crossed for a better new year. But okay, thanks to the magic of Google calendar, I know that we talked for the first time on Wednesday, June 8th at 11 o’clock in the morning.
KENDRA: And I think that was in the year 2016 … Is that right?
KENDRA: My daughter was, like, eight weeks old or something when we talked to each other the first time. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So basically What Should I Read Next was a tiny babe in arms, and now, what, we’re getting ready to go to kindergarten? Is that a good analogy with a book podcast? I don’t know if it is.
KENDRA: I feel like you’re very much, way more academic than kindergarten at this point.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] But hopefully just as fun with snack breaks. Well back in 2016, you loved The Night Circus, Till We Have Faces, and The Glass Castle.
ANNE: You hated, and I think you did say you hated, A Clockwork Orange, completely not for you.
KENDRA: Yes I did say hate.
ANNE: Well Kendra, we always try to give our listeners a picture of what our guests reading life is like, but I think the place to start with you is back in 2016 because you’ve told me that your reading life has changed a lot. No surprise. But it’s changed a lot in the intervening four plus years and in part it changed because of your experience on the show, which was so, wow, that’s a dangerous power to have, but it was also really an honor to hear that, so thank you.
KENDRA: That’s quite a power you have to change my entire reading life. [ANNE LAUGHS] No, it really was true though.
ANNE: Well that’s a joy but also it’s a big responsibility to feel like you can have an impact on a part of someone’s life that is so important and so personal because we really feel that, like, sure, reading’s fun entertainment, but it also guides people to think about the things that really matter in life and we do take it really seriously. I mean, I hope we don’t take it too seriously, but we’re definitely aware that this is big stuff we’re talking about, week in and week out.
KENDRA: Well I like to just see you as my book-Yoda. [ANNE LAUGHS] You know, you just sorta like guided me through this thing but really you were just helping me discover what was already there. You know what I’m saying? So that’s kinda how I see it, but yeah. After I was on the show for the first time, I had just started reading. I was an English major in college and had just burned out on reading. Got really into television. Had little kids, and then my daughter was born, and she was born like eight weeks we talked that time, I had just become this voracious reader for … I don’t even remember what the beginning of that was, what the origin story of that was, but I think what happened is I was so overwhelmed as many of us are by all the book choices. It was just … It was too much. It was too much to choose from.
I didn’t know what I liked, but I also didn’t know that what I liked existed in books and not just in movies and TV. So in that conversation, you like found this through line in my books where you were, like, they’re all very cinematic. They’re all very atmospheric. And I was like oh my gosh, they are. They totally are. And so it just sorta gave me permission to start looking for books that felt like that, to not really feel apologetic about not liking certain things, or not being drawn to certain types of writing or certain types of stories.
Not that I am closed off to those, like, I’m really open. But you have just helped me be more realistic, like, okay, this is what I like, this is what I usually don’t like, I can take some risks here and there. But it’s just helped me narrow my focus in such a great way that now I know if a book is going to work or not like for the most part.
ANNE: Yeah, what we like to say is there are plenty of reasons to read books you don’t like. First of all, we all went to school, so we, I imagine, have experience in that because that’s what happens when you don’t get to choose your books. But also you don’t have to like a book for it to have an impact on your like and so much of discovering of what you do like isn’t clear until you read a book that doesn’t work for you, and you can go oh, now I can see in contrast what the difference is.
KENDRA: Exactly, and I think one of the things I realized is that I have a certain capacity for reading books that are there for more than entertainment, that are there to teach me something, that are, you know, more like harder read for whatever reason and that can be fiction, nonfiction, doesn’t matter, but I think that likeI can only read one book like that at a time.
I have like kinda a rhythm of two nonfiction at a time and one fiction, so I usually have three books going at once. I can’t have all three of those books be heavy. I can’t do it because I’d stopped reading altogether. I need something fun. I need something, like, frothy and exciting and plot driven or I stop reading completely. It’s like I have one .. I have one reading speed, but all that I’m reading at once contributes to that speed so I have to have like this right mix.
Which I felt bad about before, like I should be able to read things that stretch me more and all that. And I can and that’s great, but I also … that lands better for me if I’m also reading something that is not stretching me. That is about some sort of like, some story that happens to be in space with some girl that’s in a lower class and she falls in love with a dude in the patriarchy, and you know, like those kinds of books almost keep me going back to the harder books more. [A LAUGHS] So I need them both.
ANNE: That was a brilliant, two sentence description. I can see it clearly. [BOTH LAUGH]
KENDRA: Exactly! So that was just very freeing for me. I felt guilty about that for a long time, and now I don’t.
ANNE: So that was Kendra, the reader, circa 2016. [LAUGHS] Is it weird to talk about Kendra the reader like she’s someone else? What is Kendra the reader like in mid-2020?
KENDRA: Kendra the reader in mid-2020 is a little directionless sometimes. I know what pieces I need to get my reading momentum. I am a momentum reader. What is that thing, a supply and demand reader? I feel like you actually talked to me about this in our first episode and I had never heard before … What is that again?
ANNE: Did I?
ANNE: That would go further back than I thought. That’s my friend Laura Vanderkam, who has also been a guest on this podcast, and she has this theory that there are supply readers and demand readers. Kendra, I’m a liberal arts major, so I really hope I’m not mixing up my supply and demand here.
KENDRA: Oh, math is … economics, like, don’t even try. [ANNE LAUGHS] That’s why I asked you to describe it and not try to say it myself because I knew I would get them mixed up.
ANNE: Well, you know, I could be vague and say there’s one kind and there’s the other kind, but readers, I’m going out on a limb [KENDRA LAUGHS] and supply side readers are those who will read if there’s a good book available. If they’re in the middle of a good book, or if they have a book they’re excited to read, they will read it and you’ll look at them sitting on the couch reading their book and think, oh my gosh, they must love to read. And it’s true, they do. But only when there’s a good book available.
And then there’s the demand side of readers who have this inner drive to read books. That demand is internal. I’m just going to dig in [LAUGHS] and hope I’m getting it right. [K LAUGHS] These are the people, hand raised high, who will read the cereal box and magazines they care nothing about if there is no other reading material in front of them. They’ll have a better reading life if the books they’re surrounded with are great, ‘cause they’re going to read no matter what, but the supply side people, they’re not going to read unless they have a nice supply of books that look good to them available.
KENDRA: Got it. I am definitely a supply side reader. Based on that description, I’m a supply side reader. And what’s funny is I feel like I have the love of reading that a demand side reader has. I really love reading, and I’m kinda sad when I’m not enjoying my reading life. When Kendra the reader is bummed, Kendra the human is like what’s going on? Why is this happening? We love to read! Like it kinda confuses me.
But I do need this particular formula of what makes my reading life work for me. I don’t know if it’s always going to be that way. I don’t know if it’s the stage of life. I’m in a really, really busy season of life. I have three kids all under the age of ten. It’s … We’re in the middle of a pandemic. It’s not like there’s a lot of things happening, and so I’m sorta trying to be gentle with myself that like, it might not always be this way and that’s okay that I feel this sorta desperation to get the formula right. But really it’s because I love to read. I want to keep reading, but I find myself getting stuck more often than I would like.
ANNE: So today we’re hopefully going to find the right mix for your reading life so you don’t lose your sense of direction again and lose the momentum that you worked so hard to build. How often do you feel like you get stuck?
KENDRA: I would say every two or three months. It’s very rollercoaster-y. I have this, like, crest, you know, of like, this is amazing and I’m reading, I just keep hitting book after book. Winner after winner, and then my combination just kinda like gets a little [SQUEAK] and I just sorta get in a rut. And so it - it just feels like it’s very up and down. Yeah, probably every two or three months.
ANNE: Well first of all, I don’t think that’s abnormal even for people who love to read and I hope that’s reassuring. It would be okay if being cognizant of keeping the mix right was a state of being for you, that’s fine. And you know I think some people who are really satisfied with the mix in their reading life, it’s not like it necessarily comes easy. They’re working at it, but those habits have become so natural to them that they don’t even realize that they’re very carefully curating what they’re going to read.
ANNE: And also when you go out on a limb and you read books that you know are a stretch for you, or you know aren’t going to be fun reading experiences, but it’s important for you to read these books because that is certainly the case sometimes. I’m keeping in mind all the wonderful like anti-racist reading lists that we’re seeing right now and books written out of other cultures. It can be harder to maintain momentum but knowing that that’s normal, I think helps people keep going. Does any of that resonate with you?
KENDRA: Yes. It definitely does. And you know I think what’s interesting is I wrote a book that comes out in August. August 11th. It’s called The Lazy Genius Way, and one of the things that I talked about in that book, the foundation of life really is to name what matters to you. Like if we don’t know what matters to us about life, or about specific parts of our lives, then it’s really hard to know what to do next.
And so I think what frustrates me is that I know what matters to me about reading. It is stretching my mind. It is also to be entertained. It is that I want to reach for that first before watching something on TV or being on my phone. Not because reading is better than those things. It’s because I enjoy reading for the most part more than those things on any given day. So I think what I’m missing is these last four years from 2016 Kendra to Kendra the reader in 2020, I have started to name what matters about what I want my books to look like, what I like to read, and the combination of them, but I’m still sorta building that system and those habits that you just talked about to kinda keep it going, to support, to support that foundation of what matters. So I’m getting there. It just feels slower. I like for things to be done. I like to have them figured out [ANNE LAUGHS] as fast as possible and it’s not happening.
ANNE: Ugh. Okay, speaking of figuring things out, I want to talk more about Lazy Genius, and I want to do it through the lens of What Should I Read Next episode 236. This is when I talked to Karla about what she shouldn’t read next because Karla had all these books and they weren’t bringing her joy. They were weighing her down. If you listen to the episode, you’ll remember that Karla went through her physical bookshelves and she put a yellow dot on all the books that she owned but hadn’t read yet. She thought it’d be motivating, and instead it felt like a really judge-y sea of yellow staring back at her from her shelves, and a lot of those books she just didn’t want to read. Or at least that’s what she realized by the time we got to the end of the episode.
And Kendra, you said well that’s just the most brilliant application of the lazy genius method I could have thought of, and I was like whoa. Never thought of it that way. So through the lens of Karla’s unread books, would you tell us what makes that great example of being a lazy genius?
KENDRA: I was so obsessed with that episode, Anne. [ANNE LAUGHS] I was - I was … I remember I usually, like, we do when we’re listening to podcasts, we’re doing other things, I think I had to stop whatever I was doing. I remember being in my kitchen and I just had to stand still because I was so jazzed, like, I had so much adrenaline going through my body. I was like, get it, Karla! Like I was so happy. [ANNE LAUGHS]
And the reason is because we often think that what is going to make us happy, fulfilled, joyful, at peace, whatever word you want to put in there. We think that things that are going to make us live life well are things we add, that we need to add more of this or add more of that. And I have just learned and practiced and observed that we really just need to take so many more things away because not only are we removing, like, physical things from our lives, but we’re removing the mental clutter of our lives.
And so that example of Karla like seeing that judge-y sea of yellow dots and also naming like oh wow, like a lot of these things don’t really matter to me anymore. And you were such a beautiful, kind Yoda in that whole experience [ANNE LAUGHS] of being like, I see a stack of these. You had access to her Goodreads list, and like, you saw this like pattern of this wave of this kind of book came into her life around this time of her life. And then this section, this kind of book came in, and you were able to just group things. You sorta batched it where you were like all right, we’re going to take this big ole batch of this type of book. You don’t need this whole batch anymore. You could maybe pull out one or two that could be representatives of it, but maybe you don’t really need this. Does this even matter anymore to you?
And it was just this beautiful practice of removing what doesn’t matter so that you could see what’s essential for your life and you can put your energy and time and focus into what does matter. You can be a genius about what does matter. That’s my whole thing is to be a genius about the things that matter, like, be good at what you love, care about what you love. If it matters to you, put time into it. We don’t have to hack everything. But be lazy about the things that don’t matter. If it doesn’t matter, it’s like, we can get rid of these books. It’s cool. Like it doesn’t have to be this heavy thing on our shoulders, and so I was like, I was like praise hands-ing all over my kitchen during that episode. It was just such a delight.
ANNE: Well I really enjoyed hearing the episode that, you know, I recorded like we made that, but to see that conversation through a different lens after you put those specific words to it. Which really goes back to what we were saying about your reading life, like, when you can articulate something specific about it. It existed before. Nothing changed except the way you thought about it.
ANNE: Putting words to a reading experience really does help us see things differently. We’re readers. We know the power of words.
KENDRA: And that’s why your podcast is such a gift. The more I listen, and I listen to every single episode, the more I listen, the more I have language for what matters to me and reading, and what doesn’t. You know someone else is saying something that matters to them and it’s like, I’m so glad they have that. I’m so glad they named that. That does not matter to me. What a gift that I can name that now, and I don’t have to waste my time trying to figure everything out from, you know, the giant library of the world. I can limit my choices and yeah, it’s just … I love your show, Anne. It’s so great.
ANNE: Well you are so kind. Thank you very much. And thank you for listening to all the episodes. That’s really a compliment. Okay, Kendra, I’m really excited to dig into your books because I was actually just reading a book last night that I think will be perfect for you and I really want to get your take on it as soon as possible [KENDRA GASPS], but I mean, you know how this works. You ready to do this?
KENDRA: I’m so ready to do this.
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ANNE: Okay, Kendra, you are going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t, and what you’re reading now, and we will talk about what you may enjoy reading next. First of all, I’d loved to hear, how did you choose your books this time around?
KENDRA: That’s a great question. I tried to choose favorite books that were obviously a good representative of these things that I have named about books that I like that matter, but they were all things that I’ve read in the last year or two. So they’re all very recent reads, which is maybe a testament to the fact that like, yeah, it’s nice to have good reading years, I suppose, but the more that I’ve named these things, the more that I read books that I do like. So yeah, these were all recent - recent favorites that I really couldn’t stop talking about basically. So, book one.
ANNE: Book one.
KENDRA: Book one is …
ANNE: You do know how this works.
KENDRA: I do. Book one is The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.
ANNE: Tell me all about it.
KENDRA: Okay, so I loved her book The Night Circus. That was one of my favorite books that I mentioned in our episode we did before. So I didn’t like The Starless Sea as much as The Night Circus, but I really, really loved this book. It is hard to explain her stories, like all of them. [LAUGHS] I think she just creates these worlds that are really, really difficult to explain. But it’s essentially about a man named Zachary Ezra Rawlins and you know that is his name because I think pretty much every single chapter involving him starts with “Zachary Ezra Rawlins dah dah dah …” He discovers a book that is unlike any book he has ever read which is saying something because he’s a huge reader, and he has been his entire life. Well he’s reading this book that’s full of short stories, and then he reads a story that is actually a memory he had of when he was a kid. So he’s basically reading his own memory in print in this book.
Some of the chapters in the book are actually like the stories in this book that he is reading, but The Starless Sea is primarily about Zachary trying to find out why this is happening, why is his story in a book. There’s this, like, underground secret world of storytellers. It’s a super weird book, like it’s really weird, but it’s very cool. It’s super interesting to me. I mean at one point there is a character who is on a boat in a sea of honey in some deep cavern underground. So I mean, it’s very bizarre.
I loved this book because I love to be surprised by a world. I love when I can say like how did that author come up with this? And you know, I learned from you that I love things that are thick with atmosphere and are cinematic and you can see them. Well The Starless Sea is like so vibrant and wild and colors and it’s so full of imagery and the story really moves. I didn’t know what was happening until like two-thirds of the way through, I’m like, why - what are we even doing here? But the ride was so good that I was here for it. And I trust Erin Morgenstern because she wrote one of my favorite books ever, so I really, really loved this book. How did you feel about this book, Anne?
ANNE: I never got the part where I understood what was happening. [KENDRA LAUGHS] Because I didn’t make it to the two-thirds point. I tried it in print. I tried it in audio. I … You know, it might have been the wrong book at the wrong time. Here’s my most meaningful experience with this book. When I was in New York City to record my audiobook, I happened to discover that our past guest Karen Frome, who I love talking to, worked like three blocks from my hotel, so we met up for drinks. And we tried to go to this hotel bar that was really crowded with all these private parties, so we ended up going to a Japanese place down the street.
However in our brief period of time inside the bar, I took a nice look around and I thought oh, this is interesting. I’ve never been in a place like this, and as we were leaving, Karen said, oh, you know this is the bar that the initial meeting is set in in The Starless Sea, and I was like oh my gosh, really? That is so cool.
ANNE: That, like oh, this is where she set the scene.
ANNE: That’s my most meaningful experience with The Starless Sea [KENDRA LAUGHS] which probably tells you everything you need to know.
KENDRA: Can I tell you something? I don’t even know if I know how it ends and I finished the book. Like that’s how bonkers it is. Like I know how it ends, but I’m still like, what was happening? What was happening? So I - I think that maybe what I’ve learned from that book, I don’t know, is that as long as the ride is good, as long as there’s someone to care about, even if I don’t fully understand what is happening, I just like a good ride.
It could be too, Anne, that I read it at the right time. I was so excited for it. It had been sitting on my shelf. A friend had actually sent it to me as just, like, a gift, like the hardback arrived at my house, and I was like, where did this come from?! I was number 71 on the library waitlist! Like why is this at my house? And it made me so happy. So there were lots of things going for it, but I just … Man, I just really, really dug this book.
ANNE: And well let me say I really admire Erin Morgenstern and it’s important to say here, especially as we are recording in the midst of a global pandemic where we … It’s very obvious that so many of us are not in the usual frame of mind that we are, and many books that I would otherwise enjoy are just not right for us right now for all kinds of reasons. I love the way she writes. I thought the prose was really beautiful and she’s so talented, and I imagine, I mean, I remember reading this one when it was hot outside. This feels more like a fall book for me in my own reading rhythms ...
ANNE: And I imagine that my patience would be rewarded if I did try again probably with the hardcover probably on my couch in cooler weather with a cup of tea and a blanket, like I imagine that it would work for me.
KENDRA: I totally will affirm that choice. [ANNE LAUGHS] Because even, I mean a lot of the story ... I mean the beginning of the story, it’s snowing. There’s scarves and the scarves are actually important imagery, but like, it does not feel like something you want to read when it’s hot outside. So maybe try again this winter. See if it lands differently. It’s okay if it doesn’t, but yeah, it’s a good - a good winter read for sure.
ANNE: Okay. Book two, what did you pick?
KENDRA: Book two is very different ... [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: I love that.
KENDRA: From The Starless Sea and it’s actually a book that, like, on paper I should not like, and it is Jabor Crow by Wendell Berry.
ANNE: Yeah. Cause when I think cinematic, you know what I do not think?
KENDRA: [LAUGHS] No.
ANNE: Wendell Berry. Who I love.
KENDRA: Right. It’s so wild.
ANNE: But that is not the obvious descriptor.
KENDRA: No, it’s not. So like I have tried - I have tried to, like, describe this book to people. I read it this year. I read it actually when the pandemic started, and I tell you what, if we are still, which we’re going to be still stuck at home for a really long time, this is one of the most perfect books to read during this time. Honestly. So I do think there’s a huge factor of the right book at the right time for me ‘cause I read it right when we started being stuck at home. I think I started it in May or whatever. Anyway.
I have tried to describe this book to so many people and have monstrously failed every single time because they’re like, Kendra, you’re not selling me on this. I don’t know what you’re talking about. So I’m afraid I’m going to do that now. But Jabor Crow is about a man named Jabor Crow and he’s a barber in a little town and it’s about his life. And that’s pretty much what is it. It is the most beautiful book I’ve ever read.
ANNE: Oh, yeah, yeah. We’ve got all kinds of problems with this description. [KENDRA LAUGHS] A whole bunch of people just yawned real big.
KENDRA: [LAUGHS] I know! And I don’t know …
ANNE: It’s about his life?
KENDRA: It’s about his life.
ANNE: In a small town, and it’s beautiful?
KENDRA: I know, Anne. But honestly …
ANNE: Well many people take that as code for boring.
KENDRA: I agree, and I would too. And I think the reason that I picked it up because I love Wendell Berry’s poetry and I think that I was just craving something that felt more simple, maybe. I don’t know. And it’s been on my list, I mean, I think it’s been on my TBR like okay, I’m going to read it this season. I’m going to read it this season, for two or three years. And I’ve just … I just keep putting it off. And I thought this is … I’m not going to put it off anymore. Let’s start reading.
And I’m so glad I did because it’s one of my favorite books I ever read. I think it’s the most … It’s a masterpiece. And it’s possibly the most perfect book I’ve ever read from beginning to end and it has nothing that is usually in books that I like. There’s really not much of a plot. I mean, it’s just the guy’s life, you know? The characters are full. Okay so my order of matters to me in a book goes plot, like way high. Plot is above everything else. A sense of place, character, writing, and then form, ‘cause you know some people really love to read books that are presented in a different form and way.
ANNE: That’s me! Me me me.
KENDRA: That’s like my least important thing about that. [ANNE LAUGHS] So because of that order, I mean, Jabor Crow, it does not have a plot. It does have a sense of place because it happens in this little town, but it’s, like, it’s a little town. There’s no spaceships. There are no monsters. There are no dark fairytales. It’s just this little ordinary town. And there are very rich characters, but the writing is so transcendent, and it was so transportive, and I just reading like page after page of him sitting in like this little cabin in the woods watching birds and I was crying because I was like this is the most beautiful thing. And yet like I read … I mentioned this in the last episode, I remember mentioning Atonement where I was like, I’m so bored. This is so boring. Why are you still describing things? But for some reason, Jabor Crow changed that. I don’t know what that means. Maybe it’s just Wendell Berry is a genius, but this book changed my life. Like I love this book so hard.
ANNE: So I’m going to go for an improvised sexier description of Jabor Crow.
KENDRA: Please do! I’m going to hit record on my phone so I can use it to tell [ANNE LAUGHS] other people what it’s about when they ask me. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay, it’s the opposite of The Great Gatsby. This man instead of going to the land of opportunity and new money, who wants to win over a lost love and create this, you know, literary, glamorous life for himself, instead you have this poor orphan who goes to a tiny small town in Kentucky, creates a very boring life where he nevertheless yearns for something that he can’t have and instead of it makes him a craven criminal, makes him, oh, can I say pure without losing the sexy factor?
KENDRA: That’s actually a really great word but what it is it’s not pure in terms of like that he is without faults or that there is some sort of serenity to him … Well maybe actually it is serenity. It’s like, he just accepts things as they are, including himself. And it’s really, really beautiful.
ANNE: And what I like about it is it brings him a very robust peace his whole life.
ANNE: But man, it’s bumpy to get there otherwise it might be boring.
KENDRA: Yeah, no, I did not find it to be boring. I had said that like things that are evocative and lush, this was not so much lush in atmosphere. The setting is painted so beautifully. You really can envision things, you know, it’s not just like and then he went to work and then he rode a horse and he shaved his face. Like it's not like that. There are things that happen. The undercurrent, the through line, of the whole thing is just, it’s almost like the lushness of his entire life, like he just sees the world and himself in such a way that you just can’t help but, like, sit and say more words, Jabor. Or don’t say words. [ANNE LAUGHS] because he doesn’t even say a lot of words, like, he's a man of few words, but I think that’s why his inner life is so captivating to me. I’m here for this, and this opposite of The Great Gatsby, you’re a genius. That’s like so on point.
ANNE: All right. I’ll dole it out. We’ll see if there’s actually something there. Kendra, what did you choose for book three?
KENDRA: So my third book is The Night Country by Melissa Albert, and this is the follow up to The Hazel Wood, which you had … I think it was in a summer reading guide a year ago, two years ago?
ANNE: It was indeed.
KENDRA: This is the follow up to that, but it’s both books. I really, really loved both books and read both in the last handful of years. But basically the story follows Alice, who is [LAUGHS] part of, sorta like a magical legacy. She is transitioning back into regular life, if there is such a thing, after being trapped in the Hinterland for years. The Hinterland is this dark land of fairytales. Alice was actually a character in them. But in this follow up book, Alice is trying to figure out how to be a person, and she is sorta in contact with other folks who have escaped the Hinterland. But really her whole goal is to find her friend, Ellory. He is, like, still there, and she’s trying to get back to him.
Anyway, it’s like this really engaging story. There’s a lot of surprises. It’s very dark. I love a dark fairytale. That’s kinda my sweet spot, and if you put a circus in there, all bets are off. Like that’s the best thing ever. [ANNE LAUGHS] So I just really love the imagery of this, of like, you turn the corner, you just see like gaunt people. The way Melissa Albert describes the way people look and the way people move into a room and turning the corner. And it’s not horror at all, like, it’s not even jump scary. It’s just there is this atmosphere of doom. [LAUGHS] Like general low-key doom. [ANNE LAUGHS]
And Alice is to me, she’s not the most compelling character I’ve ever read for sure, but she’s interesting and I care about her. She - she is trying to connect to her mom who was missing in the first book, who she was trying to find, and she’s got this complicated relationship with her past. And does she want to really jump all in to this fairytale life and just be this character, be Alice Three Times? Or does she just want to be like regular Alice and live her own life, and is that even possible? And it was so satisfying. You know, it’s always a little scary when you read a sequel to a book that you really loved because you can be sooo disappointed but I was not disappointed. I really loved it.
ANNE: Now it’s time to tell me about a book that was not right for you. Was this hard to pick?
KENDRA: No. It was not. It was not at all. There were two that I was trying to narrow it down between, but this one I didn’t finish. That’s how much I disliked it. And it was surprising because I loved a book by this author that I had read a couple years before, and I’m going to say that I hated it was The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I hated it. And I loved The Nightingale. Oh, I laughed. I cried. I was there. I finished it so fast. Such a delightful book. And everybody was talking about The Great Alone, that it was one of the best things they’d ever read. It made them weep. It made them think. It made them do all of these things, and I got maybe 50 pages in. I was just, like, viscerally angry that I had to keep reading. I was like no, I’m going to stop.
It was too bleak. It felt so hopeless. I couldn’t find a story. I mean it definitely has a very clear setting and I think the setting is a big part of the story, but there just wasn’t any color to it. Everything just felt very gray and sad. The girl’s relationship with her dad and I don’t really know what the book’s about, Anne, because I only read 50 pages but I hated them so much. But the relationship that she has with her dad especially just felt really dark to me. We don’t have to get dark here, but like I don’t have a good relationship with my dad. He’s not in my life anymore, and I think that there was also some, like, familiarity to the dynamic of their relationship that was difficult. But I’ve read other books that have that, that have a similar, like a father/daughter relationship that is similar to mine with my dad, and I was like, oh, this is … This is actually helpful or this is - this is a really beautiful read for any number of reasons.
But there was just too many things about The Great Alone. It was putting a halt to my reading, in all my reading. ‘Cause I didn’t want to pick that up, I just wasn’t picking anything up. And so I was like. I’m out. I can’t do this. I hate - I hate this book. Why do people love this book? So I know there are good reasons why people love this book, but I really hated the book.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t right for you. Listeners, that book portrays an increasingly violent, domestic abuse situation that is terrifying, so you should know that if you’re thinking about this right now.
ANNE: Because we know in every episode somebody hears a reader describe a book that wasn’t right for them and thinks oh my gosh, I want to read that immediately. [KENDRA LAUGHS] And The Great Alone has been a favorite on the show.
KENDRA: It has.
ANNE: Kari Sweeney loved it and chose it as a favorite in episode 153, that’s called “revolutionizing your reading life ten minutes at a time.” And then Myquillyn Smith chose it as a favorite in episode 156.
KENDRA: Myquillyn is like a buddy, and I was like oh I can’t wait to hear what Myquillyn says, and then when she said she loved that book, I was like we need to have a conversation. One of my favorite books of all time is called Red Rising, and you’ve had someone on your show who said that was the book they hated. So I’ve recognized like it takes all kinds … This is what we learn in this segment every single episode, it’s all kinds of books for all kinds of readers and it's okay that I didn’t like it. But I don’t generally have strong visceral reactions to books that I dislike. I can only think of three and that was one of them. And it was the most recent one, so be that as it may.
ANNE: Well and it’s interesting you use the words bleak and hope. It felt bleak and that there wasn’t any hope and those are two things that can be very defining for what a reader will or will not pick up. So I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Okay. Kendra, what are you reading now?
KENDRA: So right now I’m reading - I’m reading two books, and I’m a little bit stalled just a hair. It’s because the book is a difficult read, but one of the books is called The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. The subtitle is “the truth about the American church's complicity and racism.” It’s a historical survey of the history of the American church, and like a lot of the really horrible choices that have been made toward the Black community since this country started.
So I mean, it is such an important book. It is one that is like essential to me right now, that I really want to read and learn and take my time and sorta confront things, like you were saying in the beginning, we all have these … Well not all. I have a newly kindled desire to become an antiracist, to continue that education through what I’m reading and consuming, and so this is one of those books. So it’s really important, but it’s hard. You know, it’s a hard thing to be like, okay. I’m going to pick up a book that talks about how the American churches mistreated Black people for centuries. You know, it’s kinda hard to get that momentum.
But then the other book I’m reading, I actually learned about from your show, Experimental Film by Gemma Files. I’m reading that. That’s about a Canadian film professor who, like, she basically gets fired from her job and she starts to spiral. She has, like, a hard personal life. She has a son with autism. I feel like she suffers from insomnia. But she basically discovers the existence of this mysterious, female, filmmaker who had, like, disappeared or something that no one really knew about. Obviously it would be like a historical discovery in terms of, like, cinematic history, and it would be historical for this character, for Lois if she discovers this, you know, filmmaker. This female filmmaker that nobody knew about.
But it’s … I mean I feel like there’s ghosts about to come. like it's really dark. It’s scary. I don’t fully know what’s happening which again I’ve made clear, doesn’t bother me too much, but it also feels like very, very, very bleak. There’s not a lot of color in it. Just, like, metaphorically and so, those are my only two books I’m reading right now. And so both are a little bit harder to pick up, so I feel a little bit like I don’t have a jumpstart, but those are the two books. I’m enjoying them both. They’re just not like grab it really quick and let’s read.
ANNE: So the right mix is important.
KENDRA: It really is.
ANNE: You can perceive what’s missing, but you’re not sure where to pick it up?
KENDRA: Yes. I think spaceships or magic. [BOTH LAUGH] Or there’s - there’s unrequited love between people of different classes. Like there has to be something like that or it’s just hard for me to read. I don’t know.
ANNE: All right. I’m ready.
KENDRA: I’m so excited!
ANNE: Are you ready?
KENDRA: Yes, I’m so ready.
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ANNE: First of all, I really hope this is the change of pace you’re hoping for. It was in the summer reading guide, so maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve read it, but you haven’t mentioned it. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune.
KENDRA: I saw that on your list, but I think that’s all. I saved your summer reading guide as, like, a treat to myself once I got over sorta this big hump of, like, my own book release related tasks.
ANNE: Music to my ears! So you haven’t read this book that I think is going to be so good for you.
KENDRA: I have not read it, but here’s what such a bummer. I still haven’t gotten to really read your guide because I didn’t realize how much work … Like the work just keeps coming, and I’m like, my reward is still sitting there. I want my reward. So I have … I know nothing about this book because I haven’t, like, fully absorbed your guide yet.
ANNE: You know, your loss, my gain today, so thank you. Okay, The House in the Cerulean Sea. It’s by T.J. Klune. First of all, you want a cinematic jumpstart. The cover is absolutely gorgeous. It portrays this house teetering on the edge of a cliff against all these beautiful shades of sunset and blue. It’s just … It’s beautiful. And you’re going to picture it in your head the entire novel, which is going to be a great thing.
It’s a fantasy story. It reminds me of Harry Potter, but it’s definitely not a read alike or trying to be Harry Potter. It’s not one of those. It’s not a copycat. But it is a very whimsical fantasy. So many readers because the guide has been out and about the world without for a while now, Kendra, have come back and said this book took me completely by surprise. It’s my favorite of the year. And I don’t want you to go in with off the charts expectations, but you know what feeling where you pick up a book that you wouldn’t have necessarily gravitated toward on your own but you read it and you love it and it just feels like heaven’s part and the trumpets blare and it just feels … You know it’s an amazing feeling as a reader.
ANNE: I don’t want to oversell it, but I’m just going to say …
KENDRA: That’s the feeling we’re all chasing, Anne. It’s like such a gift, that feeling.
ANNE: And it’s because like in this novel, I mean, you wouldn’t have a novel if characters weren’t going through hard things, but the tone is just so … The tone just makes you grin the whole time. So this story is about Linus Baker. I feel like when you name a character Linus, you’re really saying something about him right off the bat. Or maybe it’s because I watched too many peanuts as a kid. [KENDRA LAUGHS] He is a 40 year old caseworker. He’s a company man who has been on the job at the Department of Magical Youth for a very long time. Because he has been such a yes man for such a long time, just plodding along doing his job with his head down, you know, very thorough, very stayed, very boring. So that is why he is chosen byExtremely Upper Management, and to give you a feel for that tone, Extremely Upper Management is capitalized and little silly things like that. [KENDRA LAUGHS] throughout the book which I just really enjoyed. You feel like T.J. Klune is winking at you, and I enjoy that.
So he is chosen for this special assignment. He’s sent to this island orphanage that is the home of last resort for magical children who are viewed as total misfits by everybody else. You know, he’s going to go and meet all these characters. One has been called the antichrist, thinks he’s the antichrist? [KENDRA LAUGHS] There’s an adorable little wyvern, you know, a baby dragon that breathes fire. [KENDRA LAUGHS] It’s the island of misfit toys, basically. Except they’re people who know they haven’t been treated as people and it hurts, but they have banded together because of their outcast status and they have done so under the wings of an unconventional caretaker whose name is Parnassus which is just laden with symbolism. That’s lots of fun for an old English major.
So when Linus goes to the island, it forces him to question everything he thought he knew about his job, his place in it, the world itself, and it’s just so much fun. He might also fall in love along the way, perhaps? And it’s just delightful and quirky and it’s been such a fun surprise for lots of readers. How does that sound to you?
KENDRA: As you were talking about it, I’m like well that ticks every box except for a love story, and then you’re like and he maybe falls in love, and I’m like yessss. [LAUGHS] So it’s like all the things. [ANNE LAUGHS] Oh my gosh, I’m so excited. That just that really does sound like the kind of book I need right now. Like today.
ANNE: I’m excited that you’re excited. Okay. So you were just talking about how much tone is absolutely everything, and it changes the way you read and experience and a story.
ANNE: With that in mind, I want to know if you’ve read Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey.
KENDRA: No, but that’s a fabulous title. That’s like - that’s like thriller and magic. Magic and liars. I’m very excited about this. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Sometimes readers ask how do I decide what to read next? How do I know what I’m going to pick up? How do I find out what books are out there? And the answer is, you know, the same way you do. I mean, Kendra, we’re having this conversation and I’m going to leave with … likeI’ve already jotted down that it’s time to reread Hannah Colter cause it’s been a long time, so hearing about new books every week and hearing about them from you, and this episodes spark conversations among our team members and then I get more books added to my list. I picked up Magic for Liars after I recommended Upright Women Wanted also by Sarah Gailey to Raelene Bradley in a recent episode of What Should I Read Next. So Brenna listened to my description, which the short forward description of this book, which took me completely by surprise, was “outlaw, lesbian, librarian, spies.”
KENDRA: Oh my gosh. That’s so great. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So here’s what Brenna said, and I think you might enjoy it too, but we’re going to go with Magic for Liars and I’ll tell you why. Brenna read it immediately and reported back, she said she listened to Raelene’s episode. She got it right then and she read it straight through that same night while listening to the soundtracks of classic western movies, A+ plus experience. This is a new favorite.
So Brenna came back and told me that and she said I’ve read Sarah Gailey before, but just one book, I read their novel Magic for Liars that came out I think in 2019. But Brenna said Magic for Liars is really great; I think you’d enjoy it. check it out. So I did, literally. I got on my library’s website and I saw that it was available for kindle, so I downloaded it immediately. It’s very, very different from Upright Women Wanted. Not in a bad way at all. It’s just very different. So maybe you can have two books for your list?
But you mentioned those books that are, you know, very realistic but they’re just one tick left of ordinary.
KENDRA: Actually any ticks left of ordinary is great for me. [LAUGHS] It’s pretty great, but yeah, those are like my favorites ‘cause you can imagine yourself in it. There’s like enough of a context that like oh, that can kinda happen. I love books like that.
ANNE: Here’s Magic for Liars is. It is a noir-feeling murder mystery set on a campus. How’s that, Kendra?
KENDRA: I love books set on campuses. Like truly. Campuses and circuses and then like a planet are like my favorites, so you’re already on a roll.
ANNE: Okay. I don’t have a circus for you here, I’m sorry to say.
KENDRA: That’s okay. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: But the tone is like an old black and white movie or like sunburned or What I Saw and How I Lied. So this book is about a private investigator who’s kinda hard on her luck. She lives in an expensive part of the country, I think she’s in the bay area. She’s working from the basement, and she does boring stuff. Like she’s the one camping out to take the photo incriminating the cheating spouse, or settling insurance claims. Just boring, boring, boring. And she’s making do mostly. She has a little bit of a drinking problem, but then she’s offered a case that she can’t say no to. Maybe she should say no to, but she doesn’t.
She finds out that the school where her twin sister works has had this gruesome, nearly impossible murder, and Kendra, I think it happened in the library. You know, I’ve read a lot of books where terrible things happen in libraries. [KENDRA LAUGHS] That could be a whole separate episode. This is definitely one of them. And she’s called in to solve the crime. So the reason that she both does and doesn’t want to go is because she hasn’t seen her twin sister in ten years, and the thing that put a rift between them was the fact that at a certain point in the past, it became clear that Tabitha was magic, and Ivy, the private investigator, was not.
ANNE: And I mean, Ivy’s jealous and her sister got to go live this life where she studies theoretical magic. And Gailey doesn’t really get into how the magic works. She’s not a magician. She doesn’t really understand, and it turns out a lot of the magicians don’t either. But when she goes into this school, and the reason the murder is so gruesome, like the poor woman is split in half is because it was done by a magical spell. [KENDRA LAUGHS]
So you have this noir detective procedural but it’s set at a school of magic. And the magic is really subtle and Gailey says, right up front at the beginning of the book through the voices of their characters, you know, at first when they first arrived on campus, they make all these jokes about pumpkin juice and there’s some other very deliberate Harry Potter reference, but it’s not like that. It’s just an ordinary school except that it’s really, really not.
Tabitha studies theoretical magic and there’s a conversation about what that is right at the beginning of the book that really frames things for Ivy. This character says it’s like sticking your hand into a black box that may or may not have cobras in it. [KENDRA LAUGHS] And the investigator, Ivy, is like oh my gosh, that is the best description of magic I’ve ever heard. And there’s a little bit of a backstory to Tabitha discovering she’s magic. What happened was she didn’t like some kid, early on, like in fifth grade and so she was turning her markers into noodles or something like that. [KENDRA LAUGHS] And the teacher noticed, and the teacher was magic and so the teacher recognized what was happening, but there’s a little bit of discussion about how many kids are magic but they have no idea or it’s really scary for a long time because there’s nobody magic in their life to point it out to them.
So Ivy has gone her whole life not feeling special, and then she’s plunged into her sister’s special world which it turns out it’s just a school. It’s pretty ordinary in a lot of ways. But then on the other hand there are students walking around who have been raised to believe they’re the Chosen One because there was a prophecy about them generations ago, and they know. They - they’re just the Chosen One. That’s capitalized too, just like the Department of Magical Youth.
ANNE: So it’s a crime novel yeah, and it’s set in a school of magic also. But what is really fun about this story for an English major is that Gailey is playing with like a family saga but also magic teens and the noir novel. If you’ve read any books in those genres, you know they have certain conventions. It’s so fun to read as a reader because not only do you get to read the story in front of you, but you get to see how she’s subtly turning the genres in really fun ways.
And of course it’s called Magic for Liars, so you know these sisters have a complex relationship and it’s not all going to be straightforward and simple to figure out how this woman got split in half in a library. [KENDRA LAUGHS] Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, how does that sound to you?
KENDRA: That sounds so intriguing to me. It reminds me a little bit, well it was kinda what I was saying before about how you could start with a set up, but you could take it in so many directions based on tone, based on one particular character, you could, you know, there’s so many things you could do. It reminds me a little of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.
ANNE: Have I read that one?
KENDRA: It just came out.
ANNE: That book is on my shelf.
KENDRA: But it happens on a university, there’s some magic. It skews a little bit more like witchcraft, like figuring out spells and stuff as opposed to like maybe you have like this inner thing in your marrow where you yourself are magic, like you can learn magic more. Yeah, there’s, like, stuff that is happening on this campus and there’s actually a group in the Ninth House, the people in the Ninth House are sorta like magic police, for these other underground groups of student on this university that are doing different kinds of magic. And I loved that book. Even just the set up feeling, like the hair, a hair the same, kinda like the same universe feels very very exciting. And one is magic and one is not? And then you have a murder investigation? It’s like so many boxes, Anne. It sounds fantastic.
ANNE: I think it nestles in well with the books that have really worked for you.
ANNE: And I really hope that one does.
KENDRA: It sounds like it will. And I still get another one! I’m so excited.
ANNE: You get another one. You said that you liked dark fairytales, we’re not actually going that direction. But I just want to point out that more books that I’ve talked about all the time fit that descriptor really well, like Girl Serpent Thorne by Melissa Bashardoust. You’ll see it. And also I don’t know how you feel about The Dutch House because that is a grown up fairytale.
KENDRA: I have I think three Ann Patchett novels on my shelf and I have not read any of them, which just feels wrong.
ANNE: Well funny you should say that because I’m looking at a list of books on your shelf that you sent me, books on your shelf that you haven’t read and you wondered if maybe we could pluck one of these.
ANNE: So there’s some great books on here that I think you are going to really enjoy because of right now where you are today you are looking for those books that are a little more exuberant and we did that with The House in the Cerulean Sea. I think Magic for Liars is fun, but it’s not joyful. But oh, I noticed that you had Less by Andrew Sean Greer on there.
A: And I think that could maybe be the right book for your reading mix right now.
KENDRA: Oh, fun! Tell me more because I don’t remember why it’s there. [BOTH LAUGH] Why it’s on my shelf.
ANNE: Well it won the Pulitzer which was really huge news because it’s a funny novel and comedy doesn’t win prizes, which is sad, but true and something that a lot of readers have pushed against. Well, not just readers. Writers also. Like, can’t funny be good? It’s too easy to think that books that are sad and serious are necessarily well done and important and Less is a really funny novel.
KENDRA: I agree with you. I wish that more books that had humor and lightness alongside whatever else got more accolades, so that’s really cool that Less is funny and also, like, won the Pulitzer. That’s so great.
ANNE: But there’s something you should know, so I described it as funny and that’s because I remembered the ending which was wonderful and also made me want to go back and read the book again from the beginning because at the end something is revealed that had been there the whole time. I just didn’t know it. And I don't think you’re going to know it either. And so when you find out what it is, you realize you can go back and you’ll read it in a different way the second time.
KENDRA: Endings, Anne, I learned this from you as well, are so important to me and I had no idea. If a book ends poorly, like you recommended on my last … In the last episode Before the Fall, I loved every page until the last four pages and then I legit threw the book at the wall. I was so angry at the ending of that book. It ruined the whole thing … Like I was so upset, which some people like an ending that surprises them or is like, oh, I didn’t see that coming and it doesn’t do anything to the reading experience, but there is something about me. If a book has an ending that is unsatisfying, which nobody but me knows that. You know, like everybody is satisfied by different kinds of endings, but it is nice to hear you say that the ending made you want to reread it again. That’s a good ending if you’re like ahh, I gotta go back.
ANNE: I thought this ending was great and I really hope you agree. So I said that Less is funny and it is, but it’s not just funny. Actually parts of it are quite sad and Andrew Sean Greer has said that originally he’d envisioned the book being something very different because he was in a sad place when he wrote it and he wanted to write about serious things either before or during the writing process. He decided, you know, I’m going to take the way I was looking at the story and I'm just going to tweak it a little bit and make it a little more extreme.
So the book is about a man whose name is Arthur Less and if you think perhaps you are in for nonstop puns on a name Less, you are absolutely right. [KENDRA LAUGHS] Arthur Less is a gay writer. He’s approaching 50. He doesn’t want to be 50. The love of his life is about to get married to another man. His publisher has rejected his latest manuscript, and not just like said improve it a little, I mean, just like scathing rejection. Everything is going wrong. He is miserable and he decides You know he could just sit at home and mope or he could make it look to his ex like he's having the time of his life.
So he accepts every invitation that came in. Some of those are professional, like, he’s going to interview somebody who’s done better than he has professionally. He’s going to go France and Italy and Morocco, and Ber … He just goes all over the world doing all these things that he should have said no to except he just wants to be like well look at me going on with my sexy exotic life without you, except he’s miserable the whole time.
And of course because of the way Greer chose to write this, anything that could possibly go wrong, not only goes wrong, but goes like big and dramatically wrong. Like a stray dog eats his suit. [KENDRA LAUGHS] Like just really, really bad.
KENDRA: I can just see ... and I don’t even know this guy yet. I can just see him standing in the street watching this dog like … Oh, I love it. I love it.
ANNE: It’s so bad it’s good. Andrew Sean Greer said that … He’s also a gay writer, so he said he knew what he was writing about and the way he chose to portray the incidence, you know, not just a subtle publisher rejection but set your manuscript on fire in front of you, which doesn’t actually happen but it’s awfully close, poor Arthur Less because it’s so terrible, that it starts to become funny.
But what’s fun in this story is you know the whole time that the voice of the novel is really interesting and you’re not sure who’s telling it ‘cause it’s not Arthur Less and it didn’t occur to me for a long time to even wonder who’s telling this book? But I knew I really liked the way it was being told and the voice of it because, like as we said, the tone changes the way you experience the story, which is why I think it might be good for you because the tone makes it fun. And at the end of the book you find out who’s telling the story.
ANNE: And it changes things.
KENDRA: I can’t wait! I cannot wait to read this. I don’t know why I got it in the first place, but I’m just so glad I did.
ANNE: So we talked about The House In the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune, Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, and Less by Andrew Sean Greer, which is conveniently on your shelves right now.
KENDRA: It is, so that is definitely what I’ll read next, but I’m going to immediately, like, figure out how quickly I can do curbside pickup at my library if the other two are there. I mean, I just can’t wait. I feel … I feel the energy. I’m very like a visceral body person, and I feel so much energy streaming through my bones right now because I … And I haven’t felt this way about reading in a couple months. likeI just sorta lose that energy and you gave it back to me, Anne. I’m so thankful.
ANNE: Kendra, this has been a joy. Thank you so much.
KENDRA: Oh, you’re such a genius. Thank you for being my Yoda.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Thanks for talking books with me.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Kendra, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/245 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today plus our episode transcript. I’m so excited that Kendra’s first book is going out into the world: Learn more at thelazygeniuscollective.com or find her book The Lazy Genius Way wherever you get your books.
Readers, tell me all about what you’ve been reading on twitter. You can find me there @AnneBogel. That is Anne with an E, B as in books -O-G-E-L. You can also tag us on instagram @annebogel or @whatshouldireadnext.
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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 Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
• Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
• The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
• A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
♥ The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
♥ Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
♥ The Night Country by Melissa Albert
• The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
▵ The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
• The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah
• The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
• The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
• Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
• Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
• Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
• Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
• The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
• The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett
• Less by Andrew Sean Greer
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What do YOU think Kendra should read next?
Let us know in the comments!