WSIRN Ep 270: When you NEED a season of low-stress reading

WSIRN Ep 270: When you NEED a season of low-stress reading

Readers, in today’s podcast episode, I’m talking with graphic memoirist and comic creator Lucy Knisley. We chat about her overflowing bookshelves, the pleasures and pitfalls of the creative process, what makes the perfect pandemic stress read, and how to cope with your kids’ evolving reading tastes. Lucy is looking for distraction in her reading life right now and needs some low-stress books to read before bed; I have plenty of recommendations to suit her taste (and fill your to-be-read lists).  

The audio for this episode comes from a live event that we hosted in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. We read Lucy’s graphic food memoir Relish as a bonus book club pick last month, and this What Should I Read Next-style event was an extra sprinkle of bookish joy for our book club members.

We’ve never talked about graphic memoirs and comics in-depth on the podcast before, so we recorded this special event to share with all of you, too. I can’t wait for you to hear Lucy’s enthusiasm for comics, graphic novels, and what those terms even mean.

What Should I Read Next #270: When you NEED a season of low-stress reading with Lucy Knisley

You can follow Lucy Knisley on Instagram or visit her website.


Join us for a Patreon livestream!

Readers, it’s time for our quarterly Patreon livestream! Next week, Brenna and I are hosting a virtual chat in our Patreon community. We’ll hang out, answer your questions, and (of course) share a bunch of book recommendations. 

In addition to these quarterly livestream events, Patreon members receive weekly bonus episodes, access to exclusive events like our Summer Reading Guide unboxing, and a peek behind the scenes at our creative process. They even help in the creative process, shaping our upcoming content, titling episodes and more. In our member community, a good bookish time is had by all.

Join us for our next livestream on Tuesday February 16th at 1 pm. If you can’t make it live, we’ll record the event so members can watch it at any time. 


ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 270.

Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?

We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading, and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.

Readers, it is time for our quarterly Patreon livestream! Next week, Brenna and I are hosting a virtual chat in our Patreon community. We’ll hang out, answer your questions, and (of course) share a bunch of book recommendations. These have been so fun in the past. I can’t wait to do it again soon.

In addition to these quarterly livestream events, Patreon members receive weekly bonus episodes, access to exclusive events like our Summer Reading Guide unboxing, and a peek behind the scenes at our creative process. They even help in the creative process, shaping our upcoming content, titling episodes and more. In our member community, a good bookish time is had by all.

Join us for our next livestream on Tuesday, February 16th at 1 pm. If you can’t make it live, we’ll record the event just like we always do so members can watch it at any time.

To join that community, go to patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext. We can’t wait to talk books with you on the 16th and all month long!

Today I’m talking with graphic memoirist and comic creator Lucy Knisley. We chat about her overflowing bookshelves, the pleasures and pitfalls of the creative process, what makes the perfect pandemic stress read, and how to cope with your kids’ evolving reading tastes. Lucy is looking for distraction in her reading life right now and needs some low-stress books to read before bed; I have plenty of recommendations to suit her taste and fill YOUR to-be-read lists.

The audio for this episode comes from a live event that we hosted recently in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. We read Lucy’s graphic food memoir Relish as a bonus book club pick last month, and this What Should I Read Next-style event was an extra sprinkle of bookish joy for our book club members.

We’ve never talked about graphic memoirs and comics in-depth on the podcast before, so we recorded this special event to share with all of you, too. I can’t wait for you to hear Lucy’s enthusiasm for comics, graphic novels, and what those terms even mean.

Readers, let’s get to it.

Lucy, welcome to the show.

[00:02:19]

LUCY: Thank you.

ANNE: Oh, I’m so excited to talk books and graphic everything with you today.

LUCY: Oh, yes.

ANNE: Not to embarrass you, but you are a critically acclaimed and award winning comic creator; you specialize in personal, confessional graphic novels and travel logs, and it’s because of that work that we are chatting today. We read Relish together here in book club, that’s your graphic memoir about coming-of-age in the kitchen, surrounded by people who love good food and love you.

When we read a book together here, we often get to talk to the authors about their work, the stories behind their work, and about their reading life. It adds so many layers and so much joy to the reading experience. Thank you for joining us today to do exactly that, and for being game to do it in this format. A live podcast recording, on the internet, with an audience. [LUCY LAUGHS]

Now I would love to hear a little bit about how you got started, like, there’s real magic in combining the drawing with the text, what is it about your stories that make them really sing in this format?

[00:03:17]

LUCY: For me graphic novels are something that come really naturally in terms of storytelling. When I started out telling stories, I automatically started drawing them. We all start as kids reading picture books. Those are comics, and you can trace it back as early as cave paintings, like, sequential narrative is something that comes really naturally to human beings, and at a certain point we’re sorta taught that the pictures should fall away, to become serious reading, but for some of us [LAUGHS] that doesn’t really happen, and we start to wonder well why can’t adult books be illustrated? Why can’t I continue to have this dual experience of taking in the pictures while taking in the narrative and for me it’s always been this really natural progression. It helps, also, that my mother is an artist and my father is a literary professor, so the two passions kinda combined in me and I was able to do both without sacrificing either.

ANNE: Mmhmm. Well we really enjoyed getting a glimpse of both your parents in Relish. Would you tell us about that book in your own words, and please, use a better word than graphic memoir because I’ve heard that you don’t feel like that term is quite accurate for that work.

LUCY: Um, I guess not. I don’t know. Comics is fine. Like the problem with all of the terminology with this is that people have weighted them with such certain connotations. The idea of using things like sequential narratives make it sound all grown up and everything but there’s nothing wrong with comics. There’s no reason why comics shouldn’t be seen as an art form, seen as a literary form, so I tend to just use comics to describe my work and the work of other graphic novelists. But it’s tough when I’m like oh, I’m a comic artist. People are like oh, do you draw for Marvel? [ANNE LAUGHS] No, I’m also a comic author, and then they’re like well is it funny? And I’m like not always. [LAUGHS] The terminology is all very convoluted, but comics is fine.

Relish was my second published book. I made it when I was still fairly young, and it collects a series of stories about my experiences growing up with a mother who’s a chef and her chef friends and sorta coming-of-age in restaurant kitchens and catering kitchens. For me comics is a wonderful way to combine two sensory experiences of reading. You’re experiencing the story and experiencing the visual narratives and when you combine that with sense memories of food, smells, tastes, it adds yet another layer of this so I kinda wanted to combine all that in a big soup of a book. [LAUGHS]

I had recently read Images A La Carte by Claes Oldenburg. So he and his partner Coosje van Bruggen really love to dine out together and later in her life, Coosje developed all these food sensitivities and allergies and they could no longer enjoy these wonderful meals that they used to share. Claes started to draw and paint the meals that they really loved, so that she could enjoy them through what she called the astronomy of the eye. And I thought that was so cool, this idea that you could experience a sensory reaction to something by looking at it or hearing about it and I’ve always really responded to food in literature, so I think that comics about food make so much sense.

[00:06:35]

ANNE: Astronomy of the eye. Tell me about responding to food and literature.

LUCY: I’m a big [LAUGHS] compulsive cook. I’m not … Like my mother’s very like okay, meals, like plan out the whole meal from start to finish, nuh nah nah, and I’m like I gotta eat bread like right now. [BOTH LAUGH] So I’ve always been like the kinda person that reads about a meal in a book and then I have to eat it immediately [LAUGHS] so that’s one of these things that I’ve always really liked about reading, having this kinda sensory reaction to it.

My favorite book series while I was growing up and also now is this book series, The Assassins book series by Robin Hobb. It’s like this high fantasy dragons, and talking animals kinda thing. It’s great. But all the food that they describe in it is so good. It’s all just you know, a warm, hearty stew with a piece of cheese on homemade bread, it’s all kinda like rough castle food. That’s the earliest I could remember having this immediate reaction to reading about a meal and being like yes, I’m gonna eat that immediately. And then of course Ernest Hemingway later on and opened up whole new avenues of like I have never had an oyster fresh from the ocean before. I have to have that. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: I was going to say what does Ernest Hemingway eat? I don’t know that I could tell you. I’ve read all those books. See I could remember what you made in Relish, I mean the food was very forward in it, but also there were visuals. So even though I wasn’t necessarily smelling it in my kitchen, I could do it in my mind and I could see it with my eyes, and I really loved the … Was it shiitake mushrooms that I made in the huevos rancheros? Oh, they were so good.

LUCY: [LAUGHS] Thank you.

ANNE: Okay, so Hemingway to fantasy novels with dragons.

LUCY: Mhmm.

[00:08:18]

ANNE: The food speaks to you.

LUCY: It does.

ANNE: I love that. Well you talked about writing about food and about your mom and dad, and something that generated a lot of conversation in our group was that you write almost exclusively about your life in relation to family, which is one reason why I imagine that moms love you, as you were saying before we got started, ‘cause we connect to that. But you know, a reason we can really connect to you and to real life and get thinking about our own, but we did wonder, is it tricky? Like Relish, something new and kids love, they’re all stories about shifting relationships with crucial people in our lives during different and often difficult phases.

LUCY: I’d argue that most books are kinda about shifting relationships and your relationship to your parents in some way, but yeah, it has been a little tricky. But the nice part is that when I got married, he knew what he was getting into, like my parents [LAUGHS] they didn’t sign up for this, but I’m very close with both my parents. I’m an only child. I try to be very respectful when writing about the people in my life, and there’s a reason why I’m kinda pivoting a little bit more towards fiction now in my work because now I have a four-year-old son and he also didn’t ask for this. So as funny as he is, and he’s the funniest person on earth, and I really want to exploit that, I have to kinda reign that in a little bit which is why I focus a lot on explaining my cat more [LAUGHS] to try to like redivert that energy. Particularly now where it’s like I’m trapped in this house. There’s nothing to inspire me that isn’t in this house. Somebody’s gotta do something funny right now.

ANNE: I’m put in mind of David Sedaris. I just re-listened to most of his new collection The Best of Me, which might be exclusively old stuff, but he says like my family didn’t sign up for this, so I bought them a beach house and we all go to it together.

LUCY: [LAUGHS] That’s a good …

ANNE: Not suggesting you should buy like a lakefront home for your family, but it worked for David Sedaris.

LUCY: I’ll think about that.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] Lucy, we’re also talking in early 2021. We still have a pandemic. A bunch of your books are travel logs and I imagine that there’s some kind of wanderlust fueling that. Is literature of your own creation or other people’s helping you cope right now?

[00:10:31]

LUCY: Probably. Frankly, I like the kinda books right now that are all very homey, very you know, Little House on the Prairie kinda style because they’re not about travel and they’re not just taunting me with what I cannot have. I am re-listening to the entire Outlander series, and the one that I’m working on right now, they’re in North Carolina and they’re digging kilns and making butter and raising hogs and stuff, and I’m like yes, this is my jam, this is what I need right now. I need to know like there’s nothing outside the farm. So for travel logs I think that they … They should be outlawed.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] You know, that’s funny, I don’t remember them churning butter in Outlander, but that might jump out to me if I picked it up right now.

LUCY: They’re like a dirty scene with churning butter.

ANNE: I don’t remember. But I know that we have some members today who are huge romance fans who like bookmark the steamy scenes and read them over and over again. I won’t name any names, but they’re gonna look up that butter scene right now. So you just mentioned that you’re transitioning into fiction. That’s so interesting. When Stepping Stones came out last May, May 2020, I wondered what the impetus was for stepping into fiction. Tell me more about experimenting with that genre.

LUCY: I’ve always wanted to. I’ve always felt more challenged by fiction. Comes more naturally as I’ve said to kinda tell true stories in this way because I like the idea of having total control. [LAUGHS] I mean, the truth of the matter is that most cartoonists have a great deal of control over the way that the story is told and digested by the audience because we’re not just describing something, we’re actually drawing the way we remembered it looking. So with true stories, it’s this really great way to be like no, this is my perspective. Not only are you reading about it, you’re seeing through my eyes the way that I remember it. That’s always been like oh, yes. Perfect. I know exactly what to draw. I know exactly how to tell this story.

And with fiction, it’s a lot more creatively taxing to sorta come up with okay, this is from her perspective but I have to draw it so that the audience is seeing it, and it partly came out of my desire to just expand my work and kinda develop, but it also came out of my desire to get a little distance. Not just because I became a mother and, you know, all the ridiculous vulnerability that comes along with that, but because of the way people are on the internet [LAUGHS] too, the way that people now can have this instantaneous connection to the authors in their lives. I needed to create work that was a little bit separate from myself in order to kinda move with the times.

[00:13:15]

ANNE: That is so interesting. Do you feel like that has changed in the little over ten years since you published your first book? That connection between the relationship, the nature of the relationship between authors and the readers?

LUCY: Usually different. I think it’s even changed just over the last year frankly. People are spending a lot more time in their homes and they’re having a lot stronger connections to the people that they read and the people that they follow. Because we don’t have these in person connections that we had in the past, and now we have to balance the connections that we feel with these people with the fact that we don’t actually know them in real life.

And frankly, one of the things that I find really interesting that I have this large range of age in my readership. You know, middle grade at this point, and then I have elderly people and it’s really interesting to me, but when you’re young and you have this passionate connection to something, it can really mess you up to have the ability to then reach out and be like excuse me, but you made this thing that I have a lot of connections and feelings about.

I think that when you’re an adult, you can kinda parse out the difference in ownership, but when you’re younger you can’t, and the internet has warped that so much that I want kids to be able to connect with my work and connect with the characters that they see without feeling like they need to connect with a real human being because it really can mess a kid up. It can mess up everything for someone to put a real human being on this pedestal in such a way. We already have so many incidents of that and how terrifying it is when real people don’t measure up. Part of it is just one to create that space for myself, but also to create that space for my readers.

ANNE: That’s so interesting, and I appreciate you talking about that. Something that’s been really eye opening for me is to realize that there are so many reasons some of the work in front of us, like, really wonderful work in front of us and something that’s really like blown me back but made perfect sense in hindsight is to find out like an author friend I really admire, I said oh, like, you signed a three-book contract. You’re writing a series, like why? Like what changed now? You always said you would do one book at a time? And she said oh, we got medical bills coming down the pipe and I want to know where my money’s coming from. Which - which is completely valid and like a wonderful reason to decide … I mean, that’s how people make decisions about work.

But just thinking about the life you want and the creative career you want and the relationship you want to those readers, people weren’t thinking about this 50 years ago. I mean, they were definitely thinking about where their money’s coming from, but not about Instagram relationships.

[00:15:47]

LUCY: It’s true and you know, you have to think about the trade off. It’s like, okay, I wish I could be Emily Dickinson just like writing poems and hiding them under my bed and never having to publicize myself ever. But that’s not the reality of being an author these days. You have to have a presence online; you have to engage with your readers; you have to have spiels that you rattle off and it’s exhausting. It takes energy away from the work and it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of authors who are just, like … prefer to be Emily Dickinson hiding poems under their beds.

ANNE: Yeah.

LUCY: You know it’s enough vulnerability to publish your work, let alone to stand next to it and be like I made this. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Mmhmm. And let me tell you why it’s amazing and you should plunk down your money for it right now.

LUCY: Yeah, ugh. [BOTH LAUGH] So it’s something I think that a lot of authors are having to think about more these days much more now that we have to create this public persona as well as creating the personas of all our characters.

ANNE: All right, Lucy, I’ve got good news for you. One this show we don’t just ask you questions to like tip you into your talking points. We want to hear about what you love to read and why.

LUCY: Okay.

ANNE: So as we’re talking we can see a whole hundreds of graphic novels and memoirs and other comics behind you, and that might feel like work, but here’s my question. How do you see reading no matter what you’re reading? Whether you’re reading Hemingway or Emily Dickinson or Mariko Tamaki, like how do you see reading as fitting into this work and what is your reading life like these days?

LUCY: Awesome. [BOTH LAUGH] It’s an escape. Thank God for books right now. I’m so grateful. Thank God for, like, digital library downloads. I’ve been very, very lucky in my careers as well to have sorta come up at the same time as a lot of really amazing, talented comic authors, so people like Mariko Tamaki I’ve known for more than a decade and we’re friends and we have, you know, when we’re in the same city together, we hang out. And it’s just so amazing and fulfilling to be able to read their work and also be obsessed with it and be like I know this person and I’m obsessed with this work. It’s so cool. So a lot of my work is keeping up with my colleagues, just trying to read everything that they put out. The sorta wave that comes after that of crushing despair that [LAUGHS] I’m never going to make anything as good as that.

[00:18:08]

ANNE: [LAUGHS] Oh, I hate that that’s part of the process.

LUCY: You know, it’s like the high of oh my God, this is amazing. Oh my God, how am I ever going to make anything as good? And then like I’m glad that my friend has success. Moving on. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: At this point, I mean, you are seasoned at this point, is it helpful to know like this is part of the process? I’m going to be … Like, I won’t be in the trough forever. I’ll be on the come up. This isn’t a problem.

LUCY: Most important thing I think in any profession, in any endeavor, in your relationships, in your life, to sorta be able to watch the patterns and be like okay, I’m having a bad week at work this week. Like I’m not getting anything done. Gee, I wonder why? And then to like look around you and go oh, hm. Uh, the global pandemic? I think there’s other things happening that are affecting me. But to be able to know that you’re going to come back around from it and it’s tough because there’s a lot of voices in your head already.

For example, my mom and I were talking on the phone the other day and she’s like I’m glad to see that you’re back to making comics. I’m like, when did I stop? [LAUGHS] When did I stop busting my ass making comics? When did I stop making comics? She was like oh, you had like a dry spell there for a little bit, and I’m like I didn’t post for like a week. [LAUGHS] And this is the comics I’m making in addition to my like 9 to 5 making pages for my book job. So, okay, well, hm.

It’s just so important to know that you’re going to have your off-times and your on-times and I spent so much of my early career absolutely tortured with the success of others, with feeling inadequate or feeling that someone got you know, the credit that they did not deserve, which is such a waste of energy. It’s such a waste of time.

ANNE: And it’s also so human nature.

LUCY: It is so human nature.

[00:19:44]

ANNE: Yeah.

LUCY: It’s so … But like I promise you if you are being tortured by that, you gotta like eventually it’s going to be easier to sorta recognize that you’re doing that and be like it’s actually okay and moving on. So for me it’s gotten so much easier to be able to be like oh, I’m so happy for them. This is so amazing, this work is awesome. I’m going to tell everybody to buy this book instead of being like [GRUMBLING] why am I not the one getting the [ANNE LAUGHS] deserved praise, so it’s also just sorta getting to a point where I can read a comic and not have it go inside me and poison me to death.

ANNE: Mhmm. And yet based on your favorites, ooh, I have to tell you. I was reading an interview you did online and the question was, tell us five of your favorite books, and you shared nine, and I thought oh. [LAUGHS] That’s relatable.

LUCY: And I’m sure they’re all different. Every time someone has asked me what’s your five favorite books, I’m like, here’s five that I’ve never mentioned before. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: I mean on the show we’re about to talk about your favorite books, but they’re not like your top three of all time. They’re three of your favorites of which there could be allegiance ‘cause, you know, we’re readers and that’s how it goes. There’s all kinds of books to love. You’re not just reading comics. What are some of the other genres that you really gravitate towards and find escape and pleasure in?

LUCY: Fantasy, romantic fiction stuff, like the Outlander books have really rescued me over the past couple of years. [LAUGHS] They’re helping a great deal during the pandemic because there’s so much horrible trauma that happens to the characters and then they just sorta get on with their lives and continue to exist.

ANNE: Next scene, let’s go.

LUCY: Right, yeah like okay, okay, all right. I would just walk into the ocean if that happened to me, but all right, great. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: That’s a hard way to carry on a series though.

LUCY: Oh, God, yeah. I know.

ANNE: Yeah, yeah.

[00:21:31]

LUCY: There’s a reason why we’re like waiting on the next one. [ANNE LAUGHS] But this library seat behind me is just comics, so our other departments [LAUGHS] are scattered throughout our house and as I said, I have a four-year-old and I’m a voracious picture book reader. He’s just started to read in the last year. He’s getting into chapter books, so I’ve, like, finagled him into reading The Phantom Tollbooth and Abel’s Island.

These books that I loved when I was a kid, so I do spend a fair amount of time reading those things, but then he’ll go to the library and pick out like Pokémon comics and I’m like [LAUGHS] all right, it takes more energy to read a comic. It does. It just does. You’re like taking in the story and the pictures and you have to parse that language together. It’s a lot, and then to expand that energy on things like the various Pokémons and their weight, like, did you know that they all have a weight? All of the Pokémon have a weight. And my son loves it, and he’s obsessed, and I have to just be like okay, wake up while reading the book. [ANNE LAUGHS] So I do spend a lot of time reading children’s literature.

Last year I read this … The History of Color, that Kassia St Clair book, which sounds super cool, and it’s such a good read for … I think I read it right around the time when the pandemic was just kicking off ‘cause it was this perfect read where I could pick up the book, read about mauve and then put it down and be like mauve, that was great. I’m going to sleep now. Like you didn’t get all wrapped up into it and not be able to put it down. So that one’s a really favorite of mine that I’ve come back to a couple times in times of stress and anxiety.

ANNE: Okay. I can’t wait to hear more about what you love and get more into the details.

***

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***

ANNE: Lucy, you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three of the many books you love [LUCY LAUGHS] one book you don’t, and what you’ve been reading lately, and we’ll talk about what you may enjoy reading next. Lucy, tell me about the first book you love.

[00:24:29]

LUCY: The Secret Lives of Color. Kassia St Clair. It is a collection of colors and pigments, so each chapter is about a page or two long and shows you the picture of the color and then talks about the origin of the pigment, where it comes from, when people started to use it, how they were using it. So they’ll talk about indigo and they’ll be like right here is how indigo is grown, and here’s how it’s harvested, and here’s when people began to use it. You know, painters that are famous for using it in their works.

Such a chill read. It’s so nice and beautiful and allows you to kinda have this mind wipe where all of the sudden all you can think about is the color indigo and you’re like yes, indigo. Amazing. And you’re thinking about like people in ancient times grinding up their pigment and using it to dye their clothes. It’s so cool and absolutely a wonderful, like, stress read. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Stress read. That sounds like the book you were just talking about, how you could read it before bed and get absorbed in the story, and then set it on your nightstand ‘cause you don’t need to know what that character’s going to do next.

LUCY: Exactly.

ANNE: ‘Cause it’s not going anywhere. The advantage of having a discussion like this, not in person, is I can just hear everybody, like, rushing to Google so they can see the pages. Okay, that was The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair. Lucy, what did you choose for your next favorite?

[00:25:52]

LUCY: I believe it was Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. One of her older books. It came out, I think I was in high school when it came out. There have subsequently been a number of sequels to this book, so if you get into it now you have a lot to go, which I always really love to hear. Everybody crows from the rooftops about Handmaid’s Tale, which is amazing, and I read The Testaments last year and I really loved it. I’m basically obsessed with Margaret Atwood. [ANNE LAUGHS] She’s a goddess.

Oryx and Crake was this revolution for me because I read it and I was able to connect it so much to what was happening in the news and in politics at the time and that was like a real shift for me because I had read Handmaid’s Tale and been like yeah, this … I can see this happening kinda thing, but with Oryx and Crake, it’s much more about genetic engineering and engineering of food and stuff, so it’s stuff I’m already interested in. I’m really interested in the way that we eat and the way that the scientific partnership between food and the genetics.

So she talks a great deal about that and then it’s also a little about the internet ruining everything [LAUGHS] and toxic masculinity ruining everything and it’s just … It’s just such a mind-blowing book and it’s fabulous and scary and informs so much of my life and now I’ll see, like, a commercial for, you know, like lab-grown meat is something she talks about a lot, and in the book she calls it ChickieNobs. [ANNE LAUGHS] Little like nobs that grow on a stock, so it’s lab grown meat. Now I’m always like yes, ChickieNobs, yes. It’s an amazing book and I love it, and I love everything that she does.

I’m currently reading her poetry book Dearly, which just came out, and it’s tragic and beautiful and wonderful. So anyway, Margaret Atwood is a queen and a goddess.

ANNE: What - what’s that one?

LUCY: Okay, so this Solutions and Other Problems. This the new Allie Brosh book.

ANNE: Okay, and that’s your third favorite. I love that you could reach over and grab it from your shelf.

LUCY: I wish I had all of my books surrounding me at all times, but my entire office would be them, so. [LAUGHS] This is amazing. Her first book Hyperbole and a Half came out like six years ago, a really long time and the question as to why that happened is answered in this book and it’s remarkable. I thought this book was so funny. I laughed until I cried. I thought the first book was great.

I thought the second book was more amazing in this way that her storytelling has really deepened, her art style remains this really rudimentary thing where it’s … It’s just so unsophisticated in this really wonderful, effective way. It’s very essential comics thing where it’s like it’s communicating exactly what you want, to communicate without being overly fussy, or like showy or look at me. It’s so good and it’s really sad in various parts of this book, it’s like it hits you like a ton of books that you could go from screaming with laughter to like pit of your stomach horror [LAUGHS] in a way that is a real rollercoaster ride as they say, so I thought this was a really amazing read and I highly recommend it.

[00:29:00]

ANNE: Now, Lucy, perhaps we’ve already covered this, but tell me about a book that’s not right for you.

LUCY: My son is only four and has not yet developed a discerning literature taste.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] Why not? What’s wrong?

LUCY: [LAUGHS] He’s getting there, but it’s funny because I’ll bring these books back that are like by Carson Ellis, and I’m like look at this beautiful, so beautifully drawn, and it’s about like the solstice. Isn’t it wonderful? And he’s like yeah, I’m gonna read that book about dump trucks. Ah. [BOTH LAUGH] I struggle with, like, both the comic artist part of me and the author part of me when I’m reading to him because so many of these picture books either are, like, wonderfully written and terribly drawn, or [LAUGHS] wonderfully drawn and about a dump truck. And it’s like I can’t get invested in this dump truck. I really can’t.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] It just doesn’t like tug at your heart the way you want it to.

LUCY: But fortunately we’re living in an absolutely golden age of children’s literature and I am lucky enough to have a dad, so my son’s grandpa is a literature professor and he’s also worked at a bookstore for a huge portion of his life and he reads all of the like recommended children’s literature things and then just sends them to us, which is awesome. And we also live like a block away from this amazing indie bookstore for children and we live two blocks away from the library, so we just constantly have an influx and it’s great, but I will say I could do without the Pokémon comics and the [LAUGHS] Billy the Dump Truck.

ANNE: When he comes on the show, he can choose that as his favorite. There are books for every reader. It is okay. [LUCY LAUGHS] Although sometimes those readers need to read those books together, you know, The Phantom Tollbooth, that gives me hope for you. [LUCY LAUGHS] Lucy, what are you reading right now?

[00:30:45]

LUCY: I’m reading Margaret Atwood’s new book of poetry, Dearly. It is all work that she wrote in the year that her partner of like 45 years passed away. It’s a lot about mortality and a lot about seizing the day and loss and it absolutely crushes me with every poem. I have to like read a poem and then lie down for six hours. [LAUGHS] It’s very good, but it’s kinda an exhausting read, but excellent at the same time.

And then I’m simultaneously re-listening to The Outlander book series. I’m working on the inks, as it’s called, the ink staging of my next graphic novel, so it’s a little bit mindless and just listening to audiobooks is how I usually get through it and it helps that there are hundreds of thousands of pages of Outlander books [BOTH LAUGH] so I just like won’t run out for a really long time and nothing is super surprising ‘cause I’ve already read it, so I’m like great, okay this is perfect.

ANNE: Lucy, what are you looking for in your reading life right now?

LUCY: Distraction. [LAUGHS] From world news and events. Not really interested in reading any zombie apocalypse pandemic books and I’m particularly fond of you know, smut. [ANNE LAUGHS] I really love Red, White, and Royal Blue. It was so good. I loved The Kiss Quotient. Oh, I just got signed up … My birthday was last week and I got a romance novel book of the month club from The Ripped Bodice, so I’m really excited about that, and I’m going to tear through those. It’s going to be awesome.

ANNE: That sounds fun.

LUCY: I find that between parenthood and pandemic and [LAUGHS] global politics stress, most of the time when I get to read and it’s not for work is like right before bed, so I can’t read anything where a child is endangered, anyone gets hurt in any way. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Mmhmm.

LUCY: Or yeah, any child … Like any children going missing, anything like cannot happen. So I tend to find that romance novels are really chill and relaxing that sorta thing, so between that and like I’m also reading a book about the history of Evanston, because we just moved here, so I’m like. I’m studying up on like oh, the Barnaby family lived here and they had a house nearby where the floors were reinforced because they used to trot elephants through during parties.

ANNE: Oh my gosh.

[00:33:03]

LUCY: I know. [BOTH LAUGH]

ANNE: That sounds like fascinating reading.

LUCY: It’s really cool, I got it from the library. It’s 100 years old, this book is like falling apart. So I always have, like, the things, like okay I need kinda a boring read, okay I need smut, I need background stuff while I work or I need to keep up with my friends who are making graphic novels. There’s like a wide array of things going at any time.

ANNE: As there should be.

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***

ANNE: So the books you love, The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, the Goddess, the book itself being a revelation. [WHISPERS] I’ve never read it. And Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. And I mean, you know, you want to choose your own books, not have your four-year-old choose them.

[00:36:06]

LUCY: Yeah.

ANNE: Yeah, that’s legit. All right, Lucy, I got ideas for you.

LUCY: Yay!

[00:36:10]

ANNE: You’ve mentioned that you like romance, you like historical romance. I have read on the interwebs you like a sassy heroine.

LUCY: Mmhmm.

ANNE: Okay, there’s a romance novelist named Mia Vincy. She has a series. It’s called the Longhope Abbey series, and I really want you to start with book three which you can totally do. It’s called A Wicked Kind of Husband. It’s just so much fun. I mean like the snappy banter between the two main characters, who of course hate each other, is just so fun. The plot revolves around a marriage of convenience. The bride has seen her husband only once. That was the plan. They don’t want to know each other or live with each other, like that would not be the point, are you kidding me. They are both perfectly pleased with the arrangement. Separate lives, separate towns.

When they meet in London, like everybody in their circle of acquaintances cracks up because they all recognize that these people are married, but people married to each other don’t recognize each other and it’s kinda embarrassing and they kinda like have to fudge their way through the situation so it’s not so horribly awkward. But they’re forced to get to know each other and it’s a historical romance novel. I mean, you know how the plot’s going to go.

But not exactly how it’s going to go. So it can be comforting and surprising but still you ultimately know, like this is going to end the way romance novels end, which is happily. For romance readers who want to know, there are some definite open door moments here, you know, get your bookmarks ready or move on to something else accordingly. That was A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy.

Okay, next … This would be right at home on an eclectic shelf. You mentioned we’re living in a golden era of children’s literature. The next book I have in mind for you is the Margaret Wise Brown bio by Amy Gary. It’s called In the Great Green Room: A Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown, and this one is pretty new … I think it just came out last year and this is a biography of the author of Goodnight Moon, who I just assumed … I mean, she wrote this classic children’s book that sold 48 bazillion copies and has all kinds of spinoffs like Goodnight Mr. Darcy, which I love that you all feel like I need to know any kind of Jane Austen spinoff children’s book. My inbox is filled immediately. But you know, it’s an icon.

But the woman behind it wasn’t like just a stay, little boring librarian, not that librarians are boring, but I definitely got an image of the kind of woman who would write this kind of book, and it’s all wrong. She was fascinating. She really pushed the boundaries of what was “acceptable” — with my air quotes — by society. She was fiery and independent. She built this whole life that didn’t adhere to the societal norms of the day. She had like strong, passionate relationships with men and with women. She lived life in an artistic, nurturing, and supportive community that included a bunch of artists. Some connections that turned out to be quite lucrative because she came on the scene right after World War II when the market for children’s literature just exploded.

And she invented many of the elements we take for granted in those children’s books that you love to read with your kid that we’re still reading now, like she came up with them. And the author had access to these recently uncovered papers and a bunch of unpublished books and diaries, and she also wrote poetry. And some of that poetry introduces each chapter of the book. I hope you’re not going to sit down to read this book and read a snippet of poetry introducing the chapter and then need your smelling salts and to like collapse on the floor for six hours like you do with Margaret Atwood’s poems, but since you do love poetry that might be a fun connection. How does that sound?

[00:39:31]

LUCY: That sounds great. I’ve heard crazy things about her, so I’d loved to read about her more.

ANNE: I mean, they’re the kind of things that make for fascinating reading. Okay, finally, you talked about how you’re creating farm life and churning butter and the Little House on the Prairie vibe and the Outlander that has all those domestic elements, but I mean, you also love a good YA protagonist, is this right?

LUCY: Correct.

ANNE: Nina LaCour has a new book out in 2020. It is contemporary, paranormal fiction. It is called Watch Over Me and it’s a quiet, gentle, not so spooky ghost story about a child who’s just aged out of the foster system and needs somewhere to go. So when she moves into this family’s house, she’s immediately drawn to the warmth and sense of family among the others who live at the farm there, but she slowly realizes the place is haunted by the past traumas of the young residents and that brings her own past pain rising to the surface.

But it sounds spookier than it is. It’s not like a jumpscare ghost story. It’s a story about learning to accept love and also perhaps the ghost of your past self and while some difficult things happen with the little boy, he is safe and sound. Bad things do not happen in the end. Hope and love triumph. I think it could be a lot of fun for you. That is Watch Over Me, Nina LaCour.

[00:40:49]

LUCY: Thank you.

ANNE: Lucy, we talked about A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy, In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary, and Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour. Of those three books, what do you think you’ll read next?

LUCY: I think I will probably read the Nina LaCour book first.

ANNE: I am so glad that sounds good to you because I think that has your name on it.

LUCY: Different enough from all of my other [LAUGHS] in process reading.

ANNE: I can’t wait to hear what you think, and I’m glad it’ll be a nice addition to your mix.

[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Lucy today, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/270 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today. You’ll also find information about the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club and our upcoming author chat with Ryan Stradal right there on that page.

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

To support our show and get weekly bonus episodes, access to our upcoming livestream, and a peek behind the scenes, join our Patreon community at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext. And while we create these perks as a thank you to readers who financially support the show, we found out in a recent patreon survey that the majority of readers sign up simply because they want to tangibly support what we’re making here, and we’re so grateful. Sign up to become a supporter at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext

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Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.

Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.

And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

Relish by Lucy Knisley
Images À la Carte by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy #1) by Robin Hobb
Ernest Hemingway (try A Moveable Feast)
The Best of Me by David Sedaris
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (start with Outlander #1)
Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley
Emily Dickinson (try Hope is the Thing with Feathers: Poems of Emily Dickinson)
Mariko Tamaki (try Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me)
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Abel’s Island by William Steig
The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair
♥ Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
♥ Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
Carson Ellis (try Home)
Pokémon Pocket Comics by Santa Harukaze
Dearly: New Poems by Margaret Atwood
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
A Wicked Kind of Husband (Long Hope Abbey #3) by Mia Vincy
In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary
Watch Over Me by Nina Lacour

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  1. Andrea says:

    I was drawn to this episode because I’ve been needing some low-stress books and then I was THRILLED to see that Lucy Knisley was the guest! If you like Relish, I’d also recommend her books Displacement and Kid Gloves. Would love to hear recommendations for more graphic novels for adults! They indulge my childhood love of comic books 🙂

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