Jeremy Anderberg never stops thinking about what’s next on his reading horizon. I think many of you will relate when you hear him say he’s “a little bit obsessed with books,” which is a good thing, because not only is reading a source of enjoyment and intellectual satisfaction for Jeremy, it’s also a key part of his job as a writer and podcast producer. He writes for The Art of Manliness blog, produces The Art of Manliness podcast, and publishes the “Read More Books” newsletter.
Reading for work and reading for fun is a tricky balancing act (although don’t worry, you won’t hear either of us complain about it). Today Jeremy and I discuss the difference between finding what you like to read versus what you feel you should read. We also discuss finding seasonal rhythms in your reading life, finding books so compelling it feels like the pages turn themselves, and why Jeremy finds it so satisfying to give his reading life some structure with “projects” he plans for himself.
Jeremy describes himself as an easy to please reader who can find something to love in just about every title he picks up; I think you’ll find plenty to love in today’s episode.
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.
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 282.
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, we’re kicking off the summer reading season in just a few weeks! The 2021 Summer Reading Guide is coming your way May 24th. Each year I read stacks and stacks of new releases so I can share what I love most.
This is our 10th annual Summer Reading Guide, and we’re ready to celebrate! Everyone who is signed up for our email newsletter gets the guide when it comes out in May, but before the guide is officially released we host a live “unboxing” for our What Should I Read Next patreon supporters.
In this 90 minute live video session, I reveal every title in the guide and tell readers why I chose it. Unboxing is a DELIGHT—it’s the best kind of book party—and this year we’re doing it twice to accommodate more readers live: at noon AND 7pm Eastern time on Thursday, May 20. Members get the guide just after the Unboxing—which means they get it four days early. And they get extra pages and titles that aren’t in the public edition.
To join us on May 20th, go to patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext to get more info and sign up. And get ready for a bunch of summer reading bonus episodes coming your way on Patreon. Get in on the action by becoming a member at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext, P-A-T-R-E-O-N dot com/whatshouldireadnext
Today’s guest never stops thinking about what’s next on his reading horizon. I think many of you will relate when you hear Jeremy Anderberg say he’s “a little bit obsessed with books,” which is a good thing, because not only is reading a source of enjoyment and intellectual satisfaction for Jeremy, it’s also a key part of his job as a writer and podcast producer. He writes for The Art of Manliness blog, produces the Art of Manliness podcast, and publishes the “Read More Books” newsletter.
Reading for work and reading for fun is a tricky balancing act (although don’t worry, you won’t hear either of us complain about it today). Today Jeremy and I discuss the difference between finding what you like to read versus what you feel you should read. We also discuss finding seasonal rhythms in your reading life, finding books so compelling it feels like the pages turn themselves, and why Jeremy finds it so satisfying to give his reading life some structure with “projects” he plans.
Jeremy describes himself as an easy to please reader who can find something to love in just about every title he picks up; I think you’ll find plenty to love in today’s episode. Let’s get to it!
Jeremy, welcome to the show.
JEREMY: Thanks for having me, Anne. It is my pleasure.
ANNE: Oh, it is a delight and so nice to talk to a fellow podcaster. Although that’s not how we first connected. It was actually our mutual friend Laura Vanderkam who’s been a guest on this podcast and readers, if you haven’t listened to that conversation about her talking about supply side reading and demand side reading, you should go do that. We’ll put that in show notes. But she mentioned your newsletter and said, Anne, you have to go sign up. And I’m so glad she did.
JEREMY: That’s wonderful to hear. Yeah, we have had her on our podcast as well, talking about Off the Clock I think was the most recent book or one of her most recent books. She’s pretty prolific. But yeah, she’s great, and I know we both know Jim Mustich, so yeah, it’s nice to be able to chat here.
ANNE: Something that’s a big surprise to many people whether you’re inside or outside the industry is that publishing is really a small world, like a scary small world sometimes.
JEREMY: It’s amazing, yeah, everyone seems to know each other, right? Given the like crazy number of books that come out every year, it’s amazing how small of a connected world it is.
ANNE: Well and you’re in Colorado. I’m in Louisville, Kentucky, and my mom always said when I was growing up you only think this is a big city. Now if you live in Manhattan or L.A., like you’re laughing right now, but people come back ‘cause this is a nice place to live and people don’t forget. [LAUGHS] So you need to be kind to everyone or it’ll come back to bite you. And I think about that all the time when I think about publishing, like everybody knows. Everybody finds out everything.
JEREMY: It’s pretty amazing, yeah, and everyone is like generally so kind and helpful. It’s really like a wonderful community to be in.
ANNE: Jeremy, you mentioned your podcast. Tell our listeners a little bit about what that is and your role in it.
JEREMY: Sure. I’m a producer for the Art of Manliness podcast. We’re a men’s lifestyle, so it’s also a blog. The blog came first and it’s in the realm of like Men’s Health, Esquire, GC, that sorta thing. We cover really anything we say would help men grow up well, so we do philosophy, how-tos, fitness, really cover the gamut. So the podcast is sorta an offshoot of that and we do twice a week interviews generally with authors talking about their books. Really anything that could be considered halfway manly. [ANNE LAUGHS]
So we are on episode 700 just last week so we’ve been around for quite a long time. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with tons of great authors, generally nonfiction, but we do sometimes cover fiction, so you know, really that informs a big part of my reading life, right, I’m getting books from publishers and authors hoping to get on the podcast. So yeah, it’s a big part of obviously my work life, my reading life. All of it. It’s all kinda meshed together.
ANNE: Now tell me about what your role in this looks like on a day to day basis.
JEREMY: Sure. So as the producer, I am doing everything behind the scenes. So I’m coordinating interview schedules and I’m previewing books. So I get from, you know, publishers maybe five, ten books a week that they’re hoping to get on the show so I will read quarter to a third of the book and get a feel for it. Once we decide on a book that we’ll cover an author, we’ll interview, then I’ll do some vetting of the guests. Right, I’ll see if they’re charismatic, if they’re a good fit for the show and then I do everything with our advertisers and I work with our audio editors, so I kinda do all of the aspects behind the scenes to make the show happen.
ANNE: So basically, listeners, Jeremy is our Brenna.
JEREMY: Yeah, I had a really fun chat with her.
ANNE: I’m so glad to hear it. Our listeners love when we pull Brenna out from behind the scenes and she gets to say hello in her own voice [LAUGHS] and talk about the book she loves and I imagine that your listeners feel the same way.
JEREMY: You know, I don’t actually make too many appearances. I do ad reads every now and then but we are really, you know, we are not like one of those shows where like host and producer kinda shoot the breeze for a bit, so it’s mostly Brett’s voice you’ll hear. He’s our editor in chief and the host of the podcast. So it’s mostly Brett, but you may hear my voice in an ad read every now and then.
ANNE: Jeremy, what is your reading life like these days?
JEREMY: Anne, it’s all over the board. So you know with work that obviously drives some of it and even beyond the podcast, a lot of my writing assignments ‘cause I’m also managing editor. I wear a lot of hats so I do a lot of writing. So books will often play a role in my articles and my research. Then I also read a lot for fun, right, so any given year I’ll read about a hundred books. That’s kinda been my constant for the last decade or so. Generally a couple of books a week, a pretty wide mix of old and new across genres, history, biography, fiction, historical fiction, everything. One of the things that I love about doing my own newsletter is that it’s really just a huge range of books that I read because I just love everything. I’m actually kinda easy to please and I’m far more likely to give a book a four star rating on Goodreads than three star rating. So it’s all over the board.
ANNE: I’m chuckling a little bit as you describe reading for fun because I know what some of your fun books look like. Particularly thinking of your presidential biography project.
JEREMY: Yes, so just in January, I wrapped up this four year project of reading a biography of every president. So the genesis was back in 2016. You know when I have a question of like how did we get here? I'm someone who always turns to books and so I decided to go big and say well I’m going to see how we got here from the very beginning, so I started in 2016 and started with George Washington. I didn’t always go in order. There are some stretches of presidents particularly in the 1800s that are just a real slog to get through, so I didn’t always go in order, but I finished up right about with the inauguration of Joe Biden, and it was a pretty incredible journey. You know, I actually feel a little bit adrift since finishing. I haven’t had a guide for my reading, but those you know, often huge, many of them, you know, cracking 800, 900 pages. A lot of them are old and sorta hard to read, and so that was a real intellectual strain in a really good way and so now I’m sorta trying to figure out now what my reading life actually looks like ‘cause I’ve been sorta directed by that project for so long.
ANNE: So did you read one biography for every president?
JEREMY: Yes, at least one. There were a couple where I read more than one, so Thomas Jefferson was someone I couldn’t really figure out after just one, so I read another. And then there were series, right, so for Teddy Roosevelt, I read the great trilogy by Edmund Morris which, you know, each of those three are 8, 900 pages. For Lyndon Johnston, or Lyndon Johnson, excuse me, I read the big Robert Caro series which is four books.
ANNE: Oh. I was hoping you’d say that.
JEREMY: You know when it was a series, that was pretty clearly the best bet. That is how I went. I wanted to go deeper rather than shallower whenever possible.
ANNE: I have not read that Robert Caro series myself, but it was actually chosen as a guest favorite on What Should I Read Next by Jordan Bradley back in episode 127. I’ve had my horizons broadened to think of presidential biographies as riveting reading, which is ironic because I adore Doris Kearns Goodwin and have, you know, flew through the pages of her doorstop biographies. [LAUGHS]
JEREMY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Caro is interesting. His books are unlike any other big biography you’ll read. I mean they require just sheer endurance right. There’s certainly some of that, but the way, you know, he sorta goes off topic, it seems like it would sorta be annoying but it’s actually, like, brilliant in its own way. You get little miniature biographies of other characters, Robert Kennedy and Coke Stevenson and even like the Texas landscape gets this like little biography, right. It's really, just such a memorable reading experience.
ANNE: Was your presidential biography project the first major project you’ve embarked on in your reading life? Do you have a history of this kind of thing?
JEREMY: I do have a history of it, yeah. I really enjoy having a plan of attack. Partially just because, you know, as a reviewer, sorta myself and you know this, you get so many books that hit your doorstep, there’s like ... just such an overwhelm, right, of like just how do I pick what to read. So when I have a plan, it gives me a little more direction. It takes away the willpower needed to just pick a next book.
And some of it is driven by my writing, so I did this big article, the western novels that every man should read, and so I did this big project for several months of just reading like the great westerns of American literature. Now I’m sorta doing this mini project of reading travel classics specifically written by novelists, which is also kinda fun work project. And next year, you know, I’m thinking about reading women in 2022. Doing at least one book a week by a woman just because I’d like more diversity in my reading. So there’s yeah, I’m always thinking of reading plans and projects.
ANNE: What makes something a project? Is it reading on a theme or is it more specific than that? I … Presidential biography, I can wrap my head around that, but when it comes to something like travel classics, is it strictly reading by theme or have you figured out a way to make this check off-able?
JEREMY: Yeah, you know, it’s a little bit of both. So like with the travel classics I just for some reason you know in my head have been thinking of travel writing a lot and I just sorta remember that there were a lot of classic novelists that wrote travel books, so of course Hemingway wrote some travel books. Steinbeck. I’m reading Mark Twain right now, which is really fun, you know Jack London, like this really … Especially like masculine novelists of the 20th century wrote travel books and just sorta wanted to explore why.
With that you know there’s only so many of those that sorta fit that small niche, so that was sorta easy, but then you know thinking about reading women in 2022, it’s a little harder, right? You have to sorta figure out the mix of old and new and getting a broad range of ethnicities and voices, and so that’s a project, you know, sorta working on with a friend and we’re trying to figure out a plan of attack. It really just depends on what the project is and where my reading whims are taking me.
ANNE: I’m noticing how 2022 is a long way away and you’re already making reading plans.
JEREMY: Oh, yeah.
ANNE: Is that typical? Are you often thinking in extended seasons?
JEREMY: Always. Yeah. I’m a little bit obsessed with books obviously as you can sorta tell. [ANNE LAUGHS] So I’m always thinking about what am I going to read next, what’s on the horizon. I do sorta like to read seasonally, sorta on a theme, and partially because I get obsessive about certain things so, you know, I read Travels with Charley not long ago and sorta like reinvigorated my love for Steinbeck and so then I went and found all my Steinbeck books and sorta have somewhat of a plan to read them again before the year is up. So really it’s just sorta following my own obsessions, right, sorta with the presidents it was the same thing. So like oh man, I would love to get obsessed with this topic and so I’m going to go whole hog and do years of reading about it, so.
ANNE: Right now we are standing on the cusp of what to many people is a distinct reading season. What does summer reading mean to you? And I’m asking because to some readers it’s a distinct season that’s totally other than anything else they have in their life, like we have a lot of teachers in our audience, a lot of students. A lot of people who travel in the summertime and it looks like that may actually happen in 2021. And they read differently. The pandemic has altered things, you know, redefining what we think of in terms of escape reading and how much we are reading at all, but for you on the verge of summer reading, what are you thinking of the season to come for your reading life?
JEREMY: For most people I think it was pretty clear if you ask them about summer reading, or beach reading, it’s like light, fluffy, sheer pleasure reads, right, that maybe don’t offer anything but a few hours of entertainment, which is great. I definitely agree with part of that. For me it’s books that are enjoyable and also effortless, sorta regardless of genre. So in the winter, you know, I like to hunker down when I know I can sit on a couch for an hour or two with like a big book that I know will sorta be difficult and that will take a lot of my attention, whereas in the summer I’d prefer something that easy to put down and pick back up.
You know, I have three kids, five and under, so there’s a lot of interruptions in my reading, so I love to have whether it’s a thriller or sorta a lighter historical fiction or even a romcom, just something that is effortless which is like so hard to do as a writer and so appreciated as a reader. And so again that can be really any genre for me, but it’s something that I can put down, pick back up. Something that I know I will enjoy so in the summer I’ll often go back to authors I’ve enjoyed in the past and sorta know that I’ll enjoy whatever I read next. That’s what it means for me at least.
ANNE: That sounds wonderful. I will quote Wallace Stegner for the 400th time on the show. I love what he says in Crossing to Safety about how hard writing makes easy reading, and it is such a gift to feel like you can just relax in the author’s wonderfully written story. You’re in good hands. And if you need to walk away for a few minutes, it’s going to be okay. You’re going to sink right back in.
JEREMY: Yeah, I think of like Fredrik Backman. All of his books are not necessarily like easy, like fluffy, right, like I just read and loved Beartown, which is very, you know, sorta heavy subject matter, but it was made for effortless reading and it was so enjoyable because the pages just turn themselves. That’s the kinda book I love in the summer.
ANNE: Jeremy. I can’t wait to get into more of what you love to read in your reading life, but first, I would love to hear if you have any advice to readers who may be inspired to embark on their own major or minor project. To someone who’s never done something like that before, how … What would you recommend?
JEREMY: Really the hard part, this is the hardest part for me in my reading life frankly is figuring out, like, what do you actually like. So I’m sorta guided by work but I’ve also because of that I’ve had to work to find what I really love and enjoy, so I think if people can, you know, sorta go back and remember the books that they’ve enjoyed in the past. And what I would do is go on to Goodreads, go to that book page and then look on the right side. There’s this great little feature that is books also loved or something like that, right, related books that I have used a ton and you’ll find, you know, maybe books you’ve heard of. You’ll find maybe books you haven’t heard of, but either way, it sorta helps you get into the flow, getting into something you know you’ll enjoy while also still exploring new worlds. And I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find books that you’re not familiar with which is just great fun.
ANNE: That’s really interesting and something that’s good for readers to know is that the older the book on Goodreads is, the more likely those recommendations are going to be on the mark. For new releases it can be very spotty just because of the way the algorithm works. It doesn’t has as much data.
JEREMY: Yeah, and of course you’re at the whims of the algorithm, you know which like I don’t really love in general, but I think it is a helpful feature. The other thing you can do if you don’t want to be at the whims of the algorithm is go to your local bookstore and tell them hey, here’s a couple books I’ve really enjoyed, you know, do you have any ideas for me? They will do the same thing that Goodreads will do usually better.
ANNE: And if listeners want to hear more about Goodreads, we had that excellent episode with Suzanne and Danny, we will link that up as well, where they talk about how it works from inside of Goodreads. Okay, Jeremy, I’m really eager to hear more about what you actually like and I’m interested in what you said about how it can be really hard to deduce that. But here we have a means to do that. Are you ready to get into your books?
JEREMY: I’m very ready, yeah.
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ANNE: Well you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t, and what you’ve been reading lately, and we will talk about what you may enjoy reading next. Depending on what you’re in the mood for, I’m definitely going to keep effortless reading in mind and I’m curious to see where this takes us. How did you choose these?
JEREMY: You know I keep a master list of books I’ve read. I’ve had this list for about a decade, since I graduated college, and so I just go through every year. I highlight my favorites like literal highlighter on the, you know, digital spreadsheet and so I just went through and said hey, what are like three books that have really stuck with me over the years? So they’re books that I’ve maybe reread that I think about a lot that sorta encompass everything I love about reading. So the first book is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, which I read after the birth of each of my three children and has been a life changing experience nearly every time I think.
ANNE: Oh, tell me about how that tradition got started.
JEREMY: As a Netgalley user, as a book reviewer, I have access to early reviews of books and this is one that the cover caught my eye on Netgalley. I downloaded an early copy of it the summer before it was available to the public, which would have been summer 2015 was when I read it. You know, the first kiddo, we were up a lot in the night. I was rocking him a lot. I read it on my phone often in the middle of the night while rocking our son Graham and it just moved me and broke me in the best way possible.
So the gist of it, the first half, Doctor Kalanithi is sorta wrestling with the idea of meaning. He is someone who has loved literature his whole life but then sorta come to find that is not the end all deal of finding meaning in life, and so he goes then to become a neuroscientist, a neurosurgeon. And then the second half of the book, he wrestles with his own terminal cancer diagnosis, sorta through that vein, right, of trying to figure out what sorta new meaning life takes when you’re staring death in the face and gets into his relationship with his wife and their decision to have a daughter. And there are just so many things that I love about the book, namely that he gets into the big existential questions which is what I’m always thinking about, so you know, that ultimately he finds in life is about relationships and love and doing the hard things, staring down the hard things with grace and aplomb I guess.
ANNE: Did you always know you wanted to return to that if you had any more children?
JEREMY: I did, yeah. So the final lines are just stunning. Is it okay if I read them?
ANNE: Yes, please.
JEREMY: And he’s sorta writing to his young daughter. “When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you’ve been and done and meant to the world, do not I pray discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy. A joy unknown to me in all my prior years. A joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.” And when I read that, the first time I read it, I just bawled in the middle of the night knowing that like oh gosh, this child in my arms is providing me more joy than I can even put into words, right?
And so I knew that I would want to be reminded of that with subsequent kids so I read it again. Same thing on my phone in the middle of the night when my daughter was born in 2018, and I did the same thing when our third child was born, another son, just here at the end of January. So I read it on my phone three times and then ultimately I had to have a hardcopy. And we’ve had Lucy, Paul’s wife, on the Art of the Manliness podcast and of 700 guests, she is the only one I’ve ever asked for an autograph copy of her book, and so I have a hardcover that I have not actually read, which is sorta funny to me but it sits on my desk right in front of me in front of my computer and I love having that reminder that being a dad and embracing love and relationships is the greatest thing that I could possibly do.
ANNE: Aw, that’s so moving. Thank you for sharing that. Jeremy, what did you choose for your next book you love?
JEREMY: I chose Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This is a book I haven’t read in a few years, probably more than that given my memory with children, right? But I’ve read it twice I believe, and it’s one that I think about a lot even though I haven’t read it terribly recently. Why I love Frankenstein so much is because it again sorta gets to the heart of meaning. So I think a lot of it obviously in popular culture the monster sorta gets the bad rap for being this vengeful beast, right, but really like the monster is articulate and just wants to find love and wants to be accepted, but Dr. Frankenstein rejects him, sorta sees what he’s created and says oh, like you are not worthy of life, and that is ultimately why the monster goes on this killing rampage, right? It sorta is a horror-sci-fi, but Mary Shelley is exploring what life is about, sorta like When Breath Becomes Air does. I sorta found my own meaning in these books after I picked them of course, but I love books that ask those questions about meaning, and Mary does that in a way that also gives us like a really great story.
ANNE: I love the way you described that book. I find that when people know a book too well, or at least the name of a book and a little bit of the history of the book, it’s easy to just think like oh, that old thing I had to read in high school. So I appreciate you really highlighting what it spoke to you and what themes you noticed.
JEREMY: Yeah, I remember the first time I read it being surprised ‘cause, you know, like you said you think you know, right, even when you watch the movie, you don’t really get that the monster actually is, like, could be this really gentle creature and is pushed to like his murderous spree by being rejected by the man who created him.
ANNE: Which is not what I expected when I picked up that book for the first time. Jeremy, what did you choose to round out your favorites list?
JEREMY: So the third book would be Lord of the Rings by the immortal Tolkein. I’ve read that book a handful of times, the whole trilogy of course I have a bound copy. It’s about a thousand pages of all three in one, which is really how he intended it to be and then the publisher said, no, that’s a terrible idea. Let’s do three separate books. Anyways. It’s meant to be read as one book. That’s how I’ve always done it, and I love one, it’s just such a great epic story, right. It sorta follows the classic hero’s journey which I love. You have an underdog main character trying to get something, goes through a lot of hard things to achieve that thing.
And then also like really what it’s ultimately about is friendship and about mentorship, you know, that some of the characters and relationships are just the most memorable you’ll ever find in literature and I think Samwise Gamgee is the greatest friend in all of literature and so that is a book that I return to frequently. And his world building I think is just unmatched in perhaps all of literature. I mean, the way he created the world of Middle Earth is just … It’s hard to not delve fully into when you’re reading it. I love to be totally immersed into this other world.
ANNE: I imagine that most readers don’t think of something like Tolkein and yet I remember the first time I read this standing in line at the bank with my paperback in my hand ‘cause I didn’t want to put it down [LAUGHS] I needed to find out what happened next, and that was the only way I could really read this novel in the middle of my work day, but I mean, he knows how to tell a story.
JEREMY: He really does, yeah. I mean, so he’s like a huge nerd, right? Tolkein.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] That’s fair.
JEREMY: But yeah, like beyond just sorta the nerdy world building, like yeah right, he can just tell a story so well in a way that just makes you want to keep going.
ANNE: Jeremy, I have a question for you. Maybe this is serendipitous timing. Two nights ago my 11 year old, he’s in 5th grade, said Mom, I noticed The Hobbit on the shelf and I’ve heard you all talk about it before and do you think I’m old enough yet? Well I won’t tell you what I told him, what do you think? He’s 11. 5th grade.
JEREMY: Yeah, I do think he’s old enough. Yes, especially The Hobbit is a little bit different. It’s a little bit lighter and fair, there’s like some scary bits, but it’s about just you know an older guy who goes on an adventure, pulled against his will. It’s really fun. It’s like a little oh I don’t know if innocent is the right word, but there’s less of like a moral tale I think than there is in Lord of the Rings, I think. There’s still like fun things someone can learn but it’s less in your face than Lord of the Rings even though I have written an article about lessons in manliness from The Hobbit. That notwithstanding, I do think it would be appropriate for an 11 year old, yeah.
ANNE: He was asking about reading it on his own and when my oldest was in 6th grade, I forgotten about this until my youngest pointed out the book on the shelf, but we’d read that very copy out loud at the kitchen table after dinner every night for a little bit and it was great for them to hear, but you know it’s different when you’re reading it yourself.
ANNE: I told them there was one way to find out and I didn’t see any harm in trying.
JEREMY: Yeah, absolutely. So we actually have an old illustrated edition of it which is the copy that my wife had when she was a kid that her parents read to her, so I think yeah, that’s a great way to do it.
ANNE: Jeremy, tell me about a book that wasn’t right for you.
JEREMY: So this was actually pretty hard for me. When I run into books I don’t like, I’m actually pretty quick to put them down and sorta forget about them. Generally I leave them on my shelf for later. This pick Moby Dick was actually one of those. I tried it maybe a decade ago. It was not catching on with me, so I put it back on my shelf. I really wanted to be someone who had read Moby Dick [ANNE LAUGHS] so I picked it up again. I know that’s a common theme on this podcast. I made my way through it and while like I can understand the brilliancy, and I can understand why it’s such a big part of the American canon, I get why it’s studied. I just did not personally enjoy it. I think the core story like man vs. whale is amazing, but I am of the firm belief it could have done in about 250 pages. [ANNE LAUGHS] With the same effect, so it’s like combining the length. Like I don’t usually mind diversions, but man, these ones got to me. Combined with like the sorta overly ornate language that Melville uses just sorta put it over the top and I finished it but I do not recommend it to anyone [ANNE LAUGHS] unless you’re like really into like the history of American literature. [LAUGHS] And I know there’s people who love it.
ANNE: Are- are there?
JEREMY: So Nathaniel Philbrick, I don’t know if you know him ...
JEREMY: He’s an author. He writes history, you know, like Revolutionary history. He actually has a book called Why I Read Moby Dick.
ANNE: [WHISPERS] Oh I did not know that.
JEREMY: So I also read that sorta in the lead up, so I know that he loves it ‘cause he’s read it at least a dozen times if not more. He might be the only one, but there is at least one. Yeah. It’s a tiny slim little book I read that I sorta hoped to prime the pump and it just didn’t quite work. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Jeremy, what have you been reading lately?
JEREMY: So, you know, I sorta already mentioned I’m reading some travel classics. Some of my favorites over the last few months are a lot of historical fiction, sorta in the vein of thrillers and mysteries. In the last year I’ve come to accept that I just really love mystery novels, which was sorta hard for me to admit but I did.
ANNE: Tell me more about that.
JEREMY: You know, part of what I love about your podcast in particular is you get to sorta the heart of what people love to read, and the last year I’ve thought oh, gosh, the world can change on a dime. There’s not enough time for me to be reading stuff that I’m supposed to be reading, and it was hard especially at the beginning of the pandemic for me to get into books for whatever reason. So I found that getting into a mystery that completely took me out of the sorta current circumstances that just let me sorta focus on whodunit, literally, right? Was like a really nice reading experience, sorta got my reading on track when it was stalled about a year ago.
And so I just sorta said hey, you know what, I love mysteries. I love cheap mysteries. It’s okay, right, even though I’m a book person. It’s okay for me to have these guilty pleasures, and they don’t need to be guilty. I’ve done a lot of mysteries. I’ve done some thrillers, some old thrillers I recently enjoyed was The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett, and yeah, I'm really enjoying historical fiction. So City of Thieves was one I loved. I recently read The Book of Longings which was amazing. I just read This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. So that’s some of the stuff that I’m reading for fun outside of my work assignments I suppose.
ANNE: Well that’s really interesting. So you said that something you have struggled with is trying to discern the difference between what you actually like and what you should like. Are you listening in on some of that thought process right now?
JEREMY: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, part of it, you know, right, is I work for the Art of Manliness, you know, I feel like I should like masculine books or like books that appeal to guys which histories, big biographies, right, ton of nonfiction, but really you know I think about it, the books that stick with me the most most of the time are novels, and so I’m trying to figure out, you know, my own sorta reading life. What does that really look like? Been with the Art of the Manliness for so long that like my work assignments and my personal reading are so sorta intertwined. Hard to pull them apart.
ANNE: That’s relatable. [LAUGHS]
JEREMY: Yeah, right, I’m sure. Yeah. But now I’m in my 30s. I have three kids. I’m like I’m better able to balance work and non-work, and so you know, there’s a book like The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd which is the story of Jesus’s fictional wife which is not something I would have picked up a couple of years ago just cause you know, it’s a - it’s a ladies book, right? But it was just a beautiful book and so I think just leaning into whatever kinda grabs my whims is something I’m trying to do more of.
ANNE: I hear the grin in your voice when you say it’s a ladies book. I mean, what do you have in mind when you say that?
JEREMY: Like your classic women’s fiction, which in my mind would be a woman writes a woman protagonist, easier reading, often sorta pigeon-holed right into rom com or like historical fiction/romance. I actually really enjoy most of those books, right, but I work for The Art of Manliness so I’m like what - what am I supposed to be reading, right?
ANNE: You know, Jeremy, I’m really glad that you’ve taken some chances on some books that you didn’t think immediately were right up your alley and then found them to be wonderful for you, and I imagine these are things that you have in mind as you move into your 2022 challenge, a project that is.
JEREMY: Yeah. Yeah. That’s absolutely correct. So you know one of the things I track in my spreadsheet is gender and author ethnicity. Partially because the books coming my way from publishers are almost entirely by white men, so that drives much of what at least I’m seeing. So part of the hope, just in general, right, is to diversify my reading.
ANNE: Well I’m excited to hear that. Something that I have struggled with alongside many readers is that when I don’t read a genre myself, I do it because I don’t really [LAUGHS] ‘cause I have often negative preconceptions about what the reading experience is going to be like and there’s nothing like actually diving into the writing to discover either this was not for me, but though often not for reasons I suspected would be the case or wow, if I had known it was going to be like this, I would have been reading this all along.
JEREMY: Yeah, I feel ya. Yeah.
ANNE: Okay. So Jeremy, here’s what we have to work with. You said you’re pretty easy to please. You love books that are all over the map genre wise. You already have a lot of books coming your way for work, and yet we’ve got to narrow this down to three titles today, so what are you looking for, aside from the things we’ve talked about, what are you looking for in your reading life right now? Is there anything you especially want to highlight or would be glad to discover?
JEREMY: I would love to discover books that are a little bit older. I mean not necessarily super old, but not new stuff ‘cause that’s a lot of what I’m getting right, in the mail, and stuff that is maybe, you know, a little bit off the beaten path or a book by an author that’s on their backlist that isn’t as well known as compared to their best seller or something like that. That’s the — so I sorta loved discovering those hidden gems. I do love like big books that you can lose yourself in and sorta find yourself in a totally different world.
ANNE: Jeremy, as we enter this summer season, what are you especially on the lookout for for your reading life?
JEREMY: Sure, so you know as you’ve already sorta mentioned I love books that are sorta effortless, but I love to be able to lose myself into books. You know I love big epics. Obviously Lord of the Rings, right, should sorta give it away. You know again, like I’m not really into memoirs. The more I discover my own reading taste, the more I realize I just love novels and I love a great story.
ANNE: Except for that one you chose as a favorite today. [LAUGHS]
JEREMY: Right. Except for that one. When it’s good, it’s like really good, right? So like Educated is another one, but like the vast majority of memoirs I try I don’t particularly love.
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ANNE: Okay. So the books you loved When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a memoir about … Well what you said. It asks big, existential questions about relationships and love and doing the hard things. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a very old book that you think about a lot and I imagine its relevance to modern life, modern issues, I mean it’s a book that asks what is life about? And what is our responsibility? And then Lord of the Rings, mentioning Samwise Gamgee as the greatest friend in all of literature makes me think, like, that you love not only the epic world building in the story, but the characters themselves.
Okay, not for you, Moby Dick, too long, didn’t read or nearly. And then lately you’ve been reading a lot of travel classics. I really like the idea of playing with books that ask what is life about? And also looking for books that are just effortless reading as you enter the summer season where the pages just turn themselves, you can dip in and out, but you’re not sacrificing quality of story by any means, and yet these books are so well written that they can be a little bit forgiving. Am I on the right track?
JEREMY: That sounds perfect. Yeah, I would love to read any number of books that you just described.
ANNE: I’m also noticing how you were a little surprised to discover that you really love mysteries so I would love to work in a good one of those. Okay I’m thinking of starting with a memoir [JEREMY LAUGHS] that I think surely you must have read, but if you haven’t, we really need to address that. Have you read West with the Night by Beryl Markham?
JEREMY: I have not. So that is one that I have read like the first ten pages of late at night when I was like falling asleep and put it down not to be picked up again, but it is in the drawer of my nightstand.
ANNE: Really? It’s in the drawer of your nightstand right now?
JEREMY: It is, for real, yeah.
ANNE: I want to call you back to it. This is a book that could easily find its way into any appropriately themed reading list on the Art of Manliness. It’s a like pillar of the genre. Huge adventure story cited by many adventurers as one of the top three most inspiring books they’ve ever read. The reason is that Beryl Markham was such a larger than life figure. If you are familiar with her at all, she’s best known for her 1930s solo flight across the Atlantic. She was a pilot. She was the daughter of British colonials. She was raised in East Africa’s Mau forest. She described it as before Kenya was Kenya, and though she’s known as an aviatrix, she also enjoyed floating conventions of all kinds which is on display in this novel. But I mean she, like, gets chased by lions up actual trees. This is an exciting book and I think you said that you really wanted a good story when you started saying maybe memoirs isn’t for you. Like this is a great story told by the person living it and I think, I think it’s for you, Jeremy. How does that sound?
JEREMY: It sounds up my alley. So you know I should qualify the no memoir thing by saying I do love adventure memoirs, so Douglas Preston in the Lost City of the Monkey God was awesome. Into Thin Air. Adventure stories, I love that stuff. So this sounds great. I guess you know maybe it’s serendipitous I have it in my nightstand, so maybe I’ll give it another shot.
ANNE: Next up have you read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro?
JEREMY: I have not, no.
ANNE: Really? Okay. Well it’s summer, and while I think you could really read any book at any time, I mean, if you take Les Mis to the beach, you have a beach read in your hand, and yet based on what you described I think the book I want to go with is his new one that just came out this winter. It’s called Klara and the Sun, and do you know anything about this?
JEREMY: You know, I’ve seen the cover. That’s about it.
ANNE: It’s about an artificial friend named Klara whose existence and whose, I think, first person narrative contains big questions about humanity, technology, and love as Frankenstein did, but this is the 2020 version written by a man who’s … And he’s written about this before. Never Let Me Go would also be an excellent choice for you. It feels like such a fall read to me, though. I hope you love Klara and the Sun and you’ll want to read Never Let Me Go come say October. And people who have read Ishiguro before will definitely recognize the writing style. There’s something about his turn of phrase and the way that he has this … He uses familiar words in mysterious ways that we don’t expect that makes you go wait [LAUGHS] Something not quite right is afoot and I’m going to keep reading until I figure out what it is. And he has this ever present theme of what it means to be a person in this world.
He’s talked about how paying attention to what we are doing with technology in our modern era and how it may affect the human experience in ways that are not good, but here he manages to wrestle with those existential questions in a way that is much lighter and often delightful than in his previous books. His main question here is can technology really replace human comfort and kindness and to what extent and when you really love somebody, what is the part of them that you love and what does it matter and how do you show them and what are we to each other and what ought we to be?
But of course he’s asking these questions through the voice of an artificial friend who has been created to serve a human girl and it’s just … It’s quirky enough that he invites you to think about familiar topics in an entirely different way because the package he wraps it in is just so fresh and surprising. How does that sound to you?
JEREMY: That seems really fun. I make a living on the internet, but there are times where I despise the internet. So that sounds really fun. I really enjoy like futurist, you know, like Michael Crichton, I really enjoy that sorta thing, too, so that sounds perfect for me.
ANNE: If you wanted to read more on the theme of what is life about, something that’s wonderful about a question like that is you could read literary fiction. You could read historical. I imagine you could read a thriller. You could probably even read romance, Jeremy, but another book that asks that same question in really interesting ways is Sarah Gailey’s I think February 2021 release, The Echo Wife. I don’t know if you’re familiar with their work, but takes the same question and it is an altogether different package really fascinating, suspenseful, page turning genre mashup.
JEREMY: I don’t know. I’ve not heard of the book or the author.
ANNE: Okay. Look it up. See what you think because that book I can’t tell how much that may or may not align with your tastes based on what we’ve said so far, but based on what you’ve said that you have loved somewhat to your surprise it could be a fun ride, but it is definitely different than the books we talked about. Not different than the books we’ve talked about, I wonder if you’ve read any Peter Heller.
JEREMY: Yes. Dog Stars and The River, is that correct?
ANNE: Yes, did you enjoy those?
JEREMY: Yes, well, so I really liked The Dog Stars. The River a little less so. I just … The story wasn’t as good to me as The Dog Stars, but I do really enjoy his writing and I know he’s a Colorado author as well.
ANNE: That’s right. He is. Well that’s actually what made me think of this. So I just finished his new one called The Guide, so here’s how I’m justifying bringing up this brand new release to you. It’s because I think you will really also enjoy his backlist novel, a wilderness mystery called Celine. But this new book, The Guide. It is set in roughly the present day, or I suppose we could say it’s set about two years from now. I wouldn’t quite call it dystopian. But this book picks up a couple years after The River left off.
Readers, if you haven’t read The River, know that if you pick this up, you’re going to get a major spoiler pretty much at the beginning of the book for how The River ends. You can certainly go back and read The River. Some readers will think that doesn’t ruin the reading experience, it’s fine. Some readers will think oh my gosh, I wish I hadn’t known that, but just know if you’re tempted to pick this up that you’re going to find out something that happens at the end of The River.
Jeremy, you already know, so a couple years later Jack who is still definitely impacted on a daily basis by his experience on that river across the country is back in Colorado and he needs a job. And a peaceful job would be best, so even though he’s Dartmouth educated [LAUGHS] and could do any number of things, he gets a job as a guide at a luxury resort to the uber rich. He’s going to take them out to fly fish.
So it’s very unusual for the resort to lose a guide mid-season, but they did, and the manager has a little bit of a story why but Jack is going to get to do something that he loves, guiding one fisher per day, or maybe two. Definitely not more. It will be boutique fishing at its finest, and the thing that tipped me off that oh, this story isn’t quite what I expected is pretty early in the book, you find out that Jack, oh ‘cause this is Jack’s story, he has a cloth face mask in his back pocket and he pulled it out and looped it over his ears and the manager is like eh, you don’t need that around here. It makes the guests uneasy. You’ve been tested. Everyone gets their temperature taken when they come in to the bar every night. It’s fine. So what we find out is we’re a couple years past Covid, but there are strains that have taken off and have gotten scary ‘cause it wasn’t stomped out, and there was finally a superbug that broke out in India. It’s very much still in people’s minds.
And against that backdrop, this is a thriller. Heller’s never written a thriller before, but he comes to discover … First - first he notices there’s some cameras at very odd places that seem to be watching the fishermen and fisherwomen fish, and then there are a couple of other things that are not quite right about the compound and the security is through the roof. The fences are unusually high. He just thinks something here is not quite right. Over the course of the novel, it’s a short novel, and it’s really, really quickly which I think for many people makes a great read going into summer reading season. With the help of a country music star looking for a peaceful escape, she happens to be from east Tennessee and has all kinds of outdoorsy skills ‘cause that’s how her daddy raised her. They decide that the only right thing they can do is to get to the bottom of it.
This story combines a wilderness setting, these poetic meditations upon fly fishing and what it means and how Jack feels most like himself when he’s on the river with his … I’ve never been fishing a minute of my life, Jeremy, so I’m probably botching these descriptions but he’s, you know, lovingly tying the flies and he’s watching the sun glint on the water and he’s going for the perfect cast and I really don’t care about fishing, but I just felt so peaceful reading these scenes ‘cause Heller described it in a way that even to me who really doesn’t care, it’s not boring. It sounds fascinating and unique peek into someone else’s lived experiences.
So lots of fishing and then it becomes an adventure story and goes in a direction that I definitely did not expect. I was stunned that Heller was incorporating Covid into his plot in this way because something that writers have been talking about for a year now is okay, if I write contemporary realistic fiction, how on earth am I supposed to write this right now? By the time the book comes out I have no idea what the situation is going to be and I don’t know what life’s going to be like and I don’t know what realistic is going to look like, and Heller was like, I’ll find a way out of that box and the book you get is The Guide. How does that sound to you?
JEREMY: That sounds really intriguing. So you know part of what I most loved about The Dog Stars and The River that they’re both sorta set in these harrowing circumstances, right, but Heller manages nonetheless to like really capture the beauty of the environment, but even in the midst of this chaos, there is still natural beauty and like restfulness to be found. So that combination that you described sounds like what I most love about his work and I didn’t know that he had a new book coming out, so I will definitely check it out.
ANNE: I’m glad to hear it. I think that is a fascinating one to read right now for all those reasons we talked about, but the book that I think whose themes are going to most speak to what we see you loving as a reader is his older novel Celine. Celine the character is modeled after Heller’s mother who also, like the character, is an artist and a private investigator who loves the outdoors. Not just any artist, but an artist in New York City, in Manhattan, who loves the outdoors.
This story combines the questions of what makes life worth living, what are the things that really mattered, also let’s go to Yellowstone, but it asks all these questions about relationships because in the story, the case in question is about a woman whose father has been missing for decades and she’s unconvinced that he’s actually deceased as she’s been led to believe. So Celine and her partner head to Yellowstone National Park where it becomes clear that someone wants to keep this man and they have to find out why. So the way Heller writes about nature is something you said you really enjoy, but also exploring the intersection of relationships and those family ties, secrets we keep and why we keep them. I think - I think it could be a really good one for you.
JEREMY: Yeah, it sounds fun and I’ve not heard of it. I mean like I said I knew he had some mysteries in his backlist, but didn’t know the premise or anything about them so yeah, like an outdoorsy mystery sounds especially fun for sure.
ANNE: Okay I’m glad to hear it. Jeremy, of the books we talked about today, they were West with the Night by Beryl Markham, Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Guide and also Celine by Peter Heller. Now I think I might know the answer to this based on practicalities but of those three titles, what do you think you may enjoy reading next?
JEREMY: I will definitely start with West with the Night for sure and then I think I will go ahead and put a hold at my library on Klara and the Sun since it’s a new one, might take a little while, but I’ll have that one in the queue. In the meantime I’ll read Beryl Markham.
ANNE: Well that sounds wonderful and I can’t wait to hear what you think. Jeremy, thank you so much for talking books with me today.
JEREMY: Thanks, Anne. It was a real pleasure.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Jeremy, and I’d love to hear what YOU think he should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/282 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
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Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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Books mentioned in this episode:
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•The Theodore Roosevelt Trilogy (#1 The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt) by Edmund Morris
•The Years of Lyndon Johnson Series (#1 The Path to Power) by Robert A. Caro
•Doris Kearns Goodwin (try Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln)
•Ernest Hemingway (try A Moveable Feast)
•John Steinbeck (try Travels with Charley: In Search of America)
•Mark Twain (try The Innocents Abroad)
•Jack London (try The Road)
•Frederick Bachman (try Beartown)
♥ When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
♥ Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
♥ The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
•The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
△ Moby Dick by Herman Melville
•Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick
•The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett
•City of Thieves by David Benioff
•The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
•This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
•Educated by Tara Westover
•West with the Night: A Memoir by Beryl Markham
•Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
•Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
•The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
•The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
•The River by Peter Heller
•The Guide by Peter Heller
•Celine by Peter Heller
•WSIRN Episode 112: Your best reading year yet with Laura Vanderkam
•WSIRN Episode 165: 1000 books to read before you die with Jim Mustich
•WSIRN Episode 127: Seeking professional help (for quitting books) with Jordan Bradley
•21 Western novels every man should read
•Classic travel writing by famous novelistsWSIRN Episode 242: Sharing Good Reads with good friends with Susan Skyvara and Danny Feekes
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