WSIRN Ep 278: The art of cheat reading

WSIRN Ep 278: The art of cheat reading

Mindy Mejia enjoys propulsive, fast-paced books with strong characters—and she writes them, too! Mindy writes thrillers, or as she calls them “murdery books,” but she reads from a whole banquet of literature.

I had a delightful time chatting with her about setting reading intentions, sampling books—which, as you’ll hear, is a bit of a euphemism—and learning about surprisingly fascinating topics as we read. As always, I’m recommending a handful of books I think Mindy will love, including an upcoming thriller that I loved, a nonfiction book I didn’t expect to be talking about today, and selections from a genre that doesn’t get mentioned all that often around here.

Download today’s episode of What Should I Read Next in your favorite podcast app or scroll down to listen right here on the website.

What Should I Read Next #278: The art of cheat reading, with Mindy Mejia

Find out what Mindy Mejia is reading and writing on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, or her website.


ANNE: Thank you for adding to my piles and piles of books, Mindy. [BOTH LAUGH]

MINDY: I’m sorry, and you’re welcome. [LAUGHS]

[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 278.

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, even though I’m the one recommending books to my guest here each week, I always come away with a recommendation or two (or five) for myself as well. This week I added two of our guest’s favorite books to my own To Be Read list.

If you are ever curious about which books move from my TBR to my currently reading pile, I send an email every Tuesday that follows our show format–three things I love, one thing I don’t, and what I’m reading now. The three things I love are usually links to reading-related articles or bookish news, and what I’m reading now is typically one of the books on my nightstand or loaded on my phone to listen to during errands.

If you’d like more book news, extra tidbits about the show, or a peek at my reading life, sign up to get that weekly email at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter

Today’s guest enjoys propulsive, fast-paced books with strong characters—and she writes them, too! Mindy Mejia writes thrillers, or as she calls them “murdery books,” but she reads from a whole banquet of literature.

I had a delightful time chatting with Mindy about setting reading intentions, sampling books—which, as you’ll hear, is a bit of a euphemism—and learning about surprisingly fascinating topics as we read. As always, I’m recommending a handful of books I think Mindy will love, including an upcoming thriller that I really enjoyed myself, a nonfiction book I didn’t expect to be talking about today, and selections from a genre that doesn’t get mentioned all that often around here.

This is a fun one; let’s get to it!

Mindy, welcome to the show.

[00:02:02]

MINDY: Thank you so much for having me.

ANNE: Well I’m so excited to talk books with you today, and I’m especially interested in exploring your readerly predicament you told us about on our guest submission form because I found it highly relatable, and I’m sure that we are not the only two readers dealing with, I’ll just say now, the onslaught of good sounding books to read.

MINDY: Well I thought if anyone can help me with the problem, it was going to be you, Anne.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] Well, having the problem is not the same as being able to help with the problem, but I’m at least familiar with the problem.

MINDY: Right, right, yes.

ANNE: Part of the reason this problem comes in is because of what you do professionally. Would you tell us a little about your background?

MINDY: Yes. I do a couple of things. I wear a few hats as we all do. I write thrillers. This is my fifth book that I’m working on right now. I’m also a CPA and so I work the tax season right now actually. This is my high season for doing taxes, so I guess you could say I’ve made my living from the two constants in life: death and taxes. [ANNE LAUGHS] And it seems to be working. That’s - that’s kinda how I’m supporting my family, I guess. I’m risk-averse. I like the constants.

ANNE: And yet we’re talking books during tax season. Does that give us some clue about the role that reading plays in your life?

[00:03:16]

MINDY: Absolutely. I mean, reading is my escape. It kinda takes that place that some people, you know, use Netflix or you know, they’re out exercising, taking walks, and for me my escape is always reading and writing of course, you know, that’s the world that I can get into and leave this one behind if I don’t have total control here. I can just immerse myself in that other world that’s waiting for me.

ANNE: I know that many readers will be familiar with your name, so listeners, if you’re thinking, Mindy Meija sounds familiar. I put your books Strike Me Down in the Modern Mrs Darcy Summer Reading Guide last year and recommended it to my guest Elizabeth Cooper back in episode 244. So if you want to hear me talk about it in-depth, listeners, go back and listen to that episode. It’s called “You love to read — don’t ruin it.”

But when I read that book, I didn’t realize that you were a CPA, and I thought, are all these details right? ‘Cause this makes accounting sound way more fascinating, and also way more dangerous than I ever suspected. [MINDY LAUGHS] But seriously, I think in my little blurb for the summer reading guide, I said like who knew forensic accounting could make such fascinating reading. Would you tell our listeners in your own words a little bit about Strike Me Down and how you managed to combine death and taxes and your CPA expertise in a way that I imagine most accountants don’t?

MINDY: That whole concept for that book kinda came about because I had these two very distinct careers, and the … My colleagues and friends in both worlds were sorta mystified by the others.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] Oh, I can imagine. [LAUGHS]

MINDY: You know all of my accountant friends were like oh, you write? Like financial reports? You know, like annual state … Like, what are you writing? And you know, they didn’t understand that I wrote thrillers. And then as I, you know, started writing more thrillers, and started making friends in this very wonderful world of crime fiction where everyone is surprisingly supportive and friendly. [LAUGHS] It’s a really great place to be and as I started making more friends there, they were like, wait, you’re an accountant? Like with numbers?

And so they just didn’t fundamentally understand each other or so it seemed, and so I wrote Strike Me Down because I was like you know what? Thrillers and accounting can share territory, and it was true. I mean forensic accountants are the detectives of the financial world. They are the ones who are uncovering money laundering and fraud and chasing, you know, shadow banking around the world. There is legitimate excitement and kinda detective procedural aspects of that type of accounting, and so that’s how Nora, my protagonist in that book came to the page.

[00:05:50]

ANNE: Mindy, I remember the hook at the beginning of Strike Me Down was really fun where you kinda set the stage for why forensic accounting may make for more gripping reading than you’re expecting. My friend Ariel Lawhon, she writes historical, and she’s been on the show way back in like one of the first 20 episodes, says that like every book I’ve written is like an ex-boyfriend. You know, you used to be real close a long time ago [MINDY LAUGHS] but then you move on. So that being said, I remember just like leaning in as I was reading, as you described Nora’s point of view, just like three things have to be present to cause somebody to commit a crime and I was like ooh, tell me what they are, Nora.

MINDY: Yeah, exactly, and that ended up being my whole structure for the book was the … It’s called the fraud triangle. Forensic accountants have used the principles of the fraud triangle to really nail down who the criminals in the organization are. You need those three ingredients typically for a crime to occur, and those ingredients are opportunity, you know the person obviously needs the opportunity to commit the crime. You need motivation, you know, there has to be pressure on that person to force them into a spot where they would commit a crime, where they would try to steal the money or embezzle or you know, make the financial statements fraudulent. There has to be pressure on that person.

And then the final ingredient is rationalization. You know, most of us like to believe that we are the heroes in our own stories, and so we have to find a way to rationalize the crime we’re committing to make it fit our own ethical framework and make us still be the hero, right? You know, we’re never a villain in our story. So those three ingredients: opportunity, pressure, rationalization, are what accountants are searching for when they’re trying to find those missing millions.

ANNE: Is your work as a CPA as interesting as Nora’s in Strike Me Down? [MINDY LAUGHS] Or is it mostly just running the books on businesses like mine? Like you know, just you make sure where the money goes where it’s supposed to, and it’s just not that glamorous. The big question is what is this missing receipt for?

MINDY: Right. No, there is a lot of box checking, that’s for sure. We can talk about your books after, Anne, you know, I’m happy to help you out. [LAUGHS] If you need to … [ANNE LAUGHS] But the … No, I do mostly just individual clients, I help out a few small businesses, and it’s pretty methodical work I guess, but it takes a space in my brain that the writing and the reading don’t occupy. I love it for that reason and that I can thrive in that part of my brain, in that accountant side of my brain, while not sacrificing any of the writing brain for it. It’s a really nice balance. It’s hard to explain, but it works for me.

[00:08:27]

ANNE: What did your accountant colleagues think about Strike Me Down?

MINDY: Oh, they loved it. They actually helped me plot how the whole crime occurred. You know, we went out for drinks and just like talked about okay, what would happen if this was the fraud? You know, what would happen if this was how the $20 million got stolen, and no, no, she would find it over here, and it would ... They definitely helped plot that out. Yeah, so it was fun. I used them completely. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Best focus group ever.

MINDY: Yeah, it was a great focus group. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Before you were a writer, I imagine that you were a reader. Tell me about the background of your reading life.

MINDY: My mom actually started reading to me when I was very young. I was one of four kids. My mom did daycare a lot, too so there was always a lot of activity in our house. I didn’t have a lot of time alone with her, and so that time at night where she would read to me was just very special in my head and I would look forward to it every day. It was just her and me and we - we had the best time, and she really fostered that life long love of reading. We did all of her own classics, you know, we read Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, you know, all of those classic series.

Yeah, I just went from there. I started reading as much as I could. I went through this phase in, I think it was middle school, where I wanted to read the longest books in the library. [BOTH LAUGH] I was so … And I have no idea what I was trying to prove to anyone, but I would like specifically look for the books, you know, the big brick books, and I think that’s why to this day I can’t stand Moby Dick [ANNE LAUGHS] because I read it so young and I had no idea what all these rope metaphors were, and I just couldn’t - I couldn’t wrap my head around that book, and I will never go back to it. I just … I was traumatized. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Oh, what is it that compels some middle schoolers to do that because I’m thinking about how I insisted that for a free choice book, I think we were supposed to read something old, like something classic-ish in 8th grade. I insisted on getting an unabridged copy of Les Misérables by Victor Hugo I think because my parents were playing the CDs of the musical all the time. Maybe they were records of the musical. What would it have been like in that year? [MINDY LAUGHS] But - but I just needed the book, and I was so disappointed to find out that it’s not the same. [MINDY LAUGHS] You gotta really dig for those characters. I didn’t care. That’s what I was reading on the beach spring break of my senior year. [LAUGHS] Yeah.

[00:10:55]

MINDY: Not the best beach read, no.

ANNE: Not the best choice.

MINDY: [LAUGHS] Maybe it was some reaction to that whole period of my life that now I really enjoy books that are propulsive, really fast-paced, I’m not getting bogged down, you know, I … It’s rare that I can finish a book that is more than 500 pages. I’m always wanting to get on to the next thing, and so I typically gravitate toward books now that are shorter and that I can just let myself get immersed in without knowing that I’m going to be spending the next how many weeks of my life, you know, in one book.

ANNE: Well, and that also works well if you do have a lot of books you’d like to get through.

MINDY: Exactly. Yes.

ANNE: Mindy, so you write you describe them as “murdery” books, that you enjoy reading propulsive and fast-paced selections now. Tell me a little more about what that looks like. What are you reading, how are you choosing it?

MINDY: What I’m reading right now is just a variety. I mean there’s books obviously like you that I’m reading because I have to read them, you know, they’re part of my work. So I’m reading books that I’m blurbing. I’m reading books that I’m reviewing for a few different outlets. I’m giving peer feedback on manuscripts.

I’m reading books that my friends have written, you know, I made so many friends in this community and I’m so excited for their books when they come out, so I’m reading those important books in the genre, and by important I mean books that are climbing charts, getting a lot of buzz, you know, not necessarily on bookstagram, but just you know, that I’m hearing great things about from a lot of different places, books that might be nominated for awards. Those books I just need to know, you know, I need to be familiar with those and know what my peers and colleagues are producing.

And then of course other genres. I’ve gotten really into fantasy during the pandemic. I think that escape. [BOTH LAUGH] The escape is real, the need for that is so real.

[00:12:44]

ANNE: Did you even realize you were doing that at first?

MINDY: Not at first, not. I think the first one I read, it was The Mermaid, The Witch, and The Sea, and it was just because the cover was so beautiful. I was like I just want to live in this cover, you know? [LAUGHS] And then after that I was like I want more of this. I need more of this in my life right now.

I love a good romance to toss in now and then. General fiction, narrative nonfiction, eco-lit, popular science, short stories, essays, reading so much middle grade right now with my kids who are late elementary, and so we’re going through a ton of classics, you know, things that I read like Charlotte’s Web, The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, you know, those kind of books, but with newer ones in as well.

ANNE: That’s quite a selection.

MINDY: It is, you know, and when I talked about this world of literature being like a banquet, you know, it’s like more and more dishes keep appearing and I just want to sample them all. [LAUGHS] Can I tell you a quick story?

ANNE: Oh, absolutely.

MINDY: My partner and I went to this restaurant in Kyoto once, which had a little grill built into the table, and it was the type of restaurant that you find around Japan, it’s all you can eat for 90 minutes, and you can order like one or two dishes at a time, but we had to clear our plates before the next dish was brought out, and you know because they wanted to cut down on food waste, so obviously you had to eat everything before you could order again. And it became this delicious challenge of trying to pick the right dishes that we could eat in full and quickly so that we had time to order more and you know, we’re doing all of this in translation, so we’re trying to make our best guesses at what a dish might be from that menu.

We chose really poorly at one point, and we got some type of squid. [ANNE LAUGHS] This was before I was a vegetarian, and you know maybe this is why, and it was just massive. It felt like it took up the whole table and we would never eat it all. We were just trying to force down this squid that just tasted like pieces of a tire, and before our like time was out, so we could order something that we knew we would love.

If the world of literature was like that restaurant, I feel like I’m cheating. I don’t always clean my plate. I’m a slow reader by nature. I love to sink into the prose. If I read a sentence that I love, I have to reread it, and then I want to dissect it, and then I want to look at it at the context of the paragraph and you know, the larger arc of the chapter in the book, and if there’s a fabulous twist, I want to go back and hunt for the clues. You know, I want to map out the groundwork and see how the author’s set up that reveal. You know, it makes for slow reading, but it’s part of my enjoyment of reading.

So I don’t regret that I’m a slow reader, but I do regret, you know, it makes it impossible for me to read thoroughly all the books I want to read. So I guess overall, probably only read about 40 to 50 books a year, but I still want to sample all the dishes, and so I end up doing that, you know. I am leaving food on my plate with some books. You know I’ll pick up a book and I’m reading it usually as a writer. I’m reading it for specific things, you know, I might be looking at it in terms of a character study and then I’ll just look at the voice and you know, pick pieces out where I can use them in whatever character I’m working on.

There’s a book that I sampled [LAUGHS] I’m trying not to say cheated. [BOTH LAUGH] It was The Ambassadors by Henry James, that was a recent one, so I knew that book influenced Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and I kinda wanted to trace that influence, so I just read the first few chapters of it in full to kinda get the set up, trace the parallels between those two main characters, and really see where Highsmith got Ripley from. And you know, then I skimmed a bit of course, I was kinda looking for a murder by oar scene. I didn’t find one, and then I read the last chapter. I’m a sucker for endings, so even if I’m not reading a book in full cover to cover, even if I’m only sampling it. [BOTH LAUGH] I can’t resist reading the end of any book I pick up, even if I DNF it, I always kinda want to see where that journey ended.

[00:16:42]

ANNE: Okay. I know a lot of readers just gasped right now, like you read the end?! [MINDY LAUGHS] Our team member Shannan is always saying you know I read the last page of every book usually before I read anything else. She was on in episode 179 before she was part of the What Should I Read Next/Modern Mrs Darcy team. [MINDY LAUGHS] That episode is called “life is short and my TBR is way too long,” if you just like to hear some more readerly justification for why one may do such a thing.

Mindy, so you said that you’ve begun employing a strategy that you can’t believe that you’re admitting to as an author [MINDY LAUGHS] but that it’s become necessary to keep up with just the massive competing to be read piles that you read for these different reasons, like all of which are important, whether you’re reading with your kids or reading because you’ve been asked to blurb a book ‘cause, readers, those little quotes you see on the cover and the back of the back of books, this is how they happen. This is part of the job that a lot of readers don’t realize, and so you have had to become familiar with the dubious art of cheat reading, and that just made us chuckle. [MINDY LAUGHS] I do love the phrase sampling. That seems like a very tactful, but also descriptive way of one might … Why one might read bits and pieces of various books, but apparently always the last page.

[00:17:55]

MINDY: Yes, yes. Brenna, can we retitle the episode? The dubious art of book sampling? [BOTH LAUGH] I like that better.

ANNE: But what you said is that you don’t want to feel like a cheater.

MINDY: I don’t. You know, it’s funny because my accounting brain understands that I’m looking for specific deliverables in these books and that I should have no guilt for putting the book down when I find them, but my reader brain sometimes has trouble with that. I understand as a writer what has, what it has taken to put all of these words on the page. I don’t want to waste the food. [LAUGHS]

I don’t want to waste the words, so I think there’s a little bit of dissonance in my brain when it comes to sampling these books because I have to do it, there’s just too much out there. There’s too many dishes to sample, but at the same time there’s still that guilt. I was like you know, who can help me with this? Anne can help me with this. [BOTH LAUGH]

ANNE: Anne can understand this predicament at least.

MINDY: Relatable, right? [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Oh, so much. We talk to a lot of listeners, I mean, you’ve heard, you’ve all heard who really struggle with this feeling that once they’ve begun a book, they’ve in effect entered into a contract with a book and its author and they owe it to the universe to read every word on every page. They have a really hard time abandoning books that don’t seem right for them, or that don’t seem right for them right now, that don’t seem like a good fit, like they started it and by golly, they’re gonna finish it. But I do not have a CPA background, but drawing on a different kind of professional experience like needing to sample widely in order to do something like put together a summer reading guide. For that guide every year, I want to have sampled, it’s usually something like 200 or 300 books, and that is more books than I can read in their entirety in a year, like sampling is the only way to go about it.

I feel like you’re on the right track with helping yourself explain to yourself why what you’re doing makes sense, ‘cause so many times like readers know what won’t work for them, but they feel bad about it and until they can articulate this is exactly what I’m doing and this is why and it makes sense. It’s like that gives them a kind of permission to think oh, this is - this is right.

And tell me how this sounds to you, what I often find is like the sticking point they think they’re coming to books as a generic reader, when really, when we all sit down to read a book, we’re doing it with a specific purpose and we don’t often articulate that to ourselves. And the specific purpose can be fantasy novel, take me away to a different world. I just want to get lost in your pages for two hours. That is a completely valid reason. It doesn’t have to be like an obligatory reason. Until we know why we’re reading, we often feel bad about not reading the way we were taught to do in say middle school.

[00:20:41]

MINDY: That makes a lot of sense. I think I’m on the right track with understanding what I’m trying to get out of the book, because if I’m just sitting down to read a book that I want to read and if it turns out it’s not a book for me, I have no problem putting that book down and saying this wasn’t my book, you know, or it’s not the right time for me to read this book. But it’s when I go into a book and I’m hunting for something in particular, that’s when I tend to feel bad for putting it down and not reading it cover to cover, but I think maybe if I just set that intention, you know, at the beginning to say I’m going in looking for voice, you know I’m working on this character’s voice, and I’m going to read until I find that and then for me, the book is finished.

ANNE: For those listening who don’t write novels, would you tell us a little bit more what that might look like? When you say you’re reading for voice and you’re picking up a novel to do that, what does that look like? What do you actually do?

MINDY: I’m combing through language, and we’ll talk about this in the book I’m reading right now. It’s actually a biography of Marie Curie, I’m writing a scientist, and so I’m going through and I’m looking for really how she is phrasing her own thoughts, you know, how she is expressing herself, her identity, how her relationship to her work. I’m really looking at really the language of how she describes herself, how she sees her life in the context of the world around her, and to get into that scientist brain and to understand you know, this is the type of language, this is the type of process, the logic that is used, that I can also use, you know, for my character. It’s very language level and a mindset, you know, I’m really looking for that character’s, their relationship to the world, and trying to piece that together.

ANNE: So, and when you find what you’re looking for, you know that based on all these priorities that you have in your reading life, reading the remaining several hundred pages of a biography of Marie Curie is not where you want to spend it. I love that you said that you only read 40 to 50 books a year. This is a place where people say only. [MINDY LAUGHS] Sometimes I find myself telling friends I only have four children, and there are only a couple context in which you say something like that.

[00:22:50]

MINDY: [LAUGHS] It’s true.

ANNE: But truly, like compared to everything out there, 40 to 50 books, it’s a lot to read but it’s not a ton compared to what you could read, and so I understand how you don’t want to spend 2.5% necessarily on a book that you are reading for that one specific purpose ‘cause how many books would you be reading to inform say like the voice or the plotting of this novel you’re working that involves the scientist?

MINDY: It depends on the character. For this particular character, I am not a scientist, and so I’ve had to read a little bit more and you know, I probably have gone through five or six books. I also listen to, you know, podcasts and you know, just to immerse myself in as many ways as I can, so yeah, it depends. It depends on the character, but typically, maybe only a few books for ones that I am more familiar with or have more in common with.

ANNE: I see so many readers getting tripped up when they’re holding a book in their hands and they’re on page 70 and they know it’s not right for them, or that they would be better served to read it at a different season of life. But they’re not thinking about the broader reading life, they’re just thinking about the one book in front of them, and I find that often when we think about our reading life as a whole and how the book in our hand fits into that, the decisions become clearer.

MINDY: Much clearer, yeah, you can see the forest through the trees. That is the magic of books is that they draw you into these worlds, and you don’t see the larger world outside of it, your larger reading life because you are so immersed, even if it’s not a right good fit, you know, you’re still in that world and you feel compelled to find your way out of that world, you know, in a manner that both honors the author and the book and you know, who you are as a reader.

ANNE: Well said. And with that in mind, I can’t wait to hear more about what you have chosen to read. Are you ready to do this?

MINDY: Let’s do it.

***

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ANNE: Okay, Mindy, you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t, and what you’re reading now and we’ll talk about what you may enjoy reading next. How did you choose these?

[00:26:25]

MINDY: I chose them based on ones that I had read fairly recently and that just stood out, you know, ones that maybe I wasn’t expecting or you know, kinda took me by surprise and for whatever reason, you know, I got them in my hand and just couldn’t stop. You know, the kind of books that just take over your life where you’re telling your kids to forge for your own dinner [ANNE LAUGHS] you know, Mom’s busy. I’ll see you tomorrow maybe. You know, those kinds of books. So that’s kinda how I made this list.

ANNE: Okay, tell me about the first book that took over your life.

MINDY: The first book is They Never Learn by Layne Fargo. I know Layne. She’s one of the friends that I’ve made in the crime fiction community. This is her second book. It is a feminist revenge thriller. I don’t know if you’ve talked about this book on the podcast before.

ANNE: No, I haven’t and I’ve not read it, but the premise is amazing.

MINDY: It’s fantastic. Okay, so Scarlett Clark is an English professor/serial killer who specializes in murdering sexual predators and making it look like an accident or suicide. I’ve read this book around New Years, which is kinda, you know, it’s a goal setting time of the year and I was so impressed with Scarlett’s drive and ambition. This woman has a five year plan, and she is focused. I was rooting for her from page one.

And beyond the character, the plot is airtight. There’s a fantastic twist and you know, the story is absolutely propulsive. I could not put it down, but at the same time you know, when I get into these books that are so right for me, I’m whipping through them. Around the three quarters mark, I’m like slow down. Enjoy it. You know, I don’t [ANNE LAUGHS] I don’t want it to end. I want to just linger, you know, and so I really do give myself permission to hit the brakes a little bit and just enjoy this book that I know is fantastic. So that They Never Learn by Layne Fargo, absolutely one of my favorite books that I read in the past year.

[00:28:22]

ANNE: Oh, that sounds intriguing, and also that is no small feat for an author to make you root for a murderer.

MINDY: And maybe that says more about me than it does [BOTH LAUGH] about Scarlett.

ANNE: I imagine how hard that is to put on the page to have that extra level of appreciation. What’s the grisly factor on this one for readers who are intrigued?

MINDY: Yeah, so there is blood. There is a few murder scenes. I would put a few trigger warnings out there. Obviously it deals with sexual violence, so if that’s something that can be triggering for you, you know, just know that going in.

ANNE: Mindy, tell me about a second book you love.

MINDY: So the second book, I cheated of course and put a series in, The Shades of Magic series. I had heard about Addie here, I think, first on the What Should I Read Next podcast sometime last year, and then I started seeing it everywhere. I had not read V. E. Schwab before, but I had A Darker Shade of Magic on my bookshelf. It was hand sold to me by a wonderful bookseller. I knew I was going to get around to it eventually, and I’m like okay, well now is the time. You know, Addie’s coming out. That book sounds really interesting. I really want to read that one, but let’s read the one I already own. [LAUGHS] So I started it. I did not even know it was a series when I started reading it, but it just took me away, and this is that fantasy escape element. I loved those characters so much, and when I found out that it was a series, I actually used books two and three as book treats for myself, so I don’t know if you do this, Anne, but I …

ANNE: No, no, tell me about book treats.

MINDY: Book treats. [LAUGHS] You know, usually you want to jump right in the next book. I knew I loved the first one so much, so I bought the second two and then I told myself I could read the second one when I finished the next round of edits on the book I was working on to hand in to my agent, I’m like okay, you can read book two when I get that done. So that was my reward for myself, and then book three, I made myself wait. I was running this NaNo group for the Mystery Writers of America Midwest chapter, so National Novel Writing month in November, write 50,000 words in a month, and so I was like okay, once I hit that 50,000 mark, I can read book three. That was my reward. I do have book treats that I allow myself when I hit certain milestones in my life.

[00:30:32]

ANNE: I love it. That sounds like excellent motivation. But I have to tell you, I read Addie LaRue and loved it. It was the first book I read by Victoria Schwab in her V. E. Schwab name. I’d read it’s called City of Bones, City of Ghosts. She has a middle grade series and the first book is set in Edinburgh, and I had to read that before I went to Edinburgh, but I got the copy that I got on a trip I think in North Carolina and got it out and put it on my nightstand and it’s been there for oh, like a year now.

MINDY: Really?

ANNE: It’s been there for a really long time. [MINDY LAUGHS] So thank you for the little nudge to pick it up, and I think you might be giving me a nudge with your next one too. Mindy, what’s the next one you loved?

MINDY: Okay, so the third book that I picked was November Road by Lou Berney. This book came out a few years ago. I had this on my TBR since I went to Bouchercon, which is the World Mystery Writing Convention. I think that was in 2018 that I just kept hearing about November Road everywhere. This is one of those really buzzy books in the genre where everyone was just putting it at their top of the list for the year, just gushing about it. So I knew, you know, I wanted to read it. So I picked it up and it was as fantastic as everyone said. It lived up to the hype completely.

It’s part-crime novel, part-historical, part-journey, kinda road trip book, part-romance, and it’s just fantastic. It’s told from three points of view against the backdrop of the JFK assainsation. There is a mobster who knows too much, the hit man who is sent to eliminate him, and a housewife who impulsively abandons her life with her daughters for the unknown. And the housewife and the mobster, they meet and end up taking this road trip together for their own kinda secret reasons, and it’s just a fantastic book.

I love that it transcends kinda a few different genres. It doesn’t fit neatly into a box, and one of the things that I read that made me love it even more afterwards was Lou Berney said that he wrote it because he in part because he wanted to imagine a different life for his own mother, what if she had taken a completely different path in life? And gosh, I just love a boy who loves his mom. [BOTH LAUGH] And so that one just made me love the book all the more for hearing his reasons and how personal it was to him to write this book.

ANNE: Well I have been meaning to read this for a couple years. I went to … I was in New York I think when I’d Rather Be Reading came out, and I went to the Mysterious Bookshop and it was my first time there. This is a New York City bookshop that only stocks mystery, crime fiction, thrillers, that kind of thing. I walked in and was like oh my goodness, I didn’t know there was so many crime novels. I think I looked a little stunned, and they said what are you looking for? And I said you know there’s so much here that I haven’t heard of, and I know a lot, so I said like what are you loving? Like if you could single out a book, like what would you choose, and he was like oh! November Road. [MINDY LAUGHS] And gave like a strong pitch, and I’ve been meaning to read it … Yeah, got my copy, been meaning to read it ever since, so thank you for adding to piles and piles of books, Mindy. [BOTH LAUGH]

[00:33:34]

MINDY: I’m sorry, and you’re welcome. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Exactly. I can see by your answer that you understand. Okay now you do have so much to read. You’ve got to narrow it down somehow. I need to narrow it down somehow when we’re thinking about what you may enjoy reading next. Tell me about a book that wasn’t for you.

MINDY: The book that wasn’t for me was Hunting El Chapo by Andrew Hogan and Douglas Century. This book I picked up again for research. I’m writing a little bit about a drug trafficking ring. I never worked in a drug trafficking ring [BOTH LAUGH] and so since I don’t have any …

ANNE: Thank you for clarifying that for our listeners.

MINDY: Yes, yes, sometimes you have to let people know. So I picked this book up because I thought you know, let’s get a little bit more insider information. This was billed as a U.S. Government operative who was hunting for El Chapo, and it just was not for me. The more I read of the book, the more I just started questioning. It’s supposedly nonfiction, but I just started questioning how much of this was true. It just had the kind of claims that feels like the guy at the bar that’s just like telling you his resume, you know, and you’re just trying to back away from him and just let me enjoy my drink.

So it wasn’t … It was supposed to be nonfiction. [LAUGHS] By the end of it I was like did any of this happen? I have no idea. He was probably involved in this hunt for El Chapo, but you know from his point of view, it was like he was the only person who was looking for him, and I did not like that tone at all. I did not respond to that tone at all, and it ended up being not even a great research book because in the end I couldn’t rely on anything that was being said, and so I just had to toss that book against the wall and move on.

[00:35:16]

ANNE: Is that literal or figurative?

MINDY: It hit the floor. I don’t know if it hit the wall, but I definitely tossed it and made some type of grunting noise that my partner was laughing about.

ANNE: Mindy, what are you reading right now? Tell us more about this science biography.

MINDY: The book that I’m reading right now is Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith, and this is a book that I intended to pick up and just sample, but I have really gotten into this book and just loved learning more about her like both personally and professionally, the author was able to access a vault of information, documents, that were still radioactive when she was accessing them in the early 2000s that was finally opened up and we just got a lot more information about her life and her work. And so I’ve loved reading this book. It’s … I don’t always read biographies or historical, but it’s one because it has such a great story, it’s so compelling. She was such a strong figure. I love strong characters whether fictional or nonfiction. She just knew who she was and what her purpose was, and so I’m really, really loving this.

ANNE: I’m glad to hear it. I’m also not going to recommend you any biographies.

MINDY: Thank you.

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

MINDY: So in general, I’m always looking for like I said fast-paced books featuring strong characters who are really, you know, the change makers in their own life who are willing to throw it all away or make those life or death decisions and I also really love in any book that I love the most it’s usually with the added bonus of learning something new, place or world I’ve never visited, a job or an industry I don’t know, animal migration patterns, you know, body disposing techniques, I really am a glutton for education.

I love learning while I’m also being entertained, so that’s generally what makes a book a five star read is if I’m really entertained and also, you know, learn a lot about how to be a serial killer [BOTH LAUGH] or whatever the world is. That’s usually my personal taste, but I’m always looking for, you know, great middle grade ideas as well to read with my kids. I’m also on the hunt for research right now. I’m looking for some poetry again for a character. I’ve got a character that’s got a very poetic voice, a very dreamlike life, and so I’m looking to immerse myself in some voices in that spectrum.

[00:37:48]

ANNE: Okay. That’s a lot to choose from. Alright …

MINDY: Yeah, just basically recommend anything. [BOTH LAUGH]

ANNE: Which I’m sure readers know as they try to think about what to read next, when you’re up for anything that’s both easy and really, really hard.

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***

ANNE: Yeah, let’s do this. Okay, here’s what we’re working with. They Never Learn by Layne Fargo, Shades of Magic by V. E. Schwab, actually the whole series, I see what you did there. It’s not cheating. It’s strategy. [MINDY LAUGHS] And November Road by Lou Berney. Not for you Hunting El Chapo by Andrew Hogan, and we’re looking for just about anything, but your main wheelhouse fast-paced, change makers, life or death, learning something new.

[00:39:49]

MINDY: Yes. Absolutely.

ANNE: Also poetry for that poetic voice.

MINDY: Yes.

ANNE: Okay. First of all a ways back you mentioned Patricia Highsmith and The Talented Mr. Ripley, and there is a new I think we can call it a thriller coming out in May about a crime novelist and I think this could be a lot of fun for you. The book is called The Plot. It’s by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Is this one you’re familiar with?

MINDY: It is not.

ANNE: Oh, I’m so excited to hear it. Okay, now you said that you want to read fast-paced books, this gets a big check mark for that, about change makers who have agency in their own life. There’s a character here with agency. It is not our hapless novelist at the center of this book, but with life or death stakes. That is definitely happening here. Now many readers will learn something new because this book is set thoroughly in the literary world, so you see … You see novelists working, you hear the behind the scenes about how MFA programs work and the makeshift MFA program Jacob Bonner, our novelist protagonist, teaches in and it’ll be interesting for you to see on the page, but you won’t be learning about it in the same way that a CPA who doesn’t write novels would be like gleaming new information about this different profession were she to pick up this book.

This is a story of a novelist who really is at the mercy of the circumstances around him. He only thinks that he is making his own change in his life, and I hope [LAUGHS] I hope you enjoy reading about that as well because there’s a lot here to recommend itself to you, and we’ll get to Patricia Highsmith in a minute. This is about a novelist who basically steals the sure thing plot from one of this students. He doesn’t do it until he knows the student dies, but he’s been sitting on it for years. What happened was Jake, a washed up novelist who long ago had published a novel that was just loved by the critics. Didn’t sell in the bookstores, and he hasn’t really been writing anything since. He’s teaching students who aren’t any good, except for this one student who once upon a time told him the entire plot beginning, middle, end, plot twist of the novel he was working on, and he’s like this is a sure thing. Oprah’s going to pick it. Spielberg’s going to make it into a movie. It’s going to sell millions of copies. And Jake listens to the plot to that book and is like grr, darn you, student. [MINDY LAUGHS] It totally is. You’re absolutely right. People will eat that up.

Years later when Jake has run out of money, definitely doesn’t have any new ideas, but something happens that makes him think about that conversation he had with the cocky student long ago with his sure thing plot and he Googles him and says like did he ever write that book? Because that book was a sure thing. I can’t believe I haven’t heard about it. And what he discovers is that student died. That book hasn’t been written. That plot is up for grabs. You know, we talked about cheating. [MINDY LAUGHS] What Jake tells himself is it’s not cheating. It’s strategy. That’s a good story. It needs to go out into the universe.

So now we flip forward. Jake’s book has come out. It has sold two million copies. It is called Crib. Not like a baby crib, Crib like you stole something, and nine months after it’s come out, Oprah has picked it. Spielberg does in fact have it in production. He gets this email that says you are a thief, but nobody knows. Or well he didn’t think anybody knew, but clearly somebody knew but that thing that is most unsettling is that the email is from talented Tom, and Jake doesn’t know a lot about literature, which actually turns out to be very, very important to the plot of the book, but he knows enough to know that that is a reference to The Talented Mr. Ripley. The Talented Mr. Ripley is not a story in which Jake wishes to be a participant in the way that this reference infers ‘cause this The Talented Mr. Ripley goes to horrible lengths to make his victims pay for their crimes. So how’s that for a set up for you?

[00:43:37]

MINDY: That sounds fantastic. I love that.

ANNE: That is The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It comes out in May. How about some poetry?

MINDY: I love it. Let’s do poetry.

ANNE: Mindy, my first thought is I’m sure you read this because every other person on the planet has read this already and surely you are one of them, and yet what we always find out talking to listeners on What Should I Read Next is nobody has read everything. Nobody’s even heard of these books we assumed everyone has read, but the poetry collection I have in mind is What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer. Is this one you’re familiar with?

[00:44:07]

MINDY: I am familiar with it, but I have not read it.

ANNE: Well I’m excited to hear that. So you want to get inside a poet’s mind. So maybe going in a direction of what is being widely discussed as poetry for people who think they don’t like poetry is not the right way to go, and yet you also love compulsively readable, propulsive page turning pages, and how often do you get that in a poetry collection? And I think Kate Baer really does that here.

What she is writing about is the female experience … I think she says that she divides her collection into three different sections. They’re like women in romantic relationships, and she talks about women as parents. She has this knack for taking a familiar topic, walking you through it in what can be really spare language and yet turn ideas like just leave your head spinning with every line, like oh, I never thought about it like that.

And I don’t want to get too flowery or try to get too wise or too deep talking about poetry but she speaks so insightfully to experience that so many I would imagine readers, but also women resonate with. I can [LAUGHS] I can actually recite the one from the collection that just stopped me cold. it’s called “What I Meant.” And it actually really applies here in the context of talking about all those books that want your attention, but she says “what I meant when I said I don’t have time is that every minute that passes, I’m disappointing someone.”

MINDY: Oh wow. That’s really relatable. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Right? That’s a little close to home in 2020. This collection came out last fall, in the fall of 2020. But she also has some that are like funny and fresh and light and freeing, but I think that could be really fun for you to explore. That’s What Kind of Women by Kate Baer.

Now I was imagining you said poetic voice, lyrical, and wonder filled is what popped into my head. If you’d like to explore that kind of voice, I just grabbed a collection off my own shelf called The Day is Ready for You. I think it’s the second collection by Alison Malee, but she’s writing more about every day experience, but doing it in a really thoughtful contemplative, lyrical, like almost meditative way, but through the lens of poetry, which I find just invites you to slow down and see things differently and also take that extra care with language. That is The Day is Ready For You by Alison Malee.

MINDY: I love that one. That sounds great.

[00:46:31]

ANNE: And so for our third book, you said that you do read narrative nonfiction sometimes, but you also love a good crime novel, so I was thinking perhaps narrative nonfiction about poker.

MINDY: Love that.

ANNE: Or a crime novel that involves Shakespeare. So much Shakespere, endless Shakespeare. Which sounds good to you?

MINDY: Oh gosh, both please. [BOTH LAUGH] The poker one sounds fascinating.

ANNE: You have chosen Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned How to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win. I have to say I don’t love that subtitle super much, but this is a book that came in the mail from the publisher as I know happens to you too, and I put it in the stack and thought I don’t care. But then being honest, I just didn’t … I love learning about new topics, and I love learning about new topics that I didn’t think I cared about, and yet I need a reason to pick it up and I didn’t feel like I had one. But then in the coming months, so many readers from like disparate areas of my life with all kinds of varied reading tastes said, you know what I really enjoyed? The Biggest Bluff, about poker, who knew, and I thought not me. [BOTH LAUGH] And I picked it up and thought, well let’s do this.

You mentioned that the books you love, Layne Fargo, and V. E. Schwab, and Lou Berney, that they were books that surprised you, and that they made them really stand out in your mind, and I don’t know how you will react to this book, but I found this book to be such a delightful surprise. It’s a story driven narrative. She’s funny. I felt like I was in great hands at the beginning because if I remember correctly it opens, this definitely happens in the first 20 pages, she is in the bathroom puking her guts out with a migraine because she has managed things poorly at really important huge poker tournament in Vegas, and the way she tells the story it’s like self deprecating and she’s like who was the genius that caused these things to happen in her life? Dear reader, it was I. [LAUGHS] You know if you want to stop reading, I understand. It’s totally story driven.

She’s really … She’s a great narrator, although I have to say that when she talks about the draw and the blind, even by page 300, I’m like I just hope it’s not crucial that I don’t understand exactly what’s happening with the cards [MINDY LAUGHS] ‘cause that’s not the part the exact part of the story that fascinated me. But she tells you how this came to be and why she chose to dedicate years of her life to becoming a professional poker player, and she does weave in like what she learns at the table with how it taught her to make better decisions in her actual life and live that life in a more satisfying way. I thought this was endlessly fascinating, surprisingly funny. The way she tells the story is really funny like she talks one of the greatest poker players living in the day into being her mentor, and so at one point they’re having a conversation over coffee in some New York City diner and she asks him a question and he says, this isn’t going to be in the book, right? And then he gives the answer, but of course you’re reading the book, [MINDY LAUGHS] and I just really enjoyed that little, you know, this is real life and here it is.

I didn’t think I cared about poker. I do have a writing friend, Helen Ellis, who writes narrative nonfiction who is a poker player and I just … I never got it when she talked about her games, and I really enjoyed getting this insight into the things she talked about and really learning about how it works, and why it’s so different from chess and what strategy is really involved.

Something I noticed about your novel Strike Me Down is that when it was praised by critics ‘cause it was really praised by critics, so many people said like I didn’t know how much I wanted to read about a really strong female protagonist. I’m sure those are dynamics you’ve thought about a lot, and something that was really interesting in Konnikova’s book is she talks about how she was misjudged, misunderstood, patronized, how she was perceived as female poker player and how that affected her strategy, like how it built into her strategy. It continued to surprise her even at the point where she knew better and just … There’s so many different things happening in this book. I think there’s a lot of layers there for you to enjoy.

[00:50:38]

MINDY: That sounds fantastic. I - I don’t know a lot about poker either, but …

ANNE: Oh, you will. Or at least you will learn a lot more.

MINDY: My brother is a huge Vegas enthusiast and we are like dreaming about a Vegas getaway after the pandemic, and so I can’t wait to dig into that book and just fuel the vacation dreaming. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Well that will give you two plenty to talk about. That was The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. And I just have to read you something from my notes I jotted down. You were talking about how much you enjoy deconstructing things, paying attention to how authors lay the groundwork and manage the tension between set up and pay off and you like to dissect and deconstruct. George Saunders’ book A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, another one I didn’t think I cared about, and then so many readers kept telling me you should really read this. I think you would enjoy this book. That’s what he does in it. He’s evaluating Russian short stories, very old classics like Tolstoky, Turgenev, Chehkov, you read the story, and then he breaks it down. At the beginning of his book, he breaks it down page by page and says be patient with me. We’re going to move faster eventually [MINDY LAUGHS] and then in big chunks as the book goes on, but that could be really fun for you not to just do it as a reader, but for the author to do it for you and with you. And I thought, do I really care about Russian short stories? But as it turns out, yeah, I do, actually, who knew.

[00:52:03]

MINDY: That sounds fantastic and I love that George Saunders would do some of that heavy lifting with me to break it down. I love that.

ANNE: Okay. This was a lot of fun. Of the books we talked about, The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz, we snuck in two poetry collections, they were What Kind of Women by Kate Baer and The Day Is Ready for You by Alison Malee, and then The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. Of those three books what do you think you’ll pick up next?

MINDY: I am really excited for The Plot, but since it’s not out until May, I think I’ll pick up What Kind of Women next.

ANNE: Well I am really excited to hear what you think.

MINDY: I cannot wait.

ANNE: Thank you so much for talking books, and oh, I almost said cheat reading, Mindy. [MINDY LAUGHS] And strategic reading with me today.

MINDY: Thank you so much for this, Anne.

[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Mindy, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/278 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.

To support our show and get weekly bonus episodes, access to fun livestreams, and a peek behind the scenes, join our Patreon community at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext. If you wish to do so, this is a great way to TANGIBLY support the show, and now is a great time to do it because summer reading guide guide unboxing is right around the corner. Sign up to become a supporter at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.

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

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.


Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia
•Ariel Lawhon (try I Was Anastasia)
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
The Ambassadors by Henry James
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
They Never Learn by Layne Fargo
Shades of Magic series (#1 A Darker Shade of Magic) by V.E. Schwab
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
November Road by Lou Berney
I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel
Hunting El Chapo:The Inside Story of the American Lawman Who Captured the World’s Most-Wanted Drug Lord by Andrew Hogan and Douglas Century
Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer
The Day is Ready for You by Alison Malee
The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova
•Helen Ellis (try Southern Lady Code: Essays)
A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

Also mentioned:

2020 Summer Reading Guide
WSIRN Ep 15: the audacity to tell people what to read with Marybeth Whalen and Ariel Lawhon
WSIRN Ep 179: Life is short & my TBR is way too long with Shannan Malone
Mystery Writers of America
NaNoWriMo
Bouchercon World Mystery Convention

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8 comments | Comment

8 comments

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  1. Camille says:

    Is it If We Were Villians (M.L. Rio)? I just read it (listened to it actually) and I’m pretty sure I heard about it from Anne somewhere.

  2. Anne says:

    I loved this episode and checked out Mindy’s three latest books. Wow! “Everything You Want Me to Be” was incredible! Such a page turner … I think I need to read it again to catch all the details.

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