One of my favorite things about interviewing readers for What Should I Read Next? is learning about their unique daily lives, and how their passions influence their reading choices. Today’s guest might have my dream job.
As a city planner in Calgary, Caylee Dyck knows how to problem solve and prioritize in order to create better communities and a more walkable city. But when it comes to her reading life, Caylee is struggling with a classic bookworm dilemma.
Caylee has added 900 titles to her To Be Read list and has over 150 ebooks on her Kindle…and they all sound appealing. So how is she supposed to choose what to read next?
This episode is full of practical, tangible tips for tackling Caylee’s TBR—and since Caylee wants to read from her ebook collection but finds herself reaching for physical books more often these days, I also share my favorite ways to make ebook reading more tactile, engaging, and useful.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your unread books, I hope you find a solution that works for you in today’s episode.
CAYLEE: Oh my gosh, I didn't even know I had that on my Kindle. [BOTH LAUGH] You see?
ANNE: Well that's why we're talking about it.
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 293.
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, today’s guest feels overwhelmed by her digital TBR list and can’t remember where she heard each recommendation she adds. I offer solutions to her reading dilemma, like keeping a physical reading journal to help her focus on what she really wants to read next.
I have a new reading journal coming out this September and it’s the perfect place both to collect your thoughts about what you’ve already read and to jot down those To Be Read titles. I’ve been encouraging readers to keep a reading journal for years and over that time I’ve refined my recommendations on what makes a fun, useful book journal.
Now, I’m so excited to share my own journal, with all of those things I’ve learned incorporated into its pages.
Knowing the reason I added a book to my TBR helps me remember why I’m excited to read it—and that info greatly impacts what I choose to read next. That’s why the To Be Read pages in my upcoming journal, My Reading Life, include a space specifically for you to capture this information.
You’ll find thoughtful details such as these throughout the book journal, along with seasonal and themed book lists, lists to capture the details of your reading life, and tips and reflections for getting more out of your reading time.
Preorder My Reading Life: A Book Journal now to get a sneak peek at some of those reading lists and a bookmark that doubles as a reading tracker. You’ll also be entered in a giveaway to win FIVE books I’ll hand-pick just for you, based on your taste. Order your copy of My Reading Life wherever you buy books and then head to modernmrsdarcy.com/journal to claim your bonuses.
Today’s guest might have my dream job. She certainly has a job I love reading about! As a city planner in Calgary, Caylee Dyck knows how to problem solve and prioritize in order to create better communities and more liveable cities. Her job is to make people feel good in their environments. But when it comes to her reading life, Caylee is struggling to create a pleasing, welcoming, workable model for choosing what to read next—especially when it comes to the long To Be Read list and robust digital library she’s built over time.
Caylee has over 900 titles on her To Be Read list, and more than 150 ebooks on her Kindle that she’s purchased. And instead of feeling excited about what to read next, she just feels overwhelmed—and more than a little bit guilty when she reaches for shiny new releases instead of these backlist titles she’s kept waiting for so long already. But she doesn’t know what to do about it.
I’m ready to help Caylee transform her literary landscape with practical, actionable, and sometimes (as you’ll hear) tangible tips for tackling her TBR—and I’ll start her off by highlighting a few titles from among her digital ebook downloads that I think she’s likely to love and love reading now. And, to help Caylee follow through on her resolution to reach for her ereader more often, I share my favorite ways to make ebook reading more tactile, engaging, and useful.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your unread books, I hope you find solutions galore in today’s episode. Let’s get to it.
Caylee, welcome to the show.
CAYLEE: Thank you, Anne. I'm so excited to be here.
ANNE: Caylee, so you now have the distinction of being our most tech woe guest leading up to this conversation [CAYLEE LAUGHS] so the fact that you can say now that you're still glad to be here just fills my heart with joy. I'm so excited to talk books with you today!
CAYLEE: Thank you, me too! I've been a fan of the show for so long so this feels like ... This feels like a milestone for me. I got the email from Brenna that you guys were wanting me on the show and I ...[LAUGHS] my husband has just been like oh my gosh, stop talking about being on that show.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] How much are you talking about this, Caylee?
CAYLEE: Oh, like every day, and when I got the email he thought someone had ... Like I freaked out and he thought someone had died, he was just like what? What's happening? And then I told him and he was like oh. And I was like no, you don't understand! [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Thank you for sending in your submission and I know you told me that you sent it in more than once.
CAYLEE: I just tweaked the titles each time.
ANNE: Tell me about yourself. Where are you? What do you do?
CAYLEE: So I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Grew up in this area. I've been here my whole life except for when I went to school out on the west coast in Vancouver for a few years, and my education is in environmental science and landscape architecture. So right now I'm working for the city of Calgary as a project manager redesigning and constructing our existing streets, parks, and plazas in the downtown core.
ANNE: What drew you to that field? Which I have to tell you I'm just thoroughly romanticizing in my mind.
CAYLEE: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
ANNE: Basically you're working in the pages of Walkable City, one of my favorite books making inviting spaces that I can walk my dog down the sidewalk in. That's how I'm picturing things.
CAYLEE: Yes. This was another strategy of mine to get on the show was I know Anne's really into urban design and urban planning, so I should probably mention this.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] It's true. I know somebody on our team was like Anne, she might have your dream job.
CAYLEE: [LAUGHS] So I started off in environmental science. That was what my undergrad was in and I worked in that field for several years. My husband went and did his masters in urban planning, so just kinda through osmosis I learned about urban design, landscape architecture through him, and I became really interested in landscape architecture in particular. I love the outdoors. I love parks. I love the idea of having more nature in our cities, so it just seemed like a really natural fit.
That's how I was drawn to it, and for the first few years, I worked on the design and construction of really large natural parks in cities and then just recently I've moved to the city. I'm working more on, you know, revamping our streets for people. So putting roads on a road diet, making our sidewalks better, making them wider, planting street trees, putting in cycle facilities, and trying to do that in all our communities. 'Cause everyone wants a walkable community now, so there's been a shift to that. You know, I like feeling like I'm improving the city that I'm living in for other citizens. It's rewarding work for sure.
ANNE: I'm glad to hear that, and also I imagine that it involves a fair amount of really intricate problem solving.
CAYLEE: Oh my gosh, yes.
ANNE: Especially since you're working in the existing city changing anything that exists. I feel like this is a metaphor for your reading life as well, but changing anything you’ve already built is difficult from what I read.
CAYLEE: You have definitely hit the nail on the head there. We typically come up against a lot of constraints in terms of space, so you know, we can't always fit everything in that we want to fit in because of underground utilities and things like that. We often have to prioritize what's really important for that particular streets and that particular community, so there is some trade offs for sure that happen in our existing streets. It's not like in the suburbs where you're making a whole new development and can do whatever you want.
ANNE: Now tell me about what your reading life is like.
CAYLEE: Yeah, so I think like many of the other guests on your show, I've always been a reader. That's what I did in my spare time and I just loved reading, but when I went to university, both times, that kinda got put on pause and in between my degrees, I picked it up a little bit but I was just, you know, busy working a lot but then after I graduated from getting my masters in 2016, that's when I discovered your podcast, Anne, and I wished I could remember how I stumbled across it because I can't remember that part, but at the time, I think there was only 15 episodes and I remember I was flying home from Vancouver to Calgary and I listened to every single episode and I just couldn't wait for a new ones to come out, and so now five years later, I have like 900 books on my Goodreads TBR list. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: And how does that make you feel, Caylee?
CAYLEE: I think it feels like … I love adding books to my TBR, like I just, you know, I love clicking a button, but there's just so many on there now and I feel like they get lost. Like there's definitely books that I'm like oh, that sounds really good. I really want to read that, but when I add it to my Goodreads TBR, it just gets lost into the pile. That can be overwhelming I guess at times and feel like I have a lot of digital clutter. I’ve thought about going in and editing it. I haven't gotten there yet. [BOTH LAUGH] I feel like that would be a big job, but it maybe should be something I take on.
And maybe this does exist and I'm just not aware of it, but I wish there was a function in Goodreads where you could put a little note in like where you heard about the book and what about it drew you to it, because like honestly, I look at the list and I'm like I have no idea where this book came from. [ANNE LAUGHS] Like I don't remember anything about it, and so it's really, really hard to then go out and you know, try to pick those books up if you don't remember what drew you to them in the first place.
It's mixed feelings. [LAUGHS] I guess that's the conclusion. I just think everything sounds good. [ANNE LAUGHS] I'm not very picky when it comes to adding books to my TBR. I think I've gotten more picky recently just because I'm more aware of it now but I just think everything sounds good. So I just end up adding a lot of titles each week because I listen to your podcast. I listen to a couple other reading podcasts. I'm adding like several titles a week on most weeks. I read pretty widely and in several different genres, so I wish I could maybe be a little bit more disconcerting about which books I'm adding. Come up with some kind of system to figure out or to track where I got that recommendation from or why I'm adding that to my TBR.
ANNE: Are you committed to tracking this digitally? Or are you committed to tracking this on Goodreads, I think is actually the specific question.
CAYLEE: No. And I did start a reading journal this year.
ANNE: That's exciting.
CAYLEE: I've been really enjoying it. I'm a patreon member, so I get to see a bunch of additional content and I think that stuff really ...
ANNE: Oh, no, a bunch of bonus book recommendations.
CAYLEE: Well, yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Which doesn't have to be an oh no but based on what you're saying, I can see how you're adding books faster to your TBR than you can possibly take them off.
CAYLEE: Exactly. But I don't track my TBR in my reading journal. Maybe that's something I could start doing.
ANNE: Maybe it is. We'll talk about that.
ANNE: What has your reading journal showed you so far about your reading life?
CAYLEE: That has been really interesting. The main thing that has been different using my reading journal is I spend time reflecting on the book when I'm done. I did not do that before. I would just immediately jump to the next book and I'm finding that that helps me really think about okay, what did I like about this book? What did I not like? Going forward like how can I limit reading these types of books in the future to make room for books that I really do love? It's forced me to like reflect on my reading more.
And then the second thing is so I keep track of the format that I read in. So I typically read on all formats. I read books from the library, you know, I buy books and I listen to books on audio and then I have my Kindle. I track which format I'm reading in. I noticed so far this year I'm mainly doing audio and hard copy books. I have not completed a single book on my Kindle this year. That was a bit of an eye opener.
ANNE: Did you used to read on your Kindle a lot? And of course I'm moving forward with the assumption that like this is only a problem if it's a problem for you, but it sounds like this is a big change.
CAYLEE: Yes. I used to read on my Kindle a lot. Actually when I was filling out the guest submission form, I was trying to figure out like why that is. Like why am I not reading on my Kindle? Because this is the other thing, Anne, is I have a lot of book ... I'll have a lot of unread titles on my Kindle thanks to your deals email [ANNE LAUGHS] that I get every day. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I feel like it's only right that I help you solve this problem. [CAYLEE LAUGHS] If we recommend 40 books a week on What Should I Read Next and then there's more in Patreon and then there's the Kindle deals emails from Modern Mrs Darcy, I owe you, Caylee.
CAYLEE: [LAUGHS] So I have over 150 unread titles on my Kindle, and so I think that's why it feels like it's a problem for me because I know there's a bunch of good books on there that I'm just not reading. And I have tried. Like I picked it up this year and I’ve tried starting books on it, but for some reason, I just can't seem to get into them. Like my preferred format for books is definitely hard copy. I guess I find it comforting and maybe you know, with the pandemic, I just that's like been a little source of comfort for me. Holding a book in my hand. I have a really beautiful bookmark. I love beautiful book covers, and I like turning the pages and there's just something about that that I really enjoy so maybe that's it. I'm just naturally gravitating towards that as a source of comfort.
ANNE: Do you really enjoy like tactical experiences in general?
CAYLEE: Yes, like I like writing in an actual book, like a notebook. I like having a to do list written down. Yeah, like I sketch as part of my job, so definitely. Like I'm fine reading on my Kindle. Like I did it before a lot, especially when I had like a young baby at home and you know, all I was doing was nursing, like I read ... That was what I read on. I didn't read on anything else except for my Kindle, but I have a really hard time reading on my phone. Unless I'm out, like I'll have a Kindle book on the go, I'll open up the app on my phone and I'll read it when I'm waiting in the car or waiting in line or something, but I will not read on my phone at home.
ANNE: Yes, that can really be a lifesaver if you end up [LAUGHS] you end up waiting in a situation you didn't expect to and you don't have a book with you, but I can see how it's not your first choice.
ANNE: If only for the reason that your email and social media apps might just be like one tap away, that's not good. Okay, Caylee. So you have 900 something books on your Goodreads to be read list [CAYLEE LAUGHS] You have more than 150 unread titles on your Kindle.
ANNE: What we said is that these are only problems if you consider them to be so. What is it about those 150 unread titles that makes you feel like you should be reading them? Like what is it that's making you feel bad?
CAYLEE: I think because I know there's books on there that are gems. Like I know there is. I open up the Kindle and I literally scroll through the titles and I just scroll. [ANNE LAUGHS] I just keep scrolling and I see the covers and I'm like some of them I remember, like why I wanted to read them, but some of them I don't. I'm also a really big mood reader. I'm very sensitive to the time of year [LAUGHS] and the mood I'm in. Those are all things that I have to grapple with when I'm choosing my next read.
I feel like I shouldn't be going out and buying new books if I have 150 perfectly good unread titles on my Kindle that I know are on my TBR, I would buy whatever stood out to me. Like I would just read your description and if I thought it sounded good, I would buy it 'cause it was only $2 but overtime when I started getting more and more titles on there, I told myself okay, I'm only going to buy a Kindle deal book if it's already on my TBR.
So I know the majority of the books on there are on my TBR, like at some point I added them to my TBR for a reason and I'm just not reading them. I get very easily distracted by bookstagram and the new and hot books that are coming out which is fine, but I don't want that to be my whole reading life, like I know there's books on my TBR that were classics or that are good backlist books. I don't just want to get distracted by all the new and hot books.
ANNE: You already know this but it's not just you and it sounds like a big reason for this is if we talk about a book today, you can think okay, that sounds great. I want to read that and you could go bring that into your reading life and you can start reading it because you know why you want to read it, but if you're unable to capture why you want to read a book based on the tracking mechanisms you're using, it's not as compelling if you can't remember why.
ANNE: I think that's making it really hard to choose, and every reader needs a reason to read a certain book and to read it right now and we gotta make that easy for you.
CAYLEE: That is totally it.
ANNE: You're actually making it easier for me too because [CAYLEE LAUGHS] as many readers know, when you can read anything when your options are practically infinite when choosing what to read next, it's very difficult to choose the one, and I feel that way when talking to readers too, so today I am limited to the titles on your Kindle. How many are there precisely?
CAYLEE: I think there's around 150. I did send you the spreadsheet. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, Caylee. There are 192.
CAYLEE: Oh! Oh my gosh!
ANNE: [LAUGHS] That's a lot of books.
CAYLEE: Oh, you know why? I also included books in there that I have in my hard copy library because that's a problem too. Not as a big problem as my Kindle, but so there's probably 30 books on there that I have in my library at home that I have not read. But you can just stick to the Kindle.
ANNE: I will see what I can do. Tell me more about how you tend to think that everything sounds good, and so you end up adding a lot to your TBR.
CAYLEE: I'm just like a very easily sold person, like it doesn't take much to like win me over, and I think because I listened to so many like book podcasts and reading podcasts and people on those podcasts, they're really passionate about their books and so when they talk about books that they like, and even on your show with your guests, talking about their books in a way that makes them sound really good. It's hard for me to really think critically about it. I think I just get won over by people's passion.
ANNE: I watched the movie with ... Is it Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson? A Marriage Story?
CAYLEE: A Marriage Story, yes.
ANNE: Okay. Highly praised, won all the awards. I had a few friends who raved about it, so I thought I can download this on Netflix, like I'm going to watch this on the airplane and I had been told it was a searing portrayal of a marriage in crisis so realistic, brilliant acting, really takes you inside the relationship, just so compelling. I watched the whole thing, but I'm watching it going this is awful! Like this is a realistic portrayal of a marriage in crisis and it is painful to watch.
ANNE: So I was told what I'd be getting, and yet I hadn't stopped to think Anne, is that where you want to go with your 94 minutes on the airplane? [CAYLEE LAUGHS] Like no, it wasn't where I wanted to go and yet listening to somebody describe, and there's a reason I'm doing a film because I hope it gives you and listeners a little more objectivity instead of me like pulling out the book you love as the example.
ANNE: And maybe you love A Marriage Story, maybe you don't, but the important thing is when you listen to somebody passionately say I thought this was amazing because … What's the because, and is that somewhere you want to go, and it really I think it's a skill that takes practice to develop to give yourself that beat or six.
ANNE: It's hard. I love that you're listening to people talk about books that get you excited about reading them and also we want to work on putting in that pause to think what is it about this book that I think I will like? And that might even be a different and perhaps better question than is it for me, but instead ask, what is it that I'm drawn to in this particular book, and then you want to write it down. You want to write it down right away. You want to capture it someplace so that you can see later.
CAYLEE: Yeah, I think you're so right 'cause I am kinda an impulsive person like I'm that person at the store who's like, you know, buying stuff at the checkout lane because I see something and I'm like ooh.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Caylee, are you a list maker?
ANNE: Do you have names you assign to your reading moods? Because I'm wondering if you might enjoy taking your spreadsheet, the same one I have in front of me right now, and just making lists for books you might want to read in different moods, and it doesn't even have to be super specific. It could be this sounds good for fall. This sounds good for spring.
ANNE: This sounds good when I want to escape or something light hearted. This sounds good when I want to grapple with the human condition, or this sounds good when I just want to read something I don't typically read. I wonder if you could pull out your book journal, depending on how you set it up, notebook, post-it note that you stick to the wall, just make a little list, and I don't want you to do it by genre. Like this is not historical fiction or contemporary or sci-fi. This is dark and moody. Summer vacation. Adventurous. Something off your beaten path.
I think that could be fun for you, and that way when you're looking for something to read and you kinda have an idea for what you're craving at the moment, you don't need to scan through 150 titles on your Kindle and you certainly do not need to scroll through 900 books on Goodreads [CAYLEE LAUGHS] and you don't need to scroll through Instagram. You can just review your lists and you'll have maybe 20 max titles on each, and that way, limit the overwhelm and help you really hone in on what you're looking for now.
CAYLEE: I love that idea. That totally fits with my mood reading limitation. [LAUGHS] I think that's how I approach when I pick a book to read, that's the frame of mind I'm thinking in. I’m like okay, it's fall, I'm kinda in the mood for something dark and atmospheric. That would be great.
ANNE: And I wouldn't want you to make those lists when it's time for you to choose a book 'cause I think that might be a higher pressure situation and not one that's fun, but I think if you're making lists at a time when you're embarking on a project, not choosing your next read, you could really enjoy the process and get excited about all the books you could read when you're in the right mood for that book.
ANNE: Finally, I wonder if it's not time to declare TBR bankruptcy. [CAYLEE LAUGHS] How uncomfortable does that idea make you feel?
CAYLEE: What does that mean? What would that entail?
ANNE: Of course there are many ways you can do this, but here's one that seems pretty straightforward based on the limitations you have. Temporarily stop using Goodreads as a TBR and keep it someplace else, whether that's an excel spreadsheet or the book journal you have, if it's set up in such a way that it accommodates that. Start rebuilding your TBR. You could either start completely fresh and write down the books you know you want to read. You can not capture books that you used to read, although that, I have to admit as a reader, makes me anxious. I don't know how that makes you feel.
But you could review your Goodreads TBR and what's on your Kindle 'cause it's truly possible that you don't want to read all the books on your Kindle that you did at one time because you've had years to lapse and you might not need or want that book anymore, but you can go through slowly if the idea makes you feel better and see what's on your Goodreads TBR and then choose if you're going to add it to what will become your new functional working TBR. And if you don't remember why, you could either say oh well, it's gone, or you could look it up, you know, one at a time and think does this book sound good to me today? And if it does, add it to your TBR.
ANNE: But write down why. While you're thinking about it, write down because I heard about it on this podcast and the idea of learning about this topic that I didn't know sounded interesting really appeals to me, or it was described as dark and edgy and perfect for fall reading or whatever it is that appeals to you, write that down, and it doesn't have to be long. I mean it could really take you eight seconds to jot down just a few. Easy, easy, but it gives you something to hang your hat on when it's time to choose your next read.
CAYLEE: That sounds really good to me. Deleting the whole TBR would give me a little bit of anxiety [BOTH LAUGH] but going through it with a more critical eye and weeding out some of those books that I don't remember or I think that that could go a long way.
ANNE: We're going to check back and hear how it's going. Maybe your imminent plans will change based on what we talk about next because we're about to get into your books. Okay, are you ready?
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 that is on your Kindle right now. Caylee, how did you choose these books for today?
CAYLEE: So I tried to pick books that have stuck with me over time, that I still think about even years later after reading them, so a couple of the ones on my list are definitely older. Those are the ones when people ask you for a book recommendation, like for me those are the ones that always come to mind or the ones that I have a hard time forgetting. They just like live in my brain now I guess.
ANNE: Alright, I like it. Caylee, what did you choose for your first favorite?
CAYLEE: So my first favorite is Circe by Madeline Miller, like a feminist reworking of Greek mythology. The protagonist, Circe, is kinda, you know, this strange child who is the daughter of a God and I think it's a nymph mother. She turns out to be like neither of them or any of the people that she's currently living with and so she eventually turns to the world of mortals for companionship and through that, she discovers she has the power of witchcraft, and then because of that, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island where she kinda hones her craft, tames wild beasts, and gets visits from all of the famous Greek mythology characters.
So the reason I loved it is I really love beautiful writing. To me, that is writing that is not overly like flowery or descriptive, but you want to highlight or you want to make note of it. And I just loved Circe. I loved the protagonist. I could have spent like all day with her. I love being a part of her journey, child who is kinda an outcast to a new mother, and I ... I listened to this on audio which was fantastic, and I listened to it when I was a new mother and had a young baby. I just really found the part about her postpartum experience really relatable which is kinda strange because it's based on Greek mythology and she's a witch, but I just could totally relate to that whole section on, you know, being a new mother.
ANNE: Is it too much to say that in other ways Madeline Miller really knows how to capture the human experience here?
CAYLEE: Totally, and I've also read A Song of Achilles, so I'm going to do a two for one on this one because that one is also amazing. I loved that one ...
ANNE: Sneaky, Caylee.
CAYLEE: It's definitely in my favorites list, too. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I think it's interesting how both contemporary reimaginings of Greek myths and fresh versions of ancient mythology are really big now. Like so many new books out this year that are either/or of those two categories. I don't know what's going on there.
CAYLEE: Yeah. I noticed that too and I do have a few on my library holds lists.
ANNE: Tell me about another book you love.
CAYLEE: Okay, so the second book is The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill. This is a Canadian author and I wanted to start off by saying there's definitely some trigger warnings with this book, so there's child abuse, addiction, sex, and it's a very dark. So definitely some trigger warnings to be aware of, but the basic plot is there's two babies that are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910 and at a very young age it becomes obvious that they are both talented in the performing arts, so the boy is a piano prodigy and the girl is like this amazing dancer. The orphanage they live in starts sending them out to perform, to garner more donations to the orphanage. As they travel around the city, they start to fall in love, like young love with each other, and they dream up a plan for their future life together putting on this extraordinary circus show that the world has, you know, never seen.
But then they get separated as teenagers and both of them descend into the city's underworld. It's one of those dark, moody, atmospheric, melancholy, always cold books and like you don't want to read this in the summer if you're a mood reader like me, like you want to read this in the fall or the winter, and I read somewhere that this book has a blend of the melancholy and whimsy and that could be off putting for some people and I would normally shy away from a whimsy description, but I just loved it in this book. It felt magical and it just felt like this, you know, really welcoming contrast from the dark setting and like the dark things that are going on. And the characters I thought were all incredible and even the ones outside of the two main characters, which were so well developed and described, but even the ones outside of that were just like really interesting, unique characters, and there's great like villains in this book.
ANNE: So that's The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill. Dark, moody, melancholy and always cold. I love that description you gave, Caylee. What did you choose to complete your favorites list?
CAYLEE: The Push by Ashley Audrain. So this came out earlier this year and I don't know how it's faring in the States, but in Canada, it has become like the book, it's the hot book of the year.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] THE hot book. Wow.
CAYLEE: [LAUGHS] THE hot book. It's everywhere.
ANNE: It is not selling poorly here.
CAYLEE: This book has an interesting structure because well, it's told in second person point of view for most of the book which is kinda different. You don't see that a lot. The narrator is like speaking to the reader but in this book, she's actually talking to her husband, but then it goes back in time through generations to her mother and then grandmother. It weaves that in throughout the current modern day story. Because you're getting the backstory of her like multigenerational trauma of her grandmother and her mother, you understand and you see like where those issues are coming from. So I thought that was really well done and it was really fast read, like it was a page turner, but I also felt like it covered a lot of ground, like there was a lot of depth and I think that was because of this weaving in of her family's backstory.
ANNE: Well I can totally see how this checks the boxes for an interesting format or unusual telling of the story. Hardly any books are written in the second person. [LAUGHS] Caylee, you didn't give a content warning here.
CAYLEE: Oh! I should have. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I'm not saying that we do that for every book, but since The Lonely Hearts Hotel got a call out, like holy bookshelves, the like creeping sense of dread in this book, it's really suspenseful in a way I did not anticipate and also completely heart wrenching.
ANNE: Alright, The Push by Ashley Audrain. Caylee, tell me about a book that wasn't right for you.
CAYLEE: I'm going with The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse. I don't have any problem talking about books that didn't work for me but, Anne, you have taught me to not finish books that I am not liking, so lately like I have no problem not finishing a book, like I'll put it down and either I'm never going back to that book. It's not for me, or this isn't the right time for this book. But I like to read at least 50 pages to really decide. This one I did finish because I think I kept waiting for it to get better. [ANNE LAUGHS]
This was like a locked room mystery. It was set in the Swiss Alps, you know, there's a series of murders and the protagonist is a detective. My biggest problem with the book or why it wasn't for me is I felt that the protagonist was really weak. I just felt like she was really floundering all over the place, and I don't know if that was because the author was doing that on purpose because she had this traumatic case in the past and you know, perhaps she wanted that to come through. I just kept saying like this woman cannot be a detective, [LAUGHS] like there's just no way.
I felt like there was things that only happen to make the plot work a certain way, like I kinda felt like the characters were just being puppets, like being moved around and there was, it was told from multiple POVs, but it wasn't consistent throughout the story and I just felt like it didn't, it wasn't serving the story. It felt like confusing. It just didn't really make any logical sense and I just can't help comparing this to other mysteries like Louise Penny's. I picked this up because the setting and the premise sounded amazing, like it was this secluded mountain lodge in the Swiss Mountains and the whole locked room mystery, that was really appealing to me, but ultimately it didn't work.
ANNE: So that's The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse. I mean, especially with expectations being so high with a book that is an instant bestseller or a big celebrity pick, it's good for readers for who it might be good for and it sounds like this didn't work for you on multiple levels, but it sounds like the main thing is that the story didn't sound true.
ANNE: I feel like it's my duty to remind everyone right now that all over Instagram means publicity dollars [CAYLEE LAUGHS] not that everybody loved the book 'cause you're often seeing those books before anybody's read them, like it came in a pretty box in the mail and they take a picture, like it's different from I loved it and I am enthusiastically recommend it for a specific reader.
ANNE: Or that you know, I loved it, and I'm not going to tell you why but I got some book mail. That's a different thing. I mean that's still exciting. I mean, who doesn't like book mail? But that's a different thing from read it, you'll love it.
CAYLEE: Yes. And there is, you know, on Instagram, people will just post the picture of the book and then not say anything and in your head you're like oh, that cover looks good, but you don't really know anything about [LAUGHS] the book like there's no review or anything that goes with it.
ANNE: There's nothing inherently bad in that.
ANNE: Unless it disrupts your TBR and then you end up at the end going wait why did I read this? I wasn't the right reader for that book. That is a problem that we want to keep you from having.
CAYLEE: That's my problem, yeah. I just see the beautiful cover and just see the one sentence line about what the book is about and I'm like oh yeah, right up my alley.
ANNE: So we are going to presume that it's the book and not just the format, if Kindle is not going to work for you in 2021, then we are up a creek, but we are trying to put the odds in your favor by getting books that are right for you and right for you right now. But also I want to make just a couple of suggestions about your Kindle. If you don't already, get a cover on your device that has like a nice, like linen cover or something like that, something that feels good in your hand that has some texture that isn't just a plastic tablet or whatever it is that it's made out of. You know, shiny, neutral, blah, like get something pretty. You can find these on Amazon with your Kindle. You can find these on Etsy. Get something that feels nice when you run your hand across it. And I have seen ones, and this may be a solely Etsy thing that have little notepads in the front, like paper combined ...
CAYLEE: Ooh. Yeah.
ANNE: With your digital device with a little penholder in there. I think something that makes you feel like you're not holding a screen, but something that you can interact with in the same way that you interact with a book could be just really nice and feel more pleasant to hold in your hand, and you can even hold it like an open book as opposed to folding the cover back if, depending on what you're doing, like one of the things that's wonderful about a Kindle is that you're never holding a 900 page book in your hand and we're going to talk about that too, but also the books really matter.
So we know that you loved Circe by Madeleine Miller, The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill, and The Push by Ashley Audrain. Not for you The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse. And what's jumping out at me, we're way over simplifying this but sometimes that's what you need to be helpful and think about what you want is that all these books, they live on the edge of reality. They're definitely not realistic but they're also not quite inhabiting the world we're living in and I feel like even with The Push, which is heart wrenching because it is in some ways deeply realistic, the way it's told is almost dreamlike.
ANNE: You're not quite in the reality that you know, and I think you like that, and you have these books you're drawn to that all have a little bit of mystery.
CAYLEE: That's interesting.
ANNE: And then anything described as beautifully written, which for you doesn't mean what some people would consider overwritten but you want writing that really serves the story and I was almost tempted to use words like efficient, like that the writing is exactly what it needs to be.
CAYLEE: Yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: But that sounds brusque and that's not it at all. You want a story that holds your attention, not in addition to but because like the story is told well, like it's told the way it needs to be told. And so we're going to think about specifically the writing, like the writing is not a plot delivery vehicle, it is something that you will enjoy depending on how it's done.
CAYLEE: Yeah. That sounds exactly right. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I think we want to get you some from now and some for later as far as your mood reading goes. So as we talk about books that feel real and yet do not quite live in the same reality that you and I do. I saw The Other Black Girl on your list. I think it would be a really good one for you.
CAYLEE: Yeah. Okay. I have that one in hard copy and it's like I made myself a little priority books to read shelf that sits separate from my regular library, and that one is in there just because it was in the Summer Reading Guide so I wanted to read it this summer.
ANNE: Well what I like about that for you, it is definitely one of those books that in one sense is deeply realistic and yet in another it does not occupy the same reality we do. Do you recall what it was that made you think oh, this belongs on my TBR, my physical bookshelf actually?
CAYLEE: I think it's set in the publishing world.
CAYLEE: Yeah, and I love that. I'm fascinated by the publishing world. I just think it's so interesting, so I think that was one of the main reasons, and I think there's like a little bit of a mystery in there and so I love mysteries, and so I think that's why. And I wasn't planning on buying it hard copy. I typically only buy hard copy books that I know I'm going to love and I know I want to sit on my shelf or I even already read it and I just want it to be in my library, but this one I think I saw it and this sounds really bad, but I think I saw it at Costco. I’ve heard this is good. It's in Anne's Summer Reading Guide, so I'm going to buy it.
ANNE: I mean that's the best part of Costco. No shame there.
CAYLEE: [LAUGHS] Okay.
ANNE: I mean, that and the cheese section.
CAYLEE: Yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: But yes it is set in the world of publishing and it's told primarily from the perspective of a young publishing assistant named Nella, who's tolly named after Nella Larsen. She is the only Black girl who works at the hardest publishing house to get into at the world of this novel, Wagner Books, and the author herself worked in publishing as an assistant for a few years, so she is writing what she knows. Then another Black girl is hired. There's a lot of critical commentary about why are they girls? Why are they not women? So that's something interesting to keep in mind while you're reading, but another Black assistant is hired and Nell is like oh thank goodness, it's about time. It's going to be Hazel and me, not just me anymore, and I can't wait to not be alone, you know, to have a friend and a colleague and someone to bond with.
But then [LAUGHS] unsettling things begin to happen. Some happen publically in front of the whole office that bring Nella deep embarrassment, and some are private, like the notes that begin showing up on Nella's desk that say leave Wagner now. Slowly you start to realize this is getting more sinister than I thought, like what is happening? It's a lot of fun. This is a book you’ll definitely want to talk about with your book club. You don't like weak protagonists. I think you're going to like Nella.
CAYLEE: I'm so much more excited to read it now. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I am glad to hear it. Well write down why or write down the timestamp of the episode.
ANNE: You can refer to it anytime. Okay, that was The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris. Next we're moving to that Kindle shelf, and you know this is not the book I had in mind when we were talking about Circe and how modern reimaginings as well as fresh retellings of Greek myths and other ancient mythologies are really a thing right now but that's what we got for your next book. I'm trying to think what season this might be for you. The story unfolds over a period of months, but I think this might be a full read. It's not necessarily cold, but it is definitely melancholy. Ultimately ... I mean, it's a Greek tragedy, and the book I'm thinking of is Home Fire by Kamila Shamise.
CAYLEE: Oh my gosh, I didn't even know I had that on my Kindle. [LAUGHS] You see?
ANNE: Well that's why we're talking about it.
CAYLEE: Actually now that you say it, I remember seeing the cover, but again I just had no idea ... I had no idea what it was about or why I bought it. So this is awesome. Okay.
ANNE: Well this is a modern retelling of Antigone. Readers could read this and enjoy it and think it's an amazing story and not have a clue that it tracks with the plot of Antigone.
ANNE: If you do know the plot of Antigone, you will have a better idea of what the complications might be along the way and what it is going to end up happening, but ...
CAYLEE: I don't.
ANNE: It's not happy, but it's a story of two families that get intertwined in tragic ways. The son of an important government official falls in love with one of the sisters. The consequences are devastating. The politician has interest to protect. He's made his way as a politican largely because he's turned his back on the Muslim community he's from. The other family is also Muslim. The competing interests guarantee that everything is going to end badly especially because of one of the members' tragic pasts. I don't know if I'm really selling this, but here's what I want you to know. It is riveting. Beautiful language. Not in an overwrought way, but in a really poignant, like ugh, I feel what you're saying, like right in my gut one. It has one of the most memorable endings I think you'll ever encounter.
CAYLEE: Ooh, I like that. I love endings. [BOTH LAUGH] Like I like good endings or endings that are like you never forget, so that sounds great.
ANNE: I'm glad to hear it. Now next I have a dead of winter read for you.
ANNE: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, which if you put this book on your list solely because of the cover, I would not blame you at all. It was actually recently announced that this is going to be an Apple TV series with Tom Hiddleston and Claire Danes.
ANNE: I don't know what that means for you. I don't know if that's a good thing. A bad thing. If you watch those.
CAYLEE: Oh no. I love that. I like to read the book first and then watch movie or series after.
ANNE: This is a historical novel that features a strong protagonist who is not of her time. You know what we've been talking about mystical, not quite realistic books. We got to be real specific here. I mean, it's set in London in the late 19th century, but she wasn't happily married, and so when her husband died, she gets to indulge her interests in science and nature with no one waging their finger at her. She can go do what she wants. So she leaves the city.
She goes to the town of Essex by the water. She takes her 11 year old son with her and her nanny. Once they get there, she starts to hear these rumors about the Essex Serpent that lives in the marshes in the city and just the mood, it's like a gothic atmosphere that Sarah Perry builds in this. Everybody is terrified of the serpent except for the people who say like no, no, no, no. Be reasonable. That couldn't possibly exist. But the superstition is real and the debate and fear over what may or may not be living in the marshes infiltrates the entire town and the atmosphere of the entire book.
So when the young widow, her name is Cora, gets to town, she becomes dear friends with the religious leader in the community who has, you know, a lovely little family, doting wife, all that, and they're united in their love of science, their scientific minds, but it's not entirely proper, so you’ve got this relationship that could go very badly for everybody. This maybe thing in the marshes that could go very badly for everybody and this like stirred up, like keyed up atmosphere in the community that could go very badly for everybody.
I think it could be a lot of fun for you. Now this is not I don't think a page turner, like you read this because you want to see a slow building character study and because you are interested in seeing how Perry is going to explore the question of science and religion and faith and doubt and something horrible potentially in the water and insular community. I think you may like both the story and the writing if you read it at the right time of year.
ANNE: I think there's a reason you put it on your Kindle, and I hope this is reminding you what it is.
CAYLEE: This is a good kick in the pants for me.
ANNE: And finally, we're going to do a third Kindle title. Here we go …
ANNE: Because The Other Black Girl is in hardcover in your library. Something you can do really well on Kindle is read those really long books without throwing your back out carrying around a thousand pager in your purse. I don't know how you feel about long books, part of me wants to recommend a way shorter one by the author, but we're going long and we're going with the one that is on your Kindle.
CAYLEE: I can do long.
ANNE: Given the books that you've highlighted today and you know said this is what I love and this is why I love them, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is on your Kindle. I think it has a lot of elements you love.
ANNE: This is a more thoroughly unrealistic book than some of the ones that we've talked about today.
ANNE: But we have a convincingly depicted world of two realms. There's the magical realm, but there's also like the thoroughly realistic England of the day and the contrast is kinda fun. We have a rivalry between dueling magicians. We have multiple perspectives. Historical fantasy. This is more leisurely paced but I wouldn't call it boring and it does have that really intricate, careful plotting that you've enjoyed in all your books. It's also incredibly creative. I mean it's ... I would say witty, but I think it has that conflict style and that darker feel that you could really sink into for 800, 900-ish pages.
CAYLEE: That sounds perfect, and when you said that one, I knew I had that one on my Kindle but I could not remember why. [BOTH LAUGH] So all those things sound like it would be something that's right up my alley.
ANNE: Well I hope so, and I also do really like that you have a compelling reason to read this on Kindle that isn't just well I already bought it, you know, like I already have that sunk cost.
ANNE: It's so much easier to read an enormous book on Kindle.
ANNE: Caylee, of the books we talked about today, we have The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, Home Fire by Kamila Shamise, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Of those books, what do you think you’ll read next?
CAYLEE: I'm definitely going to read The Other Black Girl next just because that one is the summer read ... I'm going to read them in the season that you recommended, so then I'll probably read Homefire next and then I might read the Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and save The Essex Serpent for the middle of dead winter here which is like January, February when there's no end in sight.
ANNE: Well I hope you love them and that it helps you get reacquainted with your Kindle.
CAYLEE: Yeah, thank you so much.
ANNE: Oh, it was my pleasure. Caylee, thank you so much for talking books with me today.
CAYLEE: Thank you, Anne. I had a great time. Thanks.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Caylee, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/293 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
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Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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•Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck
•Goodnight, Beautiful by Aimee Molloy
♥Circe by Madeline Miller
•The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
♥The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
♥The Push by Audrey Audrain
△The Sanitorium by Sarah Pearse
•The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
•Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
•Antigone by Sophocles
•The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
•Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke