Readers, I imagine that many of you are here for receiving book recommendations, but today’s guest also loves giving recommendations—to her boss, to her mom, and to strangers standing in the book aisle at Target. For Jenica Salazar, nothing is more satisfying than recommending the right book to the right reader. (I can relate. It IS a great feeling.) But today she’s here for a little bit of literary therapy for herself.
I’m ready to talk with Jenica about a common bookworm problem: the guilt of giving up on a book that’s just not keeping your attention. We also chat about reading routines and making your reading life work for YOU. Plus, of course, I have a ton of books to recommend.
Let’s get to it.
JENICA: There’s no one to talk to basically ‘cause no one in my house reads except my daughter, but I can’t talk to her about these books, so. [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 263.
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Readers, I imagine that many of you are here for receiving book recommendations, but today’s guest also loves giving recommendations—to her boss, to her mom, and to strangers standing in the book aisle at Target. For Jenica Salazar, nothing is more satisfying than recommending the right book to the right reader. (I can relate. It IS a great feeling). But today, she’s here for a little bit of literary therapy for herself.
I’m ready to talk with Jenica about a common bookworm problem: the guilt of giving up on a book that’s just not keeping your attention. We also chat about reading routines and making your reading life work for YOU. Plus, of course, I have a ton of books to recommend.
Let’s get to it.
Jenica, welcome to the show.
JENICA: Hi, it’s great to be here.
ANNE: Jenica, I’m so excited about some of the things we’re going to talk about today, the questions you have, the themes you’ve raised. Okay, but first, tell us a little bit about yourself.
JENICA: I am court coordinator for a judge here in my county.
ANNE: I don’t even know what that means.
JENICA: Well, I’m basically her right hand. So anything she needs, I’m there. I’ve got to make sure that I know what she wants before she knows it, so that I’m prepared and she’s prepared. So it’s kinda a stressful job, but it’s a good job and it’s fun. She makes it fun. So do my coworkers. We all make it fun. But it can get stressful sometimes, but … especially during the pandemic, it’s been quite a challenge, but reading is the thing that helps me to escape all the stress. And the good thing is that my coworkers and my boss, my judge, she reads, so we’re constantly recommending books to each other or talking about books at work when we have a little bit of downtime, which is hardly ever, but when we get it [ANNE LAUGHS] we definitely talk about books. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, that’s so fun that you’re bringing recommendations home from work when that is not the job. Like what are some books y’all have talked about lately?
JENICA: I was trying to recommend some books for my judge. I recommended The Mothers to her because I read that one, but she didn’t like it [ANNE GASPS] and I was so disappointed. And then I recommended The Vanishing Half, even though I haven’t read it yet, but I was like well, she wrote another one, maybe you’ll like this one. So I think she started to read that. I’m not sure if she finished it. I also recommended a bunch of Attica Locke books, but only because she actually handed me Bluebird, Bluebird the other day, or back in January. She handed it to me and I loved that book. So I was like oh, you gotta read this, and she read it, and she said she loved it, so I felt better. Like okay, I recommended a book she liked. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Yay. Well I’m glad that felt like a big success, recommending a book to your boss.
JENICA: Yes. It did. It felt great.
ANNE: Are you often recommending books to the people in your life?
JENICA: Yes I am actually. And the first person I call when I finish a book I loved or hated is my mom. My mom usually tells me you should read this book, and then I’ll read it and be like, oh my God, that was the best book ever. But if I read a book and I don’t like it, I’m like oh, it’s okay, and my mom’s like yeah, I’m not going to read it. [LAUGHS] Me and my mom definitely have a bookish relationship that is great.
ANNE: How far back in your lives does that go?
JENICA: God, since I was, I mean, school age, elementary. She would … We were always going to the library and just picking up books and reading them all day long. [BOTH LAUGH] The name of the book was The Cutting Stone by Attica Locke.
ANNE: Oh, okay. That’s on my list.
JENICA: Yes. It was great. It was great.
ANNE: So you recommend books to lots of people.
JENICA: A funny story is I was at Target, me and my mom are browsing the book section, and there was a lady standing there just looking at the shelves like what am I supposed to pick up here? She wanted to read something very like poetic and finished reading one book and I was thinking about the book she had just read, and then I saw The Mothers [LAUGHS] again on the shelf and I was like well, you should pick up that book because that book, she really has a poetic touch when she writes. And so she picked it up and she starts reading a little bit and is like yup, I’m getting this one. And she was like thank you, and she left. So I was like oh, wow, she actually picked up the book that I recommended for her so it was kinda a good moment for me. I was like wow, I hope she likes it. But I wouldn’t know, and of course, I never saw her again so I didn’t get to ask her. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: So you’re doing a good deed and selling books at Target.
ANNE: I like it. I hope she loved it. What did you tell her about The Mothers? Do you remember?
JENICA: No, honestly I don’t remember what I told her. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Okay, if you could regroup and talk about it today...
ANNE: What would you say?
JENICA: [CLEARS THROAT] That it was the way she writes, she pulled me in right away just because the language she used and her wording, and it just was so beautiful to me the way she wrote that book.
ANNE: I didn’t know The Mothers would be at Target. That makes me happy to hear.
JENICA: Me too.
ANNE: Yay Brit Bennett. We want to [LAUGHS] we’re doing our part to put your books in the hands of readers everywhere.
JENICA: Definitely. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So it sounds like that felt really satisfying to you.
JENICA: It did. It was a good moment. I guess the satisfaction feeling ‘cause you don’t really get satisfied daily. You don’t have a satisfaction moment every day, so when it does appear you’re just like wow, that was … That felt good. I want to do that again. Now it’s just kinda like well I’m looking for people like hey, do you want me to recommend a book to you? I can recommend it for you because I read a lot. So at work I’m pretty sure my coworkers probably get a little tired of me because I’m like hey. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Are you like trying to hone your book whispering skills?
ANNE: Practicing on your coworkers.
JENICA: I do.
ANNE: Well that’s so interesting because so many readers want to find the books they enjoy that they’re glad they spent their reading time on, but I think there’s a subset who finds it extraordinarily satisfying to put that book in other readers’ hands.
JENICA: I - I think that’s true.
ANNE: What’s going … What’s that about? I don’t know. I’ve never stopped to think about this.
JENICA: I don’t know because I know there’s a difference between like when I recommend a book and then if my judge recommends a book to me, I don’t know if she gets the same satisfaction [LAUGHS] when I’m like oh, that was a good book. We don’t really talk about that part of it, but I just know that for me the feeling is so satisfying. I genuinely feel happy when I can recommend a book and someone actually likes it.
ANNE: I would imagine there’s a great level of satisfaction in being able to offer another reader a doorway to a really wonderful reading experience because you know what that’s like.
ANNE: But also I imagine that there’s something to the idea about like I know books. I know things.
JENICA: I guess when you feel like you know a book, when you know that you read a lot, you know about the author and then you recommend the book you feel like, wow, I’m pretty good at this. Boost your confidence or how you approach people I guess. I’m more open when I talk about books than anything else. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: That’s so interesting, and also I don’t think at all uncommon. Books can be such a wonderful way to find common ground.
ANNE: Yeah. Connecting through a shared interest but also a shared interest that allows for so many avenues of connection and conversation.
JENICA: That’s true.
ANNE: Well, Jenica, I wish you well in your future recommending endeavors. Maybe today we’ll find some options. Pick up a tip or two.
ANNE: Well, Jenica, I am really excited now to get into the specifics of your reading life. Are you ready to talk about your books?
JENICA: I am!
ANNE: Okay. Well 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. Now, Jenica, how did you pick these today?
JENICA: I basically picked the ones that I read within the past year just because I’m trying to remember you know, ‘cause once you read it and put it down, you’re like oh, I loved that book and it stays with you but then you forget , you know, certain important things in the book.
ANNE: What did you choose for book one?
JENICA: I chose A Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. The opening scene is very, it kinda pulls you in, you know, Kate Morton does a good job of setting a scene. Tragic event that occurs in the very beginning of the book, and I like how Kate Morton goes back and forth in time, and the young girl trying to figure it out, she researches and tries to … Because it involves her mom, she’s trying to find out her mom’s history to determine, you know, what lead to this point, or to that tragic event. The going back and forth in time is during the war in Europe and I just loved it. And it was a mystery, so obviously the very end was kinda twisty and unexpected and I just closed the book like, oh that was just so good. It was just so wonderful. Like I wanted to pick it up and read it again.
I love anything that Kate Morton writes and I haven’t read all of her library … All of her books yet, but I definitely have them all. I just need to sit down and read them. I probably read about three or four of her books maybe but that one definitely stayed with me for a long time. I recommended it a lot to everybody I knew. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Ooh. Is that genuinely a good indicator? You really enjoyed a book if you find yourself recommending it to other readers?
JENICA: Yes. I called my mom right away. I was like mom, you gotta read this book. She was like okay, but I don’t think she’s read it yet. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: So that was The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. Jenica, what did you choose for your second?
JENICA: The second one I chose was His & Hers by Alice Feeney.
ANNE: Uh huh.
JENICA: I love Alice Feeney. I will read anything that she … Just like Kate Morton, I will read anything that Alice Feeney writes. I actually had a friend recommend her first book Sometimes I Lie to me. So when I read that book then I just kinda like okay, I’ve gotta read another one by this lady. And so I just kept reading, you know, anything she published or had published.
But this book is about … It opens with a murder. Anything with a murder is good. [LAUGHS] That’s probably terrible to say, but anything with a murder you know, always intrigues me and it goes back and forth between Jack and Anna. They are connected in some way, but you really don’t … I don’t really know how far into the book you find out, but they are also connected to the lady that was found dead.
It was interesting ‘cause I liked the back and forth. I loved the back and forth. In every book I read, there’s a back and forth and dual timelines, I’m for it. It was also twisty and unexpected. That’s always a good sign for me when I read books that are unexpected and when the ending happens and you just kinda go [GASPS] what just happened?! I just love those kinds of books. So Alice Feeney does a good job of doing that with all of her stories.
ANNE: Duly noted. Jenica, what did you choose for your final favorite?
JENICA: So my final favorite was Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. This one is a little different from the other two. [LAUGHS] I liked it because the main character, Cornelia, found herself basically by the end of the book. But it is a love story. Not a typical love story, but I really enjoyed it, and it kinda made me cry in some spots ‘cause it was kinda sad for the young girl that she meets in the book named Clare. I also recommend this book when people ask for book recommendations, but the other books, I think it’s a series, correct? I think this the first one, but I’m not sure.
ANNE: Yeah, it’s a loose series.
JENICA: Yeah, so I picked up the other books but just haven’t read them yet. But this one definitely stayed with me as well after I finished reading it and my husband just before I go further, my husband is not a book reader, so [LAUGHS] when I am reading a book and I come to a part where I’m like oh my God, that was so wonderful, and I’ll ... there’s no one to talk to basically because no one in my house reads except my daughter but I can’t talk to her about these books, so … [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: She’s probably not ready for Alice Feeney.
JENICA: Right. So I’ll turn to him and be like, this happened and this happened, can you believe that this happened? And he’s like that’s great honey. Like okay. You know, he just listens. He’s very good about listening, but he definitely does not have the book reader in him at all. But this book definitely, the part that I cried at, he’s looking at me like, are you okay? I’m like I’m fine, I’ll get over it. Just give me five minutes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. Jenica, how did you choose the book that wasn’t for you?
JENICA: My problem is I don’t like to not finish books so I try to stay with it. Now that I’m a little bit older, I’m trying not to do that because you know, there’s too many books that I have that I want to read and I can’t waste my time on something I don’t like. So I actually ended up putting this book down at page 100. I couldn’t do it anymore, and I was so disappointed in myself. And I look at it every day on my shelf and I’m like, maybe I should give it another try. It’s called The Widows of Malabar Hill.
So I could not get into that book at all. I don’t know if it’s because it’s very slow moving and I do like slow moving books, but this one just kinda felt dead, you know, fell flat for me. It didn’t have a good build up. It was just kinda like oh, this, this — it’s almost like a daily log or something of a person’s life, and I didn’t really appreciate anything in that book. So I put it down, but I really wanted to like it, so I don’t know if I’ll pick it up again. So I can’t say that I hated it, but all I can say is I did not finish it and I stopped midway, or almost midway.
ANNE: Tell me more about finishing books.
JENICA: Finishing books is like … I think I’m a little bit OCD, so I like to finish things. I like to make sure that everything’s completed, and if I don’t finish a book, I feel like I’ve failed it. So me not finishing a book is not good. So I have wasted a lot of time finishing books that I probably shouldn’t have finished but I do it anyway. But that one was the first one that I actually just set aside and said nope, I can’t do this anymore.
ANNE: Really, this is a first?
JENICA: Yes. The first one.
ANNE: And how does that make you feel?
JENICA: Bad. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Maybe short time listeners know that my … I have strong opinions about this. It is really okay, and at the same time I completely understand how conscientious readers often feel like they are doing it wrong if they don’t finish something they started because that goes against everything that we feel internally and often the way we are raised and it’s a big change. What was it about this particular book? ‘Cause you’ve been reading for decades.
ANNE: Did you set it down during the pandemic?
JENICA: I did.
ANNE: Which could be a coincidence but also might not be because so many times, we can be reading a book that we will ultimately enjoy, but the timing is completely wrong, and I know that a lot of people have been experiencing that in their reading life now who maybe have not so fully felt how much the timing matters previously in their reading lives.
ANNE: But I’m wondering what it was about this book that made you think yeah, no, this far and no further, 100 pages and I’m out. Because I think it’s fair to … I mean, I really like Sujata Massey and I know lots of readers do, that doesn’t mean it’s the right book for you, but often times we set down a book not because it’s not for us but because it really doesn’t feel like it was well done, the book felt like it needed another round of edits, the premise just wasn’t good. And I think at least in this case, it would be fair to say it’s a well written book and yet that doesn’t necessarily mean it was right for you. So I’d love to explore that second part a little more. I know you mentioned like not holding your attention.
JENICA: I really can’t explain it because it was … It has a good premise, like when I read the jacket, I thought okay, I’m going to like this. Obviously it’s about a woman, you know, I think it’s the ‘30s who is an attorney and I work with attorneys all day, so. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, that’s true. I hadn’t thought about that connection.
JENICA: I definitely like anything involving attorneys and courtroom plots, but this one I don’t know. Maybe I should have read to page 150 and it would have picked up for me, but maybe I couldn’t connect with anyone in the book, or maybe I just got upset the way the main character was being treated as a woman attorney. I don’t know, honestly. I really don’t know why I couldn’t stay with it. That’s why I look at it every day like I should probably pick that up one more time.
ANNE: [SIGHS] Maybe set your timer for the spring, and give it another try.
ANNE: It sounds like it’s like mocking you from the shelves, which I’m sorry for that, but also means that it’s still sitting there in your home.
ANNE: You really could pick it up again.
JENICA: I could.
ANNE: There’s a low barrier there. So, on the one hand, I hear you saying I want to try it again and you want to explore that, but on the other, I would invite you to consider the idea that it might be okay to not finish the books you start. When you’ve read a significant portion of a book, that’s your sunk cost. People do not think rationally about those sunk costs. We’re more inclined to keep going and going and going and going, and I don’t know if people have talked about economics and sunk costs in literature before but I think it totally applies here.
JENICA: [LAUGHS] Definitely.
ANNE: Okay. If you really wanted to do it, I might recommend some exposure therapy. I might try looking up an episode of What Should I Read Next where you listened to the guest and you thought, oh, that’s fascinating that people read that way. That they’re looking for things in those books ‘cause that is not me. You pick maybe the three books they loved or three books that just don’t appeal to you, maybe three books you have every reason to think are just not right for you, or perhaps even objectively bad, and bad being not well written.
And get them for yourself and sit down to read them knowing you’re just giving it a try to see what it’s like on the other side. You can’t see yourself making it to page 300 and then you can set them down with impunity because that was kinda the entire goal. Just to overcome that oh, I could never … Because you could under the right circumstances, and plenty of readers I think who say they could never abandon a book will make an exception if they get to page 15 and find out, oh, hey, that’s one of my major triggers and it’s going to happen a lot in this book and I can’t read this. I mean that’s the kind of thing that needs us to go, oh, you know what? Maybe I can after all. But if we could just force appear with some books that are not intended to be for you, maybe you could do it. Because I don’t feel like those books will mock you when you set them down even if they did stay in your house. So does that make you want to throw up? Or does that sound doable?
JENICA: [LAUGHS] No, that sounds doable definitely.
ANNE: What are the odds of actually doing it?
JENICA: Well to be honest, I’ve listened to every single episode of this podcast. In the beginning when I first started listening to it, I would write down people’s three favorites and their one they didn’t like, and then I would write down what you recommended. So I have like a little journal where I had like all of that written down. I stopped doing it after a couple of … I don’t know, a couple months I stopped doing it because then I could just look it up online.
ANNE: I do want to say though high fives. That is hardcore.
JENICA: [LAUGHS] Yes, so ever since then, my whole reading life has just changed because all the books I’ve heard on your show I would never have picked up. So for me to actually write them all down and then to go to the library or to the bookstore and be like oh, I heard about this one, I’m going to pick this one up, that’s definitely changed. So for me to try it that way as far as I’m going to try this so I’m going to try to put it down if I don’t like it [BOTH LAUGH] then I can definitely do that.
ANNE: You know what else you could do if it helps you in a different way to get into a different frame of mind. ‘Cause just now think the idea of picking up several books that you’re pretty sure are not going to be right for you is still you’re very much grounded in your own reading life, but I wonder if we invited you to say read like a bookseller, or read like a professional editor, in which case you would, you know, step into your vicarious bookish professional fantasyland, but sit down with a big box of books and think, I’m going to read 20 pages of each just to get a feel for what the writing is like, just to see what my store might want to read in book club, you know, if I love it, I’ll finish it and then maybe can recommend it. Just to sample the titles coming out in winter 2021 because so many professionals are absolutely unable to finish books. They wouldn’t be able to if they wanted to. The idea that they couldn’t abandon books they started … It’s just impossible. They wouldn’t be able to do their job. How does it sound for you to step into that world for a week and try reading like just to see how it feels?
JENICA: It almost feels a little intimidating. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, tell me more.
JENICA: I don’t know. Just to have a stack of books to, you know, not feel connected to because usually when I pick up a book, I’m usually like okay, I’m connected to this one because I really wanted to read it. But if I just pick up a random book, I guess maybe it’s a good thing because then I won’t feel like I won’t have to finish it ‘cause then I won’t be connected to it at all.
ANNE: So by the time you pick up a book you are already looking for a long term relationship?
JENICA: Yes. And that’s why when I didn’t like that book, I was so disappointed because I really thought I was going to have a connection with it and I didn’t.
ANNE: I’m very tempted to offer you, like, more ways to the story, to suggest like listen to an author interview. Talk to a fellow reader. See what you think before entering in, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about [BOTH LAUGH] we’re talking about the guilt basically.
JENICA: Yes. Yeah, yeah, that’s what it is. That’s what it’s all about. It’s the guilt.
ANNE: Well, Jenica, I would love to hear what happens next in the continuing saga of [LAUGHS] experience of this outlying book in your reading history.
JENICA: Okay. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: And the third book in the series is coming out in June.
JENICA: I know! And that’s why I am just like, I really need to read it because … It’s a series. I like to read series, a series of books. I like to read them, especially like Louise Penny. I would have never picked that up if I hadn’t listened to your episode … I think it was actually in the very first episode of What Should I Read Next when you recommended it and I thought Louise Penny, what is this? So of course when I picked it up and I started reading, now I have all of the books, and of course I’m on, like, book ten I think, and I have to — but I have to give myself like time between the books before I can … ‘Cause I can’t read them consecutively ‘cause then I would probably get bored of characters. [LAUGHS] It is a series, the one I don’t like, and that’s what I’m disappointed to ‘cause I really wanted to finish it.
ANNE: Jenica, I feel like this conversation is not over. [JENICA LAUGHS] And I’m really interested in what happens next even though this may be a slow, burning story.
JENICA: I’ll try to keep you updated. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: I appreciate that. Jenica, what have you been reading lately?
JENICA: I just finished The Once & Future Witches by Alix Harrow, and that one was quite a chunk of a book. I mean, it took me forever to read it only because I wanted to savor each page because I just loved that story. So it’s about three sisters who are witches, I believe just after the Salem Witch Trials happened. The historical part of it, the witch part of it [LAUGHS] the sister bonding part of it was a really great story for me. It just took me a while to get through it, but that’s okay because I loved every single page of that book.
ANNE: What else have you been reading?
JENICA: I’m on … Right now I’m currently reading About the Author by John Colapinto.
ANNE: Now I have been wondering about that even since Jen Wiener talked about it on the show.
JENICA: And that’s the reason why I picked it up because when I heard that episode and I love her books too, I was very intrigued when she mentioned this book so I immediately bought it and then I … But I just barely started reading it this week and it’s definitely pulled me in and I’m definitely trying to figure out what is happening in this book and it’s very suspenseful and on the back of the book, it talks about it being almost an Alfred Hitchcock kinda novel or story and that is definitely true because I love Alfred Hitchcock movies and this one is definitely full of suspense and mystery. So yeah, it’s got me hooked and I can’t wait to finish it.
ANNE: And Jenica, what are you looking for more of in your reading life right now?
JENICA: I wish that I could read more books. That’s a challenge being a mom and working full time, so I don’t have all day to read. Also when I’m trying to read it at night, it can be a little typical ‘cause I’ll start to fall asleep. I just wish that I could find somehow to keep my eyes open so I could read at least, you know, five chapters instead of one. [BOTH LAUGH] So that’s really my challenge. Reading more books and staying up at night, especially when the kids are finally asleep and I can have some quiet time to read. That’s a challenge for me.
ANNE: Yes, I know a lot of readers really rely on that reading before bed routine to get their pages in makes it sound like they’re ticking a box but you know what, they might be ticking a box but it’s one they’re doing because they really, really want to, not because they’re obligated. Is before bed the time you want to be reading?
JENICA: I mean, I would like to, but I do read all day.
JENICA: It’s in spurts, you know, like if I have some time while I’m making dinner, I’ll stand at the island and just kinda read. I also do audiobooks so I’ll listen to an audiobook while I’m doing laundry or cooking or something like that but I don’t have like one hour where I can just sit and read. It just doesn’t happen for me.
ANNE: And is that why reading before bed appeals to you? ‘Cause you think that might be the opportunity to get more of an uninterrupted span?
JENICA: Yes. Right now, we’re working from home a couple days of the week. I’m always working, but even when I was going to work, I would use the time before work started to read. It’s so busy now that I can’t even do that, and I actually work through lunch most of the time, so I can’t read during my lunch hour so it’s a challenge for me to find just a space of time to read.
ANNE: Now many who read before bed do it because it helps them go to sleep, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the issue for you.
JENICA: Not at all. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: So at least there’s that. Now this is going to be the worst question ever and you’re not going to like it.
ANNE: I’m just going to own that up front.
ANNE: Is it possible you just really need to sleep right now?
JENICA: [LAUGHS] Maybe.
ANNE: We were laughing I think before we officially got started about our introverted coping strategies during the pandemic, and I mean, am I projecting onto you to say that you would as you described yourself you wouldn’t use the word introvert, but that’s kinda what I heard.
JENICA: I am definitely an introvert. I am not at all open about anything or loud, so introvert is definitely my description. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: This could be a human response, but it is one that is especially true for introverts when we are dealing with a lot of stimulation and input during the day a coping mechanism that we do not have conscious control of is to sleep more, to rest and recover, which is good that your body’s trying to rest and recover, and it’s bad if you want to spend that time reading.
JENICA: Accurate. [LAUGHS]
JENICA: I do want to sleep more but I also want to read.
ANNE: Uh, yeah. Me too. [JENICA LAUGHS] So that is also very relatable. If this is the time, I don’t like to tell people how to run their reading lives and yet I’m going to step into the advice chair with permission, is that okay?
ANNE: You could go to bed a little bit earlier. Is that possible? I hate suggesting that to someone, even though this is often something that I’m telling myself again. You need to go to bed earlier if you want to read 45 minutes in bed. That’s how it works.
JENICA: It’s possible. Will it happen? Maybe not. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: That is one option. That is basically just math. Like if you want to read more in bed before falling asleep, you could go to bed earlier. Or then maybe you’d fall asleep way earlier. [LAUGHS]
JENICA: Earlier … Right. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: And then your body would be sending you a different message loud and clear. Is it possible to transfer that before bed reading time in bed to the couch during the day, like maybe … So I know that you live with your husband and two kids, like could you have reading time after dinner? Could you read during their homework time? Could you get a cup of tea, sit on the sofa, or chair, you know, but upright and read for half an hour then instead of spending that same amount of time before bed?
JENICA: Yes. And you know since we’re here at home, I’ve tried going outside probably you know, after ... when I’m done with work, I go outside and sit in a chair and try to read just in the front yard and just watch the cars go by and it’s quiet. But then you know maybe 20 minutes later my kids will come out and be like mom, we’re going to play football or mom, we’re going to do this, so you know, and my husband will come out and play with them, so I will get to read but they’ll be in the background, you know, playing around, so. And then my husband will try to start a conversation with me and I’ll look at him like I’m reading. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: I may look like I want you to talk to me right now, but …
JENICA: Right. So he does know that look, like the look of I’m reading, don’t bother me, and he’ll like turn and go never mind. [LAUGHS] He does respect that little privacy moment for me when I’m trying to read, but once I’m done reading, he jumps on me like okay, so this is what I was going to tell you earlier. [ANNE LAUGHS] I’m like okay. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Since falling asleep isn’t an issue, is it also possible to transfer that quiet reading time to first thing in the morning?
JENICA: I usually … As soon as I wake up, I start working. Like I get dressed and, you know, get my day started, and I just start working ‘cause there’s so much to do. So that’s the only problem with trying to read before … I mean, I could get up earlier, earlier, but then I would miss out on my sleep. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I don’t know what solution is going to be right for you,
JENICA: I know.
ANNE: Or if this something we put on pause for six months, but I do know that so many readers who have satisfying reading lives have found a rhythm that works for them. I would encourage you to think about the rhythms of your own reading life and if they are working for you. You may or may not be able to do anything about it right now. Just being conscious of your habits and is this working, is it not working? Is there anything I can do about it right now could get you to a place that you find a little more satisfying.
JENICA: I hope so. I’m working on it. I’ll do my best to achieve my goal.
ANNE: I love the way you put that. It also sounds like the way that a reader who feels strongly they should finish every book they start would put it.
ANNE: So in that reading time, let’s figure out what you may enjoy reading next.
ANNE: Okay. The books you loved were The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, His & Hers by Alice Feeney, and Love Walked In by Marisa De Los Santos. I’m noticing that all those books are very realistic, well, the voice is very realistic. There’s a contemporary voice in all of them. The plotting is intricate. You said you especially love the twisty and unexpected. Not for you for reasons to be determined, but it just didn’t [JENICA LAUGHS] it just didn’t reel you in. It also didn’t share some of the characteristics that you really enjoy, but there’s some crossover for sure, but that was The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey. And currently you’re reading The Once & Future Witches by Alix Harrow and About the Author by John Colapinto.
Okay, my brain wants to go straight to twisty mystery direction, but we’re not just going to do that. I’m also definitely conscious of the fact that you have loved lately The Vanishing Half, The Mothers, Attica Locke, those books you talked about and loved so much that you recommended.
The first book that comes to mind is a fun one I think for the literary parallels and enjoyment factor. It’s new or soon to be. It comes out January 5th, and it’s called The Wife Upstairs. What this is a contemporary reimagining of Jane Eyre, but it’s set in
JENICA: I have read Jane Eyre, but it’s been such a long time since I’ve read that book, but ... [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: That is not shocking. I think this could be a really fun twisty mystery where you kinda know the plot because of course you do, it’s Jane Eyre, but of course it’s unexpected because the book isn’t set at Thornfield Hall, it’s set in the really fancy Thornfield State subdivision in Mountain Brook, Alabama, and Jane is not a governess. She’s a dog walker mingling among the rich people ‘cause she got an in in the subdivision.
The book [LAUGHS] made me laugh from the opening line, Jane is trying to take a walk with the dog, the weather is poor, and she has feelings about that. I also think that it’s really interesting the epigraph is from Jean Rhys who wrote Wide Sargasso Sea which is another Jane Eyre reimagining, that one from Sir Rochester’s perspective, and I know we’ve talked about that book on What Should I Read Next. But the epigraph reads there are always two deaths: the real one and the one people know about.
ANNE: And so in this book of course we have Jane, we have Eddie. There’s somebody in the attic, but the circumstances of course are different from the book but it’s still really fun for the English major nerd. I’m not an English major, but when we say like there’s a lot of English major here I think you … I think readers know what I’m talking about.
ANNE: But there’s a lot of fun playing with that there, and it is the Jane Eyre element that makes this really fun, but it’s also a story about a somewhat tortured hero and his … I wanna say feisty wife, but I don’t feel like that does her credit. But it’s also a story about a married couple who had a fast and furious romance, got married real quick. But she’s the founder of a business. Honestly I was envisioning something like Draper James that is making money hands over fist and he has some kind of business that’s not nearly as interesting going and they have a very interesting relationship.
But then she dies in an accident and poor Eddie just doesn’t have anyone until he meets the neighborhood dog walker and falls in love real quick, but of course there are plenty of secrets to discover and this book is not … I mean, it’s not messed up in the sense that if you’re a sensitive reader, this is definitely not for you, not like that, but it’s messed up in some really fun ways and I think it might be fun for an Alice Feeney fan.
ANNE: How does that sound to you?
JENICA: It sounds great.
ANNE: Okay. That is The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins, and the pub date on that is January 5th, 2021, and when I found out that she was setting this in Birmingham, Alabama, I thought oh that’s different. I’m here for this. I’m here for this. [JENICA LAUGHS] Since that book is not out yet I’d like to give you a fun twisty mystery that you could pick up right now, and the one I’m thinking of is Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison. Is this a book you’re familiar with?
JENICA: It sounds too familiar, but ... I might even have it on my shelf and not realize it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh that would be so funny and it could also be fun to have a book like enticing you from the shelf instead of like scolding you from the shelf. [JENICA LAUGHS] ‘Cause we’ve already talked about that today. J.T.’s written a couple of series but this is a standalone novel and here, let’s talk about the first line again. The first line of this book is “you aren’t going to like me very much,” but it’s unclear at the beginning who the narrator is and why they might say that.
You know what I did not realize at first? Was this is also very book for book lovers kind of book because this is the story of another married couple with a messed up relationship. This is about Sutton and Ethan Montclair. They are two writers, although they’re sometimes contentious in that writerly relationship. They’re both very successful, but wife Sutton writes historical fiction. It might actually be historical romance. And she’s massively successful, bestselling, but she’s not a literary writer, and her husband is kinda a snob about that and looks down on her writing because that’s what he does.
So that’s kind of a point of contention, but they agree mostly not to talk about it and then everything will be fine. But they’re both highly successful and despite that small bone of contention, they love each other and also they’re able to understand and support each other in their professional lives as well. Or at least that’s what everybody thinks until Sutton disappears and she leaves a note telling Ethan not to look for her, and so he doesn’t. But as the hours tick by, he starts to look more and more suspicious because what do they always say? If like if the wife disappears, the husband did it.
So a local investigator starts quizzing friends and family and asking about what really happened in this relationship, and also there’s a very suspicious looking stain on the counter that he says is blueberries, but they’re not sure if it might be something a lot more sinister. And people start to realize that this perfect relationship was anything but. And that is the point when things only begin to get seriously creepy. This came out a couple years ago, you can read it right now. How does that sound to you?
JENICA: That sounds so good.
ANNE: That is Lie To Me by J.T. Ellison. Next I thought it might be fun to read another historical mystery.
ANNE: With a little romance kinda component. This is by the author Susanna Kearsley who is prolific. She has quite a back catalog. I know how you feel about reading series. I’m not sure how you feel about burning through an author’s work, but there’s definitely potential to do that here. Good gracious, what do we have going on today with the literature references? Because this is also about an author. Does that sound like fun, or is that like no Anne, please give me an architect or a flight attendant or something different?
JENICA: No, that sounds good. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. She is looking for her next story. In the process she goes to Scotland, and when she does, she settles near the ruins of this old castle to get in the mood [JENICA LAUGHS] and she also cares deeply about portraying events realistically in her story. She really wants to get the setting right. And also to get it right, not only does she want to get the events of the Jacobite uprising completely correct but she also has family roots there that go way back, so she’s drawing inspiration from that own family history. And this story is similar to Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper. Actually like maybe all of Kate Morton’s fiction. I’m wondering if that last one about the clockmaker. That whole book felt different to me.
JENICA: It did feel different, yeah.
ANNE: So I don’t want to say this categorically, but her first four had a strong back and fourth in time component, and that happens here too. There’s parallel storylines unfolding back in the 1700s and also in the present day. There’s a romance here as it so happens in the case as Kate Morton as well. And also I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that this is a timeslip novel. It’s a different kind of unexpectedness to this book.
So when the author is writing near the ruins of this castle, sentences appear on her screen almost without her feeling like she typed them and at first she’s like oh, this is amazing. What a … The setting is inspiring me. But then the writing that she’s doing goes … Incorporates knowledge and people and events that she doesn’t have, but when she goes to look into them, like it totally checks out, and she realizes like oh, the past is talking to me. What is going on?
There’s a really interesting bond that is really fun to figure out between the past and the present in this unusual but I think promising book for you ‘cause it has so many of the elements of the things you’ve enjoyed before. And I know this one does have a sequel. It’s called … I think it’s called The Firebird. So if you do enjoy it and make it past page 100 [JENICA LAUGHS] that one’s waiting for you when you’re reading to go back to the characters.
JENICA: That's good. But you didn’t tell me the title of it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, does that matter? Okay. [JENICA LAUGHS] And that book is called The Winter Sea. It’s by Susanna Kearsley. And finally, you made a reference to sister bonding. We have not discussed a book that is like Love Walked In and I thought it might be fun to just drop another one on your plate.
JENICA: Of course.
ANNE: I wanted to get something that had the tone that wasn’t quite so broody. The book I’m thinking of is The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal. It just came out almost two years ago now, but it’s about three British born Punjabi sisters who go on a quest almost to fulfill their mothers dying wish. She wanted them to go back to Punjab to make the pilgrim that she never could. And these sisters were not terribly close ever [LAUGHS] and now, they even grown apart more now as they’ve gotten older, they don’t get along. So now they have to travel together to a faraway place and spend a lot of time together in close quarters and they are unhappy about it and are sure that’s one of the reasons their mother is making them do it. But once they’re together they find it’s not as bad as they feared and they start to reconnect and understand each other again and start to advocate for each other.
What I like about this book for you, even though the tone is much more Marisa de los Santos than Alice Feeney, it’s still a story of secrets and there’s still these unexpected turns. Because each sister is keeping a big, big secret. None of the sisters are clear if they let the secret out, if it will solidify their rekindling family relationship or if that will be the end of everything. And something else I really love about this book ‘cause you’re reading books that handle serious stuff, this novel deals in serious issues like love and sisterhood and grief and immigration, but the narration, the tone, is just zany enough to keep it feeling light and fresh and fun even while they go through hard and even shocking things. And I have to say that if I want to draw a Venn Diagram with themes and story points between this and The Widows of Malabar Hill, that center segment would be pretty significant, but the tone is totally different, so picking this one up before venturing back into that book if you feel like you might want to do it would be a nice progression.
JENICA: That sounds great.
ANNE: Okay, so the books we talked about today, they were The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins, Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, and we threw in The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal. Of those books, what do you think you may read next?
JENICA: So this is going to be hard. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: I - I think I’m glad.
JENICA: It’s kinda a tie between Lie To Me and The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters. I’ll probably start with Lie to Me ‘cause I think I have it on my shelf. Not for sure.
ANNE: I was going to say for see if that’s on your shelf, that could be your answer right there, and I love the sound of picking up The Shergill Sisters next.
JENICA: This is great.
ANNE: I’m happy to hear it, and I look forward to hearing your continuing adventures in reading experimentation. Jenica, thank you so much for talking books with me today.
JENICA: Thanks for having me. This was so much fun.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Jenica, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/263 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:
Some links are affiliate links. More details here.
• The Mothers by Brit Bennett
• The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
• Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
• The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
♡ The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
♡ His & Hers by Alice Feeney
♡ Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
△ The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
• The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
• About the Author by John Calapinto
• The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
• Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
• Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison
• The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
• The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
• The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal
• WSIRN Episode 234: The recipe for a delicious summer read with Jennifer Weiner