Readers, behind the scenes at WSIRN, we’ve been reflecting on our individual reading lives and setting intentions for fun, focus, and festivity in the new year. We suspect you might be spending some extra time considering what you want from your reading life right now, too.
With that in mind, we knew we had to share this episode for those who are seeking a bookish community to call their own or need some fresh ideas to liven up their current reading group. This episode was recorded in 2019 and aired as Episode 166: Just don’t call it book club.
Today’s guest is Tiffany Patterson, a Florida reader who created a new kind of literary get-together that is convincing her not-so-readerly friends to give books and reading a chance. She breaks down all the details of her brilliant idea so that you can steal it and start your own group.
We have heard from HUNDREDS of you who’ve said you borrowed Tiffany’s format for your own use, and it’s vastly improved your reading life and your relationships.
And if you’re a fiction reader who’d like to wander into nonfiction this year, I think you’ll love today’s book recommendations.
Let’s get to it!
You can follow Tiffany Patterson’s reading life on Instagram.
ANNE: Hey readers, I’m Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next? episode 269.
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 the 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, how are you feeling about your reading life? Whether you’re loving your current reading rhythm or looking for ways to get back into books, we’ve got classes, virtual events, and a bunch of kindred spirits waiting for you in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club.
Our member Joan K. says, “Finding the Modern Mrs Darcy reading club community has revitalized the love of reading that I was afraid I had lost. It feels so great to be back to soaking up that reading life!”
This winter, we’re learning how to take the temperature of our reading lives, set better reading intentions, streamline our TBR lists, and declutter our shelves—literally and metaphorically. I teach these classes live, but we always post the video recording for members to view whenever they want. The same goes for our author chats, where I sit down to discuss our book club pick with the author, and members get to ask questions.
In the Modern Mrs. Darcy community, we talk books AND the reading life, providing space for reflection, conversation, and skill-building as we learn to read better, together. We’d love for you to join us. Our new winter sessions, along with our extensive library of classes and events are included with your Book Club membership.
Go to members.modernmrsdarcy.com to sign up today. That’s members.modernmrsdarcy.com.
Readers, behind the scenes here at What Should I Read Next, we’ve been reflecting on our individual reading lives and setting intentions for fun, focus, and festivity in the new year. We suspect it’s not just us, that you might be spending some extra time considering what you want from your reading life right now, too. With that in mind, we knew we had to share this episode for those who are seeking a bookish community to call their own or need some fresh ideas to liven up their current reading group. This episode was recorded in 2019 and aired as Episode 166: “Just don’t call it a book club.”
Today’s conversation stands out as one of my What Should I Read Next favorites, and a big reason for that is what we talk about here today has made a huge difference in the lives of so many readers. We have heard from HUNDREDS of you who’ve said you borrowed the simple format you’ll hear about today for your own use, and that it’s vastly improved your reading life and your relationships.
Today’s guest is Tiffany Patterson, a Florida reader who created a new kind of literary get-together that convinced her not-so-readerly friends to give books and reading a chance. She breaks down all the details of her brilliant idea so that you can steal it and start your own group, as so many of our listeners have already done. And if you’re a fiction reader who’d like to wander into nonfiction this year, I think you’ll love today’s book recommendations.
Let’s get to it!
ANNE: Tiffany, welcome to the show.
TIFFANY: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
ANNE: Now, we got to hang out this fall in Mount Dora, Florida.
TIFFANY: Yes, we did. It was awesome.
ANNE: That was one of my most fun book tour stops. And also true confession, Tiffany. I was a little nervous about it because it came about in a very unusual way that would have been impossible like even 15 years ago.
TIFFANY: Yes. It did. That is true. Of course, I follow you on Instagram and I knew that you were out doing your book tours and for about a week or two, I had looked at your schedule and I saw that you were in Tampa for an independent booksellers convention, and I just thought Mount Dora is only two hours from Tampa. And I noticed that you had some, some openings between there and your next stop. And so I thought, “I’m just going to ask her to come to Mount Dora,” and then I thought, “No I’m not. Yes. I am. No, I’m not...” and then I just did, and I actually did not ask our local bookstore if I could host you until after I had asked you! [BOTH LAUGH] But I am friends with the bookstore owner, and thankfully she was happy to oblige and you were happy to come. It was very exciting because we are a small town and it’s a very small bookstore, so it’s kind of a big deal to host Anne Bogel. It was thrilling for all of us.
ANNE: Well, I’m so glad you did because I wasn’t familiar with Mount Dora and now I’m so glad I am. It’s just this adorable, I think you described it to me as “Stars Hollow but with palm trees”?
TIFFANY: [LAUGHS] Yeah. Yes.
ANNE: So this is charming community, 45 minutes outside Orlando, and I’m so glad you reached out because I was in Tampa for SIBA, the Southern Independent Booksellers Associations fall show and I love going there. I love meeting with booksellers. But it’s not open to the public. So, it was heart-wrenching to be so close to so many Floridian readers but not to be able to meet any of them. So, when you offered, I thought oh, this is so sweet. I love strangers on Instagram, but I don’t usually get on airplanes to go meet them.
TIFFANY: Yeah, and I did not want you to think I was a creeper or something. [ANNE LAUGHS] You know, somebody weird. So, my Instagram’s typically private, but I opened it up to public, so you could stalk me as needed to see that I wasn’t a weirdo.
ANNE: Some of my favorite people that I now know in actual three-dimensional life, I met on Instagram.
ANNE: But it was such a great night. Barrel of Books and Games is a charming store. It’s so pretty. I do have a major amount of regret and that is that in daylight, I did not back up across the street from Barrel of Books and Games and get a photo of the beautifully painted awning, because it’s just so stinking cute. I do have a bookmark. I’m holding it in my hands right now. It has a painting of the shop on it.
ANNE: Just completely adorable, and I’m glad I have this in my life at least. Chrissy at Barrel of Books and Games was such a gracious host. I loved her store and you Floridian readers. I mean, wow, you can really fill up a room with your bookish enthusiasm!
TIFFANY: [LAUGHS] Yes. We packed it out.
ANNE: You told me when we got to chat before the event that you had this literary society that you’d started in Mount Dora.
ANNE: And I knew that you’d said that you’ve recruited a lot of friends to join you, who brought their friends and you had a lot of non-readers suddenly showing up and reading books and I thought this sounded amazing, but when people came through the signing line that night and they kept saying, “I’m with the Lit Soc. I’m with the Lit Soc.” [TIFFANY LAUGHS] It took me 40 people to figure out. “Ohhhh, that’s Literary Society!”
TIFFANY: [LAUGHS] Yes, we’ve - we’ve shortened it. You’re not allowed to say book club. You have to say literary society, or Lit Soc works.
ANNE: You sound very adamant about this.
TIFFANY: Yes, I am actually. It’s very important.
ANNE: What makes the distinction in your mind?
TIFFANY: I think because I think of it as we’re – we all – we’re not all reading the same book, which is what a book club typically is. We just go beyond that, and we … it just sounds so pretentious and… better. [ANNE LAUGHS] I just enjoy it very much.
ANNE: You have to say it with your eyebrow raised.
TIFFANY: [LAUGHS] With a British accent would be even better, but most of us can’t do that very well, so.
ANNE: Lots of book lovers don’t have people in their daily lives so they can discuss books. I think that was you?
TIFFANY: Correct. I had been a member of a couple of book clubs and usually left a little disappointed because I felt like we talked about the book for about 10-15 minutes and then at the conversation just, you know, ended up just being a lot about just people’s lives and their kids and their marriages, and I wanted to talk about the book. So that was kind of part of my desire to start something different.
ANNE: And how did you do it?
TIFFANY: One of my favorite books, I guess we’re going to get to that later, but is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I loved that idea — they’re a literary society. That’s where I got the name — because they just came together and talked about whatever they were reading, and I loved that idea from the moment I read the book, which was many years ago. I’ve reread it a few times but probably… Well it’s been two years actually… I just decided to invite a group of people. It was important to me that they be different ages, different backgrounds, etc. I didn’t want just a homogeneous group of women. I invited people and then they started inviting people and like I said, we made some readers! People who did not read before came, you know, a friend invited them and now they are reading tons of books and it’s such a joy. That’s probably one of the biggest joys for me.
ANNE: So, Tiffany, I walk in the door. It’s literary society meeting night. What can I expect to happen?
TIFFANY: Well …
ANNE: First of all, I really like the situation I’ve set up. I’d love to come crash a meeting.
TIFFANY: I would love for you to crash literary society! Anytime you are in Florida, we will have a meeting for you. So you come in and generally there is food. There is often wine. We all get a plate of food, get a drink. Starts at 7:00 typically. Usually by 7:15 or 7:20, I’m trying to rein everyone in because it can go for hours if we’re not careful, depending on how many are there, and we range anywhere from 15 to 30… And everybody gets a chance to talk, so we need to get started pretty quickly.
And then we just – I usually choose who starts and we go around the room. And you get to talk about what you’ve been reading. And we’ve had to limit it to about three books because some nights have gone too long, but then a lot of times it sparks a lot of different discussions. And it’s not just one person talking. Discussions are sparked as a result of what somebody’s reading and arguments depending on if they hated it and someone else loved it. [ANNE LAUGHS] So that’s always interesting.
ANNE: Can you tell me about a memorable moment from a recent society meeting?
TIFFANY: I have to think of one that I can put on air … [ANNE LAUGHS] Because there's – there’s a lot of memorable moments. Well, I can think of one from a while back. One of the ladies who comes loves to knit and she has discovered a very short, I think e-book that it's only an e-book about a knitter named Hildy or something. She knits basically weapons. She's a serial killer. She's an old lady and she'll like knit a scarf and strangle somebody with it and then, you know, then take it apart so the weapon is gone. So this isn't just a one incident, but almost everybody in the literary society has now read, there's probably three or four of them now, and that always comes up just about every meeting of who the new person is now to read this mystery and want to talk about it. [ANNE LAUGHS] So that's pretty funny. I haven't read them yet. I am not typically an e-reader yet. I prefer tree books, typically.
ANNE: When I was with your Lit Soc members in Mount Dora, several of them were telling me that they didn't read books before they came to literary society, and so they show up and they’d talk about an article they read or sometimes a movie they watched, and I just really noticed how hospitable and gracious you all were. I think sometimes people get the idea that book club is a snobbish place and that is the last description I would put on y'all's group.
TIFFANY: Yes. We do kind of have a category that we call the “audio-visual” category, which is just Netflix shows that you've enjoyed [ANNE LAUGHS] or a movie. And some people who haven’t had, who haven’t read a lot that month will discuss their favorite TV shows.
One thing I didn't mention before is I did put out a literary society reading guide when we first started and there's three of them now. They look similar to a bingo card. And there's different categories. So there's 25 boxes with a book that's been made into a movie, a book on the 1971 bestsellers list, a book with a purple cover, a book with a number in the title and so on, and so a lot of people use those categories as they read to help them choose a book. But as it's gone on for the last couple of years less people I think are using the reading guides because they have so many things already on their to be read list.
ANNE: Now I've heard some people argue that if you let people come to literary society — actually, I've never heard anybody but YOU talk about literary society. [TIFFANY LAUGHS] But I think you know what, I mean?
ANNE: And let them show up and talk about the Netflix show they watched, they will never read.
TIFFANY: That has not been true because those – honestly those conversations end up pretty short, the conversations that deal with the audio visuals. Because people just get excited about the books. It's really neat just how much they really want to hear about, you know, a book that you read. Because most people now watch so much more. It's almost more unusual to read, and it's just a new and different experience.
ANNE: And I think there's no more powerful recommendation than to hear someone you have a personal connection to describe a book they loved.
TIFFANY: Exactly, and when they get excited and maybe somebody else has read it or you know, sometimes people have said “this book changed my life.” Well, then you're thinking, “well then, I need to – I need to read this! I need to see how it changed my life.” and one of the – the joys of it also is when, you know, somebody in September talked about a book and then they come back in October and three members have read it and want to talk about it. That's exciting because then you're just sharing that experience and it's really neat.
ANNE: Yes, because for many people half of the fun of reading is getting to talk about what you've read and that – that is true whether you love the book or threw it across the room. Getting to talk about it continues and heightens the experience.
TIFFANY: Yes. It really does. The other thing is whenever we have a new person, which is almost every month, we ask them to tell us three books they love, one book they hate, and what they've been reading lately. And that's a lot of fun, and I always tell them where we got that from, the What Should I Read Next? Podcast.
ANNE: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I wish I could see hyper specific stats. I'd really love to see this glow over Mount Dora, Florida [TIFFANY LAUGHS] on our What Should I Read Next? downloads.
TIFFANY: Yeah, it would be pretty neat.
ANNE: Well when we talk about your favorites today, are we going to hear some of the books you've shared or found at Lit Soc?
TIFFANY: No. I actually went further back. I picked two books that I have actually reread, because I'm not a re-reader. I only read books once typically and then another just favorite that I recommend that often boosts somebody into the reading life. If they say, “I've never been able to get into reading,” there's a book that I recommend that often will jumpstart them.
ANNE: Oh, I'm so curious!
TIFFANY: So those are the ones that I chose. So I actually did not choose any that I've really read in the last year or two.
ANNE: Was it hard to choose?
TIFFANY: Yes, it was impossible. [ANNE LAUGHS] The first two were very easy to choose but the third one, honestly probably 20, 30 books could have gone in that category, but that's the one that I recommend to people. So I thought that's the one I would put.
ANNE: Okay. This is a hard question. If you had to describe your reading life in a nutshell, what would you say about yourself?
TIFFANY: I read first thing in the morning before I get my day started and that's the last thing I do at night. And throughout the day, so I often will read while I eat breakfast and while I eat lunch and if I’m really into a book, I’ll read it at red lights while I'm driving. [ANNE LAUGHS]
And if I'm not reading, if I'm, you know, cleaning my house or something I’m generally listening to a book. So this … I've listened to audiobooks for a long time, but I recently got a subscription to Scribd. I’m not sure if you're familiar with that or if I'm saying it correctly, but it has audiobooks and e-books, and I – like I mentioned I don't read e-books, but I do always have an e-book going now on my phone. So I'm always listening to an audiobook. Reading an e-book, reading a fiction novel and then reading something somewhat inspirational. I also read one chapter from Harry Potter every week to follow along with another podcast. So I read a lot.
ANNE: Is that Harry Potter and the Sacred Text?
ANNE: You will now be the fifth person in the past 10 days to tell me I need to listen to this.
TIFFANY: Oh, I love it so much. It's an excellent podcast.
ANNE: And apparently it keeps you reading Harry Potter all the time.
TIFFANY: You know, I've read Harry Potter, I don't know how many times, so this is just one chapter a week and then you listen to them discuss it in a very serious way and it's just wonderful. It's a lot of fun.
ANNE: Okay, I'm going to need to check this out. [WHISPERS] Can my 13-year-old listen to it?
TIFFANY: I was just going to say it's kind of something my 15 year old son and I do. He and I bond over this whenever we're in the car. It's about 45-minute episodes. So one episode a week works for us.
ANNE: That's so fun that you can do that together.
TIFFANY: So yes, your 13-year-old could definitely listen.
ANNE: Okay, excellent.
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ANNE: You know how this works. You're going to tell me three books you loved, one book you don't and what you've been reading lately and we will talk about what you should read next.
TIFFANY: Great. So, my first one is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I have read it three times, I think, and I've had both of my daughters read it and I recommend it to all sorts of people. I don't know exactly what it is about that book, but I absolutely love it. I love the coming of age story, the description of life in, I think it's like 1920s New York City, Brooklyn. I love that they go, like, get crackers out of the cracker bin and stuff like that. [BOTH LAUGH] I don’t know, that seems like a really random thing to pull out of that, but it’s just a great story. I love slice-of-life books like that.
ANNE: Tell me what you mean by slice-of-life.
TIFFANY: I feel like it just enters somebody's life, the narrator's life at a certain point and ends at a certain point and just kind of tells the daily life. It's not like a thriller or a suspenseful where there's a lead up to a big climax and it just goes along telling you different stories in that person's life.
ANNE: Tiffany, I just read this on audiobook actually, a few years ago.
ANNE: It was one of my mom's favorite books and I'm sorry to say, Mom, you're probably listening. I'm sorry to say but that's a reason that I put it off for a really long time.
TIFFANY: Oh, mm-hmm.
ANNE: I thought, oh I don't know, is that really going to be for my generation? And I loved it so much.
TIFFANY: I think it goes for all generations. My teenage daughters loved it when I had them read it ages, you know, 13 or 14. I can't remember but ...
ANNE: And I find there's so much that appeals to so many different groups of readers. It's a coming-of-age story. It’s the story of a girl who really wants to be a writer. She's living a difficult family. It reads like an underdog story. It's New York City novel.
TIFFANY: We're actually going to New York pretty soon and we'll get to be in that area, I think, and I'm really excited.
ANNE: Well, I'm excited for you.
TIFFANY: I probably need to reread it. I'm not much of a re-reader and I've already read it two or three times, so that's a lot for me.
ANNE: What brought you back to this one?
TIFFANY: I read it first probably in high school. I had a friend who was very into more classics than I was. I read a lot of Sweet Valley High and stuff like that.
TIFFANY: So it was very likely the first really good, well written book that I remember reading. I had a quote “when you read good books, you lose your taste for bad books” or something like that. I can't remember and I ...
ANNE: That’s good.
TIFFANY: Yes, and so I think that it was just my first introduction. So then I read it again sometime I think in my early 20s. I find it interesting if I'm going to reread a book, if it's one that I loved as a younger, you know, 15 to 20 to reread it when I'm older and just see how much it has changed and I did that actually this summer with Judy Blume books. I read about six or seven Judy Blume books and that was eye-opening how much they have changed versus when I read them and what I thought about them, when I was younger reading them. So that's kind of why I've read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a few different times ‘cause I read it so young and it has been an impact and then I just want to kind of see well, what do I think of it now?
ANNE: Tiffany, tell me about another book you love.
TIFFANY: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
ANNE: Which I've read that book more than once, and I had no idea that's where your literary society came from.
TIFFANY: Oh, yes. [LAUGHS] One of the things I love about it is the way it's written in the letters back and forth, and I've only found a couple of other books like that, but I realized I absolutely love that style of a narrative. I love the back and forth. It’s just such a beautiful story and I loved the literary society. I love that side of it. These people who never read... and they kicked the one lady out because she would only read cookbooks and tell all about it. [ANNE LAUGHS] This was during the occupation when they could only eat potato peels and you know, turnip soup.
ANNE: We know you would never do that in Mount Dora.
TIFFANY: That is true. It's just a great story and I ... the Netflix movie that just recently came out. I thought they did a great job with it. I wasn't sure how that would go because of the way the book is written in letters, but I loved how they casted it and I thought they did a great job with the story.
ANNE: I downloaded that to watch on the plane and I just haven't done it yet. Should I?
TIFFANY: Yes, yes.
ANNE: What's your final book, Tiffany?
TIFFANY: For the final book, this is the one that I had a hard time choosing, but I ended up choosing My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. I love all of her books. Some more than others, but this is one that I just … I think it's the first book I ever read where you go back and forth and tell the story through different characters' eyes, and sometimes even the same event but through a different character. She does that in most of her books and I really like that style. And I just think it's a great story and it has such an amazing twist at the end. And it has … I have recommended it to a lot of teenage girls actually and they love it and often will read more books because they enjoyed that one so much.
ANNE: How did you choose this one from your favorites list?
TIFFANY: Well, it was in the running with quite a few others, but I think it came down to just that I recommend it so much to other people.
ANNE: Oh, that's a good way to choose!
TIFFANY: I've – and I haven’t ever forgotten it. ‘Cause sometimes I read too much and then I will love a book, but I won't be able to tell you how it ended. [ANNE LAUGHS] You know … So great. Have you seen the movie?
TIFFANY: They ruined the book with that movie, so don't watch that movie.
ANNE: Would you have felt that way if you hadn't read the book?
TIFFANY: No because I wouldn't have known how badly they ruined it, ‘cause they ruined the ending, which is, to me, almost the best part of the book. I won't say what happens, so.
ANNE: I was going to say thank you for that, I think, but I'm not going to watch it now with that kind of warning.
TIFFANY: [LAUGHS] It’s not worth your time.
ANNE: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. Time is short and I would just as soon read another good book than see a movie that was going to make me angry. Did you have a difficult time coming up with a book that wasn't for you?
TIFFANY: I actually did because I don't finish books that I don't like and even the one that I chose, I didn't finish. A Thousand Years of Solitude or is it A Hundred Years Of Solitude?
ANNE: You know, many readers say that it feels like a thousand years.
TIFFANY: Yes! [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: This one has been both loved and hated on What Should I Read Next in the past. You are not alone.
TIFFANY: I've heard of it as a love and I think that's why I picked it up. You know, my big problem was at about page 40 when I felt like I needed a highlighter with different colors to keep up with which one Juan Arcadio they were talking about, or José Arcadio... I just gave up. They just keep naming their babies the same name and then you have to somehow figure out which one they're talking about in the story and it was so confusing.
ANNE: So if the book requires a family tree in the front, it’s probably not for you. [TIFFANY LAUGHS] What are you reading right now, Tiffany?
TIFFANY: I knew you were going to ask me that and I wanted to start something, but I just finished Guernsey yesterday, but I believe that the next book I'm going to pick up has been sitting on my to-be-read pile for almost a year. And it's The Trespasser by Tana French, and I think that one is the one that is migrating to the top. It just seems the right time. I don't know why.
ANNE: Have you read her before?
TIFFANY: One book by her, The Likeness.
ANNE: Mhmm. Yes.
TIFFANY: I read that one and I enjoyed it and people whose recommendations I respect have recommended her many times. I just haven't quite gotten to this book specifically and I borrowed it from a friend so long ago that I thought this one needs to be next.
ANNE: Tiffany, what do you want more of in your reading life?
TIFFANY: I would actually like to read more nonfiction. I do not read any nonfiction for the most part, but I would like to. For it to really keep my interest at least at this season of my life, it needs to read almost like a true life story where I forget that I'm reading nonfiction, but I like the idea of learning about a historical event or person or something where I actually learn. I do enjoy historical fiction for that reason, but that is still a nonfiction novel that I'm able to keep turning the pages of.
ANNE: What do you find appealing about bringing more nonfiction into your reading life?
TIFFANY: I feel like my knowledge of history, science, things like that are lacking significantly and I guess I would like to just feel smarter [LAUGHS] and know more about those sorts of subjects. And if I could get that knowledge from reading a book that would be even better.
ANNE: Feel smarter and know more.
TIFFANY: Yes. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Have you tried much nonfiction in the past?
TIFFANY: I read quite a bit, I think, in college towards the end of my college life. But since then I haven't read much. I will often check out books, but then not finish them or not quite get to them because the latest fiction novel is drawing my attention. In this season of life, I just find that my capacity to pay attention, I guess? If you knew of any nonfiction books that read like a fiction novel. Like I read Unbroken and really enjoyed that.
ANNE: That's a great example of a nonfiction narrative as it reads like an action movie is what it reads like.
TIFFANY: Yes, that book fascinated me.
ANNE: That's why I was asking because sometimes when I talk to readers who want to read more nonfiction in theory, when they try to read something dense and historical they realize, you know what? Like I want to be the kind of person who likes this, but right now I am not the kind of person who will continue to pick this up. So it's very helpful to know that Unbroken worked for you.
TIFFANY: Yes. It did.
ANNE: It's not a slice of life story, Tiffany, for sure. It's like the whole life story.
TIFFANY: And I found myself looking things up about the Japanese camps and things like that after reading that because it was so interesting.
ANNE: We can go back in time, but you also enjoy, like, coming alongside for somebody telling the story of their life regardless of the era.
TIFFANY: Exactly. I also read many years ago that one … Was it A Million Little Pieces that Oprah featured? And it was that guy's story?
ANNE: James Frey. Yeah.
TIFFANY: I read it thinking it when I – when everybody thought it had really happened, and I found that interesting. Mental illness is always an interesting conversation, you know.
ANNE: Tiffany, do you suspect that reading nonfiction is like a muscle you can build or do you think for you it might be a key of finding the right book?
TIFFANY: I do think it's a muscle you can build because I think it's - it's kind of even like fiction where you have this idea I don't read nonfiction. So you never really look for it. But then if you end up reading a couple of books you think oh, I actually do like this if I can find the right book. So I do think it could be a muscle that you can build. You have a good experience, so then you read another one and another one.
ANNE: How often do people discuss nonfiction picks at literary society?
TIFFANY: Quite often. There are a few people who do read more nonfiction. Some of them really prefer the nonfiction. That's what they want to read.
ANNE: And do you ever find any books that jump out at you from those meetings?
TIFFANY: Sometimes, but I haven't actually read any of them. [LAUGHS]
TIFFANY: Probably the only one that somebody has talked about that has made it to my list right now is Brain On Fire, but I have not read it.
ANNE Are you kidding me?
TIFFANY: Have it on my bedside table. but I haven't read it.
ANNE: I'm looking at the author's name on my screen right now because I couldn't remember it was Susannah Cahalan, and I just scribbled it down in my notes. What are the odds. When you said, mental illness is fascinating...
TIFFANY: Oh, mm-hmm.
ANNE: That's immediately where I went to. Okay. Well I have more than three books to recommend for you. So we'll just add it to the pile.
ANNE: So it does sound like you have options but you really need something delivered to you on a silver platter. Here, read this next.
ANNE: ‘Cause your problem is not one of not having anything to read; it's not knowing which to read.
TIFFANY: Right and wanting to challenge myself a little, you know, step out of my typical comfort zone.
ANNE: There's a phrase that I find helpful when we're talking about book recommendations. I usually don't geek out and discuss it here on the podcast because it's a tech term but there are conversations technology about the “adjacent possible”. In 1940 nobody could invent the iPhone. But in 2005, it was just the next step, not a thousand steps. And I feel like it's helpful to think about our reading lives’ that way too if you don't read nonfiction, then maybe jumping straight into, like, a Doris Kearns Goodwin 1100 page biography of Lincoln is not your next step. It could be something you really enjoy in several steps.
ANNE: One of the best books I've read in the last 10 years, but-
ANNE: Oh, it's so good. It's slow to get started because kind of like with Hundred Years of Solitude, there are so many historical figures to keep straight to really tell the story with the depth she wants to tell it.
ANNE: But at first, you're just getting surface introductions to all the players that either you never learned in high school, college history or you have long since forgotten. But once she sets the story in motion, you just keep turning the pages.
TIFFANY: Well, that's good to know. You know after I get – get my feet wet with some nonfiction
ANNE: We’ll talk in 2021.
TIFFANY: Sounds good.
ANNE: So, Tiffany, to take stock of your books you like to read more nonfiction. But we need to choose these with care. You really like slice-of-life books. Something that I'm really seeing here in My Sister's Keeper, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, all of these books really invite you into someone else's story and they do it in different ways, but you're really getting a very sympathetic portrayal of what it's like to live in these lives and you get to experience it alongside them.
ANNE: As we look for fiction and nonfiction for you, that's something big I'm keeping in mind. Also in your words, you want to feel smarter?
TIFFANY: Yes. I do. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: So I'll keep that in mind, too.
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ANNE: The first book I have zero hesitation about. When you started talking, I thought oh my gosh, she has to read Meet Me At The Museum by Anne Youngson. Do you know this book?
TIFFANY: No, I've never heard of it.
ANNE: I really want you to see if Chrissy can get this for you at Barrel Books and Games, like, today.
ANNE: As soon as you finish Tana French… Don't set that aside, you got to keep that momentum going but-
TIFFANY: [LAUGHS] Okay.
ANNE: I really think this book is for you and I would love to talk to you about it at literary society. This would be fun. Like Guernsey, this is an epistolary novel and like you said that's just a fancy way of saying it's a novel told in letters. And this is Anne Youngson’s debut novel. It just came out in Spring 2018, and writing is not Anne Youngson’s first career. I believe her first career was in the auto industry and she retired. I don't know how old she is, but she has children and grandchildren and then she wrote this novel.
So this is a story told in letters. The correspondence is between an English farmer's wife and a Danish museum curator. I know you like epistolary novels...
TIFFANY: I love them.
ANNE: I don't usually find them compelling. I often get a little bored.
ANNE: So for you you're already predisposed to like this, but for listeners who think “letters, ugh…” I really loved this book and I think the key is that Youngson sets it up to be believable. You can't just decide you're going to tell the novel in letters and just start writing letters. You have to have a situation where it's natural for people to write the letters and where it makes sense for them to include the things they include in the letters. So, the link between this English farmer's wife and Danish museum curator is the Tollund man. And this is a real thing. This is a human body from the Iron Age that was discovered not so long ago. This man was discovered in a bog and he... Golly this is me talking about science. [TIFFANY LAUGHS] He changed the way scientists understood things from that era.
ANNE: The Tollund man is the highly symbolic touchstone this man and this woman start writing to about. Tina did not actually intend to write Anders. She was writing a professor she met once upon a time who knew everything there was to know about the Tollund man. At a certain point in her life, the Tollund man had been very significant to her and a friend of hers. And so she was writing to ask a question and tell a story about why it mattered to her.
ANNE: But that Professor had died. So it's the museum curator who writes back. The way it's set up, you end up with two people who are older and now they're looking back on their lives in their letters and they're reflecting on the choices they've made in their life and their ripple effects.
ANNE: The letters are thoughtful and tender and touching and not boring. Youngson has some very interesting things to say about how the nature of letter writing is different than the emails we zip off to each other these days, so that’s interesting. In this story, there is a point at which the characters do shift to email, but I think she handles that very gracefully and if you skipped over those pages in the book, I don't think you'd realize anything had shifted because they set up certain rules for themselves, and you'll see what I mean, but I think this has elements that many readers who don't typically enjoy epistolary novels will really enjoy but I think for you, especially, I think this book is for you.
TIFFANY: It sounds awesome. It sounds exactly like something I would love to read.
ANNE: Well, I can't wait to hear. Okay. I'm thinking, let's tread softly. How do you feel about reading a book that's often categorized as YA but I think strongly appeals to audiences of all ages?
TIFFANY: I am great with that. I read a lot of YA.
ANNE: Have you read Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys?
TIFFANY: No, but I took a picture of it in a bookstore about a year ago.
ANNE: Okay, I think this is a good sign. I don't want to, like, keep beating The Guernsey drum.
TIFFANY: You can keep beating The Guernsey drum! [ANNE LAUGHS] I love that.
ANNE: I'm sure readers around the world are looking for what to the read next if you enjoyed Guernsey.
TIFFANY: Yes, right. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: But it's not a Guernsey-read alike. I wouldn't call it that at all, but it feels like Guernsey in that you have four main characters who are all fleeing Europe during World War II. Here is what I like about it for you. It's about a disaster at sea. So, you know about the Titanic and you know about the Lusitania. You may enjoy Dead Wake by Erik Larson.
TIFFANY: I know I was just thinking that. That has been recommended to me, but I've not actually picked it up because the sinking of the Lusitania doesn't sound like a really gripping subject that I would want to read about, but I've had people recommend that and say that I would really like it.
ANNE: Although I will say I recommended that to Jessica Turner many, many episodes ago on What Should I Read Next because she wanted to read more nonfiction and her verdict was too much history and not enough story to carry it.
ANNE: But yet I would call it nonfiction that reads like a novel so maybe that's your next step. But right now I want to talk about the Wilhelm Gustloff, which belongs historically right up there with the Titanic and the Lusitania, but it is unknown in comparison. So in this novel, Ruta Sepetys creates a fictional story and places it on top of this historical event in a way that is absolutely gripping and page turning and I think has everything you like.
ANNE: You have four main characters. They each narrate their story and we know you like those changes in point of view. They're all fleeing Europe in 1945. There's also something that they are desperate to leave behind, but they walk onto this ship that is doomed. We're talking about the Titanic and the Lusitania. The number of lives lost on the Wilhelm Gustloff absolutely dwarfs the number of people who died in those previous two disasters at sea.
TIFFANY: So why is it never talked about?
ANNE: Well, that's the question right? It is talked about much more in Europe than in America.
TIFFANY: I see.
ANNE: One possible reason is that by the time the ship was sunk in the winter of 1945, the death toll in World War II that around 10,000 passengers is just little, tiny sliver of the grand scale tragedy going on.
ANNE: But other than that, I don't know. That makes it a really wonderful topic for a historical novel.
TIFFANY: Yes, it does.
ANNE: So the ship was fleeing Europe. It was hugely overcapacity and it was sunk by Soviet torpedoes. In the story we have four young characters who are trying to flee before the Russian army comes in. What I like about them, especially for you, is they feel very real. You're not always rooting for them. They're not always likable. They're not perfect, but they're real and if you're wanting to learn about history and really come alongside and experience on the page, just a glimpse of what that might have been like, I think that setup is really wonderful for you. Keep you turning the pages, you want to know what happens, both to the characters and historically.
TIFFANY: Yes that does sounds really interesting. Did it happen off the coast of England?
ANNE: It was sunk in the Baltic Sea.
TIFFANY: Okay, because I think I saw this in a bookstore in England is where I saw it and took a picture of it.
ANNE: Ooh, very nice. The ship left from Poland.
ANNE: So that's Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. We are going to take a hard left turn. [TIFFANY CHUCKLES] But first I have to say if you really liked Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.
ANNE: I know it sounds like a stretch, but her nonfiction account of the horse Seabiscuit is incredible. I live in Kentucky. I'm pretty sure I started reading this book weeks before the Kentucky Derby, many years ago, and I didn't care about the horse angle. The only reason I picked it up was because I love Laura Hillenbrand. It takes her 10 years to write a book. So I just wanted to read whatever she was writing that I could get my hands on.
While the setting and story are in many respects totally different, the way she tells it is the same and you realize when you're reading it like oh, it's not just the subject I liked. I mean zamp is a great subject. It's not just that that made her tell a compelling story. It's the way she tells the story, and also I think she has an eye for a compelling story because if you're going to spend 10 years of your life writing a book, it better be something interesting.
TIFFANY: That's good to know. Seabiscuit. Because I thought about it many times, but I haven't picked it up.
ANNE: Oh, keep thinking about it.
ANNE: Now we're ready for our left turn. We're going contemporary. We're going fun. Have you read Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl?
TIFFANY: No, I haven’t even heard of that.
ANNE: Okay, the subtitle is “the secret life of a critic in disguise”. This is a memoir. It’s her story. She’s written several memoirs. They’re all wonderful. But this, I think, is the most immediately hospitable for readers who don’t know much about her or the food world. Definitely the most fun.
TIFFANY: She’s a food critic?
ANNE: She was the New York Times food critic for many years.
TIFFANY: Oh, wow.
ANNE: When she took the job, she lived in California. She moved to New York. Now she’s suddenly one of the most powerful people in food. And what she really wants to do is let ordinary diners, this would be like you and me, Tiffany, know what the city’s great restaurants are really like so she’s going to change what she reviews and she’s going to approach it a little differently than her predecessor. As she starts visiting these restaurants, she realizes that as the Times food critic, everybody knows who she is. Her picture is on the back wall of every restaurant in the city.
ANNE: Servers can get like hundreds of dollars in bonuses for saying hey, that’s Ruth at table 17. Like they realize it’s her and the raspberries on her chocolate cake are three times as big, you know ...
TIFFANY: Right, right.
ANNE: … Like her food gets the special treatment. She gets amazing service, which might not be the experience if you and I go in our blue jeans on a Tuesday night, you know?
ANNE: So it’s very interesting to read behind the scenes of, like, her life, how she ended up taking this job and how people are chosen for these roles and why she thought it was compelling and how she moved her family across the country. That’s interesting. But then from there she decides she’s going to go undercover.
So her mother has an old friend who worked in the theater and she enlists her help to develop these personas that she goes out to eat as. So, sometimes she goes to eat as Brenda, who’s this gregarious redhead who’s never met a stranger, who loves everybody, who’s loud and brash. [TIFFANY LAUGHS] She goes out to eat as Chloe, who has a very sleek blond wig that of course, you would never know is a wig and she’s more demure and more sophisticated.
But what she wants to do is experience the city’s great restaurants as just another diner, going undercover and seeing what it might be like to live as another person and see what it’s like to be treated in a different container. That makes it really interesting, not just if you’re into the food world, but if you’re interested in human nature, and I hope we all are, but I think ...
ANNE: … If you want to read nonfiction, this is a great story that is true.
TIFFANY: Yeah, it sounds like a lot of fun to read and would be interesting to see, like you said how she was treated and in these different personas.
ANNE: What’s so fun to read is that’s something that really surprised her.
TIFFANY: Hmm, interesting. All three of these sound like great.
ANNE: And then since it’s on your stack, I think you are absolutely on the right track with Brain on Fire: My Month Of Madness, which is also a gripping true story, but she tells about how when she was 24, she wakes up in a hospital room. She doesn’t know where she is. She doesn’t know how she’s gotten there, and she had a rare autoimmune disease that had attacked her brain, and it’s a scary story.
TIFFANY: It’s terrifying.
ANNE: Right? And it very nearly missed having a really tragic ending. But she goes back and she pieces together what happened. Like, how did she get there.
TIFFANY: That does sound really interesting.
ANNE: Tiffany, so we talked about Meet Me At The Museum by Anne Youngson, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, and Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. Of those three books, what do you think you’ll read next?
TIFFANY: They all sound great actually, but the Meet Me At The Museum because of the letter writing sounds the closest to, I guess, the one that I would want to pick up right away, but all of these sound great and I will be checking the bookstore and my library for them probably today
ANNE: Tiffany, that sounds fantastic to me and I cannot wait to hear what you think.
TIFFANY: I will message you on Instagram.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] And we’ll bring it all full circle. Tiffany, thank you so much for talking books with me today.
TIFFANY: This was a lot of fun. Thank you for having me.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Readers, I hope you enjoyed today’s show. For a full list of the books and resources we talked about today, visit our show notes page at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/269 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today. Plus our episode transcript.
Subscribe now so you don’t miss next week’s episode in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more. We’ve got a good one for you and a little bit different than usual.
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If you’re on twitter, let me know there @AnneBogel. That is Anne with an E, B as in books -O-G-E-L. Tag us on instagram to share what YOU are reading. Find me there at annebogel and at whatshouldireadnext. Our newsletter subscribers are the first to know all our news and happenings; if you’re not on the list visit whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter to sign up for our free weekly delivery.
Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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Books mentioned in this episode:
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♥ A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
♥ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
♥ My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
▵ One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
• The Trespasser by Tana French
• The Likeness by Tana French
• Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
• A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
• Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
• Meet Me At The Museum by Anne Youngson
• Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
• Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
• Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
• Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
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