Readers, today’s show is a de-light. We have had mother-daughter duos on the show and even a father-daughter duo with Ashley and Brent from episode 155, but today I’m talking with Rebekah and Beverly, our first grandmother-granddaughter pair — and Beverly is our first nonogenarian!
When Rebekah sent in a guest submission she included three books she and Beverly both love, but then she put her own fun twist on the rest. She told us one book that Beverly loved and Rebekah hated, and another Rebekah loved but Beverly hated. My tricky task is to find three books they’ll both enjoy reading together. As it turns out, the options are plentiful—In fact I had a hard time keeping myself to just three recommendations and I might have slipped in a bonus title or two. I just couldn’t help myself.
Let’s get to it.
Beverly is not on social media, but you can find Rebekah on Twitter.
BEVERLY: My daughter, uhh, [LAUGHS] Rebekah’s mother, gave it to me excited knowing that I was just going to love it.
REBEKAH: And I told her not to buy this book. [ANNE LAUGHS]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 273.
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, there are a lot of ways to connect with me and with the show, but if you’re not signed up for our weekly emails you’re missing out. We send one email a week on Tuesdays with links to our show notes and extra details we might mention in the episode. Plus it’s my chance to share three things I love and one I don’t that are of interest to readers, plus what I’m reading now, so you get to see what’s on my nightstand.
As a newsletter subscriber you’ll also be first to know about any What Should I Read Next news: Things like our listener call in episodes, events like our summer reading guide unboxing, and a special announcement that is just far enough off I probably shouldn’t even mention it. When we make that announcement you’ll be first to know if you’re subscribed. Sign up at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter
Readers, today’s show is a de-light. We have had mother-daughter duos on the show and even a father-daughter duo with Ashley and Brent from episode 155, but today I’m talking with Rebekah and Beverly, our first grandmother-granddaughter pair — and Beverly is our first nonagenarian!
When Rebekah sent in a guest submission — that’s at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/guest — she included three books she and Beverly both love, but then she put her own fun twist on the rest. She told us one book that Beverly loved and she hated, and another she loved but Beverly hated. My tricky task is to find three books they’ll both enjoy reading together. As it turns out, the options are plentiful — In fact I had a hard time keeping myself to just three recommendations and I might have slipped in a bonus title or two. I just couldn’t help myself.
Readers, I can’t wait for you to listen.
Let’s get to it!
Rebekah and Beverly, welcome to the show.
REBEKAH: Thank you for having us.
BEVERLY: Delighted to be here.
ANNE: You are our first grandma and granddaughter duo, and this is a pleasure.
REBEKAH: [LAUGHS] We’re very proud to represent grandmothers and granddaughters. [BEVERLY LAUGHS]
ANNE: I have some memories of reading with my own grandparents, like my maternal grandmother read us the childhood books she loved when my cousins and I were kids, but we didn’t like them as much, but that was okay. [REBEKAH LAUGHS] And then in her later years, I would read to my paternal grandmother when her eyes started failing. She still loved to read, and she was very persistent on the idea that she did not want to listen to audiobooks, but she listened to people read to her so the last book that we read some together was Becoming by Michelle Obama. That was her choice.
Talking to you all today just puts me in mind of my own relationships and I’m sure that’s how a lot of listeners are going to feel today. Rebekah and Beverly, would you tell us a little about your history of reading together?
REBEKAH: Well you know, my grandmother is one of the very first people who I feel took me seriously as a reader. You know, I grew up to be an English major and now I’m an English teacher, so obviously that was very formative, but when I was little, Grandmomma would always ask me about what I was reading and not just to tell her the title, but she would say oh, tell me about that. Tell me about that book. What is that about? And even if it was The Baby-Sitter's Club or an American Girl book, you know, she was always genuinely interested in hearing about the stories I was reading.
And I have the best memories of coming here to spend a weekend when my parents were away, and she would always leave me a new book on my bed. And it wasn’t just something that she would like, it was always something that she thought I would like. It was always a new Baby-Sitter's Club book or a Sweet Valley High book, and then you know as - as I got older, she asked me serious questions about books like To Kill a Mockingbird, you know, when I was reading that and we’ve just always have had great conversations about books and what we’re reading.
My grandmother has always modeled reading for me. I’ve always, always known her to have a book or two going and so it’s always been a topic of conversation that I think as I’ve become an adult, our sorta reading relationship has grown more organically and what we’ve found especially in the last decade or so is that we have this huge overlap in the kinds of books that we both like and while I read some things she wouldn’t be interested in, and she reads some things that aren’t for me, we have this big circle in our Venn diagram of books that we love to read together and to recommend to one another and to chew on together.
ANNE: Now, Beverly, when you were giving young Rebekah The Baby-Sitter's Club, [REBEKAH LAUGHS] which I love that you did, and American Girl books, that must have been so satisfying to see your granddaughter embrace reading, but did you have any idea that you were raising a lifelong reading partner?
BEVERLY: No, I didn’t. And in fact as I sit here and listen to Rebekah, I almost don’t even remember some of those things that were so natural at the time, but what I do know is that the relationship that we have now is of envy with all of my friends that I’m just close to my granddaughter as I am, and that we share this love of books. It has just tied us together like nothing else could. It’s just been a blessing. That's all I can say.
ANNE: Did you have someone in your young life that took you seriously as a reader and fuelled your love of books?
BEVERLY: You know, I don’t think I did. I can remember loving books, remember Rebekah, I wrote one. [LAUGHS]
REBEKAH: Yes, she was a great author as a child.
BEVERLY: And I don’t know why I did that, but I don’t remember anyone reading to me but I do remember loving them and - and I wish I could point to somebody, but I really don’t.
ANNE: Over the years, how have you all enjoyed connecting over books? Do you talk on the phone? Do you get together in person? Is there tea involved?
REBEKAH: [LAUGHS] There’s always coffee.
BEVERLY: Always coffee. [BEVERLY AND ANNE LAUGH]
REBEKAH: And in fact there’s been coffee involved since I think I was in fourth or fifth grade, [BEVERLY LAUGHS] which is very irresponsible probably, but that’s the way it’s always been. No, you know, we really … We read sorta informally together. We don’t necessarily schedule a book club meeting, but whenever I read something that I know she would love, I would send her the title or sometimes if I’m very, very excited about it, I will just send her the Kindle book. [REBEKAH AND ANNE LAUGH] Automatically.
BEVERLY: Oh, that she does. That is the most precious thing, and she has introduced me to good authors. I was read … I was telling her before this started, that my reading before she got to be an adult and read a lot, was just random reading, but she has introduced me to wonderful authors and now I get one and I try to read everything that they write, it’s just a … It’s just enlarged my reading so much. She’s just … She’s been my mentor.
REBEKAH: It’s kinda been a joke with me and my mother that my mom tries to buy Grandmomma books, [BEVERLY LAUGHS] and sometimes they’re hits and a lot of times they’re misses. [ANNE LAUGHS] And I’ll tell my mom when she tells me what she’s planning to get, I’ll say I don’t think that’s for her. [BEVERLY LAUGHS] I don’t think she’s going to like that, but my mom persists, and so it’s become a little of a family joke that I know that Grandmomma likes to read, and Grandmomma knows what I like to read, but it’s sorta just that. It’s just a two way street. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Yeah. Now this question is asked in the spirit of love and not snarkiness, [BEVERLY LAUGHS] but where does your mom go wrong and where do you go right?
REBEKAH: Ooh. I think that my mom sometimes goes wrong by picking new, hot, popular, bookstagrammy books that do have things in them that I would think, you know, might be appealing to Grandmomma, but a lot of what Grandmomma and I read are backlist titles. Not entirely, but often you know, they’re quieter, gentler books that are not necessarily in the foreground of reading in the moment.
REBEKAH: They’re not necessarily trendy books, and I think that’s one of the keys to our reading success.
BEVERLY: We love period books, you know, time periods, historical books and I especially love books that are based on fact and redemptive qualities. I don’t like to just read a book and escape. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Unless you’re escaping to the gilded age France?
[REBEKAH AND BEVERLY LAUGH]
ANNE: Can you tell me what some of those books are that Rebekah loved so much that she just went ahead and sent them to Beverly on her Kindle?
BEVERLY: Oh, I think Winter Garden by … Uh …
REBEKAH: Kristin Hannah.
BEVERLY: Kristin Hannah.
REBEKAH: Mmhmm. I sent Winter Solstice …
BEVERLY: Yeah, Winter Solstice.
REBEKAH: Last year. As soon as I read it, I said you know what, we’re not going to wait until her birthday or Christmas. [ANNE LAUGHS] She just needs to read this book right now. There’s been some other books that when I’ve read them, and we’ll talk about one of them later on, as soon as I read it, I immediately bought a copy for her even though it was …
BEVERLY: It was not an occasion.
REBEKAH: No! And even though her birthday was months and months away, I said, if I just save this for her birthday I will, but this is a book that she absolutely has to read ‘cause I know that she’s going to love it.
ANNE: Rebekah, what is it about a book that makes you think oh, this is for Grandmomma?
REBEKAH: [LAUGHS] I think it is a book that makes you think, a book that has you know, issues of real struggles that real people face even if it’s a work of fiction. Typically we do love historical books, so historical fiction or historical nonfiction, and also like she said, books that have some kind of redemptive ending. I tend to … You know, when I’m not reading with Grandmomma, I will read darker books. [BEVERLY LAUGHS] But those are not the ones that I pass along. I know that she needs to like the characters and admire the characters.
BEVERLY: And identify with them.
REBEKAH: Right, be able to identify with the characters. So books that have a great protagonist, you know, who we can want to be, I think, are books that I send her way.
ANNE: Rebekah, give me a feel for a kind of book that would be too dark to want to pass along to Beverly. [BEVERLY LAUGHS]
REBEKAH: Let me pull up my Goodreads real quick. [ANNE LAUGHS] What have I read recently? I’ll tell you a book that I did pass to her very recently that she didn’t love as much as I did was The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. I think by the end of the book you did like it, right, Grandmomma?
REBEKAH: Yes, by the end of the book, you know she found that sorta happier, or more redemptive ending, but for most of the book it was very sad. That is not the kind of book I would normally pass on to her, but I thought she might really like it, and you kinda liked it.
BEVERLY: Yes, I finally appreciated it when I knew more about the author.
REBEKAH: Or you know, I recently read and liked Mexican Gothic. I would never pass that [REBEKAH AND ANNE LAUGH] to Grandmomma. That’s like a lot to too much. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. And I also, you know, I read lots of frothy romances that I wouldn’t pass her way either. It has to be a story that has real depth, but not persistent darkness.
ANNE: The Vanishing Half and Mexican Gothic, they both have a redemptive element, but you want more than like a 300 out of 400 page ratio.
[REBEKAH AND BEVERLY LAUGH]
REBEKAH: Correct. And it needs to be a little bit longer than the last, you know, half of a chapter.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Okay. That’s so fun. We can work with that. Beverly, have you passed any books to Rebekah recently?
BEVERLY: I’m urging her to read one right now. I have a favorite author, Joel Rosenberg.
ANNE: I don’t know Joel Rosenberg.
BEVERLY: I don’t remember how I got onto him. This book that I just urged her to get is The Escape from Auschwitz and it’s based on actual accounts of very, very few prisoners that escaped that death camp during the war. I want her to read it to tell me if she thinks he is really a good writer [REBEKAH LAUGHS] because I know the story is compelling.
REBEKAH: She’s been raving about this for months, so it’s really top of my TBR. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay, the time is drawing near.
REBEKAH: Yes, exactly. I’m not going to get away from it much longer. [ALL LAUGH]
ANNE: REBEKAH and Beverly, today you all have come prepared to share three favorites that you hold in common as well as books that didn’t work for you that you did not hold in common. [REBEKAH LAUGHS] Which I thought was very interesting and I’m looking forward to hearing more about. Did you all decide on these books together?
REBEKAH: We did, yeah. I sorta … I thought about them first and then sorta presented them to Grandmomma to make sure that she agreed, but I tried to think of books that we’ve read recently within the last year that we both really liked that also showed the kinda variety that we enjoy when we’re reading together.
ANNE: I like it. Okay, I’m excited to hear. What did you choose for your first book?
REBEKAH: So our first book is Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, which I just mentioned I sent to Grandmomma on Kindle immediately after reading it last winter. This is just the coziest book, and in fact it’s so cozy and so gentle that Grandmomma said she had a lot of trouble remembering it. Even though she remembered she loved it. Because so little happens, but we kinda like books like that. It’s just a book about living and community and how people come together to support each other. I mean, I clearly remember scenes of, you know, people making tea in this book. [ANNE LAUGHS] Like that is the kinda book it is. There’s no big drama. There’s no big shocks. It’s just about relationships.
ANNE: You know, I almost reread this one back in December and now I’m wishing I had. [REBEKAH LAUGHS] Now I’m thinking I might actually. Have you read other books by Rosamunde Pilcher?
REBEKAH: Yes, we read Coming Home.
BEVERLY: Oh, that was my favorite. It was wonderful.
REBEKAH: And I’ve read The Shell Seekers as well.
ANNE: But you haven’t passed that along.
REBEKAH: No, I haven’t, and I don’t know why I haven’t.
BEVERLY: Well, I could …
ANNE: Oh, Beverly, I think you might really like that one.
REBECA: Yeah, I think she will. Yeah.
BEVERLY: I will. Yes, I would love to read it. Wasn’t aware of it.
ANNE: Coming Home is the only one of her big four, and you could mean that as either best selling or brick sized that I have yet to read, but I keep hearing I need to.
BEVERLY: Oh, it’s wonderful.
REBEKAH: That was the very first I read of hers, sorta got me into the Rosamunde Pilcher world, but I think we also love the size of her books. I’ve been less intrigued to read some of the smaller titles because we like …
BEVERLY: Long books. [LAUGHS]
REBEKAH: Looong books, yeah, that you can really just get sucked into and spend a long time in that world with those people.
ANNE: Mmhmm. And in that period.
REBEKAH: Yes. [LAUGHS]
BEVERLY: In that period. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay, so that’s Winter Solstice by Rosemunde Pilcher. What did you choose for book two?
REBEKAH: Book two is a slight departure. It is Library of Legends by Janie Chang. This book is also a little bit … Well, it’s a lot bit historical. It takes place in 1937. This is one of the books as Grandmomma was talking about liking books that are based in true facts, based in real history. This is a book that’s fiction, but it is inspired by real events that we had no idea about until we read this book, and so we got to learn while we were being told a great story, but it’s about college students in China in 1937 and the lead up to World War II. Japan is attacking China. They have such reverence for their history as a country and for knowledge. The professors at the university pack up the library, and they put it on the backs of the students and they walk inland to try to get away from the bombing, and also to try to preserve these myths and legends and stories that are so important to Chinese culture.
So it’s another book about resilience, you know, the bravery and courage of ordinary people in extraordinary times, but there’s also intrigue in this book. There are spies for Japan and you don’t know who to trust. There’s a little bit of a love story, and there’s also the tiniest bit of magical realism, which is not normally maybe the main thing that we would choose in a book together but some of these myths that the students are carrying on their backs come to life. They’re - they’re real and they’re living among them and so there’s a little tiny touch of that that was also really, really intriguing.
REBEKAH: But it’s another quiet book. I passed it to my mother before I passed it to Grandmomma.
BEVERLY: Did she like it?
REBEKAH: She hated it. [BEVERLY LAUGHS] She hated it because she said there’s nothing that happens in this book. This is a boring book. [ANNE LAUGHS] And I said, no, this is not a boring book! These people are so brave!
BEVERLY: Yes! The bravery.
REBEKAH: And so it’s really, it’s also a book that has great scope as the students ... They march through all of China. I mean …
BEVERLY: Thousands of miles.
REBEKAH: Yes, thousands of miles around the country and so you get to see lots of the country. You get to see lots of different cities, and it really, you know, we read a lot of World War II fiction together and it was something I had no idea had ever happened and this really happened at lots of universities around China during this time period.
ANNE: That sounds so interesting. And I like that this was a change of pace for you. Rebekah, I’m guessing that you discovered this one?
REBEKAH: I did. I just … I picked it as my book of the month book. [BEVERLY LAUGHS] I hadn’t really planned on reading it but there was just something about it and it was probably that it took place in the lead up to World War II that really intrigued me.
ANNE: And what did you choose for your final favorite in common?
REBEKAH: [LAUGHS] Our final favorite in common is The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. And this one is another book that sorta took me by surprise. We are big Austenites here, but I don’t typically read Austen spin offs or Austen-inspired books because I don’t really like them. I just want the real thing. If I’m going to do it, I want the real stuff, but I picked this up, I’m pretty sure it was based on your recommendation, Anne. Somewhere. Instagram, [LAUGHS] or the podcast.
It’s the story, the fictional story of four people in the English village of Chawton, where Jane Austen lived, following the war who all love Jane Austen and find comfort in her books for different reasons. There’s a young widow and an older doctor who’s a widower, and also feels responsible for taking care of the whole village. There is a young farmer who is traumatized by the war. There’s an American movie star who is fascinated by Jane Austen and finds herself in England. And these four people come together to form a society, to build a museum so that when tourists come to Chawton, they can experience Jane’s home and a bit of Jane’s life. This is the only book I’ve ever read that made me cry happy tears. [BEVERLY LAUGHS]
REBEKAH: I think that’s just a testament to how deeply I cared about these characters. It’s a really character-rich story and we get to learn about each of these individuals and then how they form relationships and community together. It was beautifully written. I find that lots of other Austen spin offs are maybe trying a little bit too hard to sound like Jane Austen and that’s off putting, but this just felt like so natural and such a beautiful story. It reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society. Do you remember that book?
BEVERLY: Yes. I do.
REBEKAH: Yeah, and so far it’s a story about you know people from really different walks of life coming together over books.
ANNE: Tell me more about reading Jane Austen.
REBEKAH: Oh, Jane Austen’s our favorite. [LAUGHS] The ultimate - ultimate favorite and in fact Grandmomma has been going back to read the books recently, right?
REBEKAH: You know I’ve been reading the books for eons and I reread every year. I just reread Sense and Sensibility last month, and I love that you can come back to Jane Austen year after year and find new things and as you get older you see it all differently. You know, I saw Marianne so differently this time than I did five or ten years ago, the last time I read Sense and Sensibility. But we’re kinda Austen purists, you know? [REBEKAH AND BEVERLY LAUGH]
ANNE: So I can see how The Jane Austen Society isn’t retelling or reinterpreting but was showing how she helped other people through a trying time and how she brought them together.
ANNE: Okay. Close, but not too close.
REBEKAH: Right. Exactly. [BEVERLY LAUGHS]
ANNE: I’m so glad that one worked for you. Now usually on What Should I Read Next, we ask for a book that you didn’t like. What you have to share with us is books that each of you didn’t like, but the other one did. I love that idea and can’t wait to hear more. Beverly, tell me about a book that was not for you.
BEVERLY: City of Girls, uh …
REBEKAH: By Elizabeth Gilbert.
BEVERLY: My daughter [LAUGHS] Rebekah’s mother gave it to me excited knowing that I was just going to love it.
REBEKAH: And I told her not to buy this book.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] What were the warning signs?
REBEKAH: I just did not think that the main character was a character that Grandmomma could admire or connect with.
BEVERLY: It - it had no redemptive quality to me. [REBEKAH LAUGHS] It was a story of girls who went to New York and threw caution to the wind and lived entirely for themselves and you know, I - I found nothing [LAUGHS] to inspire me or encourage me.
ANNE: Rebekah, have you read this one?
REBEKAH: I loved City of Girls. [ALL LAUGH] I read it on a single flight. I just … It was a long flight. It was like a three hour flight, but I mean that’s a big, thick book and I just absorbed it. I downed it in one, big gulp. You know, I don’t have to like my characters to like a book or, you know, want to emulate them, but I loved the epic scope of the book. I love books that are long, but also books that span decades, books that take you through someone’s life and so I love that we got to follow characters for years and years and years and see them as they got older and changed and matured in different ways. I love Elizabeth Gilbert as a novelist. I loved the signature of all things. I think that she writes historical fiction in a really compelling, but believable way.
ANNE: Now, Rebekah, it’s your turn. Tell me about a book that was not for you.
REBEKAH: Well I’m afraid this will be rather scandalous among your listeners, but I hated Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
BEVERLY: And I loved it. [ALL LAUGH]
ANNE: And I haven’t read it.
REBEKAH: Well [LAUGHS] don’t listen to us.
ANNE: You can talk me into it and out of it.
REBEKAH: I felt like it was a book that was all atmosphere and no substance. I really admired Delia Owens for writing it. I know that she’s … I think she’s a scientist by training. She’s not a novelist, you know, necessarily, and so congratulations to her. It’s a hugely popular book and people love it but I think I just didn’t find it believable. I didn’t find the characters believable. It felt more like a fable to me and there’s a kind of twist at the end that honestly made me want to throw the book across the room. I think it was a three star book for me until the last two chapters and then it just became a one star book.
BEVERLY: Yeah. I agree with that.
REBEKAH: [LAUGHS] She didn’t like the ending either, but she liked the book overall.
ANNE: Yeah. Beverly, tell me more about your experience reading this.
BEVERLY: I like books where people are faced with insurmountable obstacles and overcome them and, you know, are victorious in overcoming bad circumstances and that’s what I liked about this book, this girl who just had nothing and was left to her own resources, how she managed to face life and become a productive person and even a well known person.
ANNE: What are you reading right now?
REBEKAH: We are actually reading something in tandem right now. We’re reading The Splendid and the Vile by Eric Larson.
BEVERLY: Oh, and it’s marvelous!
ANNE: How often do you read nonfiction together or apart?
BEVERLY: Whenever a good one comes across. [ANNE LAUGHS]
REBEKAH: Yeah! Even though most of what we’ve given you is fiction, I think we are also both hearty readers of nonfiction. We read a lot of Christian nonfiction, inspirational nonfiction together and separately.
BEVERLY: Biographies … I love biographies.
REBEKAH: Mmhmm. She loves biographies. I don’t do biographies as much. But this was - this was one of the books I gave her for Christmas. I know that she loves going deep into the lives of courageous people who face insurmountable odds and The Splendid and the Vile is about one year at the beginning of World War II in the life of Winston Churchill.
BEVERLY: Oh, yes.
REBEKAH: And so I wanted to read it because I just needed some inspiration to tell you the truth after this year. I just wanted to read about you know, real people overcoming really scary things and great leadership. And I knew that because of the time period and because of the figure of Churchill, and because of the length of the book. It is a hefty book. She’s reading it on Kindle. I’m reading it on paper and it hurts my hands to hold it. [BEVERLY LAUGHS] But I figure she would like it and so I think we’re both about 30% into it.
REBEKAH: So we’ve got a ways to go, but we’re loving it. It’s - it’s a page turner.
ANNE: Now when it comes to books that you may enjoy reading together, what are you on the lookout for?
REBEKAH: I think we’re just on the lookout for that sweet spot, that sweet spot of books that really do have depth. They aren’t just light and frivolous.
REBEKAH: And there’s a lot of that, especially in historical fiction I think. There’s a lot of books that are okay.
BEVERLY: Yeah, they’re just light.
REBEKAH: Yeah, they don’t have deep, human issues at the center of them. They’re just kinda like …
BEVERLY: And not always well written, you know.
REBEKAH: Right, they’re not always so well written you can sorta see the strings that the author is pulling. So we’re looking for books that have that depth. They don’t need to be happy endings but have that sorta redemptive, just things that we can both enjoy chewing on together as we read.
ANNE: That’s helpful. You mentioned that you love backlist. Would you say that’s a priority or does it just so happen that you found it fruitful to go back decades and not just a year or two when you’re looking for titles?
REBEKAH: I don’t know if it’s a priority. I think it’s more coincidence and more maybe telling the spirit of the writing itself or the spirit of the book that it’s maybe a little bit older. Although two of the books that we gave you are pretty new, so … [LAUGHS]
ANNE: That is true and that’s good to know.
ANNE: And I know that we’re looking for something redemptive by the end of the book, but not by the very end of the book.
[REBEKAH AND BEVERLY LAUGH]
REBEKAH: A longer arc. [ALL LAUGH]
ANNE: And that you love period books based on facts, where you can really get to know the characters, and root for them if you’re going to enjoy these books together. Oh, there’s a lot we could work with here.
REBEKAH: And sometimes though I don’t know that we read for learning. I think we enjoy books where we learn things we didn’t necessarily already know.
BEVERLY: I think so, yeah.
ANNE: Well the good news is we have a lot to choose from. I will also tell you that I crossed several books off my list that I initially thought [REBEKAH AND BEVERLY LAUGH] this could be a lot of fun, and then I thought no, that’s not rooted in enough reality. Like I was thinking of a French novel that I thought might be really fun because it’s about a special library and a love of reading, and I also thought about this beautiful novel that kinda reads like a memoir by Seamus Deane. It’s called Reading in the Dark. You all haven’t read this, have you?
BEVERLY: No, what is it?
ANNE: Oh, it’s a beautiful book. It’s a book about books. It’s sad, but it’s also funny, but I think of the end, it’s just shattering and it’s meant to be ...
ANNE: And I don’t think — I don’t think that … I heard you, Rebekah, oh.
ANNE: No? [LAUGHS]
REBEKAH: I don’t want to be shattered. I hate crying when I read. I don’t like that. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: But I’m especially noticing period books based on facts have really worked well for you. I think we’re going to lean that direction. I have to tell you, like thinking of the general tone of The Jane Austen Society or Winter Solstice brought to mind a lot of titles that I think have that same feeling but I’m not getting that same sense of depth, like the ones I’m thinking of are 300 pages and you’re out, and they’re nice ...
ANNE: But you don’t really, like, dig in and stay with the characters for what feels like a long journey either in pages or in time. And since we have to decide somehow, this is what we’re going for: a span of time or a span of pages.
REBEKAH: I like that.
ANNE: The first book I’m thinking of is The Cold Millions by Jess Walter. This is pretty new. It just came out this past fall. Rebekah, I wondered if you would know his 2012 novel Beautiful Ruins?
REBEKAH: Yes! I did read that one. Yes.
ANNE: I thought this was interesting. It was fine.
REBEKAH: That’s how I would categorize it too. It was fine. [REBEKAH AND BEVERLY LAUGH]
ANNE: So you would know his name perhaps. I would not have recognized it to be the same author of this book, like I even googled while reading it to be like are there two Jess Walter because this is sooo different. [LAUGHS] So maybe that’s not the strongest entry push, but I think y’all may really enjoy this together.
Also this is giving me my shot at redemption because when I talked to Sara Jones about her episode about a little free library with a life of its own in Spokane, Washington, she said that she would love local authors and there just aren’t that many books set in Spokane or authors writing out of Spokane, at least not according to the Spokane residents that I talked to. I read this book immediately after. It’s set in Spokane. So. [REBEKAH LAUGHS] This is my shot to sneak it in.
This is a historical period novel. It opens in 1909 anchored in time around the very real free speech riots that had to do with unionizing and a very specific activist named Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
BEVERLY: Oh it sounds …
ANNE: Are we off to a good start?
REBEKAH: Yes! [LAUGHS] We’re on the edge of our seats.
ANNE: This is a story of two brothers. There’s a 16 year old named Rye and his older brother who’s maybe 23, 24 named Gig, which in case you’re wondering, is short for Gregory, and after both their parents die, they are left to fend for themselves in difficult times with no money, no skills, no prospects, and so they - they had from Montana into Spokane. They end up at a free speech protest. Gig wants to go. His little brother Rye, who’s maybe perhaps the real caretaker in that relationship, doesn’t want to but follows him along and they both end up in jail. And that’s how they get the ball rolling in their involvement with the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World which is the labor union behind that initial rally.
And through this the boys’ lives get tangled up with these historical figures from history. There’s the organizer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. There’s the P.I. who’s out to get them. There’s the men who want to shut her down. There’s some really striking scenes that happen that had me rushing to Google going how much of this actually happened? How much of this is true and how much of is this just Walter’s imagination where Gurley, which is how she’s referred to in the book, and I have to tell you I listened to the audiobook and I was spelling it wrong in my head. [REBEKAH LAUGHS]
But there’s this really bracing scene where she talks her way out of her and her men being harmed by these miners and it’s really gripping and inspiring and I mean, you think, you can’t make this stuff up unless Jess Walter did and I think that any historical novel that tells you to ask yourself like is this unknown history I didn’t know about? Is this the author’s imagination? Well that sounds like the kind of thing that you all would really enjoy.
REBEKAH: We love the books that make us Google. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: In addition to the historical ones, there’s this whole host of supporting characters that really add texture and interest to this story. There’s also a fun thread, the little brother Rye is obsessed with tracking down two missing volumes of War & Peace, which runs through the story, another literary element. Something that I really liked about this story as well — Rebekah, I wonder if you will enjoy — is the story unfolds in like a kaleidoscopeing narrative where you keep shifting points of view. You hear from characters in turn one by one who each add something different to the story and you hear from some many different people, which in the wrong hands could be really disorienting, but really adds I think an element of realism to this story. It keeps you on your toes, and it keeps it interesting without making you dizzy and I really appreciated that as well. That is The Cold Millions by Jess Walters.
BEVERLY: Sounds good.
REBEKAH: Yes, it sounds great. Sounds right up our alley.
BEVERLY: Yes, it does.
ANNE: I am glad to hear it. The next book I have in mind is by historical novelist Stacey Lee. Is this a name either of you know?
REBEKAH AND BEVERLY TOGETHER: No.
ANNE: Outrun the Moon could be a good choice, but the one I think I want to go with is The Downstairs Girl. I have to say just based on the protagonist’s age, this is a little close to the City of Girls [REBEKAH AND BEVERLY LAUGH] for me to be entirely comfortable with but it’s a very different story and this is set in gilded age Atlanta.
ANNE: Which is not that far away from you in Virginia.
ANNE: This is about a 17 year old girl named Jo. She works as a lady’s maid in the house she grew up in at the time she was considered a friend of the family, but now she is clearly a servant. Times have changed, and that’s because she lost her good job with the milliner because she was a “saucebox,” so ... [BEVERLY LAUGHS] That’s the novel’s terms.
So she has to go back to this family home and work as a lady’s maid for the grumpy, you know, privileged daughter of the house. Meanwhile she lives with her adopted grandfather figure and I like that connection for you all. They live in a secret basement under the print shop of a family newspaper. This is a relic from the underground railroad. The family does not know that it’s there. Jo, the 17 year old who wants to be a writer, eavesdrops on them through the vent. So she knows because she can listen in, the paper is not doing well financially and they need to boost circulation if they’re going to stay in business. And she has this idea that will let her vent her 17 year old feelings on the world and also maybe get some new subscribers for this magazine.
She decides she’s going to write the column called Dear Miss Sweetie, anonymously, answering questions and addressing contemporary topics affecting both women and people of color in Atlanta in the 1890s and she is sassy and snarky and funny and smart, and so pretty soon the talk of the town among the fussy Atlanta society ladies is who is this brilliant, you know, young girl writing, you know, funny column?
As you can imagine though, things come to a head. There’s a series of revelations and a bunch of stuff gets out, a bunch of family secrets get probed, but we’re building to a satisfying ending tied to real life events, a real period of history and the heroine, she has heart and resilience. How does that sound?
BEVERLY: It sounds good.
REBEKAH: Yeah. That sounds great and maybe even like a book I could pass along to some students.
ANNE: Maybe! I believe that this is published with the YA division of the publisher, so it will be shelved that way, but it could be enjoyed by adults, young adult readers, maybe even ambitious middle schoolers. [REBEKAH LAUGHS] But when I read it I had no inkling that it was not an adult novel. I listened to it on audiobook which if anyone listening is a big fan, it’s narrated by Emily Woo Zeller who is one of my favorites. And I have to say I have never heard Emily Woo Zeller do a southern accent before and that was a fun little bonus. [BEVERLY LAUGHS]
REBEKAH: It sounds great.
ANNE: And if I can slip in an extra book recommendation here, if Outrun the Moon sounds good, I really think The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See might be a good pick for you both. Now this is a newer title. It came out in late 2019, but this is another book that tells an untold story and actually Lisa See has said around the publication of this book that she was sitting in a waiting room somewhere and saw something like a National Geographic or Time magazine about the setting of her story, and she thought oh my goodness. I didn’t know this kind of place existed, so it’s probably not a surprise that so many readers have picked this up reading this fictional story set in a very real place and also built around so many historical events that have me going, did this event really happen? Is she making up this riot? Is she making up this protest?
So many readers have discovered history that is unknown to them as it was initially unknown to her, but it’s set on the very real South Korean island of Jeju, where women are the breadwinners. It’s a matriarchal society and they make their family livings by free diving into the very cold waters — that’s discussed at length — of the pacific and their job is harvesting the sea food from the waters by hand that they sell while the husbands are staying home with the children. And this is a tradition that has gone on for thousands of years and we see it lived out in the lives of characters here in this book. There are two girls, they’re fast friends from an early age, beginning I think it’s before World War II. It’s like in the 1930s. [BEVERLY LAUGHS]
There’s a second storyline set in 2008 so the book spans many, many years. Although we don’t get a closeup of all the years, but we do get to see from the lens of these 80 year old women at this point what happened in time gone by. These two girls were childhood best friends but they married in such a way as they went down totally different paths hiding some things from each other and those marriages and those secrets brought tensions and also tragedy into that relationship. This is also a story of strong women, little known history, and human resilience, but wow, they go through some really hard stuff in the pages. But you do get more than three pages of redemption.
REBEKAH: [LAUGHS]That sounds great.
BEVERLY: It does.
ANNE: That’s The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. And I did not anticipate talking about either of these books today, but I think they both could be what you’re looking for. We’ve talked about both of them on the podcast before I believe. The first one is Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon. Is this a book you’re familiar with?
REBEKAH: I feel like I’ve seen it, but I don’t know it.
ANNE: You know what, it came out during a really terrible time, right at the beginning of Covid.
ANNE: But it is another story of an untold woman in history set in World War II which Ariel said [LAUGHS] I did not want to write a World War II novel. There’s too many of them, but this story is just too good not to tell. It’s also a nice, long, hefty, meaty book that spans a long time and it’s as much a love story as it is a spy novel. The story of Nancy Wake who was one of the most effective characters of the French resistance movement during World War II for the allies. And by the end of the war, she was number one on the gestapo’s most wanted list ...
BEVERLY: Oh my goodness.
ANNE: As a woman. Ariel said when she first found the character Nancy Wake as a potential topic of her next novel, she found this larger than life character fully formed, body and brazen, who was not only respected as equal among thousands of French servicemen but revered as a leader.
We were just talking about the matriarchal society of The Island of Sea Women, a similarity to Code Name Hélène is that Nancy fell in love with her French husband, then she went off to war while he stayed home. But he wanted her to be safe and so much of the heart and humor in this story are about the ways he equipped her to go live among thousands and thousands of men.
I’m not making these things up, and Ariel didn’t either. He taught her to drink because it’s too easy to take advantage of a woman who feels tipsy. He teaches her to swear because a vicious vocabulary could be a bargaining tool that she wouldn’t have otherwise, and he teaches her to ride a bike which of course there’s a scene in the novel which is dependent on the bike, same as it was in history. He also said like you’re a spy in war time France. Like all the women are riding bikes around town. Like just become a woman on a bicycle. You’ll just blend right in.
So Nancy is a really fun character. She has her victory red lipstick as part of her armor. She dishes snappy one liners. She’s incredibly brave. It’s a war story, but just the love and the friendship that she has with her husband and her colleagues is so touching and incredible and it’s nearly 500 pages so there’s a lot of scope for this book.
There are two brutal scenes and they are based on reality. I want you to know that if you come to those parts, and you think, I just can’t stomach this, turn the pages, [REBEKAH LAUGHS] and it’ll be fine. I want you to know that they’re there and also you won’t miss out on the plot if you skip ahead a little bit. But I think you all could both really enjoy this.
REBEKAH: Yeah that sounds perfect.
BEVERLY: It certainly does.
ANNE: Also along these lines, I’m tempted to throw in Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini [BEVERLY LAUGHS] which also tells the story of an untold story of a woman of history … Oh, Wisconsin born women who became a critical member of the resistance for the allies. That information did not become public until all those files were declassified and Chiaverini had a Wisconsin connection and wanted to tell that story as well. So that could be another one if you want to keep going on your Word War II streak.
BEVERLY: We will. Definitely.
ANNE: Finally I don’t know if this is the kind of nonfiction you all enjoy reading together but I feel like I should just point out a granddaughter’s memoir about her grandmother. Came out I think last year. It’s by Bess Kalb. It’s called Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A True (as Told to Me) Story. Kalb calls it a matrilinear love story and it’s about her grandmother Bobby Bell’s life and their special relationship.
One of my favorite parts of this book is called recounting the telephone conversations she had with her grandmother over the years as a girl but also as a college student and then as an adult. They just made me smile so big. And another thing I really loved is how her grandmother’s Bobby’s life story and unlike you said about Rosamunde Pilcher, you know, other books, oh nothing happened. Things happened in her life and she made things happen in her life on behalf of other people, but the stories just come out in such an unassuming matter of fact way that I think only underscores their strikingness instead of taking it from it. It’s a slim book. I think it’s only in the neighborhood of 200 pages. If you think you may enjoy reading and reflecting on a grandmother-granddaughter story together, that’s a good one.
REBEKAH: It sounds good.
BEVERLY: It would be fun, yes.
ANNE: So we talked about The Cold Millions by Jess Walter, The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee, and also The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See, Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon, and finally the granddaughter-grandmother memoir Nobody Will Tell You This But Me. Of those books, what do you think you want to read next?
REBEKAH: I don’t know. I’m really intrigued by The Cold Millions, and Code Name Hélène. So those are the ones that kinda jumped out at me.
BEVERLY: That would be good with me. [REBEKAH LAUGHS] Would be good with me.
REBEKAH: We’ll read them all. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I can’t wait to hear what you think. Beverly and Rebekah, thank you so much for talking books with me today.
REBEKAH: Thank you so much, Anne. This was a thrill.
BEVERLY: Oh, it’s been a pleasure.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Rebekah and Beverly, and I’d love to hear what YOU think they should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/273 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
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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.
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Books mentioned in this episode:
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• The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M Martin
• American Girl Books
• Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
• The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
• Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno Garcia
• The Auschwitz Escape by Joel Rosenberg
♥ Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher
• Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher
• The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher
♥ Library of Legends by Janie Chang
♥ The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
• The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
△ The City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
△ Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
• The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
• Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane
• The Cold Millions by Jess Walters
• Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
• Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
• The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
• The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
• Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon
• Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini
• Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb
• Episode 155: When stolen Audible credits spur a beautiful bookish relationship w/ Ashley & Brent
• Episode 260: A little free library with a life of its own w/ Sara Jones