Readers, has a book ever inspired you to change your life? I don’t mean anything so dramatic as moving across the country or renovating your entire house (although, if you have embarked on an extravagant adventure after reading, I’d love to hear about it).
Today’s podcast guest credits some of her favorite books with inspiring small life changes that brought about big realizations and new routines.
As an avid library user and member of two book clubs, Loren Mueller has no problem adding potential life-changing reads to her To Be Read list. She does have trouble remembering specific details from what she read—and today, we’re gonna figure out what to do about it.
Loren and I discuss ways to retain what you read while reading for the fun of it, and why an “easy” reading experience means something different to every reader.
Of course, we also have plenty of titles to share from a variety of genres. You can listen to What Should I Read Next? on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast app—or scroll down to press play and listen right in your web browser.
LOREN: I listen to my audiobooks pretty, pretty fast, so.
ANNE: Like a little fast or you're kinda embarrassed to say out loud fast.
LOREN: No, like I'm embarrassed to say it out loud. [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 292.
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, has a book ever inspired you to change your life? I don’t mean anything so dramatic as moving across the country or renovating your entire house (although, if you have embarked on an extravagant adventure after reading, you know we'd love to hear about it).
Today’s guest credits some of her favorite books with inspiring small life changes that brought about big realizations and new routines.
As an avid library user and member of two book clubs, Loren has no problem adding potential life-changing reads to her To Be Read list. She does have trouble remembering specific details from what she read — and sometimes even if she's read it at all. Today, we’re gonna figure out what to do about it.
Loren and I discuss ways to retain what you read while reading for the fun of it, and why an “easy” reading experience means something different to every reader.
Of course, we also have plenty of titles to share from a variety of genres. Let’s get to it.
Loren, welcome to the show.
LOREN: I am very, very excited to be here.
ANNE: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
LOREN: Yeah, I am calling from Maryland where I live with my husband and I have three kiddos. My oldest is five and my youngest is ten months, so it is busy all the time [LAUGHS] at my house and loud. And we really like to be outside. That's kinda our main family thing that we do. Spend time on hikes. We go ... Just try to be in the woods around water all that stuff.
I actually got that from a book. I read this book when my son was like two years old, I think, called There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather. It's all about parenting kids outside and letting them be outside as much as possible and I definitely took to that because we do that all the time. So mainly I am reading inside or outside in the woods somewhere.
ANNE: I love that you got that from a book. Were you outdoorsy yourself when you picked this up?
LOREN: A little bit. So I like to be outside but I wouldn't go outside if I didn't want to. [LAUGHS] So it was kinda ... [ANNE LAUGHS] if I was in the mood to go outside, I would go outside and do stuff but I never forced myself to go outside 'cause I knew it would be good for me. Reading that book made me realize like oh, there's benefit to going outside even if I don't feel like it today.
ANNE: Do you remember how you stumbled upon it?
LOREN: At our library the kids book section was right next to the parenting book section so I think while my son was like toddling around looking at stuff, I just saw it and the cover was pretty, so yeah, I got it and just loved it. And I actually like bullied my friends into reading it. [ANNE LAUGHS] Which has been nice because I've been able to convince one of my friends who is not an outside person that there was some value in it and now she hikes with me. Like just yesterday we took all of our kids to a waterfall and went hiking there.
ANNE: So a library trip can change your life.
LOREN: It can.
ANNE: But not necessarily in the ways you'd expect. I love it. So you're in Maryland now, but I hear you have a Louisville connection.
LOREN: I do, yeah. I lived in Louisville for I think three and a half years, and yeah, we loved Louisville. We were actually really sad to leave it. We still think about the food because we live in kinda small town Maryland so there's not like we have to go to either Philly or D.C. kinda to get really good food, or Baltimore.
ANNE: Readers, I am in Louisville, Kentucky, and I feel like we are so underestimated. We have an amazing food scene that nobody knows about.
LOREN: And it's just such a cool city 'cause I had lived in D.C. before I had moved to Louisville and I also lived in West Palm Beach in Florida so I'd been in cities before but Louisville kinda feels like a small town and also a city. We really loved living there.
ANNE: It sounds like we used to live in the same neighborhood, and I think that means that your local library would have been my local library that I lived next door to for thirteen years because I still almost think of that as my library sometimes, even though it hasn't been our regular for oh many years now.
LOREN: I have thought about that so many times when you've talked on the show about going to my local library. I'm like I know that library! Or like going to my local bookstore. I'm like I know that bookstore. [ANNE LAUGHS] Like ...
ANNE: Well I love how when you look back on the places you used to live, the worlds you used to inhabit, books and food is what springs immediately to mind. Those are the memories that you carry with you.
LOREN: Yes. Definitely. 100%.
ANNE: Loren, on that note, tell me a little about your reading life.
LOREN: I read quite a bit when I am nursing a baby, so my youngest is ten months old and I know that seems weird because a lot of people stop reading when they have really little ones, but I just start reading on my phone, so I read while I'm nursing her, which gives me a lot of time sitting down.
ANNE: I'm really glad you said that honestly because you know it's fun to have a peek into other readers' reading lives and yes, I have four children. I nursed them all. I spent so much time with my butt in the same chair. This was pre-iPhone, but I just kept a stack of books on the coffee table and I read so much because you're stuck in place.
LOREN: Yes, exactly. But it gives me time during the day to like okay I know she's going to nurse like 15 minutes and that's 15 minutes I can read and kinda reset. I always feel a little sad when nursing comes to an end and I don't have an excuse to just sit down like four times in the middle of the day and read. That's how I read. What I read is more varied. I kinda read all over the place. Pretty much any genre.
ANNE: Do you really mean any?
LOREN: Well I don't enjoy every genre, but I'm in two book clubs so whoever's month it is, they pick the next book, so we don't vote. We're not democratic. It's just this is what we're reading, and our only rule is that it has to be a book that that person has never read before.
ANNE: Oh, really?
LOREN: Yeah. So it can be all over the place, and we have kind a range of ages in there, so the oldest guy in our book club, he's like mid 60s and then our youngest is like early 30s. We just end up reading a lot of stuff. Some things that I would not pick.
ANNE: What have your picks been for that book club?
LOREN: My last pick was The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, I think? And I picked that because we hadn't read a middle grade and I really like middle grade, so I kinda wanted to force my book club friends [BOTH LAUGH] to read it. I think I'm up September maybe.
ANNE: So have you started seriously thinking about what you're going to choose?
LOREN: No. I don't think about it until the month is over, the person right before me. I want it to be fresh, exactly what I'm thinking about at that time.
ANNE: When your book club isn't assigning the reading, right now, how do you choose what to read?
LOREN: I go on Libby and scroll through different things. I also have a really long, you know, TBR list that I have on Goodreads, and sometimes I'll just scroll through there and see what sounds good to read. A lot of recommendations from friends. I am very, very lucky to have a ton of readers in my actual life. Some of which I have created like my husband. I totally credit myself with making him a reader. [BOTH LAUGH] Like my brother's a big reader, so I'll get recommendations from him, and just people in my book club.
ANNE: So is that a little bit serendipity and a little bit strong arming?
LOREN: You know, it's yeah, probably both. [BOTH LAUGH] I'd say both.
ANNE: So that's nice. you must always have someone to talk about the books you read with.
LOREN: I do, always. And if I finish a book, I know exactly the person of my friends that I want to talk to about that book, like oh, this I need to talk to with this person, this with this person.
ANNE: Okay. So we know that you love to read lots of different genres, although you do enjoy some more than others. You have lots of readers to talk books with. It sounds like you have a decent amount of assigned reading in your life but also lots of leeway to choose and Libby has a big say in what you're going to read next.
LOREN: Yeah, that's accurate.
ANNE: How is that selection at your library overall? When you keep your TBR on Goodreads, are you often able to find what you're looking for on Libby? Or is that a way of like narrowing down what you will actually end up reading?
LOREN: Kinda both. So I'm able to find a lot. We have a really great library system. If I can't find it on LIbby, I can usually find it on Hoopla or I can actually go to the library and get it. But sometimes it is like a book I really want to read, especially ones that are newer, like I'm not going to read that now because I know there's going to be on Libby, you know, a six month wait or something like that. So yeah, it does sometimes is dictated by just what's available.
ANNE: Oh, Loren, we have big news here in Louisville this summer. We now have Hoopla, and I need to get acquainted with it because this is new for us here. For listeners who don't know, would you tell us real quick what Libby is and how it works in your reading life?
LOREN: So Libby is an app through my library, so basically I would say the difference between Libby and Hoopla is Libby the library has a certain amount of copies of books that they've bought digitally so either for Kindle or audiobooks, so you might look up a book that you might want to listen to say it's an audiobook and it says all six of six copies are taken out, so you put your name on a waitlist. It's a lot more similar to picking up books physically at the library, and then Hoopla is audio and digital books but in that, you just have ten borrows a month. At least for my library, and there's no wait list. You can borrow whatever you want whenever you want but you only get the ten a month whereas Libby is unlimited how many you can have per month.
ANNE: Libby isn't everywhere, but many libraries use it. It's just the app that makes it really easy to borrow the digital content from your library.
ANNE: 'Cause if you don't have it in your community you might not know and we're talking about Libby like she's a friend.
LOREN: Yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: And I imagine it feels that way.
LOREN: It definitely does.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Loren, I'm so excited to get into your books today and your particular bookish dilemma.
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ANNE: 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. How did you choose these books for today?
LOREN: So I picked three books that I loved the books, but I also felt like they stayed with me for a long time because I read pretty frequently and there have been multiple times where I will get 30, 40% into a book and realize I have read it before. These books were all books that I wanted to talk to people about and I also think that they, I don't know, I don't want to sound too dramatic but [ANNE LAUGHS] I think that they in some way changed my life. They at least all motivated me to do different things, which doesn't always happen when you read. Sometimes books are just fun and I appreciate that too, but these three all had specific things that they lead me to kinda change in my life after reading them.
ANNE: That's high praise. I want to go back and talk about retention. So if you've made it to the 40% mark in a book and then you realize that you've already read it, what gives it away?
LOREN: It'll be something like a specific scene or something happens, and then I'm like wait, I think I read this, and then I'll go to the end and I'm like oh my goodness, how did I read so much of this book and didn't realize it? And I think when you're talking about retention, that tells you that I am ... Maybe I'm just a terrible reader in terms of ...
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I feel confident that you are not a terrible reader.
LOREN: [LAUGHS] Well I said before that I like made my husband into a reader and he, maybe because he took to reading later in life, he's a much better reader than me in terms of detail. We will read the same books and afterwards he'll want to talk to me about it. He'll be like oh, you remember when this happened? I'm like no. [ANNE LAUGHS] I have nooo recollection. So I don't know what it is, but I think sometimes especially the quick moving books, I'm reading for plot so maybe if no big plot point has happened yet or like a big plot thing happens at 30%, it'll be that that I remember, not necessarily the characters or the other things.
ANNE: How do you feel about that? Is this just informational or is this I need a checklist of things to try, please?
LOREN: A checklist would be good. I have read [ANNE LAUGHS] I started reading On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior. I paused it because I felt like oh man, I'm really a bad reader. [BOTH LAUGH] Like ...
ANNE: Okay, this is funny. Loren, I've read that, but I don't remember. What is she saying that's making you doubt your reading capabilities?
LOREN: She just talks a lot about reading for understanding and reading to develop as a person kinda and not just reading to tick off like I read this book. And she's specifically talking about a lot of classics and I definitely have that in me like I just want to say that I've read this book, so I'm going to make it through this book and maybe I don't remember anything and she would not be a fan of that type of reading. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Okay, we will consider that. The reading for retention as we move forward. But we're still going to keep it fun for you. 'Cause I imagine, you know, we haven't talked about that, so what does reading bring to your life? You do a lot of it. You know a lot of readers and you love what you do, you get to talk about books all the time, what does that bring you?
LOREN: I think it's actually changed a lot recently. So I used to read a lot to just escape. It was very I'm reading because even if my life wasn't stressful or anything wasn't going on, I just kinda wanted to be transported to other places and that was a lot of me growing up as a kid and into college and stuff and now I think I'm aiming more to look more deeply into my life because of reading, and not so much to use it as escaping my life. I think that's what it's bringing to me right now at least but that could change in five years maybe. I want to escape again, who knows. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: We'll touch base again in five years.
ANNE: Okay. With that ringing in our ears and knowing that these books changed your life in some way, what's your first favorite?
LOREN: So my first favorite is Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. I think it was on your summer reading guide.
ANNE: Yeah. It hasn't been out terribly long. Just a couple years ago.
LOREN: So I'm pretty sure that is where I got the recommendation from, and this is a book about two NYPD police officers who both move out of the city at the same time to the suburbs and they end up living next door to each other and it's kinda the story of both of their families. It takes place over decades I think. At least 20 years. There was a lot of hard stuff in this book, so a main thing is that it deals with addiction. So I think reading a book that kinda humanized people who were addicted, like you got all of the backstory of the people and you saw kinda how it went out into their lives and how it spread out through their families. Also dealt with a lot of mental illness and I felt like it gave me a lot more grace maybe for people who struggle with those things.
ANNE: I also really loved this book and completely, I'm nodding along as you say, this is a hard read in many ways. In the span of, you know, just a few hours of your reading time, everything this fictional character has endured, it softens me towards them and think oh my goodness. I'm not saying that was a good choice, but I'm seeing how life just beat you down.
LOREN: Yeah, definitely. I think also thinking about the people as separate from their decisions or the diseases they're struggling with and that they're still ultimately people was really good for me from this book, so I was not expecting to get all of this out of this book.
LOREN: When I read it I just felt like oh it sounds like an interesting story, you know. You know from the teaser that there's kinda a big event that kinda sets off the novel and everybody who's close to me who I would talk about these things with, like it became a topic of conversation and it was just so interesting 'cause it's like a fiction novel that I you know, I just wasn't expecting it. So it caught me by surprise and it was really impactful for me.
ANNE: So that was Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. Loren, what else did you choose for your favorites list?
LOREN: So my second novel is 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.
ANNE: Mm, a book for book lovers.
LOREN: Yes. It ... Definitely. So this is a series of letters back and forth from this woman who is living in New York City and a book seller who's living in London and it takes place right after World War II, so they're still kinda in the rationing time after World War II. That's important to kinda how the relationship builds in the novel, but I would say the first thing that really caught me about this book is that it is so funny. I was laughing out loud and I listened to this on audio and I remember being on the playground with my kids listening on audio, they're kinda running around playing, and I'm laughing out loud and other parents are looking at me like what is going on? So yeah, she's just hilarious.
Helene Hanff who's the one writing from New York to the bookseller she has really kinda dry humor and also she's very American writing to a very British person, so [LAUGHS] there were some times where she would say things and I thought how is this going to go over? But then it went over well with him. [ANNE LAUGHS] And she says this one thing, one of the funniest parts of the book is that the bookseller writes and asks her like why are you trying to get books from London? Surely you live in New York. Surely there's books there that you can get. And she gives this whole response like yeah, but then I have to go down stairs, and I live like five stories up and I have to get on the subway and ugh, I have to do all this work just to get to the bookstore. Or I could just write a letter and it'll be in my mailbox in three months. I don't care. Like it's still easier for me. [ANNE LAUGHS]
This relationship takes place over 20 years I believe and there's just a lot going on between this woman and the bookseller and kinda the whole bookstore at one point in London, but a big thing is just that I took away from it is you kinda have to plan and do the things that you want to do. So this idea that like I want to do this someday and I'm just going to fall into it is not really gonna happen. [LAUGHS] Like you need to put some steps in action and make small, attainable goals to do the things that you want to do. And a big one for me is my husband and I really want to travel. We travelled a bit before kids. We still have travelled a little bit with kids, but we kinda weren't orientating our lives around the fact that we want to travel, so maybe we were spending too much money like eating out or things in our budget that were not making it possible for us to go to Europe someday, you know, and I realized like I kinda have to put things in place now if I want the goal to be you know, in five years we do this thing. And also I seriously credit this book partially for one of the reasons why I'm talking to you, Anne.
ANNE: Oh, yay.
LOREN: Yeah. 'Cause I always thought I want to be on What Should I Read Next. I want to talk to Anne. I would say this all the time. But I did not fill out a form to be on What Should I Read Next. It was kinda, like how am I ever going to be on it if I don't fill out a form? And I remember after I read this book, this is another one I kinda shoved towards my husband, like please read this. So he read it also right after me. He said something like well you might not be on What Should I Read Next if you fill out the form, but I can guarantee you're not going to be on it if you don't fill it out. [LAUGHS] So yeah. It like motivated me to do the form.
ANNE: I'm so glad. Thank you, Loren's husband. [LAUGHS] And Helene Hanff. That was 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. And Loren, what did you choose to complete your favorites list?
LOREN: Ah, so my third one is What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty and this is a book about a woman who I think she falls on a spin bike maybe? Something in an exercise class. [ANNE LAUGHS] And she ... Next thing she knows it is years later when she ... The last thing she remembers, she was pregnant. She was happily married to her husband and now she has a child and is getting a divorced, and it kinda goes through like kinda what happened, her trying to piece together what were these last years, what happened during this time that made my life so different now than when I last remember it?
And it was another really surprising one for me because I'm pretty sure I also heard about this on your podcast. [LAUGHS] I just kinda expected it to be fun and it was in a lot of ways. It also really had an impact on how I thought about my marriage in a time where I think it was really important for me to start thinking about my marriage. 'Cause I think I was pregnant with my third and you know, I mean you have four kids. You know what it's like when you have little people who just need a lot of stuff all the time and I don't know if you ever heard the phrase like parallel play, they talk about it with like toddlers, like you know, toddlers at two don't necessarily play together, but they're going to play side by side doing their own thing, and I kinda felt like that's what my husband and I were doing. Like we were side by side taking care of the kids and we were never really connecting with each other, and this book like seeing her jump from we're so happy and next thing she knows we're getting a divorce, I realize like oh, marriage, like it takes work. If you just keep parallel playing, it's not going to be in a good place in five, or ten years. And I wasn't expecting that with a book like this. It just ... It caught me by surprise also.
ANNE: I really resonate with that. Okay. I had to break our no Google What Should I Read Next policy and look this up.
ANNE: But I blogged about this book in December 2012 and I said something very similar to what you did. Like I inhaled this book. I really enjoyed reading it, but I was really surprised at how I just felt myself pulled back to its themes since I finished it and I wrote about how it’s ... I mean the book is about how good relationships go bad, you know, not all at once but just like a little tiny bit like every single day.
LOREN: I felt like that too like it was the little things that maybe they weren't saying to each other that they needed to just say and they didn't over so long as she figures it out and I didn't want that to be my husband and I, like we look up in five years and we're like oh, there's all this stuff that could have been addressed and wasn't slowly, and so now it's addressed all at once and now we're not happy.
ANNE: Okay. So thank you, Liane Moriarty. That was What Alice Forgot. Now Loren, tell me about a book that wasn't right for you.
LOREN: Yeah, so this is Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. This book had such a good set up and I think that's why I was angry about it at the end. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Angry about it? Okay, tell me more.
LOREN: Yeah, so I am not ... I have no problem not finishing books. I don't finish books all the time, and this one because the set up was so good, I felt like I had to finish it even thought I wasn't liking it because I just wanted to find out what happened, so I think it gave me all those pages to like build up like the anger for what I didn't like. So basically the premise that I loved was a family from New York City, they go on vacation somewhere out of the city and they kinda rent like an AirBNB. While they're there there's like really loud sounds that happens, and then right after that, a couple knocks on the door and they say this is our house that we were renting to you, but we ... All the power's out everywhere else, can we please come stay in our house? Like we know you rented this, but can we come stay? Then you kinda don't know what's happening, is it going to be a thriller? What was the sound? Why's the power out? So there's a lot of like mystery unfolding in it and I just thought that setup was so good and then it just did not deliver for me.
ANNE: Did you want to know what was actually going on? 'Cause readers you never find out. Is it a spoiler to say you never find out what's actually going on, Loren, or is it appropriately framing expectations?
LOREN: I think it's appropriately framing [LAUGHS] expectations. 'Cause yeah, you never find out what's going on, which was an annoyance to me at the end. I know that maybe wouldn't bother people but the thing that actually bothered me about it more like while I was reading while I wasn't even enjoying not finding out, I felt like the author was trying so hard to make points and tell me things. A big part of this that he's obviously trying to talk about is race because the family that rents the house is a white family, and the family that owns the house that comes and knocks on the door, they're a Black couple.
I'm a Black woman. So reading this at one point he makes a comment like the mom of the family who's renting the house makes a comment like oh, I didn't think that Black people acted like this, and it was very obvious to me that the author's trying to say see? You see? You probably thought that too but it just felt heavy handed to me. I don't know. It didn't feel natural. I wasn’t getting done with it and thinking oh, what biases do I have? I felt like oh, these are the biases that this author wants me to think that I have. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. So you really love the premise, so that's really telling about what you might be drawn to, but the execution left you wanting, I was going to say more, but maybe more like something different. What was it about the premise that made you think I want to find out what happens in this story?
LOREN: I think I liked the idea of not knowing whether is this going to be a thriller. Are they actually, like are they there for nefarious reasons? Or are they actually just the power's out and they needed to come back to their house? Just kinda that idea that you're going to find out even almost like what kinda book it is. 'Cause I didn't think the description even really gave you really an idea of what kinda book you're reading.
ANNE: That was Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. Loren, what have you been reading lately?
LOREN: I just finished The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee and I absolutely loved that book.
ANNE: Oh, yay.
LOREN: By the end I had maybe I don't know maybe 15 pages left and I didn't read it for like three days because sometimes I will do that if I know like this is a standalone book and I only have a little bit left, I'll just hold off on reading it, so a YA, which I don't typically read a ton of, but I just really loved it.
ANNE: But you do really like middle grade.
LOREN: I do.
ANNE: Tell me about that.
LOREN: So middle grade feels very like optimistic I think, like it always ends optimistically and I think even if hard things are happening to the characters, like you know by the end there's going to be some hope in it. With YA, I just don't always feel that. I think sometimes maybe they're trying to, I don't know, say too much about like how hard life can be and then it kinda just ends with that and I guess I just read a lot of YA when I was younger and I don't think it put me in the best framework for that like life can still be good after bad things happen. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Uh huh.
LOREN: Whereas I think middle grade does that, and I think that The Downstairs Girl did that, like hard things happen in this book, but it was left very hopeful.
ANNE: That is good to keep in mind as we keep talking.
LOREN: I also just started Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates, which is a nonfiction book about a college professor who goes in to teach Shakespeare in maximum security prison. I am really, really liking it because those are kinda two things I'm interested in. Well books, so Shakespeare, literature, and then prison, prison reform, and yeah, I'm really liking reading this so far, but I'm still pretty early in, maybe a third of the way.
ANNE: Loren, what are you looking for right now in your reading life?
LOREN: So the main thing I want some more fun, light, easy books 'cause we're in like the hottest part of the summer here in Maryland where it's like 95 degrees and you know. [LAUGHS] I just want light, easy books but I didn't want to read any romance. I don't really want romance right now in my reading life, so that's kinda what I'm looking for. Light, easy, fun, not romance. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So I know what a hard book is for many, many readers, but easy differs dramatically just by what you find to be a book like you can really relax into. Can you tell me more about what an easy book might be for you?
LOREN: Yeah, that's a good question. So easy for me doesn't necessarily mean even topic wise, so the books that I put as my favorite, like a lot of them, you know, Ask Again, Yes is really like a hard book but it was easy to get into the story, so I think that's what I mean when I say easy. Not necessarily even content, but I don't have to work really hard to get in with the characters. I don't have to work really hard to get in with what's happening. It's just I kinda can start it and I'm there reading it, you know. Or it doesn't take a lot of work, I guess.
ANNE: So Ask Again, Yes is easy, but just as my brain started to go in the direction of similar books to that you may enjoy, I remember the bit about light.
ANNE: I think you said that Ask Again, Yes is hard. Not light.
LOREN: Yeah. Not light.
ANNE: This may be a tricky question to answer but what kinds of books are fun for you? Or what kind of topics do you enjoy reading about that you might enjoy exploring the pages of fiction? I mean prison reform and Shakespeare would count as fun in your book.
LOREN: [LAUGHS] Yeah. Well you know what, it is kinda fun to read about for me, even though yeah, prison is awful and yeah there's a lot of work to be done there but I am enjoying reading it because it's a topic I'm interested in and sometimes I think it's fun to learn about things that you're not interested in that I know that you find interesting by the end of it.
ANNE: Just knowing that you are open to an author persuading you, like hey, let me show you how fascinating earthworms can be, you never knew this before, but give me 250 pages, I'm going to run with it.
LOREN: I read recently Endurance, the story of the Ernest Shackleton exploration.
LOREN: And I loved it and I do not care at all about [ANNE LAUGHS] like ... But I loved it. I was interested. I was gripped, so maybe it's really gripping. I learned about exploration. I didn't know what a pack was. I'm telling my husband after like the pack was too tight. They couldn't get across. He's like okay. [LAUGHS] I don't know what that means. Yeah, I like learning about stuff I didn't know about.
ANNE: It's interesting to hear what you're open to. I hear ... I'm not like trying to trap you in a question but I think what our conversation speaks to is the fact that difficult things happen in almost every book like they just do, that is how plot moves forward, like plot is driven forward by conflict. And yet when we're reading a book, like the pervasive tone and the emotions driving the story are what we remember and take away from it. Like in What Alice Forgot, that character goes through a lot of terrible things, but you don't remember that, do you?
LOREN: No, I don't.
ANNE: I would imagine that you remember that as being fun, light, and easy, even though terrible things happen, like the driving tone was one that made you feel like I'm relaxing into this story.
LOREN: Yeah. Definitely.
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Readers, in today’s show you hear me offer Loren some advice on how to retain more of what she’s read–without it turning into homework. One of my go-to tips for any reader who wants to learn more about themselves as a reader is to start a book journal to capture what they’ve read, what they want to read, and other important info that will better their reading lives.
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ANNE: Okay, so let's take a look at your books. You loved Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane, which incidentally is not what we are looking for today, but it's still nice to know what interests you, family dynamics, the story told across decades, ultimate, I mean this is a redemption story and a really powerful one I think and it's good to know that that is something that really stuck with you. 84, Charing Cross Road a story in letters by Helene Hanff. You know, I did not remember this sense of humor, and I'm glad that you pointed that out. It's going to make a difference in where we land, I think. And then What Alice Forgot by Liane Morairity.
Not for you Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. And then lately you've been reading The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee which is a huge hit with you, and Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates. Shakespeare, prison reform, and something that you're really enjoying so far. And we're on the lookout for satisfying, easy reads that are not romance novels. Oh, you're also hoping to retain more of these stories that you've read.
LOREN: Yes that would be great.
ANNE: Loren, what do you do right now while you're reading? This is not like a test that you can like pass or fail. It sounds like you read a lot on Kindle. Do you also read paper or audiobooks?
LOREN: I do, yeah, so I do paper. Usually I have a couple going in different mediums that way I can read when I have the time, so I do audio if I'm going for a run or you know, at the playground like I said before, but a lot of it is on my phone, the Kindle app. That is my primary way right now just cause logistics.
ANNE: Now you may not know the answer to this but how does your retention compare for the written word versus audiobooks? Do you have any inkling?
LOREN: I think I actually retain better audio. I tend to ... My eyes naturally skip to dialogue when I'm reading paper, so if I see the dialogue breaks, sometimes I will realize I didn't even read the paragraph before the dialogue break so then that makes it harder to retain if you're not reading all the words, but obviously audiobook, the voice actor is reading every single word, and so I think I retain better on audio.
ANNE: That's not unusual. I mean, obviously this varies very much by the individual. With the audio, the narrator brings more into your brain than you do through your eyeballs. Wow, I'm clearly a liberal arts major and not a scientist here, but when someone is reading you the book you don't have to parse emotion and tone and accent. It's all brought to you and it can be a more multisensory experience for a lot of readers and that makes it sticky, but that's not true for every reader so that's really useful to know.
Without interrogating you, my general advice of things to just experiment with would be when you can engage more of your brain and that often means engaging more of your body, you may be able to retain more information. I don't know if you use the highlight feature on your Kindle app right now, but even on your phone, you can probably do that with one hand while you're nursing and just making highlights of not just important points or quotes you like but also things like who is this character and will we be seeing them later? This is even more true when you're writing down with a pen or a pencil in a notebook because there's something about the handwriting that drives things into our brain, but even the act of highlighting, consciously thinking, is this important? Do I want to remember it later? Can really help you remember and then of course this is hard for a lot of readers, but stopping to scan those highlights when you're done can be really, really useful.
Now on the Libby app, if you're reading in Libby, I cannot figure out how to export my highlights. If anybody knows how, please raise your hand [LAUGHS] in the show notes and tell us because we would very much like to know, but with Kindle, it's very easy to export your highlights and then you can scan everything you highlighted in one doc on your phone or your computer and that can be pretty magical.
Now you're already doing something that's excellent in helping you with retention and that is talking about your books with a fellow reader. If you're ever reading in print, making notes, interacting with the text, circling key phrases, I'm not sure how you feel about writing in your books or dog earing pages, but interacting with the actual, physical material can be really helpful for a lot of readers. Loren, is any ... Have you experimented with any of those strategies or is that something you might be interested in trying?
LOREN: So I do that for my book club books but I don't really ever think to do it for books I'm not reading for book club and I think that's because I know I'm going to have to talk about it, so I'm more prepared to do that, but yeah, I could definitely just do that for other books that are not book club books, and I think that would help.
ANNE: Well I do want to know what it feels like to you because for some readers who are reading for their own pleasure, there's something about having a pen in their hand while they're reading that makes them feel like they're back in school and not in a good way, and we don't want to take the joy out of your reading experience. But if that feels good to you, then certainly it's something that you can experiment with, and if you are ... If you need your smelling salts, readers, when I talk about the suggestion of writing in your books, you can put some post-it notes on the pages. You can get some book darts that won't harm the pages that dog earing will, and then you can accomplish the same thing.
This may seem counterintuitive but something else that may actually help is bumping up the font on your phone screen. When you do that you have to turn a lot more pages, it's true, but when there are fewer words on a page, it's harder for your eyes to skip over them and that's something that a lot of readers find helpful.
LOREN: Yeah, that's such a good idea. I have never thought about doing that. I usually make it pretty small, but that's a great idea.
ANNE: 'Cause then you don't have to turn the pages so it seems … It seems like a more efficient way to read, but when you have fewer paragraphs, it's harder for your eyes to skittle over them. Is that a verb? [LOREN LAUGHS] And something else you do have a lot of success with your audiobook retention but for a lot of readers who experience like the wandering mind phenomenon when they're listening, bumping up that speed can really help them because then your brain has to pay attention if you're going to catch what's happening. Your brain is less tempted to multitask if it doesn't have the space to do it in.
LOREN: Yeah, I listen to my audiobooks pretty, pretty fast, so.
ANNE: Like a little fast or you're kinda embarrassed to say it out loud fast.
LOREN: No, like I'm embarrassed to say. [BOTH LAUGH] That was intentional that I didn't say. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I will admit that whenever I want to screenshot something that I'm currently listening to, I think. [SIGHS] Should I edit the audiobook speed to something reasonable before I share this? Okay, this is a safe space. What's your current listen or your most recent listen, what did you listen to it on?
LOREN: Probably like 2.25.
ANNE: Oh, wow. That is fast.
LOREN: It gradually gets up there as I listen so I always start out at like maybe 1.5 and then maybe when I'm in the story, it goes up, so I think in my mind when I see this is an eight hour audiobook, I'm automatically like oh, it's four hours. [ANNE LAUGHS] Cause I know I'm at least going to be at 2 for most of it.
ANNE: I'm only at 1.8 in my current listen but yes, I started at 1.4 'cause there's a slight accent and it takes some time to acclimate and learn the characters, but then once I do, I start bumping it up and listeners, this is probably a good time to say audiobook speed is highly subjective. There is no standard words per minute or anything like that, it just depends on what the producer wants in the studio and how the audiobook narrator speaks and some speak slower than others. Loren, I don't know how you feel, but there are some audiobooks that I could not listen to at like 1.5 to save my life, but there are others where like 2.5 is not unreasonable. It just depends.
LOREN: Sometimes like I think especially when you get really used to listening to it quickly, my son will listen to audiobooks during his like rest time and sometimes I'll walk into his room and it sounds like they are speaking backwards. [ANNE LAUGHS] Cause he only listens to 1.0, it is just so slow that I've wondered how do people speak that slowly when they record this? [LAUGHS] So I don't know if I'm just like primed for really quick or because he listens to children's books, they are extra slow, but.
ANNE: Mmhm. I will say something that made my reading life a few years ago was when LibroFM and Libby added these tiny incremental speed differences, so you could really choose whichever speed you want. It's magic.
LOREN: Yes, it is. Yeah.
ANNE: Okay, really I'm just procrastinating because I don't know what you should read next.
LOREN: Okay. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So we are looking for satisfying easy reads that are not romance books. Fun, light, fun for you. What do you think about starting with a book about books?
LOREN: I think that sounds great.
ANNE: I was initially wondering about a different title but then you said that you just really loved the humor in 84, Charing Cross Road. Based on the life changing factor, now it's possible your life has already been changed in the way that it needed to be changed by 84, Charing Cross Road like you just gotta do it. But if you want to underscore that point in a little bit of a zany screwball, completely delightful I want to know these people in real life way, I think this could be fun if you haven't read it yet. It's also short, like 84, Charing Cross Road and it's quite old. The book I'm thinking of is by Christopher Morely. It's called Parnassus on Wheels. Do you know it? Have you read it?
LOREN: I have not read it and I don't even think I know it, no.
ANNE: I'm so happy to hear it. This is a really fun novella that was published I think about 100 years ago give or take if you're generous with your margins there. The title didn't grab me at first. Parnassus on Wheels but this little novella was such a delightful surprise, and it sounds like you also enjoy being surprised by your books. Of course now I’m telling you that I think you're going to love it, so we're definitely putting your expectations into certain place. [LOREN LAUGHS]
The story centers around a bookmobile and an aging woman named Helen McGill. She does not realize that she's teetering on the verge of a midlife crisis until this old professor rolls into town. He wants to sell her brother his book wagon. It's called Parnassus, and actually the Parnassus, the one Ann Patchett owns in Nashville, it takes its name from this novella. The professor rolls into town and he sees Helen's brother, and he's like you're a man. I got a business proposition. Buy my travelling bookstore on wheels.
But it's Helen that falls in love with the idea of traveling through upstate New York where she lives matching readers who can't get their hands on a good book with the ones that are perfect for them because she thinks she can do it, and so she buys this bookmobile. She buys Parnassus for herself, and then she embarks on a grand adventure in the company of the professor. She's so fun. You're like Helen, you go get it.
And so for book lovers who love reading books about books, this is a great read and it's also small. It's so fast. You could read it in an hour and a half. You could listen to so quickly at 2.2 speed, assuming you can get an audiobook for a book this old, but truly, Christopher Morely is saying look, when you sell a man a book, or a book wagon in this case, you sell him a whole new life. I think you might enjoy it. What do you think?
LOREN: Yeah, I love that it's older too, you know, hundred-ish years old and it sounds like a really interesting book. It kinda sounds like that one where there ... I'm pretty sure they're in Kentucky with the blue people where ...
ANNE: Ohh, yeah! The one by Kim Michele Richardson. It's called The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.
LOREN: Yes, okay. It kinda sounds like that. I have not read that book either, but the premise sounds similar to that and I'm ... Yeah, I'm excited. That sounds good.
ANNE: So that would be a really interesting book flight if you wanted to do that because both are about the power of bringing literature to people who don't have the books. The tone is completely different, like Parnassus on Wheels is zany, and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is more earnest. Both very good books in my opinion, and yet it's fun to see authors taking a very similar topic and turning it into a completely different kinda reading experience.
LOREN: Yeah, it sounds good.
ANNE: Okay, next how do you feel about going middle grade?
LOREN: I feel great about that.
ANNE: I'm wondering based on what you picked up in the past if you might know this one, but the one I'm thinking of especially is To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer.
LOREN: I have not heard of it even.
ANNE: Oh, really? I'm so glad. This is a modern version of The Parent Trap. I think my entire family sans one read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's definitely a middle grade read that can be and has been read and loved by many adults. And I think it's interesting that this is also a collaboration between two highly successful authors but one of them primarily writes for kids, the other writes for grownups. I do not know the backstory of how they ended up writing this together but now that we're talking about it I'm suddenly curious, but it's about two 12 year old girls who live on opposite coasts who strike up a correspondence that neither of them wanted. This wasn't like oh, I'm dreaming of a pen pal.
What happens is they discover that their dads fell in love at a building conference they were both at in Chicago and have been secretly dating and exchanging messages and this is not good news to either of the girls. They are mad. The story's mostly told in emails between the two of them, but then it gets worse because the dads have this grand scheme that they're going to get married so their girls need to know each other and we want them to be best friends and sisters forever so they're forced to attend camp together. That just goes horribly wrong in all the ways you're imagining and many more you're not. I'm sure you think you know where this story's going and it is, but also it is really, really not. This was just so fun and funny. I really felt like there wasn't a single page that didn't just feel like fresh and humorous and just I mean it's adorable. How does that sound?
LOREN: Yeah, that sounds really good. I'm from like a blended family, so my dad got remarried when I was in that middle school timeframe, and I was not the nicest 13 year old to my stepmom who now we get along with.
ANNE: I'm glad to hear that.
LOREN: Yeah, it sounds really like a good book. I feel like I’ll probably be able to resonate with what they're going through and their desire to not have their parents be together.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Well maybe you and your stepmother can have a good laugh about this one.
ANNE: Okay, the final book I have in mind is oh, how do we describe this? It's southern fiction, dash of magical realism by Heather Webber. It's called Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe. Do you know it?
LOREN: Was this in an email from you? [LAUGHS] I think it was.
ANNE: Yes, it was! I shared it in Quick Lit in July. Now I'm not sure if you thought it had your name on it when you saw it there but here's my case for it. First of all, this was recommended to me by Shannan on our team. She's been trying to get me to read this for two plus years now, and I finally did, and she described it as a really great heartwarming book to read when life is just really hard and you need a break in the pages of your fiction. So fun, light, easy, and this is definitely a book where the things that bring the characters together, like some of the stuff they're wrestling through is hard, but the tone of the book is not hard.
So this is set in a tiny Alabama town at the foot of the mountain. It's called Wicklow. And it begins when the protagonist's grandmother dies, so obviously we're kicking it into gear with something sad, but that's not the part we're dwelling on when you hear the protagonist. Her name is Anna Kate. When you hear her talk about her Granny Zee who was just beloved. Everybody loved her. She was just like a spitfire of a force of nature, like all the superlatives kinda woman, and she owned the Blackbird Cafe.
So the set up is the very beginning of the book, Anne Kate is making her way in the north with the Yankees, none of her southern past business. She's going to be a doctor, but her plans get disrupted when her grandmother dies. She needs to come back to Alabama and her granny's leaving her the cafe. She's going to be able to sell it and have the money for med school and this is a really big deal, but her grandmother has left the stipulation in her will that if she's to inherit, she has to run it for two months. So Anna Kate comes to town in the summer and she settles in and she gets to know everybody, and she also gets to know and see up close because she didn't grow up in Wicklow for reasons that are discussed in the story, the magic of the blackbirds.
Blackbird Cafe makes this amazing pie that's also a powerful ... It's a magical pie because if you have a piece of this pie and you hear the blackbirds sing, the blackbirds that aren't even native to North America. They're only in Wicklow, Alabama and like New Zealand or wherever they're from, but you eat the pie. You hear the blackbirds when they sing between midnight and one AM and something magical happens to you. And happens to everyone who does this. So people are always coming into the town seeking out these magical blackbirds.
It's a nice book. There's just a little touch of a love story, but this is most definitely not a romance novel. It's mostly about people coming together in the present, making new connections, getting over the junk of their past, and just creating a really peaceful future and this, you know, charming little southern town. How does that sound?
LOREN: That sounds perfect, honestly. That sounds like the perfect book for right now. Especially 'cause it's just so hot, so when you're talking about like summer in Alabama, I'm like oh. This is ... I like to read things that feel on theme with, you know, my actual what's happening. So that sounds great. And the little bit of magical realism. I do read a lot of fantasy. I know that wasn't present in anything I talked about [LAUGHS] but I do read a lot of that, so it sounds really great.
ANNE: Yes. It does have a touch of just magical whimsy that I hope feels fun, light, and easy to you. Okay, so that was Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber. So of the books we talked about today, Parnauss on Wheels by Christopher Morely, To Night Owl from Dogfish by Meg Wolitzer and Holly Goldberg Sloan, and Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber, of those books, what do you think you'll pick up next?
LOREN: Definitely Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe.
ANNE: Definitely. I like it.
LOREN: Yeah, as you were describing that I felt like oh, that's the next book I'm going to read. [BOTH LAUGH] Like it just ... Yeah, it felt like a perfect match for right now.
ANNE: Well I can't wait to hear what you think. Thank you so much for talking books with me today.
LOREN: Thank you.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Loren, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/292 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
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Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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•There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda Åkeson McGurk
•The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
•On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior
♥Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane
♥84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
♥What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
△Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
•The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
•Shakespeare Saved My Life by Laura Bates
•Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
•Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
•The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
•To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer
•Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber
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