We all have our quirks when it comes to reading. Whether you have a compulsion to finish every series you start, or fall into the habit of rereading your favorite books over and over again, I’m here to affirm your reading choices – or help you make changes to develop a more satisfying reading life. Today I’m talking with Jennifer Cordeiro, who lives in Bermuda, a small island with two bookstores and one library. Jennifer has encountered her fair share of #bookwormproblems, both in her own reading life and in her job at her small island bookstore where hurricanes, tourism, shipping dilemmas, and special orders mean you never know which books you’ll see on the shelves.
Fortunately, Jennifer is a mood reader and enjoys the serendipity of finding an eye-catching cover to take home. Her personal bookshelves are currently overstuffed with more than ONE THOUSAND unread titles, and today my job is to help Jennifer choose what to read next—and if one of those titles is already in her home library, so much the better. Plus, we talk about the occupational hazards of working in a bookstore, the joys of mood reading, and a surprising hometown connection.
Let’s get to it!
Our Fall Book Preview is coming up on September 1! Join us live when I share 42 (get it?) of this season’s eagerly-anticipated new releases, featuring a mix of titles I’ve read and loved, titles I can’t wait to read, and titles the book industry is abuzz about for the season to come. This year for the first time you’ll also get the companion Fall Book Preview magazine. This event and companion magazine are exclusively for our MMD Book Club members and WSIRN Patreon “Book Lover” members. If you’re not already a WSIRN member, now is a great time to join. Click here to find out more.
JENNIFER: I thought it was gonna be like an alien-esque, historical whodunit with a western flare. But it’s a World War II book about mules. [ANNE LAUGHS] Which is not what I expected.
ANNE: I didn’t see that coming.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] No, nor did I.
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 248.
Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?
We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading, and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.
Readers, I hope you heard me mention our upcoming Fall Book Preview. This is a live event we’re doing for members of our What Should I Read Next patreon community where we’ll take a look at 42 of the upcoming releases this season, including books I’ve read and loved, books I can’t wait to read, and books the publishing industry is buzzing about.
This is your last chance to join us. The Fall Book Preview is next Tuesday, September 1st, so head over to Patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext and become a member today. You’ll get access to all of our past bonus episodes, printables like our bonus booklist and episode highlight reels, and of course you’ll get to join us on September 1st for the Fall Book Preview and you’ll get our Fall Book Preview magazine.
I can’t wait to share these books with you and hope you’ll join us then. Go to patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext to sign up now.
Readers, we all have our quirks when it comes to reading. Whether you have a compulsion to finish every series you start or fall into the habit of rereading your favorite books over and over again, I’m here to affirm your reading choices. Or to help you make changes to develop a more satisfied reading life.
Today I’m talking with Jennifer Cordero, who lives in Bermuda, a small island with two bookstores and one library. Jennifer has encountered her fair share of bookworm problems, both in her own reading life and in her job at her small island bookstore, where hurricanes, tourism, and shipping dilemmas and special orders mean you never know which books you’ll find on the shelves. Fortunately, Jennifer is a mood reader and enjoys the serendipity of finding an eye catching cover to take home with her.
Her personal bookshelves are currently overstuffed with more than one thousand unread titles, and today my job is to help Jen choose what to read next and if one of those titles is already in her home library, so much the better. Plus we talk about the occupational hazards of working in a bookstore, the joys of mood reading, and a surprising hometown connection.
Be sure to visit the show notes page to see the full list of books discussed today. That’s at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/248. We’ve got a transcript available there as well if that is helpful to you.
Let’s get to it. Jen, welcome to the show.
JENNIFER: Hi, thanks. I’m so excited to be here.
ANNE: Thank you for spending your birthday week [JENNIFER LAUGHS] talking books with me for the podcast.
JENNIFER: It’s a pretty awesome birthday gift I have to say.
ANNE: You know you’re in the right community when what you want to do for your, you know, your special birthday time is just bring on the book talk.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] Yes. I’m in heaven.
ANNE: I’m glad it worked out this way. Okay, so we first connected with you when we put out a call to our Patreon community members and said hey, times are strange. Many of us are reading from our shelves at home ‘cause we’re having a harder time getting books. You responded to that call, thank you, and described your … Well, where I sit in Louisville, Kentucky, your living and reading situation sounds delightful and exotic. Would you tell our listeners a little bit about where you are, what you do?
JENNIFER: Oh, well, I live in Bermuda. I was born and raised here and spent about eight years in the U.S., and then came home. And currently my main job is working in one of our local bookstores. Which is funny because our two bookstores and our library are within spitting distance of each other, which seems a little silly on a 24 square mile island, but that’s how it is.
So yeah, that’s my main job. I also have a little dog bathing business, and I make greeting cards, and sometimes I work at a veterinary hospital at their reception desk. I’m a bit of a hustler.
ANNE: What do you do at the bookstore?
JENNIFER: Just salesperson. There’s only four of us. The two girls who own the store are actually sisters and I went to school with them. So when I was looking for a part-time gig at the end of 2018, I went in and sorta said, you guys have anything happening? And they were like, actually yes. So it worked out perfectly. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So what’s your bookstore like in Bermuda? And I imagine there’s what it’s typically like ‘cause you’ve been working there a while and what it’s like right now with the cruise ships not coming through.
JENNIFER: First of all, it’s tiny. It’s been there for about 75 years.
ANNE: Oh wow.
JENNIFER: So I remember going there when I was a kid. Back then it was about three times the size it is now, but it’s been subdivided over the years. So now it’s about 850 sq feet, and it’s one of those bookstores that you literally don’t know what you’re going to stumble over and find. It’s just a little treasure chest of books.
So normally we do a pretty boring special orders business because clearly we don’t have a lot of room for stock. And then the summer especially we have, we see a lot of the tourists, our Bermuda book section does well and then also … Actually last year we found out a lot of the new cruise ships are not putting libraries onto the boat, so we had a ton of tourists ...
JENNIFER: Yeah, I know! But great for us because our tourists came in to see us. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: What a great souvenir.
ANNE: I would love to hear an example of a title from your Bermuda book section.
JENNIFER: Well, let’s see, I’m trying to think, what are the big sellers? I mean, we have beautiful coffee table books …
ANNE: Oh I bet.
JENNIFER: ... Which are all sorta specific history, you know, there’s one about maps. Actually, an amazing one just came out last year about during World War II, the mail used to come through here and be sorted through and checked, you know, for any nefarious goings on within the mail, so we were very involved with that. You know, just a beautiful … Picture books. We do have a small local fiction section. And then just again, your birds, your fish, your ship books. [LAUGHS] Your basic Bermuda things. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Now tell me about how you come to have a store where you literally don’t know what you’re going to stumble upon. How do you all stock the shelves?
JENNIFER: Hannah and Miriam, who own it, have really honed over the years or curated what our customers want. We have a very, very loyal customer base. So a lot of what we chose is kinda based on what we know people like, what we sold a lot of. We also stay on top of what’s coming. What’s new and exciting. We … Last year, I got to go to Book Expo in New York, which was amazing. [ANNE GASPS] And Hannah, you know, has been to the one in London. We stay on top of all of that.
But really like I said, it’s funny because a lot of our business is special orders, so people will come in and say, can you get XYZ, and other customers will come just to look at the special order shelf to see what other people have bought and get ideas from that. So it’s kinda fun. You never know what you’re going to find.
ANNE: Oh, that’s fascinating. Now I can’t resist asking. You spent time in the United States. You’re born and bred Bermudian, but you did spend time in the United States in some of the, you know, places you might suspect like New York and Chicago, but also Louisville, and I am so curious because that’s where I am.
JENNIFER: Well my degree in college is actually theater design with a specialization in stage management. So I was lucky enough to get an internship at Actors Theater of Louisville.
ANNE: Oh. Oh, that’s wonderful.
JENNIFER: Which was a huge, huge deal. I was very lucky. So I spent a year interning and then I … They kept me on once I got my union card, and kept me on for a year to work. So I was there from ’97 - ’99. It was pretty cool.
ANNE: I was born and raised here and I always thought I’m never going to live here as an adult. [JENNIFER LAUGHS] And I remember hearing when I was in, I don’t know, I was probably 15 and I was working with someone who was in their probably early 20s, they’d come to Louisville on purpose for another bigger city, and I just didn’t understand.
I was like, explain to me why you've chosen Louisville ‘cause I imagine many kids growing up in their hometown think, like, I gotta get out to where the grass is greener. And he was like, it’s 20 minutes to the airport. 20 minutes downtown. And for a city this size, the arts community is amazing. And I was like, whatever dude.
JENNIFER: It really is.
ANNE: Yeah, but then I grew up [JENNIFER LAUGHS] and here I am, and that’s one of the reasons why.
JENNIFER: Well it’s the same here. When I graduated high school, I said I am never coming back to this rock. I am done with it. [ANNE LAUGHS] I went to school in New York then I went to Louisville and then I went to Chicago, back to New York, and then I was like, I think it’s time to go home now. I’ve done my eight years. I think you have to leave where you’re from to really truly appreciate it sometimes.
ANNE: So what compelled you to go back to the rock, Jen?
JENNIFER: I was kinda falling out of love with theater work and feeling a little bit lost, not sure what I wanted to do. So I thought I would come home and just reset and figure out what I was going to do from there. And then I stayed.
ANNE: How long has it been?
JENNIFER: I came back in 2000, so 20 years. Still trying to figure out what exactly I want to be when I grow up, but I’ll get there eventually.
ANNE: Well it gives you a good reason to read broadly, right?
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] This is true.
ANNE: Jen, you mentioned you encounter a fair number of small island book struggles. Would you tell me a little bit what that’s like? What challenges do you face in the book business, or as a reader curating her reading life that might be foreign to those in more populated [JENNIFER LAUGHS] less ocean bound areas.
JENNIFER: Well our biggest issue is getting the books to the island and then even once they’re here, getting them to the store. You know, we have to contend with weather. You know, if there’s a hurricane here or a snowstorm in the U.S., that can slow down the shipping process. COVID-19, that’s also a problem.
This past week actually we’ve had a problem that an order got into the island last week but there’s a mystery box in it that nobody can identify. It’s not ours. It’s obviously gotten mixed in with our boxes, but until it can be figured out what it is, we can’t get our boxes. And now we’re told we won’t get them until next week because this weekend we have a four day public holiday. These people who wanted their books for the holiday, and we can’t get a hold of them even though they’re just down the road on the dock.
JENNIFER: Oh yes. [LAUGHS] We also have a price issue, especially with the tourists. ‘Cause obviously everything that gets imported, it’s going to be more expensive, so even though, like, we sell American hardcover books at cover price, that still seems like too much money to people who are used to going to Costco or Amazon where things are so deeply discounted.
But on a positive side, we also get books from the U.K., so we’ll get books here before you can get them in the U.S. or we can get, you know, different cover versions and things like that, so that’s fun. We have that option as well, which is nice.
ANNE: All right, I’m ready to come shopping.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] Anytime.
ANNE: Despite these buying hassles, you have managed to cumulate, what, 1500 books on your unread shelf, owned but not read?
JENNIFER: Yes and they’ve moved around a lot. Like East of Eden I bought in Louisville in 1998 at the Barnes and Noble in Shelbyville and I just read it last year. So it moved from Louisville to New York to Chicago to Bermuda. My books are well travelled.
ANNE: I know. I’m a little jealous of your copy of East of Eden. [JENNIFER LAUGHS] Jen, I want to read you something from almost three years ago. You sent in a submission to be on the show, and readers, this is a good time to say Jen filled out the form at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/guest and we read 99.2% and think oh my gosh, I want to have them on the show immediately, and we only put out one episode a week. Here’s what you referenced then.
“I’m currently on a strict budget which means instead of buying books by the armload, I’m actually reading from the 1300+ books I’ve accumulated over the last 20 years. I’ve always acquired books a lot faster than I read them, which means I have plenty to choose from at the moment.” So...
ANNE: Now you’ve added 200 books.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] I don’t know how that happened.
ANNE: In three years. [LAUGHS]
JENNIFER: I partly blame the bookstore because thanks to the bookstore, I’ve been introduced to ARCs.
ANNE: Oh my gosh. Okay. For those that don’t know, tell us what those are and why that would be such an occupational hazard for you.
JENNIFER: ARCs are Advanced reading copies that get sent out to, you know, bookstores and reviewers and everybody a few months ahead of a book being released. I guess the idea is we read them, decide if we want them for the store, that kind of thing. When I first got this job, my husband was like, I don’t really think this is a good idea. I think you’re going to bring home books and not money.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] He sounds like a smart man.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] And the very first day I brought home a stack of ARCs and he said, see! I told you! It’s happening already.
ANNE: Well at least you didn’t pay for that stack of books. That is something.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] Wow I can’t believe... I hadn’t forgotten I’d sent that in with the 1300 books three years ago.
ANNE: 1300 books, mmhmm, this is a moment in time and the numbers are going up and not down.
JENNIFER: Yeah, I think that’s going to happen forever.
ANNE: I know. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing exactly, but you know, it doesn’t matter how I feel about it. How do you feel about all these books on your unread shelf?
JENNIFER: Well I feel that COVID-19 made me write. I mean, we were locked down for a month. Thank God I had 1500 books.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] And how many of them did you read? What percentage?
JENNIFER: What percentage? Oh, I think that’s a .0% [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Well that’s what happens when the numbers are that big.
JENNIFER: And I may have accidentally acquired more somehow during lockdown, although I’m not sure how exactly that happened, but we just roll with it.
ANNE: Now some people look at 1500 books on their shelves, actually I’m trying to visualize 1500 books.
JENNIFER: There’s three different sets of bookshelves. And they’re all very pretty except two of the shelves have to be double stacked. There’s a row in front and behind. ‘Cause I was running out of room, and that distresses me because I can’t see them all.
ANNE: I relate to that. Mmhmm. [JENNIFER LAUGHS] Okay, so aside from the double shelving, readers could either feel some stress about that or they could feel that they are amply supplied. What a wonderful feeling.
JENNIFER: It is a wonderful feeling. You have to have what you need for the mood at the time and you never know what that’s going to be, so plenty of options is important.
ANNE: Plenty of options is important. Okay. And yet today we are choosing from your unread shelf and not new releases that might be coming into the store, right? Not feeling wobbly about that?
JENNIFER: No, I’m all good with that. Who was it, was it Dan? Dan was on an episode couple … Episode 242, Danny, he said that he’s trying to alternate new books with ones on his shelf, so that’s what I’m trying to do also. I think that’s a good way of doing it.
ANNE: So right now how are you choosing what to read next, Jen?
JENNIFER: Despite what I always say about oh, I’m going to try to alternate this set and the other, it just ends up by mood. I literally walk along the shelf and something will jump out at me and that is what I read. Might be the cover, it might just be I maybe heard about it recently. It’s a mood thing. There’s no rhyme or reason really.
ANNE: Okay. How’s that working for you?
JENNIFER: It’s good. I’ve had a few hits, a few misses. But yeah, I like it because it still seems to be new stuff mixed with the old stuff so I feel like I am accomplishing something when I do that.
ANNE: Okay. So right now you did a count. You have 1507 books …
ANNE: And of those, you have read 322. That is 21%.
JENNIFER: Yes. Almost at 25. That’ll be a milestone. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Is that a goal or just something that you’re noticing?
JENNIFER: I just noticed but I thought that’d be a nice round number to get up to, 25% would be good.
ANNE: Okay. So today I have a list of books on your shelf and we’re going to choose from them to decide what to read next.
JENNIFER: Okay. Sounds exciting.
ANNE: What if there’s a new release I think you’d really like a ton?
JENNIFER: I think you definitely need to tell me. [ANNE LAUGHS] It would be wrong of you not to.
ANNE: That was purely, like, hypothetical at this point. I was just curious what you’d say. [JENNIFER LAUGHS]
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ANNE: So Jen, you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t, and what you’ve been reading lately and we’ll talk about what you may enjoy reading next that you have already chosen for yourself at some point in time. I’d loved to hear how you chose the books that we’re going to talk about today. How did you choose your favorites and not favorite?
JENNIFER: Well the not favorite was the easiest because ...
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I see the all caps hate on your sheet here.
JENNIFER: Yes. [LAUGHS] It traumatized me. The books I love though, I actually tried to go for books that perhaps haven’t been talked about on the show before because a lot of things I loved are I think other people have loved too and they’ve had their moment in the sun. So I tried to go outside the box a little bit with some of my others.
ANNE: Well let’s dive in. Tell me about the first book you love.
JENNIFER: Okay, so the first book I chose is The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. And that’s a book I actually first read in school and I think it was the first time I was really excited about a book. You know, it wasn’t one of the usual dead and dusty authors that we had to read. It was very different. It was kinda dystopian novel. So it felt exciting.
It takes place post-nuclear war in a society that has reverted really to puritanism. And anyone who deviates from what they call the true form must be destroyed. And that’s people, plants, animals. So the main character David, turns out he has telepathic abilities, as do some of his friends. And this of course makes them targets because that deviates from the true from. They begin to hear about another society with more open ideas, so they decide to try to find them.
I think I really like a book about gusty kids. I was a bit wimpy when I was a child, so I kinda lived through these kids just went out in the world and fought for what they needed to fight for and were brave and did what they had to do to get through life. And also this book made me think of episode 233 with Hanan and she said she stole her copy of The Scarlet Letter from school.
ANNE: [GASPS] Uh oh.
JENNIFER: I also stole The Chrysalids. I was real goody two shoes so clearly I loved this book if I stole it from school. I still have that copy. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, good. That’s one of your 1507 titles.
JENNIFER: Yes it is. I actually reread it during lockdown just to confirm that actually yes, I still love it and I do.
ANNE: Oh nice.
ANNE: Do you keep your read books separate from the ones you’re still contemplating reading?
JENNIFER: No, no, they mix together happily.
ANNE: Jen, how nerdy do we want to be?
JENNIFER: Nerdy is awesome. Let’s go for it.
ANNE: All right. Something that I like that we have Wyndham to thank for indirectly is that he’s responsible for the coining of the phrase “cozy catastrophe.” He didn’t coin this phrase himself, but another author did talking about his work and I just - I just love cozy catastrophe. It makes me happy.
JENNIFER: I never heard that.
ANNE: Oh, yeah? Okay. So when you’re talking about a cozy catastrophe, you’re talking about an end of the world story but it’s not one that ends in like a bang, boom, crash. In a cozy catastrophe, it’s more about the survivors and the aftermath.
Gutsy kids are not, I’m sorry to say, necessarily applied here, although they could be because in a cozy catastrophe, the catastrophe isn’t the point of the story. It’s not the thing that’s holding over. The story’s about the people who survive and they’re typically lower class. They typically haven’t lost the key people in their life. The working classes are wiped out, so what you have is a story about the survivors wandering around an empty city regretting the lost world and kinda moving forward.
JENNIFER: Yeah it doesn’t really say exactly what happened. Just sorta hints at what the catastrophe was. And yeah, everyone’s just kinda in a stage of rebuilding the world.
ANNE: Yes. That’s the focus. So The Chrysalids was written in the ‘50s. The author who coined this phrase was not a fan. Like he thought cozy catastrophes were super formulaic. And if you’re thinking now, oh I’m imaging a Station Eleven, no, ‘cause they’re like regretting their lost events and they remember the people they lost and they wish that they could have Shakespeare on stage again even though they have their little traveling band. So that’s like kinda along the same lines, but this was a criticism.
JENNIFER: Interesting. Yeah ‘cause these guys don’t remember. Like David, this is just his normal. They moved that far past the event, so what’s going on in this book is he’s kinda, they’re kinda starting to hear bits and pieces about how it might have been before and they’re a few generations past the event.
ANNE: Interesting. Alright. So that’s The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. All right, Jen, tell me about book two.
JENNIFER: All right, so my second choice was The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost. I actually think I might have gotten this in the bookstore that I now work in. But it is a hilarious memoir about a guy and his girlfriend who move to a teeny, tiny little island in the south pacific. And so she moves there for work and he tags along, imagining a life of writer luxuriating in paradise, but it’s not exactly how it turns out.
So some of his experiences were pretty spot on in terms of island life, but they’re a little worse off than us here because at least we have electricity and coffee, which was often not the case where he was. [LAUGHS] But I just thought his insights into the differences in the way island life works. There’s … nobody in a rush to do anything. Things will happen when they happen. We will get things when we get things. You just have to roll with it. Otherwise you will lose your mind.
And after a period of time he figures out how to just roll with it, and I found out there’s actually two more books about his time out there so I’m going to have to track those down and add them to my 1507. [ANNE LAUGHS] So yeah, that one I loved just for the laughs and we keep selling out of it in the store still, so it’s a good one.
ANNE: Ooh. Is that ‘cause people are, it’s catching their eye? Or is that because you’re like, I’ve got a book for you?
JENNIFER: Yes, I’m like you must read this. It’s brilliant. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. That was The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost.
JENNIFER: Yes. And I’m have to say, the title doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with the book. Some people kinda go, eh, I don’t know how I feel about that but ignore the title. Read the book.
ANNE: Definitely noted. All right, Jen, the time has come. You know I have to ask you what the other one is too because we’re going to get a zillion emails and messages saying what was she going to pick? So okay what’s the runner up. Tell us that first.
JENNIFER: All right. The runner up is The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.
JENNIFER: And it’s only the runner up because I had only put a dystopian book on my list and I didn’t want to be dystopian heavy.
ANNE: Were you surprised to notice that?
JENNIFER: Yes. I didn’t even think about it until after I had written, you know, my first three choices, and then I went oh. Because I never would have described myself as a dystopian kinda gal. I’m not really into sci-fi or fantasy or any of that, so I wouldn’t have pegged myself as that. But now that I think about it, there are more.
ANNE: So readers, The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, honorary favorite adjacent conclusion.
ANNE: All right, Jen, now tell us about book three.
JENNIFER: All right. So book three is The Midnight Cool by Lydia Peelle. I have this weird thing with the books on my shelf. If I’m going to pick something off my shelf, I literally get by the cover. I’m not allowed to read the back to remind myself what it’s about. It’s a weird little game I play. So when I pulled this off the shelf, I looked at the cover. I thought it was gonna be like an alien-esque, historical whodunit with a western flare. But it’s a World War II book about mules. [ANNE LAUGHS] Which is not what I expected.
ANNE: I didn’t see that coming. [BOTH LAUGH]
JENNIFER: No, nor did I. But it takes place mostly in 1916, 1917, you know leading up to America joining World War I. There are a few different plot lines that revolve around Billy and his horse trading partner, Charles. There’s a love story, a business story, and some backstory and how they get involved with the mule trade and also the love story deals with class issues, which is often tragic.
But the animal angle is probably what caught my attention initially about the book because that’s my thing. I will buy a book because it has a dog on the cover or the word dog in the cover or anything animal related, so that’s probably why I bought it to begin with. And I never realized how important mules were to World War II, so it was interesting to learn about that as well to read this fascinating story.
ANNE: Okay. Okay. So that is The Midnight Cool. All right, now Jen, you said it was incredibly easy to choose a book that you, in your own words, hated. Tell me about it.
JENNIFER: So this was one of the books I bought because it had these beautiful drawings of these dogs on the cover, and the book was called 15 Dogs by André Alexis.
ANNE: Wait, that sounds perfect for you.
JENNIFER: Yes, but it went horribly wrong. This man is a sadist. [ANNE LAUGHS] The book begins oddly enough with a conversation between the Gods, Apollo and Hermes, who are sitting in a bar in Toronto. They make a wager. Apollo says that any animal with human intelligence would be even more unhappy than humans. And Hermes says, well, let’s give some intelligence to these animals and if at the end of its life, even one of them is happy, then I win this bet. They just so happen to be near a veterinary hospital at the time, so they give the 15 dogs who are inside human intelligence while they also keep their memories.
I was bawling by page seven and it only got worse from there. I mean obviously if one of these dogs dies happy at the beginning of the book, then it’s over. So instead it’s just page after page of trauma and misery. And to be honest, whether the last dog dies happy is debatable in my opinion. So it just seemed a pointless book to me. Just mean, mean, mean.
ANNE: No bad things happening to dogs please.
JENNIFER: Well, no, that’s not the case because if it’s part of the story …
JENNIFER: You know, in The Midnight Cool there’s definitely some animal cruelty happening in the early 1900s with these mules and other animals. But it is a part of the lives and the history and what was happening at the time.
This just seems frivolous. There’s no point to it. It’s just how can we make these creatures as miserable as possible? It just didn’t fit for me. You know, Marley and Me, great story. Happy, happy, happy. Spoiler: he dies at the end because he’s old, yeah, I’m sad cause he died, but he was an old dog with a great life. That’s fine. Just don’t torment them and kill them for no good reason, which is how I felt about 15 Dogs.
ANNE: I mean, you gotta know these things about your reading life.
JENNIFER: Yes, and now my boss is sometimes afraid. She’ll be like, oh I don’t think you should read this. I think there’s something that happens to the mouse or something. [LAUGHS] She gets worried for me.
ANNE: Jen, what have you been reading lately?
JENNIFER: So the main one that we’re super, I’m super excited about, is Filthy Beasts which is by Kirkland Hamill, who is actually a Bermudian, and he spent part of his youth here on the island. So this is a memoir that mostly focuses on his relationship with his alcoholic mother. So it’s heartbreaking, but also very funny and I think it made it onto the Indie Next List for July which was super exciting for us. Highly recommend that memoir.
I just finished the other night Golden Child by Claire Adam. And I heard quite a bit of buzz about that going into 2019, but then I didn’t hear much about it after that. But it’s a family story where they have to make a very traumatic choice about their two twin boys. So that’s a tough one.
ANNE: What did you think? Because I was really excited about that because that’s from the same new imprint that published A Place For Us, which I adored. I set myself up to be disappointed. I was hoping for not more of the same, but I was hoping for that same kind of emotional resonance, like the specific kind I felt reading the book. I have not yet finished Golden Child. But what did you think?
JENNIFER: It’s really hard. Not being a parent, I imagine it’s probably harder for people who are. I can’t even have to imagine having to make this kind of choice in your life. I mean I’ve … I liked again related to the island part of it. Takes place in Trinidad, so I enjoyed that side of it, but yeah, yeah, don’t read this if you’re having a bad day. It’s a tough one.
ANNE: Duly noted. All right, Jen, what are you looking for in your reading life right now?
JENNIFER: Partly I need to get on with all these books that are on the shelves. So I really need to push towards that. Also actually, not just because I would like to get through them, I feel like I need to catch up on some back list stuff when it comes to helping readers find books in the store. You know, it’s easy enough to point to the new and shiny books that everyone’s already heard of and say, “oh, yeah, this is great. Read this. Read this.” But it’s fun to be able to delve into some of the older titles and introduce people you know to the backlist of an author that you’re enjoying now or a whole new author.
Emily St. John Mandel we have now got fully stocked in our store because thanks to you, I became obsessed with her. [ANNE LAUGHS] You know, and most people have heard of Station Eleven, so it’s been really fun introducing people to her older books. And she anyway is amazing. Have you seen her Instagram account?
JENNIFER: Her bio on it, and I love this. It made me love her even more. Her bio just says “St. John’s my middle name. The books go under M.” [ANNE LAUGHS] Which as a bookstore person, I totally appreciate. [LAUGHS] Yeah, I feel like if I can catch up on some of these books on my shelves, I’ll be a little more well rounded when it comes to helping people find you know, new things to read.
ANNE: Okay. We’re choosing from your list.
ANNE: All right, here’s what we’re working with. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, the first time you’re really excited about reading a book for school. The Sex Lives of Cannibalis by J. Maarten Troost, funny and surprising. And The Midnight Cool by Lydia Peelle. Not for you, 15 Dogs by André Alexis, and you’re a mood reader. I’m looking at a list of some of the titles on your shelf and it’s clear that you read widely, which is great for me ‘cause I don’t feel like there’s a way to go wrong but it’s bad for me because you gotta decide somehow.
Okay, listeners, to give the reader an idea of what we’re looking at, I like that you broke it down into fiction and nonfiction, Jen, and these lists are not the same length.
JENNIFER: Yeah, I think there’s 20 on each list I think.
ANNE: Okay. And we’ve got everything like we’re going back to Sebastian Faulks, Arthur Hailey …
JENNIFER: Yeah, we’re all over the place with this one. Oliver Sacks. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: But then we also have some pretty new releases like from Alice McDermott, Elinor Lipman, Chris Bohjalian.
JENNIFER: I think I actually tried to keep it books that were at least ten years old, I think. So I could really get my backlist.
ANNE: And then for nonfiction, some old stuff, some new stuff. We’ve got a Barbara Kingsolver book I’ve never heard of, High Tide in Tucson.
JENNIFER: Yes, that was the first one I ever heard, and I know exactly where I found it. It was in New York at a Barnes and Noble up on 80 something street and I stumbled in there one day because it was hot outside and I found this book and just sat down and started reading it.
ANNE: And then apparently you stopped.
JENNIFER: Yes. [ANNE LAUGHS] I read the first chapter, I believe and bought it and brought it home and added it to my shelf and that is where it has sat.
ANNE: And what I’m noticing about this list is there’s a lot of popular history like Band of Brothers, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, there’s some Simon Winchester. And then there’s a lot of memoir and autobiographies.
JENNIFER: Yes, I do enjoy those.
ANNE: Now tell me more about this, you used the word quirk, where if you pick up a book by an author and it’s their 17th book, wait, let’s give a less extreme example … And it’s their fourth book.
JENNIFER: So I have a thing about reading authors chronologically. A current example is I picked up Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward, but then I realized at home I had How To Be Lost, which is an earlier book of hers. So I can’t read Jetsetters until I read How To Be Lost. And then that is probably why some things end up sitting and never getting read because I can’t read the new one until I read the old one and maybe I’m not in the mood for the old one so they just sit. And then I get really upset if I start reading something and I don’t realize it’s a series, thank you, Justin Cronin The Passage. [ANNE LAUGHS] Because then I’m going to have to go start all over again when they’re all out.
ANNE: Oh, yeah, that will be the plan?
JENNIFER: Oh yes. 100%.
ANNE: I mean, how do you feel about this practice? You make the rules. Does this make you happy?
JENNIFER: It stresses me out although I have to say when I do it, I enjoy watching how the writer grows. Like back to Emily St. John Mandel. You know, her first book Last Night at Montreal, not my favorite of hers. But her voice, you can see, very clearly, her voice as a new writer and then you just watch it grow with each book that comes after that, you know. I kinda enjoy that part of it but in the short term I guess it stresses me out because I’m not getting anything read.
ANNE: So you said this is a bizarre habit that you need to break but haven’t quite gotten there yet, but do you? I mean, do you really feel like you need to break it?
JENNIFER: I think I do because [LAUGHS] like I said, otherwise, things just won’t get read.
ANNE: Okay. Well today is not the day for an intervention.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] Okay.
ANNE: I’m not going to be choosing with an eye toward authors who may be established but we’re not going to choose anybody’s 37th book.
JENNIFER: That sounds good.
ANNE: But I found over the years that many readers are able to break habits that … How do I want to put this? If you do decide you know what this is a habit I want to break, think I’ve seen in other readers reading lives and in my own reading life, that by taking a practice to the extreme, it can make it easier to let it go because it no longer makes sense.
That might not make sense in the abstract, so concrete example. It’s one I’ve talked about before is I know that many people are absolutely committed to finishing a book that they have begun reading. And I used to mostly be one of those dedicated finishers. But I have so many books in my house now, I mean, you work in a bookstore and you still have this practice. But I have so many books now that I read for different purposes because it’s my job that if I finish every book I ever start, I am never going to be able to quickly find the, not even quickly, in a lifetime find the books I need for a specific purpose because by picking up a book, I’ve committed myself to finishing it before I move on.
Mel Joulwan is a past podcast guest here. She said once to me, we were just talking privately, you know, the reader in me really wanted to finish this book but the business person in me ‘cause now she has a podcast Strong Sense of Place, needed to keep reading more books about Japan, Hungary, or whatever she was working on at the time, so that I can complete the task in front of me.
So what I might do if I were you and I really did want to help myself get over this is deliberately find a book that you are really excited about reading, take advantage of one of those new releases in the bookstore or one of those advanced review copies, from an author who has a long, long backlist because if they’ve only written, like, one or two previous books, I could see how it would be easy enough to go back and want to read those first and read them in order. If you’re talking about someone who’s written 47 mysteries or, you know, somebody like an Anne Tyler, maybe it’d be easier because it seems less easy to go to your normal habit.
JENNIFER: Yeah, that does make sense.
ANNE: And it may make intellectual sense, everything in you still might be going no no no no no.
JENNIFER: Well sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone, don’t we.
ANNE: That’s true. That’s true. I imagine when you’re comfortable going outside your comfort zone in many areas of your reading life.
JENNIFER: I guess so in trying different genres and such, but I think perhaps it’s time I just put on my big girl pants and get on with it.
ANNE: But I’m not going to be bossy about it today. [JENNIFER LAUGHS]
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ANNE: All right, let’s see. Well, Jen, I live in a … Not a landlocked state. We got a river a mile from here, but it’s not the ocean, you know. So I do wonder if this is my landlocked brain wanting to recommend you island books because you’re on an island. I really hope it’s not because that feels like pretty... [BOTH LAUGH]
JENNIFER: I felt very landlocked when I lived in Louisville. I did struggle with that.
ANNE: When there’s not a coronavirus, I drive down River Rd like almost every day and I really liked being by the water and even if it is filthy, like you can’t necessarily tell that when you’re, like, not in it, which is a good thing. [JENNIFER LAUGHS] But then I moved to Chicago. I was in the suburb, there was a Joe Crab’s Shack on, like, a divided highway. I don’t like that restaurant. I’ve only been there once. I was just like, this is wrong. Where is the water? And so I can only imagine what that’s …
ANNE: If I missed the Ohio river, I mean, come on. [LAUGHS] I can only imagine
JENNIFER: Yeah, it’s very weird.
ANNE: All right, well, there is a book I was thinking of because I was trying to think about how you like these dystopian novels and gutsy kids and I don’t have a story about gutsy kids, and it’s not entirely dystopian. But there was still this novel that’s coming to mind and I have to confess I wonder if part of it is these people ended up on island and you’re on your rock and there is a similarity there [JENNIFER LAUGHS] and I’d liked to think my brain is a little more subtle than that, but I don’t … I’m not making any promises. So if this sounds awful to you, just let me know.
But the book I’m wondering about is Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge. If it was on your shelves, that would be amazing.
JENNIFER: Nope, haven’t heard of it. But I’m curious now.
ANNE: Yeah. All right. Let’s see if you’re curious for it for the right reasons. So we talked about a cozy catastrophe. This is not a cozy catastrophe because it’s not the end of the world, but it’s the end of these people’s worlds. So what happens in this book is there are two people on the same airplane that goes down. As I recall, they are the sole survivors of this plane crash that happens on a very small island in the South Pacific.
One of these people is a young woman who was on her way to her honeymoon in French Polynesia. The other is a young man who was leaving his job in the world of Manhattan money, going to the other side of the world to pursue his art. And yet their plane goes down in the South Pacific. Oh, and for whatever reason they hate each other’s guts. They end up on this island by themselves, the soul survivors of this wreck, and they have to make a new life for themselves.
It’s not the end of the world story but you can see how with this set up, life as they knew it ended and they have to start over with what they have, which is almost nothing. And I wonder if this could be a way of reading something that has elements that you know you enjoy, but also a very different story from ones you’ve picked up before. How might that sound to you?
JENNIFER: That sounds good. I do like a good survival story, and for some reason I read about a lot of plane crash books, which doesn’t bother me. So I’m down for that as well.
ANNE: I don’t mind reading them as long as I’m not on the plane.
JENNIFER: Yes. That’s a bad time.
ANNE: So I’m pursuing your list of books here, Jen, there was a title that jumped out at me by Carson McCullers. It’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and the reason this jumped out at me is because she wrote this at just the unbelievable age of 23 years old. One of the reasons this book was so astounding is because it was written by a 23 year old, it made her career. She went on to write half a dozen more plus stories and plays, but this her debut. Which means she has the nice long catalog that you don’t have to touch before you read this book, and that’s one of the reasons I like it. This is a sad book though, are you okay with that?
JENNIFER: I’m fine with that.
ANNE: Okay. I wouldn’t prescribe you a steady diet. [JENNIFER LAUGHS] So this is a story set in a southern town, and McCullers herself was also from a southern mill town, and actually there’s a character in this book, her name’s Mick. She’s a teenage girl. She dreams of, like, leaving town and making it big. She’s generally believed to be the most autobiographical character that McCullers ever wrote, so that may be a little fun to pay attention to as you read.
This is a story of a cluster of people in the southern town, and the story opens with this scene, two friends side by side. I’m picturing them in this town square, but my imagination might actually be embellishing here. Early in the story, one of these two friends who are so important to each other get sent to the asylum, and that’s important to know. But there’s this cluster of people in the town and McCullers looks at them, it’s like in the close person, so you get inside people’s heads. It’s not written from their point of view. You see how all these individual characters, dealing with their own stuff, these small town residents confide in this deaf man whose friend has been forced from him.
I love a review. I think it was in the Guardian, which says, “this is a mad mix of characters and people, but also an ingenious one.” And their critics who called it a political parable as well. What she’s doing is she’s showing these sad group of characters, each really highlighting that unsolvable problem from the time that’s definitely going to ring as true as right now, all turning to this man for solace. Like fighting their problems in him. Not realizing that he’s suffering a loss of his own.
So some people read this and they go, ugh, despair and desolation, no thank you. Some people read this and it really strikes a chord and touches them. Regardless, McCullers’ prose is beautiful. This is one of those books that people think, ah, I’ve been meaning to read that forever. It’s here on your shelf. I think that might be you. It’s a book that probably unfortunately is so timeless because of the issue that she’s addressing here, but it’s also a really stirring if sad story. How does that sound to you?
JENNIFER: That sounds good. I like the ingenious mix of characters quote. [LAUGHS] I think that has intrigued me.
ANNE: A mad mix. [LAUGHS] Okay, that is The Heart is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. And Jen, for your third book, I’m going to fudge this a little okay.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] Okay.
ANNE: You have such a great collection of autobiography and memoir and I’d just like to pluck a couple from this. Make sure you see a pattern that’s very clear on your shortlist. Now I’m looking at a curated shortlist. What I see is a lot of gorillas. You’ve got Dian Fossey. You’ve got Temple Grandin. A Jane Goodall biography by Dale Peterson. We know that you love dogs. I’m assuming that your love for the natural world and for animals doesn’t stop there.
JENNIFER: For me, animals are solace. You know, my dogs have gotten me through some really rough times in my life and I feel like we have to take care of them and all the animals in our world a little bit better than we normally do. I think we take them all very much for granted. I like reading about these people who don’t, people who understand their importance. Farley Mowat is another one who I love.
ANNE: Okay. I love that, and I love that that’s reflected here. I would urge you to take a look at those books that focus on that aspect of your life that you love, Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey, that is the only book she wrote. You have the Jane Goodall book by Dale Peterson, Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin also clusters its own with those. Temple Grandin has written a lot of books. Not a book a year for 30 years, but a lot of books. She gets inside the minds of animals themselves in a really interesting way that I think could be fascinating.
And also I want to highlight a book that I guess I don’t want to be mean, but rather deliberately breaks everything we’ve been talking about today about a short backlist. I noticed that you have A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary on your list.
JENNIFER: Yes, I loved her when I was growing up. Ramona was my girl.
ANNE: That is a lot of fun to hear, and I thought that was possible that you did love her growing up. I imagine that you have read the majority of her catalog.
JENNIFER: Yeah, all the Ramona books, and Henry and Ribsy and Mouse and the Motorcycle.
ANNE: I was going to say she writes a great dog. She really does.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
ANNE: So this book came out in 1989 and it was among the last books she wrote, and this is her memoir. This is her story of growing up in Portland. It’s so interesting to read because it’s written in the voice you know, but the story is completely different. And she talks about her childhood growing up, you know, she was a librarian before she started writing children’s books. Something that’s also interesting about this writing right now, is she’s writing about growing up in Portland, and we had a podcast guest on … Oh, I think it was the first year of the show, Danielle Mayfield, who lives in Portland, has a daughter named Ramona and she’s written eloquently about raising Ramona in a very different Portland. So I think that culture element is also very interesting.
But Beverly Cleary, I mean, she grew up during the Depression with the hardships that you might not have imagined reading her generally like cheerful and upbeat stories. If Ramona’s your girl, I think this might be your book. How does that sound?
JENNIFER: Okay. That sounds good. I think I need to check that out.
ANNE: Jen, we’ve talked about all the books. I mean not all the books, but plenty of books.
JENNIFER: [LAUGHS] Yes.
ANNE: We talked about Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. We talked about several autobiographies and memoirs, but especially A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary. Now of those books, which are all in your home right now, what do you think you’ll read next?
JENNIFER: Well I think initially I was leaning towards Heart is a Lonely Hunter. But given that I just finished Golden Child, I think I might need to go a little lighter, so I’m going to go with A Girl from Yamhill.
ANNE: Oh, I love the sound of that. I’d loved to hear what you think. Jen, thank you so much for talking books with me today.
JENNIFER: Thank you. It’s been wonderful. I really enjoyed it.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Jen, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/248 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
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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 Chrysalids by John Wyndham
• Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
♥ The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
• The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
♥ The Midnight Cool by Lydia Peelle
△ Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
• Filthy Beasts by Kirkland Hamill
• Golden Child by Claire Adam
• High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver
• Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose
• Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
• The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
• How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward
• The Passage by Justin Cronin
• Last Night in Montreal by Emily St John Mandel
• Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge
• The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
• Author: Farley Mowat
• Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man by Dale Peterson
• Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
• Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin
• A Girl from Yam Hill by Beverly Cleary
• Episode 242:Sharing Good Reads with good friends
• Episode 233:Escaping into someone else’s story
• Strong Sense of Place
• The Bermuda Bookstore
• Episode 59: Prescribing books for what ails you
• “Cosy Catastrophe” fiction
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What do YOU think Jennifer should read next?
Let us know in the comments!