If you’ve been listening to podcasts or tearing through a new series on Netflix instead of picking up a book, I’m here to cheer you on (really)! Different forms of art and storytelling can be a refreshing change of pace for avid readers, and taking a break from the books might even benefit your reading life in the long run.
But today’s guest came to us with a request for books that will hold his attention and get him back to turning the pages instead of pressing play on another podcast episode. In addition to podcast listening, youth services librarian Hamid Printer enjoys recommending adventurous, exciting books to readers of all ages and hosting epic fantasy game nights for friends.
In his guest submission form, Hamid compared himself to the character Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation, and if you’ve watched that show I think you’ll find his comparison to be spot on!
I’ve got a whole lot of books to share with Hamid that I hope will rival even the most immersive game night or absorbing podcast episode. Plus, I can’t help but share a few hidden gems from the young adult section that Hamid and his library patrons might enjoy.
You can follow Hamid on Instagram.
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 286.
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, you know what we do around here. Every week, we talk to a new reader about the books they love, hate, and might want to pick up next. But what we don’t do on What Should I Read Next is talk about my favorite books week in and week out. If you’re eager to hear about some of my favorite books this summer, I’ve got great news. One Great Book is back!
One Great Book is my short-form podcast, where I pull one standout selection off the shelves of my personal library, and tell you all about it, in 10 minutes or less. Get ready to tune in on Fridays, because I have great books I want to tell you about in this volume. (That’s what we call seasons around here.) In previous volumes I’ve shared backlist selections, but in the coming episodes I’m sharing in-depth looks at newer releases from the Modern Mrs Darcy Summer Reading Guide. Listen wherever you listen to What Should I Read Next. Just search there for “One Great Book.”
If you’re new to One Great Book, our episodes are short and sweet and evergreen, so if you haven’t yet listened to our previous episodes, go ahead and download those now, while you wait for Volume V. Subscribe now to be sure to get the first episode as soon as it comes out on June 11.
If you haven’t yet snagged your Summer Reading guide, go to modernmrsdarcy.com/srg now to get your copy. And stay tuned to the very end of this episode because we have a special surprise for you—our One Great Book volume 5 trailer.
Today’s guest finds himself picking up podcasts instead of his current reads…can any of you relate? We are pro-podcast listening here, of course, but Hamid Printer came to us with a request for books that will hold his attention and get him back to turning those pages. As a youth services librarian, Hamid enjoys recommending adventurous, exciting books to readers of all ages and hosting epic fantasy game nights for friends.
In his guest submission form, Hamid compared himself to the character Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation, and listeners, if you’ve watched that show I think you’ll find his comparison to be spot on! I’ve got a whole lot of books to share with Hamid that I hope will rival even the most immersive game night or absorbing podcast episode. Plus, I can’t help but share a few hidden gems from the young adult section that Hamid and his library patrons might enjoy.
Let’s get to it!
Hamid, welcome to the show.
HAMID: Hi, Anne. Thanks for having me.
ANNE: Hamid, one thing was clear from your submission that you sent in through our form at whatshouldireadnext.com/guest and that is that reading seems to permeate every aspect of your life, like right down to your throw pillows.
HAMID: Yeah, I have … For listeners at home, I have pillows that are shaped like books. Actually I have ... My wallet is shaped like a book. It looks like The Count of Monte Cristo, which is one of my favorites, so it’s - it’s everywhere.
ANNE: Oh, which is one I haven’t read! [LAUGHS] But it’s your favorite, tell me more.
HAMID: So I wasn’t the biggest reader growing up, and in high school I got to the point where I had enough credits to graduate and then I was kinda taking electives, which I didn’t care about because I knew I was going to pass anyways, and so I would bring books to school and I would just read instead of doing the actual work and that was one of them. I mean as a teenage boy hearing about like the adventures of this outcast person and how they built themselves up and the intrigue and all of that was just amazing. Yeah, so I loved that book although I will say there’s two versions. There’s an abridged version which is like 800 pages, and one which is 1400 page one, which is the one you have to read.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] It only looks like 14000.
HAMID: There’s a lot of b-stories that get cut out of the abridged one, and so I would recommend the full one, but if you want to cheat, there’s another podcast called Fictional where the host retells classic stories and I believe he did The Count of Monte Cristo and so if you want it in podcast form, you’re going to hear a lot about how I’ve transitioned from actual reading to podcasts [LAUGHS] during this interview and how I want it back.
ANNE: First of all, how big is your wallet?
HAMID: [LAUGHS] It’s the size of an actual wallet, but it looks like a miniature book ‘cause the person who designed it had left their wallet in the car one day and realized that …. didn’t realize that it was there and thought, you know, anyone could have passed by and saw this wallet and broken into the car and stolen the wallet, so he designed one that looked like a book because if you’re passing by it just looks like you have a book in your backseat, and that intrigued me on a lot of different levels, so I had to pick one up. So I got one for myself and I got one for my brother who’s a big Edgar Allan Poe fan, so he has a Poe book, and I have The Count of Monte Cristo.
ANNE: Okay, so it’s not a 1400 page sized wallet. It will actually fit in your pocket.
HAMID: For sure.
ANNE: So The Count. It’s an outcast boy having adventures sticking it to the people who understand it. Are those themes that you’re going to see in your adult reading?
HAMID: The main protagonist I think for all of my choices are young men. Actually I think they’re all around the same age as well. No, one of them’s in his 30s. The other two are around 12. But it’s that same range like the formative years, at least for me growing up being able to enjoy reading and vicariously live through characters in books, and there’s swashbuckling adventures.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] That’s such a great word, swashbuckling. Now Hamid, books are your job by day as well. Tell us a bit about that.
HAMID: So I work for the Toronto Public Library. I’m a youth librarian or at least I was. I’ve recently transitioned into administration, so about two years ago I switched over. So currently I do administrative work and bigger picture system wide services, but when I was in-branch it was great because I would get to do a lot of amazing programs with teens and I would try and tie in books to whatever they were. So we did ... Video gaming is always big in the library, but I introduced Dungeons & Dragons as well, which is amazing for also trying to tie in books that are related to the library because Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy world playing game where you work cooperatively and there’s one person who’s the Dungeon Master who runs the story and so they give you descriptors of this base that you’re in and your potential goal and then you’re free to navigate however you like and because it’s so open and it’s in a fantasy space, being able to recommend books is really easy ‘cause you can do everything from The Hobbit to … For my own games I’ve ripped off The Odyssey. I’ve ripped off The Lost World, Frankenstein, so it’s - it’s a nice launching point to get people into certain books.
ANNE: What did you learn in your work working with teens and reading for so long that you wish was more widely known?
HAMID: I find the way we set our collection, it’s very finite. Like here’s the children’s area, here’s the teen area, here’s the adult area, so in my position when I was doing collection development and getting new books for our teen section, I’d go out and I’d pull books that maybe didn’t fall under the teen category, but I knew it was something that a teen might enjoy, and so, you know, if there’s a youth coming into the space, one maybe they don’t want to go into the children’s area and two, they feel that sense of pride of like oh yeah, this is my copy ‘cause it’s my space, but I find that demographic tends to get pigeon-holed a lot in terms of expectations of how they’re going to use the library space but then also what their reading habits are.
So I know when I was a teen I would go around everywhere. I still love reading children’s books, so that’s … I used to be a children’s librarian before a youth librarian so I’d wander around the library all over the place looking for books, not just in like a specific area, and the advice I would give to any youth that’s coming to the library is come talk to staff and tell us what types of books that you like because we can recommend something that might not be a teen book, but you might really enjoy. I’ve talked to youth out of red books that to me I thought were really dry that I would never read, [ANNE LAUGHS] and then I’ve talked to adults like need to get their hands on the next John Green book.
ANNE: That is so interesting. Now I know that you haven’t been planning cookie decorating sessions at the library for the past year. How - how has the past year been with the pandemic and the library system in Toronto? I know that here in Louisville I’ve missed my own library desperately. Just last month they finally were able to open to in-person pick up and browsing and we walked in the door just to pick up a reserve, just used to be a totally normal thing and you could - you could like hear the angels singing while they scanned my temperature at the door. [HAMID LAUGHS] Got to walk in and actually talk to my librarians. It was great. But how has your year been?
HAMID: It’s - it’s been challenging. We’re still fairly lockdown, so in-branch service we have curbside pick up and you can come into the branch now, so if you want to make a library card or use the computers, you have the ability to do that but for the longest time it was primarily curbside and we transitioned a lot of things to online which was challenging but good. So we have a number of programs that are available through our website and it’s given a lot of staff the opportunity to jump on and run these programs. Where maybe before, you know, ‘cause they were lower seniority they would not be able to do it but because they are the expert in a certain topic or they just really enthusiastic about it then they get to jump on and it’s been able to connect with people that don’t physically have to come in, so we’ve had programs where we can see the analytics afterwards and someone’s joined from like South America or Europe, so that’s always been really cool. But we’re static right now at very limited service and once it gets safe to open up again, we’re going to slowly reintroduce things.
ANNE: I’m sure your patrons will be happy to go through your doors again.
HAMID: Oh, for sure.
ANNE: Hamid, tell me a little about your reading life.
HAMID: My reading life has been up and down, so growing up I was in French immersion. Our parents put us in French immersion ‘cause in Canada it’s good to be bilingual. I didn’t have an aptitude for it so I was doing horribly in French and I was really bad at English including reading, and so I hated reading growing up. I remember as a birthday gift once someone gave me like a Search and Find book and in my head I was like oh, a book? It became one of my favorite ones, but as I switched into English and I started building those skills I started really loving reading. I think primarily because of Roald Dahl. I picked up his books. One of my favorite books to today is Fantastic Mr. Fox ‘cause it was the first book I read on my own without any help.
HAMID: Yeah, and then in high school I mentioned I started reading The Count of Monte Cristo and a number of other classics and just some random other books. I think I read through every single Michael Crichton book when I was in high school, so that’s when I became a really ravenous reader and really started enjoying it. I would be up ‘til like 2, 3 in the morning during summers just on my bed reading a book and then university hit. [ANNE LAUGHS] And so I did my undergrad in biology and then I did teacher’s college and then I did my master’s for the library and then reading become more of a chore where I was made to read for a long period of time, so my decompressing was some of my other hobbies so I would watch TV or I would play video games or I would play sports, and so reading fell by the wayside.
And then as a librarian, I would read a lot more but it wasn’t items that I may have particularly chosen, so I do enjoy children’s books, but when I was a children’s librarian, it’s a lot of pictures books so it was, you know, Otto the Book Bear, The Gruffalo, The Little Black Book of Colors, but it wasn’t, you know, something that I could sit down and really escape into and that’s what I typically use reading for to escape and I’ve recently been trying to get up, but since I transitioned into my admin role and this past year’s been so crazy I haven’t really found time to read.
I’ve been doing more podcasts because I find that I get these small digestible chunks of entertainment and I can also multitask so I can listen to a podcast when I’m doing the dishes.
HAMID: Actually one thing when I was younger I mentioned that I wasn’t the best reader, but one of the determining factors to me wanting to learn to read was I loved watching cartoons and still do, but I would watch Looney Tunes and there would be a cartoon where the Road Runner busted the Coyote and he’s just about the fall off the cliff and he holds up a sign, and I remember my like five, six year old brain thinking I don’t know what’s on that sign, but I need to learn to read so I can find out. That was my great approach learning to read.
ANNE: Oh. I love that. Have you revisited Road Runner?
HAMID: Oh, I have all the Warner Brothers collections on DVD and now as an adult realize it just says yikes on the sign.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] But you know until you could read it you felt like you were missing out and now you’re not.
HAMID: [LAUGHS] Well even that Search and Find book, I remember as a kid you’re expecting toys and you get a book for a birthday gift and then that became one of my favorite books, so at night our parents would always read to us. At that point I remember our dad or our mom would bring ... My brother and I shared a room, so we would play the game and we would have to read the word before we could search for it and so that became a really fun game. In general even when I felt like I was missing out I still had access to stories because I grew up on Reading Rainbow and our parents would take us to the library and read to us each night, so I have fond memories of my parents reading the different A Thousand and One Arabian Nights to us growing up. Sorry if I speak in the plural. I have a twin brother, so I tend to say “we” a lot like the King’s “we.”
ANNE: Tell me more about growing up as a twin.
HAMID: It was great. I feel like we didn’t take full advantage over the trickery we could have pulled that we had [ANNE LAUGHS] but we used to switch classes a lot. He was born first, so I was born second, and he has one crown on his head and I have two, which is a great help to our parents telling us apart, but all of our friends growing up ended up being like over 6”. I’m 5’8” and they would literally look down at us and that would be the joke, where they would look at me, pretend to lean over me, and be like oh yeah, it’s you, to make sure that it’s the right one.
So we couldn’t fool them but we used to switch classes all the time and so I remember I liked sciences so I would switch over and I would write my brother’s science test, so I would have a science test [ANNE LAUGHS] and then I would go over when it was his period and write his science test and he would do the same for me but in social sciences. So I went off and he has a humanities degree, and I have a biology degree so we - we ended up moving those tangents, but the worst part of the story is so he’d end up with a higher mark because I had already seen the questions, so I could answer them better and then he would write mine and then his, and so he would consistently get higher marks than me because he was always … That task was always the second set of eyes to see it, and so he did very well for himself in junior high and high school.
ANNE: I hope he appreciated it. [HAMID LAUGHS] Did you ever get busted?
HAMID: No, we were really identical. [ANNE LAUGHS] So I work for Toronto Public Library and I started off as a teenager. My brother did as well, and there’s a point where we both worked at some of the same locations, which was funny because some of the staff didn’t know, but we also worked at individual locations where I would be helping someone search for a book at my location, my library branch. I would mention that we didn’t have it, but you know, there’s one that was close by that did. I could call ahead and have it pulled aside. This one time that happened and someone said no, I’ll just go down. It’s pretty close. I’m fine. And he happened to be in the area where that book was shelving and so this patron goes to this base and they see him and like whoa, how did you get here? And he just seemed kinda confused like can I help you? So I remember that being a fond memory, and we had to piece it together [ANNE LAUGHS] because he came home that night, he was like something weird happened.
ANNE: Is he a reader?
HAMID: [LAUGHS] No, he is - he is as well, and it’s great because we trade books. We’re essentially the same person, so it’s nice if he recommends a book, I know I’ll enjoy it and vice versa, so we’ve traded off on a lot of books. Actually one of the picks that I have for my three favorites is one that he recommended to me. I won’t ruin what that is.
ANNE: I’m excited to hear your books. Are you ready to get into it?
HAMID: For sure, yeah.
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ANNE: Hamid, how did you pick these?
HAMID: It was really tough ‘cause there’s a lot of books that I like and basically it came down to what were the books that were on the shelf in my bedroom ‘cause those ones have a higher class than all the other ones and so I was scanning through that shelf and I’m like it has to be one of the ones from here and so that’s how I determined ‘cause I have stacks of books just all over the house and so like well these ones made it to the bedroom shelf, so they must be important.
ANNE: Hamid, tell me about book one.
HAMID: So for my first choice is actually the one my brother actually recommended to me. It’s called The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. It takes place around World War II and you follow a 12 year old boy named David and he at the beginning of the book he lost his mother and his father remarries and they end up living with the stepmother and through some Alice in Wonderland situation, he ends up in this world of fairy tales. But not the fairy tales that we’re used to like the original dark Grimm fairy tales, and so while he’s in this world he faces a number of dangers including wolves, ogres, witches. He befriends a woodsman and throughout the whole story there’s this sinister character named the Twisted Man that’s following his journey and so I really love this one because I love fairytales. I love fractured fairy tales as well, so it’s nice getting those reimaginings of stories and it has this darker feel to it which I really enjoy, like I like the fact that it falls into the way fairy tales originally were written before they were adapted for the, you know, the ones that we normally tell children.
ANNE: I was a German student, and so we read the original Grimm fairy tales in German class as high schoolers and I had had no idea until that point that we were reading the sanitized versions. They were … Yeah, they’re bloody. What does it feel like, what’s the tone?
HAMID: It’s fairly dark so there’s a lot of anger issues that David the main character has in relation to his father getting remarried. They actually, his father and his stepmother have a baby and he resents the fact that, you know, there’s this kid that is constantly sick and constantly needs to be taken care of and is always screaming and crying and he doesn’t like the fact that he’s getting all the attention and then when he gets transferred into this world a lot of the things that he encounters parallels his own internal turmoil, which I really enjoyed, but it tends to be a darker book which again I really enjoy just based off the fact that it’s coming off the darker tellings of these fairy tales.
One of the things that I really like though is there is a thread of humor that runs through it and one of the other really cool things about this book is depending on which version you get there’s a purple cover and a red cover. So if you get the book with a red cover, in the back they include all of the fairy tales that are referenced in the book in their original form, so then you can go back and you can read them the way they were originally written versus the way he adapted them.
ANNE: Oh, that is very cool. Okay, so that is The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. What did you choose for book two?
HAMID: So my second book is called The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins. It’s the first in a trilogy. It’s a fantasy book so it takes place in a fantasy world where there’s these tyrannical dragon overlords that control the lands and so they basically tax people beyond their means or they’ll occasionally go out and destroy a town just because they’re bored and so you meet Will, who’s a 30 year old farmer and he’s being kicked out of his farm because he can’t pay his taxes. He’s left to go live in the wild and while he’s in the wild he ends up meeting these two mercenaries who are trying to turn their lives around and they cross paths with an academic and together with the town drunk they come up with this idea for a heist where they’re going to rob Mattrax, who’s the dragon that oversees their area. They’re going to rob him of all of his gold and the book just moves on from there. The reason I picked up this book initially is I was reading a review and the review said that this book was a cross between The Hobbit and Guardians of the Galaxy. And that was the whole review and I immediately thought I’m sold.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] What a description.
HAMID: This book is great as well, so I mentioned before that I enjoy playing Dungeons & Dragons. I’m a Dungeon Master so I run a game for my friends. I stole so much from this book in terms of dialogue and descriptions and I would mention that I would probably give people a trigger warning on this one just because there is a violence and it does get graphic, but just like The Book of Lost Things, they intertwine humor in the book which I really enjoy. So there’s a part where the party meets this band of goblins which are normally adversarial creatures, but not these goblins. They basically just want to start up a bakery which I thought was really, really funny so they’re meeting these creatures that they automatically have this disdain for and they’re like nope, we want to create ones so we can start up this bakery, which I thought was really funny. [ANNE LAUGHS] It’s described a lot better in the book than I just did.
ANNE: That sounds like a lot of fun. I’m noticing a definite humorous theme in your books. Is that typical of your reading life? Are we going to hear more?
HAMID: I mean, who doesn’t like having comedy in their life, right? I read to escape so I don’t like anything that takes itself too seriously, anything that has a really great story or can infuse humor in, I’ll probably enjoy.
ANNE: Good to know. Hamid, what is your final favorite?
HAMID: So my last book is a book called Zomboy by Richard Scrimger. It takes place in a small Ontario town called Dresden, which is about 300 kilometers southwest of Toronto, about 150 miles. There’s as student named Imre and shortly after he joins the school he’s outed as a zombie and so the book focuses on two main characters Bob and Evil-O that are best friends and Evil-O befriends Imre and Bob is apprehensive of the fact that there’s a zombie in their school and once Imre’s outed as a zombie, there’s this huge hysteria in the town where half of the town don’t want him to be there, they want him to leave and the other half of the town just want him to be left alone and incorporate into the community. Bob is one of the people so that he doesn’t want Imre there, but part of it stems from the fact that his best friend Evil-O is hanging out with this zomboy even more, and it’s hinted that he also has a crush on his best friend. I should mention, so Evil-O is actually Olive backwards, so in the book when they introduce the characters, Bob mentions that his name is Bob which is Bob forwards and backwards, and Olive who’s his best friend, her name backwards is Evil-O, and it gets to the point where everyone calls her that including the principal over the school intercom speaker.
ANNE: Just the premise to that book made me laugh out loud. It’s so [LAUGHS] it’s so delightfully ridiculous.
HAMID: Pure comedy. There’s serious undertones. The other ones tend to be darker, the first two. With comedy in this one I feel like is a comedy with, you know, some serious matter. It’s a big part of the story but it’s comedy plus serious versus serious with a little bit of comedy.
ANNE: Tell me about a book that wasn’t right for you.
HAMID: I’m not a fan of Dune by Frank Hubert and I feel really bad saying that just because I know people love it. One of my former bosses is a huge fan of it and so I felt like I was kinda letting her down when I was reading and feeling like oh, this isn’t - this isn’t for me.
ANNE: What made it not right for you? Are you able to put your finger on that? ‘Cause it is a classic. I mean I can see how you might think like oh am I allowed, but I guarantee you there’s listeners right now going uh huh. Me too. Hand high.
HAMID: There’s a lot of jargon, which took me out of the reading experience and when it was first introduced to me I read it fairly late, like it wasn’t something that I read when I was younger. I read it maybe in the past three or four years. But yeah it felt very jargon-y. When it was introduced to me it was introduced similar to the Game of Thrones, but more sci-fi and so I thought oh that sounds cool, and I did like the underlying story, but just getting through everything else to get to the story for me took a little more patience than I have with regular books.
ANNE: Do you typically prefer a book with a faster pace?
HAMID: It doesn’t necessarily have to have a faster pace, but I do like books where when you’re reading them like your mind can escape and it’s almost like you’re running through a movie. So growing up I loved reading Michael Crichton books because that’s the feel that I got out of it. I think with Dune specifically because there was a lot of terminology that was introduced it took a while for me to be able to absorb all of it and so it forced me to slow down reading and typically I just like being able to read and continue at a specific flow.
ANNE: So you’ve chosen books that have a fantasy element to them and some of those have like really intricate world building that’s interesting and allows you to really visualize the world but it takes a lot of patience on the part of the author I imagine and the reader to really appreciate that. So what I’m hearing is more cinematic, less explanation.
HAMID: That sounds about right.
ANNE: Hamid, what have you been reading lately?
HAMID: I was reading The Sleeper In The Spindle by Neil Gaiman. It’s a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty.
ANNE: I don’t know this one by him.
HAMID: Oh, well anything by Neil Gaiman is just a delight to read and it’s … I would consider it a graphic novel. It’s beautifully illustrated. It’s really small. It’s short. You could read it within 20 minutes to an hour. It’s a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty where it’s not just one person but there’s this entire kingdom that’s been inflicted by a spell that’s put them to sleep. The boundaries of the sleep is starting to extend out to other regions and so the queen of another kingdom as well as these dwarves travel over to this land that’s been cursed and they need to figure out what’s going on and break the curse before it spreads and everyone is brought into this world of sleep. So that one I really enjoyed. It’s one that I’ve reread it. I’ve read it a couple of times, but it’s always fun to jump back into.
I’ve also been reading, there’s a book on Super Mario Brothers III by Alyse Knorr. It’s by an independent publisher called Boss Fight Books and what they do is they release books on video game history that also have a bit of personal touch so each of the authors will give you a history of that specific video game but they’ll also talk about their experiences with that game in their lives and growing up on Mario I think Super Mario Brothers I and III were a big part of my childhood and my teenage years so I’m really enjoying going through that and one getting the history but also connecting with the author and their experiences having played the game, so I’ve really been enjoying that one as well.
ANNE: Okay, I bet a whole bunch of listeners were just relieved to hear you talk about how you love video games after hearing you talk about how much you love to read as well as a child. Thank you on behalf of those who needed a little bit of reassurance on that score. Hamid, what are you looking for in your reading life right now?
HAMID: I want to see if I can transition back to taking time to sit down with a good book. I mentioned before that I like listening to podcasts, so I’ve in the past couple of years transitioned to going from physically reading a tangible book to listening to audiobooks and then that transferred to listening to podcasts because they’re a little bit shorter, but I don’t feel like I’m as engaged when listening than when I’m sitting and reading.
I would love to get some teen recommendations too only because I have transitioned into an admin role, I feel like I’m a little more out of the loop so my library Toronto Public Library actually proceeds a curated list of 100 teen books every year, which is amazing, but every time I look at it there’s this paradoxical choice where there’s so many options that I just never end up reading any of them.
HAMID: So to get a recommendation from someone like yourself would be amazing.
ANNE: I am glad to hear that, but also it makes me nervous, Hamid. Well you’re ... I mean, you help readers decide what to read next in your job, like you know that you really want the person you’re talking to -- you want the teen reader to fall in love with books for a lifetime. Do you ever feel that pressure?
HAMID: I do, but usually what I’ll do is part of the process is asking them what types of books they enjoy and hopefully that gives me a sense of what they might like and then I can go off of my own experiences or experiences of friends or I can look up databases to see what readalikes are like, but I’ll straight up tell them I enjoy this. If you don’t, come back and tell me what you hated and we’ll find a different book for you ‘cause I sneakily want them to come back and so I’m like even if they want to come back and say that the book wasn’t for them, then they’re coming back and they’re going talk to me and we can, you know, pull another book for them versus them getting the book, being blindsided by something that they don’t like and then just never coming back, so I encourage them to come back and tell me everything they don’t like or the ones that they do like.
ANNE: Now tell me more about wanting to find good YA reads. I mean, we’re thinking about what you want to be different in your reading life and what you want more of and the genre you put your finger on immediately was YA novels.
HAMID: So I mean for my choices I tend to land in fantasy a lot and so I want to expand my horizon and read some other ones. I’ve read a lot of good YA but I just have been out of touch lately, but the last little while I feel like the only YA I’ve read are ones that are soon to be movies or media projects, so like I really love The Sun is Also a Star which I recommend to a lot of people but not the movie. That’s the same with a lot of books.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m really excited she has a new book coming out.
HAMID: I want to be able to pull some other books that maybe I haven’t read and I find that there are ones that I’ve picked up that are along similar veins so I’ve read Cinder which is also a retelling of a fairy tale. I’ve read John Green because John Green is so prolific.
ANNE: Yeah. Those are fun.
HAMID: But I wouldn’t mind finding those other hidden gems where I would enjoy it but then if I’m talking to a teenager I can say you know this would be a great book for you as well if you like the following things.
ANNE: Alright, let’s see what we can do.
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ANNE: Let’s revisit your favorites first. You loved The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins, and Zomboy by Richard Scrimger. Not for you is Dune by Frank Herbert and you’re looking for YA hidden gems. Well these titles reflect a real love of the fantasy genre. Is that something that’s true of your reading life as a whole?
HAMID: I would say so yeah.
ANNE: Okay. You specifically mentioned that fractured fairy tales tend to be a lot of fun for you. You are wanting to get back into reading more after listening to a lot of podcasts and there’s nothing — there’s nothing wrong with podcasts or Netflix or hiking in the woods or the other things we can do when we’re not reading, but I mean, I want to honor the fact that you haven’t been reading that you were before and you’d like to get back a little bit. And also honor the fact that you want a book you want to escape into, that’s not all serious and somber, but that is fun and maybe a little bit funny. Does this all sound good?
HAMID: That’s exactly what I’m looking for.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I didn’t expect to be talking about these books today, but I’m wondering if you’ve read a book that was first put on my radar by a previous podcast guest Elizabeth Cooper. The book is Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. Is this a story that you know, that you’ve read?
HAMID: I don’t know it. No.
ANNE: Okay. This is a fantasy novel. It’s the first in a series. What put it in my mind is that it’s fantasy. It’s about a group of guys … Old, over the hill guys in this sense, but it’s about this group of not quite misfits that come together to get something really important done with humor and brashness and just really over the top storytelling and, you know, a bit of magic and I think this could be really fun for you, so I wanted to read it immediately after Elizabeth described it to me and picked it up during the pandemic.
Kings of the Wyld is W-Y-L-D and if you can look at the cover of the book, it looks like a 1980s rock album cover, like it put me in mind of like Guns ’N’ Roses, but these men, they were in a band back in the day that has broken up ‘cause they’re old and over the hill. I think she said that they were old [LAUGHS] or drunk or both, but then one of the band members’ daughters gets into trouble. She gets kidnapped and when your old band mate’s daughter gets kidnapped, well you reunite and rally so you can go rescue her. So this is really fun.
You know, I don’t know anything about Dungeons & Dragons except it’s an RPG and I know what that stands for. For anyone who loves games and world playing games, listen to Keren Form’s episode because we talk about that and how they connect to her books, but she describes this as campaign Dungeons & Dragons at its very best and that it brought back every memory she had of falling in love with that world as well as things like World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings. But these characters are really fun and funny. I mean, I didn’t look at the cover and think that looks like a book for me, but the way Elizabeth described it and with her reassurance, I’m so glad I took a chance on it.
As fantasy novels often do, like there’s so really interesting and thoughtful parallels to the way that like these famous rockstars [LAUGHS] exist in the world of the book and how our society treats people today, but you don’t have to get all deep with it, you can just have lots of fun, and I know that I’ve said several times I’ve talked about the book in terms of my reading taste, all of which is to say that sometimes you mentioned hidden gems, like sometimes the gem is hiding in plain sight, but readers pass it over because they fear it won’t be for them. I’m not afraid this won’t be for you. I’m pretty sure you are going to love it because of its parallels to the themes that you’ve already proven to love. It’s fun and funny and I think it’ll be like what you’ve read before in important ways but also not exactly like you’ve read before. I think it’d be a really fun spin on what you know to be familiar, reliable themes.
HAMID: Sounds really interesting.
ANNE: That is Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. That’s the first in a series. I don’t remember how many books are in the series. I’ve only read the first one, but I’ve noticed that you picked some series openers as well and so if you like it, there’s more where that came from.
Okay, for the next book, let’s go to YA. This just came out in February, so it hasn’t had a ton of time to build momentum and garner tons of reviews, but doesn’t have tons of reviews. It’s not the book that you’ve seen everywhere. The book I’m thinking of is Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher. I just read this one because actually I asked our in What Should I Read Next patreon community if readers could recommend YA hidden gems and this title came up several times. I know Addie Yoder, our past guest, mentioned it first and a couple other people mentioned it, which of course caught my interest and so I looked it up and thought that sounds fun and something I noticed is that tons of readers started their commentary by saying “I didn’t think this would be the book for me, but I loved it.”
Here’s something I like about it for you. It’s a YA book about friendship and identity and solving problems in a way that I think is pretty specific to YA novels, but also it’s set thoroughly in the world of books. Chapter one begins “If my life were a book, it would start here, standing in front of the long row of check-in tables at the California Children’s Book Festival with something that feels very much like hope blooming in my chest.” And the reason that hope is blooming in Amelia’s chest right then is she’s there at the book festival with her best friend and they are going to meet the reclusive author who writes these books that they are obsessed with, think like Harry Potter meets The Chronicles of Narnia.
So tickets to this like fancy VIP event where courtesy of one of the girl’s parents, it was a high school graduation present, this is a dream come true. They are fangirling so hard, but the author backs out and Amelia is devastated, but her friend isn’t as mad and she’s not sure why, but then her friends makes a confession that makes it make a little more sense, and Amelia’s disappointed and puzzled, but before she can resolve any of that, tragedy strikes.
But then shortly thereafter she receives a strange, special edition of this book in the mail of the Orman Chronicles installment zero which doesn’t exist, and all she knows is it came from a Michigan bookstore and she doesn’t know who sent it to her and she doesn’t know why and she’s not sure what it means exactly, but she is going to find out and that sets her off on a journey into the world of books and into the truth of these relationships, so she hits the road. The author’s phrasing is so fun, not like super self-conscious or heavy handed, but just the way she turns a phrase is really fun, books and reading, YA feels, how does that sound?
HAMID: That sounds like a lot of fun.
ANNE: I’m glad to hear it. That is Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher. Now it’s hardly a hidden gem but of course everything you were saying about fractured fairy tales put me in mind of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. Is that one you’ve read?
HAMID: I haven’t read it, no.
ANNE: Oh! Please put it on your list and look it up. I think that might be a good book for you. It’s not as funny, although I will say it’s fun in the way that Albert subverts like fairy tale conventions. If you enjoy a fantastical world kinda set atop realistic, ‘cause society today, it’s really fun. There’s a thin line between The Hazel Wood and contemporary Manhattan, and many readers have found that to be a lot of fun.
Also I was wondering about Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia, which is also a sense of humor, kinda dark, there’s a mystery. It’s set at a teen, maybe music camp. It’s been a little bit since I’ve read this, but I think that sounds up your alley. I didn’t want to give you just one YA book, but if you haven’t read that, I would investigate that as well.
HAMID: Oh, for sure.
ANNE: Finally another book that I didn’t anticipate talking about today but you kept talking about attention span and how nice it was with a podcast how the stories are encapsulated, so I started thinking about maybe a novel in short stories, or something like that, but then I remembered a book that was first recommended here on this podcast. I get so many book recommendations from What Should I Read Next, just like I know many of you readers do. Our guest Chelsea Humphrey, a longtime ago, recommended a very unusual little book — it was published about five years ago — by Matt Wesolowski and it’s called Six Stories. Is this one that you have any familiarity with?
HAMID: It’s not, no.
ANNE: That makes me really happy to hear. When this book came out, it was just after Serial, the podcast, really changed the way people thought about podcasting. A ton of people started listening to podcasts with Serial, and this book had something in common there because this is six stories about what happened back in the late ‘90s when a teen was found dead in an Outward Bound campground, and the authorities say, ugh, you know, there was a terrible accident, but not everyone was convinced, including an investigative journalist, so 20 years later, he does a series of interviews. A series of six interviews actually, the six stories of the book, to figure out what went wrong in this group of teens at Outward Bound 20 years before. He’s going to uncover the secret.
So this book with only sums, like 200 pages, you can read it in one sitting, but though I don’t think you’d want to. I think you’re going to read the six stories in one sitting each. This feels a little bit true crime. It’s got just like a tinge of horror. Some character exploration as you learn the people are and how they’re connected and how they might be involved and what the stakes are for them, and just like a tiny bit of horror, which Chelsea scared me when she pointed that out, but I think you can go there and I don’t think as scaredy cat as I am. Even readers who are, I think you could go there. But it’s … I think this might be fun for you. It’s a really unusual format and one that I think maybe just right for you with where you are in your reading life right now. That’s Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. How does that sound?
HAMID: That sounds great. I do like a good murder mystery and because it’s broken into six chapters, or six stories, as you said if I read one at a time it’s great because I don’t have to feel like I’m abandoning the book when I only read a couple of chapters like I have a nice finite endpoint.
ANNE: Yes, yes you do, and I think it’ll give you that same sense of completion that listening to a podcast can because something about the way that this book is told, the six segments, feels a little more distinct than just oh, I finished one of 47 chapters in my novel, you know, it’s different. I hope it will help you ease back into the reading life. Okay, Hamid, of the books we talked about today, they were Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher, and Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. Of those titles, what do you think you’ll read next?
HAMID: Ooh. I want to add all of them to my library wishlist. I think Six Stories is the one that I’ll read first just because the premise sounds really, really cool and I do like going through a murder mystery and finding out clues as they fall into place and that one sounds like one that I’ll want to leap on first.
ANNE: Well I can’t wait to hear what you’ll think. Thank you so much for talking books with me today.
HAMID: Thanks for having me, Anne.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Hamid, and I’d love to hear what YOU think he should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/286, and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
Don’t go anywhere readers — it’s time to reveal Volume V of One Great Book!
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
Hey readers, I’m Anne Bogel, and this is One Great Book where each week I’ll pull one stand out selection of my personal shelves and tell you all about it.
On our sister show What Should I Read Next, every week I talk to a guest and invite them to share three books they love, one book they don’t, and what they’ve been reading lately. We then do a little literary matchmaking and I recommend three books they may enjoy reading next.
Each week I strive to find the next right reads for that particular reader, and of course for all of the listeners nodding along in their cars, at their kitchen sinks, on the jogging trails saying that book sounds perfect for me as well.
What we don’t do on What Should I Read Next is talk about my favorite books week in and week out. In fact I often read great books that I’d love to recommend but think the titles aren’t quite right for any particular guest. That’s why on each episode of One Great Book, I get to share a book I love and if you listen closely when I share why, you may find you’ll love it too. But if not, that’s okay. Not every reader is going to love every great book, but every reader can enjoy the conversation.
Readers, pull out your TBRs and get ready to tune in on Fridays because I have great books that I want to tell you about in this volume. (That is what we call seasons around here.) In previous volumes, I’ve shared backlist selections but in the coming episodes I’m sharing in-depth looks at newer releases from the Modern Mrs Darcy Summer Reading Guide.
Listen wherever you listen to What Should I Read Next. Just search there for “One Great Book.” If you’re new to One Great Book, our episodes are short and sweet and evergreen so if you haven’t yet listened to our previous episodes, go ahead and download those now while you wait for Volume V. Subscribe now to be sure you get the first episode as soon as it comes out on June 11th.
And if you haven’t yet snapped your Summer Reading Guide, go to modernmrsdarcy.com/srg. That’s for Summer Reading Guide. Go there now to get your copy.
It is so good to be among people who are reading, and I can’t wait to read together and talk great books with you this summer.
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
Subscribe now to What Should I Read Next — and One Great Book — so you don’t miss next week’s episode in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and more. We will see you next week!
To support our show and get weekly bonus episodes, a peek behind the scenes, and an opportunity to get closer to the creative process, join our Patreon community at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext. If you wish to do so, this is a great way to TANGIBLY support the show. Sign up to become a supporter at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.
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Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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Books mentioned in this episode:
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•The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
•The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
•The Odyssey by Homer
•The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
•Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
•John Green (try Paper Towns)
•Search and Find books (try Big Book of Search and Find)
•Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
•Michael Crichton (try The Andromeda Strain)
•Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson
•The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
•The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin
•The Arabian Nights: Tales of a Thousand and One Nights
♥The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
♥The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins
♥Zomboy by Richard Scrimger
△Dune by Frank Herbert
•The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
•Super Mario Bros. 3 (Boss Fight Books) by Alyse Knorr
•The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
•Cinder (#1 The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer
•Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
•Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher
•The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
•Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
•Six Stories: A Thriller by Matt Wesolowski
•Dungeons and Dragons
•WSIRN Episode 244: You love to read—don’t ruin it with Elizabeth Cooper
•WSIRN Episode 81: The suspense is thrilling me with Chelsea Humphrey
•Ticket to Ride
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