Readers, other than the actual act of reading books, one of my favorite parts of being a reader is the chance to have invigorating conversations about the books I’ve read and the characters I’ve come to know. My guests today definitely agree, and they love books that prompt conversation and evoke a strong emotional reaction. They also have a sweet spot for tales centered around strong female relationships. This isn’t surprising, as these two guests have a unique and long-lasting relationship of their own.
Christine Pride and Jo Piazza have worked together for years as editor & writer, and they recently embarked on a new stage of their bookish journey, jointly penning the brand-new release We Are Not Like Them.
As I chat with Jo and Christine about books they’ve loved, we’re on the hunt for titles they may both enjoy reading next. Our conversation today is wide-ranging, and I hope my recommendations at the end of it all continue to spark great conversations between these two. I can’t wait for you to listen.
JO: We had our writer and editor relationship already, but then there were a lot of things we had to figure out. First and foremost, I had to introduce Christine to Google Docs. [ANNE AND CHRISTINE LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 302.
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 … Or today, two guests.
Readers, thank you so much for your support of my new book, my book journal, My Reading Life. It's out. It's now available wherever new books are sold and it's now a national best seller. Thank you so much for that. It means the world.
A frequently asked question I've gotten is do I need to wait till 2022 to begin this journal? No, you can begin any time. You can buy it anytime. In fact, the state of the world of publishing specifically being what it is now would be an excellent time to buy this journal for yourself and for anyone you're interested in buying gifts for this season because the supply chain situation is not so great, but this book could be really great for many people on your gift giving list.
Buy My Reading Life: A Book Journal wherever new books are sold. Happy reading to you and your loved ones this season.
Readers, my guests today are motivated by stories that mean something, books that prompt conversation, and tales centered around strong female relationships. This isn’t surprising, as these two guests have a unique and long-lasting relationship of their own.
Christine Pride and Jo Piazza are no strangers to the book world; they’ve worked together for years as editor and writer, and they recently embarked on a new stage of their bookish journey, jointly penning the brand-new release We Are Not Like Them, which is packed with tough-but-timely themes, and which is a really enjoyable story. I’ve been holding my tongue until today’s episode to tell you about this one for awhile now.
Christine, Jo, and I chat about their search for and love of books that evoke a strong emotional reaction or offer a distinctive point of view. As we look for titles they may enjoy reading next, we’re also on the hunt for books featuring strong female protagonists, with bonus points for those older than 40.
Our conversation today is wide-ranging, and I hope my recommendations at the end of it all continue to spark great conversations between these two. I know I enjoyed today’s conversation; I can’t wait for you to listen.
Let’s get to it.
Christine and Jo, welcome to the show.
JO: Hi. Thanks for having us.
CHRISTINE: We're so happy to be here.
ANNE: Okay. I've been waiting to ask you this in person. I thought it couldn't be true, but Christine, then I dug a little more into the books you've published and I think we've all been in the same room. I think we've met before. There was a time in the before times when Jo, you had your book Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win come out, and Glynnis MacNicol had her book No One Tells You This come out, and you did this really fun road trip book tour, and Christine, were you their editor traveling with them?
CHRISTINE: Yes! And we went to Louisville!
ANNE: Yes! So you were at my local indie. That was a really fun night. Jo, here's what I remember. I mean, I remember you all talking and you were in conversation with a local Salon reporter, which was really fun. [LAUGHS] But I remember you had this great jumpsuit on.
JO: Oh, yes.
ANNE: And you introduced yourself by saying I'm on the road and my husband thinks this is the ugliest thing he's ever seen, but he's not here and I love it [JO LAUGHS] so there. It's good to be on book tour.
JO: It's true. It's true, and yes, that was ... I'm so glad you remembered that because the second that I heard your voice today, I remembered meeting in person back in before times in that little indie bookstore, which was so great, and also the bookseller in that indie bookstore was also like an actor and an extra in Hallmark movies, which was ...
ANNE: Wait, what?
JO: Oh yeah. And he had to drive us to the event because we went to the wrong bookstore, and then he told us all about how he worked in Hallmark movies and we just like fell in love with him and the bookstore in Louisville, and then we got to see you. So it's very interesting because editors don't usually come on book tours, but Christine and I became fast friends, and she also edited Glynnis’s book, so it seemed to make sense, and it was on that book tour that we first planted the seeds of writing a novel together and I like to say that is where We Are Not Like Them really got started.
ANNE: Oh, that's so interesting. Well, I was really struck at the time, like Christine, I remember meeting you and going, wait, you're their editor? [LAUGHS] And I thought it was really significant that you were on the road with your authors.
CHRISTINE: Yeah, it was so fun too, and you’re right, it never really happens, but it was such a great confluence of events and I didn't even realize I bought Jo's books separately. I bought Glynnis’s books separately. I'd been friends with Glynnis for years. I didn't know we had that sorta had this, you know, all this overlaps, and that Jo and Glynnis went way back.
ANNE: So Jo, you are an author and have published many books at this point and you were on the road then for your ... I was going to call it a political novel. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I think it would land differently on readers' ears these days, but you were on the road for Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win. Christine you were there as her editor. Would you say a little about what you do in publishing? 'Cause you've been in the field for a long time I think.
CHRISTINE: Yes, I have. Very, very long time. So I've been an editor at Random House. I worked at Hyperion. And then most recently at Simon & Schuster, so I'm coming up on my ... Gosh, 17th, 18th year being an editor.
ANNE: Oh wow.
CHRISTINE: A long, long time. So I published lots of different books at all these different houses. Primarily a lot of women centered memoir and fiction, like Jo's book and Glynnis’s book. Now I wear two hats. I mean, Jo and I've obviously written this book together and I still do some editorial work for Simon & Schuster and other places.
ANNE: Yes! And that's why we've brought you on together today. Your joint debut, We Are Not Like Them is newly out. Was it that experience together on the road that germinated the idea for your book?
CHRISTINE: Well Jo and I worked together so well when I published her novel, and you know, when you're an editor, you get really close to your writers. You're talking all the time. You're really digging into the material, and so that just develops a bond and, you know, you bond with some authors even more than others and that was the case for Jo and I. And since we've worked so well together, 'cause we also ended up working on another book called Marriage Vacation that I published at Simon & Schuster that was tie-in to the TV show Younger, the Darren Star show, that was you know, behind the scenes in publishing. So we did a tie-in to that. Had so much fun, and so we started talking about what it would be like, you know, to do something on our own and to collaborate on another idea and sorta went from there.
ANNE: So you decided to collaborate before the actual idea for the story came?
JO: Yeah! We did. Like Christine's been in publishing for so long, which is amazing that she's been in publishing for almost two decades since she's only 27. But ... [CHRISTINE AND ANNE LAUGH] and also has been one of the very few Black women in the upper echelons of publishing, and she mentioned to me that she had just never really seen a great women's commercial fiction book that tackled interracial friendship, an interracial friendship like ours, and we dug into the stats since then and maybe that's because 75% of white people don't have a friend of another race, and so that was the early idea. Christine said I haven't seen this, and I'm like I haven't seen this either, and we're like well, we could try to write it together, and so we had that idea before we had the idea for the story.
CHRISTINE: Sadly, you know, at the time a lot of police shootings were happening, which I say that in past tense and that's not exactly accurate 'cause that's sadly a perpetual problem.
CHRISTINE: You know, that was very much on our minds, in the news, and so when we were trying to think about what could test this friendship the way it, you know, the way these things were testing real friendships in real life, that seemed like a good way into these headlines, to these tragic instances, to the feelings about these tragic occurrences, and something that, you know, we could do on the page via fiction that would take readers behind these headlines and, you know, really dig into the humanity and the consequences for all people involved, and in this case, our characters are sorta intimately involved for various reasons in this fictional police shooting.
ANNE: I mean, your poor characters. They really go through it.
JO: They really -- they really go through it. They do, and we knew pretty early on it would be a police shooting that would anchor this story. As Christine said, there were a lot of police shootings in the news, and just to give you a sense of timeframe, we sold this book I think it was about four years ago, three and a half? Right, Christine?
ANNE: Oh, wow.
JO: It was quite a long time ago, and there were a lot of police shootings in the news, but then I remember there had been a lull, and at some point someone on our team was like oh, well, maybe this won't be an issue when your book actually comes out. It doesn't seem like there's as much police shootings, and Christine and I kinda laughed privately at that comment. We all know that certainly has not been the case since then, so it was completely written prior to the murder of George Floyd and we went in and did some edits afterwards, but kept the book rooted in 2019 on the cusp of that reckoning instead of trying to constantly follow this new cycle.
ANNE: Now I've already gotten to read this, which was a pleasure if it's fair to say that about a book that's about addressing such a hard topic, yet you do it in such a compelling page turning way. We'll get to that, but how do you like to describe what it's about?
CHRISTINE: This is the story of a lifelong friendship between two women, Riley's a Black woman, and Jen who's a white woman, and they grew up together in Philadelphia and Riley has just moved back for a big job as a newsperson in Philadelphia, and the novel follows what happens when Jen's husband who's a white police officer in Philadelphia is involved in an unarmed shooting of a Black teenager. And these two characters then who have been lifelong friends of course, have to do some painful reckoning about race and the aftermath of this, and it's a subject that they realize that they haven't maybe talked about head on or have avoided some of the more painful truths and some blind spots, you know, arise and they have to get through that.
JO: We went back and forth where we should set it, and Philadelphia felt like a place that was just right for this kind of story and not just because I've lived here for so much of my life and I know how to write this city, but because police shootings and gun violence in general has been a real issue here, and so to write this book we actually, and I always put my journalist hat on. I can't help it. I was a reporter first and foremost. We interviewed so many Philadelphia police officers, police officers across the country, some who have been involved in shootings. We interviewed shooting victims. We interviewed the mothers of victims who have been murdered by gun violence and by police shootings, and we try to bring all of that into this story and onto the page to give the readers a way to talk about this difficult subject both police violence and social justice and also race through our characters so that they don't feel yelled at or preached to. We want these conversations to just feel more organic and natural. The book is so focused on this beautiful lifelong friendship, and Christine's and my joke is, you know, you come for the friendship, and you fall in love with the book for the friendship, but stay for the social justice.
ANNE: I was really struck by the authors’ letter that appeared in the advanced review copy and listeners, I wish everyone could read this, but I appreciated the way you said that in the course of working on it and having all these conversations that you could see how hungry and also scared, but hungry others are to delve into these issues and how beneficial doing so could be. I hear you saying that there's nothing like telling a good story to give people the opportunity to engage.
CHRISTINE: Absolutely. I mean, I think Jo as a writer and me now as a writer, but as a lifelong editor, I mean, we really dedicated our own lives, our careers to that mission and believing it whole hearted that literature, books, storytelling, stories, characters, are a way for people to foster empathy, learn about other people and places, understand issues in a different way. Think about their own lives in a different way, and so we really wanted our novel to be able to do that for readers, you know, just in and of themselves, they're just reading and enjoying it and hopefully find it thought provoking. But also that they can go to their friend and recommend it, and two friends can talk about it or their book clubs and really have a conversation and use this book as a catalyst for a conversation that they might not otherwise have, and so that, you know, was really our guiding light as we were writing this to give people lots to think about and talk about.
ANNE: Something I hear from readers is they shy away from books that are deemed important because they're like well, I'm not in school. This isn't homework. And that's something I especially liked about your book is it does all those things and does them really well and also it's the kinda book that would make you turn to a friend and say you know, I read this thing and I can't stop thinking about it. It's interesting for me to hear you say how you began telling the story, that you started by interviewing all these people who had experience because it does feel very much rooted in the real, and not just of the racial justice, but in the friendship. It felt like such a slice of these women's lives, like I wanted to know what was going to happen to them next.
CHRISTINE: Well, that's the highest compliment you can pay us we think.
JO: Really. It really is. [ANNE LAUGHS] Yes.
CHRISTINE: Truly. One of the things that we did strive to do, I mean, as you said, it's hard to take such a serious, somber and saddening topic, like police shootings and make it entertaining, but you know, compelling I think is a better word for it and so far as, you know, we wanted people to feel invested in these characters' lives, not just around this specific issue that's happening to them, but around all the other aspects of their lives and, you know, how meaningful this friendship is to them because friendship has always been something that's really meaningful to Jo and I, and we wanted to write a book about friendship first and foremost, and a longtime friendship 'cause we all know friendships and relationships change so much overtime as people change over time and the world changes over time, and obviously you're not the same person at five as you are at 30, and how you navigate that with somebody who's know you since then. You know, how much you're allowed to change, how much you're allowed to just, you know, be fully yourself in a relationship and a lot of that is universal and has nothing whatsoever to do with race.
ANNE: Hearing you say that you would both be equally involved in the creation of Riley and Jen, I can see how one might assume with this dual protagonist book that you divided and conquered, one protagonist per author, but that's not at all how you did it and I'm fascinated by how this might have unfolded.
JO: We get asked this a lot. How do you write with another person? Christine and I had a head start because we had our writer and editor relationship already, but then there were a lot of things we had to figure out. First and foremost, I had to introduce Christine to Google Docs. [ANNE LAUGHS]
CHRISTINE: I went to Google Docs kicking and screaming.
JO: And now she realizes it's the only way.
JO: In the very beginning and this has changed now that we're working on our second book together, but in the very beginning because Christine was such an amazing editor and I had written so many novels it was easier for me to tackle the blank page, so I would ... We worked on an outline. We knew what we wanted to do, but I would get those first words down on paper, and then Christine would go in and make them beautiful and wrestle with them and we would go back and forth and back and forth. What was really important to us was for each character to have their own voice, but then for the narrative to feel cohesive. We did not want to feel like two people wrote this book.
Also we didn't want people, which a lot of people assumed to be like oh my God, Jo is totally the white character, and Christine is totally the Black character because that's - that's just how this went down. We both wrote each of these women equally and sometimes it was hard. It was so hard in the beginning. We cried. We yelled. We almost had a friend divorce because having someone completely rip up something that you wrote, it feels mean. Even if it's not mean and we're collaborators, but just sometimes it was just heartbreaking and tough and we had to go through a lot to get to the point where we felt good and not just good, but great doing this together.
ANNE: In the best circumstances, writing can be a really personal and vulnerable process. Christine, what would you say makes your co-writing process work?
CHRISTINE: You know, as Jo said, it was a lot of trial and error at the beginning and I was petrified of the blank page. It's a lot harder it turns out [LAUGHS] than I thought. I mean I think it's like anything when you try to do something new, which is great, to try to do something new and to expand your creative horizons, but I was really coming to it having never written before, and so I think it was a lot in the beginning of Jo and I each having our different areas of expertise, and then trying to merge those different areas, right, where Jo had to edit me, and then I had to write, right? So we were bringing two different skill sets to the table that neither of us had really done before and it took us a while to settle into that rhythm, and I think we made our job harder perhaps, but in service of the book by saying that we were both going to do both voices. If we had just been more independent and said well you do your thing, and I'll do my thing [LAUGHS] that might have been easier, but it was really important to us that the book feel as Jo said cohesive voice wise, and we both had different life experiences and perspectives to bring to the table for both characters, and it was really important to us that our respective life experiences, observations, etc. appear in the book in the form of both characters.
ANNE: When you're co-writing with someone, how do you resolve things like differences of opinion? Or having someone having a really great writing week while the other is not?
CHRISTINE: Well Jo never struggles with writing, so there's that. She will churn out words like nobody's business, so she fundamentally doesn't believe in writer’s block and I can attest has never experienced it, which is a good quality to have in a writing partner. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I hear that's something that comes from the journalist background.
JO: Yeah, no, it definitely is, but I will say, like they're not always good words. They're words. [ANNE LAUGHS] And they are on the page, but they're not -- they're not always beautiful, so that's what’s nice about an editor who essentially lives in your pocket, come and make everything sound wonderful for you, but I don't believe in writer’s block. I wasn't just a journalist, but I wrote for the New York Daily News in the beginning of my career, this New York City tabloid newspaper where if I didn't churn out copy on deadline, I wouldn't just get fired, I would get berated and like abused and attacked by our like angry man editors, and I just did it. There was never a day where I just didn't write. It's very natural for me. I set a word limit for myself every day. I sit down, I get it done, I can't do anything else until I've done it, but Christine and I had to learn much like in a marriage how to talk things out. I think communication is the biggest thing because when someone shoots down your idea, your first instinct is to be very defensive.
ANNE: Christine, you've been in publishing for 17 years. You've been on this earth longer. What did you learn in the course of writing this book that really surprised you?
CHRISTINE: Wow, that's a great question. I mean I think the first thing I learned is that writing is a lot harder than I thought, and that I gave the authors [LAUGHS] that I've worked with for almost two decades for credit for. I mean, I was always respectful of the feat of creating something out of nothing and doing that with only your hard work, discipline, and imagination. I mean, I'm in awe of that, and then to sit and do it myself, I think it was ... It was surprising just how much at least initially I struggled with doing that.
I mean, the discipline of it and the ... It's just a whole different set of muscles from being an editor, and I love being an editor. I think I'm a good editor. It comes intuitively. You know, I felt like I was kinda on top of my game there both and, you know, recognizing what's a good book and idea and also helping a writer realize that vision on the page, and then to do something totally different, and also knowing that everything that happens behind-the-scenes in the publishing world and the conversations and the challenges and the struggles and what your colleagues are saying and thinking, that was a little bit surreal knowing that something I did would be kinda subject to that process and journey. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Jo, how about you? What surprised you?
JO: So many things surprised me. I always, like I said, it's easy for me to get words down on a page. It's less easy to get ideas down on a page and there are a lot of big ideas in this book dealing with a really complex topic, race, and I thought it would be a lot easier than it was for us to have these complex conversations about race and to get them onto the page, but the fact that it was so hard I think shows this book is so necessary.
ANNE: Longtime listeners, you've heard me say this a hundred times. Something I love about the reading life is that books can be a real shortcut to talk about the things that really matter in life, it gives you a way in to having the conversation, and I'm so excited for all the readers who are going to find a way in through We Are Not Like Them.
CHRISTINE: We can't wait to have that conversation ourselves with readers. That's going to be really exciting and gratifying.
JO: We're so excited to join as many book club conversations as we can and to bring together book clubs that wouldn't normally talk to each other to, we want to bring together a lot of primarily white book clubs with maybe a primarily Black book club, because book clubs do self-segrate, to talk to each other about their different reactions to this book and we think that, you know, we just, like I said, we can't wait to join in as many conversations as possible. We are so here for all of it and our enthusiasm is ... I hope you guys can feel it because we are. We're just so excited.
ANNE: Christine and Jo, something we like to do on this show when we have the privilege of hosting authors is really poke into their reading lives and see what the writers who write the books that we so enjoy reading, what they're filling up their reading tanks with, so are you ready to do this?
CHRISTINE: Love this. Yes.
JO: Ohh, so ready for this, yes.
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ANNE: Well you all know how this works. You're going to tell me three books you love, one book you don't and we will discuss what the books reveal to us. Christine, first tell me a little bit about your reading life.
CHRISTINE: Oh, it's vast and intense.
ANNE: Ooh. I like those adjectives here.
CHRISTINE: [LAUGHS] Which is a professional hazard. You know, I've always been such an avid reader, and then I started doing it for a living so I feel like I read double. I read everything I wanna read personally, and then I read a lot for work, and that includes submissions over the years and also, you know, finished books to figure out what's going on the zeitgeist, what's going on the marketplace, and so you know, I read a lot and that's why it's such an agonizing question.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Well, I love the way you summed it up on your publishing page that you're a sucker for any book that offers a distinctive point of view, sparks reflection, starts a conversation, and resonates with women.
CHRISTINE: That's it! That really defines my personal reading choices, like when I'm reading in my free time, but also what I really wanted to publish and the types of books and authors I was seeking out as an editor, so I mean, no surprise that there would be a dovetail there, right? Like you want to publish the kinds of books that you want to read and so I've been really lucky to be able to do that and which is why some of my all-time favorite books are definitely books that I've also published. As much self-interest as it would often add. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I hear you when you say self-interest, but also if you're going to publish something, then as a reader, I would want to know that you believe in it and you love it and you think it's fantastic. So I'm really happy to hear you say that actually.
CHRISTINE: Absolutely. You know one of my first bosses when I was still an assistant at Doubleday. That's where I had my first job, which is a division of Random House, and you know, he said to me you have to love a book enough that you're going to want to read this book six or seven times, and when have you ever loved a book that much? You know, that's the bar.
ANNE: When you pick up a book, what are you looking for?
CHRISTINE: I'm just really not a cover person, not a visual person, which has been interesting as, you know, on the other side of things as a professional in that, you know, we sit in these cover art meetings as editors and we look at oh my gosh, you know, tens, dozens of potential covers for a book and people, you know, have such strong feelings [LAUGHS] about them and I'm like oh, they all look beautiful to me. So I'm much more concerned, you know, what's happening inside the book and if the premise of the book itself by, you know, just skimming the flap copy, speaks to me, and I'm also very loyal to authors and, you know, if I've read one book of a writer that I loved, I will keep going with them. I mean, I think they deserve reader loyalty. I know how hard it is to build a publishing career over time and to churn out book after book after book, and so, you know, I - I am loyal to authors that I love, so that's another way I discover books by okay, Alex McDermott has written another one .I'm definitely going to read it.
ANNE: Well I hope we hear those things reflected in the books you chose today. Tell me about the books you love. What's the first one you chose?
CHRISTINE: So I went with The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan, and you know I was trying to think of books that are sorta representative, you know, things that I love but also represent the type of book I love, and I'm just a huge Kelly Corrigan fan. She's, like I just mentioned, somebody that I will read whatever book she puts out, but she writes with such emotion on the page and such, just warmth and her books and her style are so personal and this memoir was about her and her father getting cancer diagnoses at the same time, which obviously is very tough, and she has such an incredible relationship with her father who’s just such a larger than life character on the page and I can relate. I ... Everybody who knows me knows that I'm obsessed with my father. He is the best and it's just a book that has high stakes, obviously, with this serious health diagnosis but also is just about family and how we deal with the inevitable, you know, curveballs that life is going to throw at us and her writing is just very life affirming.
ANNE: So that's The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. I was thinking as you spoke about what you love that we see so much female friendship in her most recent book Tell Me More. I've been feeling like it's about time for another Kelly Corrigan book. I just want to put that out there, Kelly Corrigan, please, please? [CHRISTINE LAUGHS] Christine, tell me about the second book you love.
CHRISTINE: Well it's funny 'cause we've been talking a lot about friendship in this podcast, and one of my all time favorite books about friendship is Let's Take a Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell and it's a book about her longtime friendship with Caroline Napp. I think I'm saying that right, or Caroline Knapp, who sadly died before this book came out, but it's a celebration of just female friendship and the unique idiosyncrasies of their relationship, and we see so many books about marriages, obviously, and love affairs and I love those too, but it feels really important to have books where female friendship is a primary relationship. It's completely centered and given its due in terms of the importance in a lot of women's lives and so I think it's one of the few books that wholly and completely, you know, are just about this relationship as a cornerstone of her life. She's a beautiful, beautiful writer. She's written other memoirs too, but this is my favorite of hers.
ANNE: Yes, it is lovely, and it is also so sad.
CHRISTINE: So sad. But I love a book that's sad actually. I mean, a book that makes me cry, it really, that somebody could write something that involves such a strong, emotional reaction either laughter or tears, right to get somebody to do that from just words on a page, I think it's such a magical thing to happen, and I want to spend my time experiencing emotion, being touched and moved, and so I'm really drawn to books that do that, and this certainly was the case for Gail's book.
ANNE: I mean, that's what we want to know, books that move you, happy or sad. Laughter or grief. That was Let's Take The Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell. And Christine, what did you choose to complete your favorites list?
CHRISTINE: So my last book, and again this was agonizing. [ANNE LAUGHS] But Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and this is another one I chose for ... I mean, it's a stunning book in and of itself, but it also has this representative quality for me and that I like books that take a really big important topic, in this case Bryan is tackling the criminal justice system and the death penalty and the racial disparities in it but through really intimate lens, right? The people and the characters that he's interviewed and gotten to know over the years in his work with the Equal Justice Initiative. And it's just a really, really moving book, and one of those books where you can learn a lot about an issue in some ways that very angering, like that you're also inspired by human resilience and Bryan's efforts, I mean, his commitment, his lifelong commitment to this issue that the number of people he's helped, and then found the time also to write a beautiful book about it, which I don't even know how that happened, but more power to him and thank God he did because, you know, so many readers have been touched by this book, and I've had a pleasure of meeting Bryan, and he's lovely, lovely, lovely. You know, I think books like this are important to really put a human face and really compelling personal stories behind issues that people care about potentially but feel obstruct.
ANNE: Readers, that was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. Christine, those were all nonfiction. Coincidence or no?
CHRISTINE: Oh, that's so interesting. You know, I didn't even realize that was the case when I was choosing. That was totally accidental because I would say that I'm 50/50 between fiction and nonfiction, both professionally in terms of what I published, and also personally, so that is a very interesting pattern that [LAUGHS] I, you know, subconsciously came to be.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] It could be as simple as we're talking on a Tuesday and if I asked you on a Wednesday, it'll be a whole different list. Jo, now we get to hear from you.
JO: Obviously writing books is a huge part of my job and yet I only allow myself to read books before bed as if it were a hobby, which just feels crazy. It just feels as if I'm getting away with something if I do it during my work day, or when I feel like I should be mothering, and I wish that I could build more reading time into my daytime life because if I'm into a book, I will stay up all night reading it, and I'm on a one book a week kick, so my sleep is really suffering right now, so I need to build in more time to read.
Christine's description of the kinds of books that she likes to read and also to publish, I mean, that just fits me spot on, and that's a reason that our minds work so well together. That is exactly what I enjoy, both reading and writing, and I actually just read a book that I'm not going to name it because I also don't believe in trashing books or trashing authors. I think we should only be elevating things we love, but I felt nothing on the page. It was so flat for me that I put the book down, fast forwarded to the end, and this was a very popular book to find out what happened and I still felt nothing and that is a rare occurrence for me, so highly developed characters where I'm really invested and either feeling happy or sad or crying or screaming, that is what I like to read, and I also like really well-developed female protagonists that show us something that we don't normally see on the page.
I think we went through so long where women in books were very much like stock characters, especially in commercial women's fiction, and I'm a very big commercial writer. I don't - I don't read a ton of literary stuff. I like the fine line between commercial and literary, which is also where I think We Are Not Like Them ends up, so I want a female protagonist who is going to surprise me, who I haven't seen before.
ANNE: Christine, is this a dilemma you’ve heard Jo wax on before about how she doesn't let herself read during the day? She only lets herself [LAUGHS] destroy her sleep at night?
CHRISTINE: Jo is the most hardworking, productive person I know. I mean she fits a lot in with her amazing podcast and she has two children [LAUGHS] and a husband and does freelance writing for, you know, magazines and newspapers, and we write books together. The fact that she finds time to read at all [LAUGHS] blows my mind. [ANNE LAUGHS]
And yet she reads just as much as I do, and I feel like I read a ton. I don't know. There's something nice, I think, about carving out your reading time and having it be a little bit ritualistic, right? I mean sleep aside, it is nice to say that before bed, you know, I'm going to read for an hour and if that's ... You know, the same way you might do a Peloton class or yoga around the same time, or you know, have a ritual to do it. So she's managed to fit this all in, so I feel like as much as she laments not being able to read more during the day, what she's doing now, she's working, except for the insomnia. [LAUGHS]
JO: Except for the fact that I'm on my [SINGS] third cup of coffee right now. [CHRISTINE LAUGHS]
ANNE: Jo, tell me about the books that keep you up at night. What did you choose today for your favorites?
JO: Like Christine, my favorites constantly change. It can change day by day, but right now, I really loved Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. I loved it because the protagonist was both hilarious and heartbreaking, and Meg's descriptions of lifelong mental illness and anxiety and depression were spot on in a way that I had never experienced before as someone who has dealt with anxiety, both before and after having my kids, that it was so wonderful to see that expressed on the page in a way that wasn't trite and didn't make our character feel like the stock anxious character, the stock depressed character.
I think that affects so many more of us than we're willing to talk about in small and big ways, and the character was so relatable and you wanted to be best friends with her. I've read a lot of other books about depression and anxiety where you don't really, you don't like the main character, but I loved this woman and I fell in love with her and it wasn't just the thread of the depression anxiety but also talked about fertility and how that can affect a marriage and your friendships and really your entire life, and of course this touched me in a very specific way because I'm a 40 year old woman with two small children who has been married for six years, but I also have to say that no matter where you are in your life, I think that Meg Mason's writing is just so beautiful that anyone could enjoy this book.
ANNE: This is a book about a very hard topic and it's so funny. Like her inner narration is just hysterical. Something else I really loved about this book is the strong friendship between the two sisters at its heart, like when the sister, I can't remember her name, but when she walked onto the page like it was time for hijinks.
JO: Yes. I loved the relationship between the two sisters for the same reason that Christine said earlier. We see so many marriages and romantic relationships on the page, but it is much rarer to see a beautiful close friendship and also to make me feel that friendship. This is something that Christine and I talked about so much writing We Are Not Like Them, you have to feel that these women love each other and how do you do that with words? And I feel like Meg Mason did that so beautifully in the friendship between the two sisters in Sorrow and Bliss that I hope that we accomplished a small fraction of what she did in our friendship in We Are Not Like Them.
ANNE: Jo, that was Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. Tell us about another book you love.
JO: So many people loved this next book Paper Palace by Miranada Cowley Heller.
ANNE: Oh yeah.
JO: So many people. It's a bestseller for a reason. Again the writing is so wonderful, right? But it was such a sexy like sexy, sexy romance that featured a woman who was 50 years old. Miranda doesn't make a huge deal of being like this is a woman who's 50, but we so rarely see female characters on the page who are of a certain age who get to really explore and enjoy and embrace their sexuality in a beautiful, fictional story. She also writes so poignantly and beautifully about violence against women, which we also do not see enough in fiction, which is so sadly a reality for so many women, and she weaves those two threads, both of those things, into such a compelling and readable and page turning story. This is one of those books that kept me up all night. I read it in two nights. You can tell that she has been working with HBO for so long because this just unfolded like a tele- ... a very, very good television series in my mind.
ANNE: So that is The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller. And Jo, what did you choose to complete your favorites list?
JO: As much as I want to cry with a book, I also want to laugh and I just want to feel joy because there are so little things that bring us actual joy in the world. This one is It Had To Be You by Georgia Clark. Georgia is such an incredible writer of romance and romantic comedies, and I actually interviewed her and her wife Lindsay for my committed podcast after I read this book because I love this book so much and I was curious what it was like to be married to a romance writer and it turns out that Lindsay had been instrumental in launching Esther Perel's brand about marriage and sex therapy, and I was like oh my God, what's it like to have ...
ANNE: [LAUGHS] That's a lot in one household.
JO: Esther Perel on speed dial throughout your relationship? And so that episode was great. It made me love Georgia even more. It Had To Be You for me, it was very similar to Love Actually. It's a bunch of different stories woven together and I rewatched Love Actually, which used to be one of my favorite romantic comedies recently and was struck by just how mostly white and heteronormative every single couple was and Georgia is so good at bringing in diverse and underrepresented voices throughout race and gender and sexuality and also age.
Again, this is something that matters to me now as a woman approaching a certain age. Her main protagonist was also a woman who was pushing 50 years old, and I don't think that is something we saw in romantic comedies ten years ago and in fact when I was writing my novels The Knockoff and Fitness Junkie, which were not romances but commercial women's fiction, satires, we were told don't make your protagonist too old, like you essentially want Kate Hudson to be able to play whoever you put in your book. [ANNE LAUGHS]
Georgia's book is so funny and sweet and makes you believe in love again in so many delightful ways, but then also has protagonist that we just do not see enough in romances, so that's why I loved it, why I reached out to her, why I'm like let's go get drinks together and be best friends. [ANNE LAUGHS] And she doesn't think that I'm a weirdo stalker so yeah, I love that book. It was just very ... It brought a lot of joy during a dark, weird time in our world.
ANNE: That was It Had To Be You by Georgia Clark. Now, Jo and Christine, we're going to hear about a book that didn't work out for you. Christine, what did you choose?
CHRISTINE: Well, this is also an agonizing question [LAUGHS] I have to say because, you know, working in the industry you just see how hard writers and editors and the whole team, you know, works to get a book from blank page to store shelves, and so to not like a book makes me feel very, very guilty. With that caveat, I will say that a book that everybody seemed to love and got all kinds of awards is Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and I was actually a huge fan of The Secret History, which I'm not sure if that was her first or second book. I think second. But so I'm eager, as I mentioned before you know, I love to be loyal to an author, so I was very eager to read this and then it just didn't speak to me. I just couldn't to emotionally invest on the page. I just didn't get that traction even as I objectively could see what she accomplished and why it became a critical darling and so far, but for me it didn't hit emotionally in the way that has to happen for me to keep reading a book, especially a book that long.
ANNE: And Jo, what about you?
JO: Catch-22. So many people love this book and laud it as a classic and something that you had to read, and because of that, I've picked it up five or six times and never been able to ... I mean, it's not even like I read half of it, like I can't get through the first couple of chapters. [ANNE LAUGHS] I would, and as I was thinking about this answer for you, it's very interesting for me because I really have shied away from male authors generally and from classic male authors and I did try to reread some Philip Roth and some John Updike. Again, they don't do it for me. I don't feel the emotions that I want to feel. So many of the characters feel flat, particularly their women characters. I have a hard time reading a certain genre of male author because I’m like you have limited reading time, girl. I know what I like. I don't pick them up anymore. I don't even force myself to do a DNF. I just DNS - do not start.
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ANNE: Alright, Christine and Jo. Christine, you love The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan, Let's Take The Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. You say it's just a coincidence that those happen to all be nonfiction today, but that is a genre that you really like for reasons that you share with Jo, and we'll get into that. The Goldfinch was not right for you. And Jo, you loved three novels: Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, The Paper Palace by Miranada Cowley Heller, and It Had To Be You by Georgia Clark. Not for you is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. And the thing you all said over and over and over again, both of you, is that you want books that move you, that make you feel something. if they provoke a strong reaction, or touch on human resilience, Christine, those are things you specifically said. Jo, you want to see something unique and you really want to see highly developed characters, especially highly developed female characters.
Now thinking about your second book and We Are Not Like Them, I was wondering about Rumaan Alam, especially That Kind of Mother. Rich and Pretty depicts a lifelong friendship. I think those can be promising reads for you, but we're going to lean in to the women today. And what I hope to do is put books in front of you that I think you all could read and enjoy and talk about together. You're accustomed to digging into hard things but they'll be a way in for many people to talk about stuff that you might not necessarily just say hey. [LAUGHS] This is on my mind and it's kinda really serious. But also that readers who are drawn to a book like We Are Not Like Them would also find a lot of the same qualities to recommend it, books that make you feel something, book that have highly developed characters, and books that are not the same kind of thing that you've seen in publishing for years and years and years.
The first book I have in mind for you is a memoir. It's Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad. Knowing what you all do, surely this is a book that you'll at least know about.
CHRISTINE: I'm obsessed with this book. So that was ...
ANNE: Have you read this book?
CHRISTINE: Oh, yes. I loooved it so, so, so, so much. In fact, it was as I was trying to narrow down my list of favorites, it was that and Somebody's Daughter which I've been talking to Jo about all the time how she words memoir, that kinda thing ...
ANNE: [SIGHS] Speaking of good books that are really hard.
CHRISTINE: Ah, so good. But I read both those books interestingly enough back to back earlier this summer, one right after the other, and it's interesting now that they are actually really good friends, the two of them. They met through writing circles, but it's .... You're so dead on in that it hits everything I want in a book, which is a really strong emotional response in that she overcame so much and her prose is just stunning. I mean, she's such a great writer. So Jo, now you have to read it so that we can discuss. [ANNE LAUGHS]
JO: Wow, I feel bad. I actually had not heard of this book.
ANNE: Don't feel bad! This is what we're here for.
JO: I just hit order so that I can have it literally tomorrow so we can talk about it tomorrow, Christine, 'cause I can't get enough of ya.
CHRISTINE: I love it!
ANNE: Now if ever you're gonna make an appointment for a little bit of lunchtime reading, this does feel like it could be a professional obligation, a sandwich, a salad or whatever you eat, fifteen minute timer, I think maybe this could be a little experiment.
JO: Mmhmm. I also love that you told me that because it feels like someone else's giving me permission.
ANNE: For listeners who have not yet picked up this book, this is a memoir of a young woman who was 22 when she discovered that that slight itch she says in the very beginning it began with an itch, and an itch doesn't seem all that scary, but over time her symptoms progress and she receives a diagnosis for a particularly scary kind of leukemia which moves her from the Kingdom of the Well into the Kingdom of the Sick, and the way she writes about that in this memoir is really beautiful, but the subtitle of this book is “a memoir of a life interrupted” and this is a really a chronicle of her absolutely grueling treatments, her relationships and how they were affected, the new friendships. You know, it hadn't occurred to me, Christine, how much friendship is in this book.
But the friendship she forms with her fellow patients and then the book takes a turn that'll be familiar to those who read her column and know more about the story, but she recovers enough to go on a road trip to visit all the people who wrote her to share their stories while she was in treatment. She had a column for The New York Times. It was a series called Life Interrupted and I tend to shy away from cancer books. Christine, I did note that you loved two of them. I really appreciated this and the way she articulated experiences and ways of seeing the world that I - I was really grateful for the words for. So that is Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad. There's a memoir for you.
The next book is a comparison. I imagine that we will hear many, many times in the months to come as We Are Not Like Them makes its way into the world, I want to put An American Marriage by Tayari Jones out there. Christine, you specifically said that you love books that take a big important topic and really bring it home, and I think that's something this book does so well. So this is about a young married couple, Roy and Celestial. Roy and Celestial are Black Atlantans. They're young, they're middle class, they're in love. Roy says that they're on the come up. And this is an Atlanta story. Tayari Jones sets many of her novels in Atlanta. This is one of them. But they’ve barely been married over a year when Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
But what this book does is it takes this big abstract issue but it makes it personal in the lives of these two characters. Something I especially appreciated is that Roy obviously needs his wife. He says that he needs her behind him if he is to survive, but while she didn’t, she wasn't accused of committing a crime, she also suffers greatly and so something that Jones really grapples with is if everyone is innocent, where does the fault lie? And who bears the responsibility? And in this book it's no coincidence that Roy is arrested and tried and imprisoned in Louisiana, which at the time of writing was the state with the highest per capita rate of incarceration, and the ratio of Black prisoners to white was four to one, so that is definitely an important background to this book. And Jones has spoken at length in interviews about how she wanted to write a book where things happen to people that matter, you know, that are relevant, but if you start with an issue and you try to like paper up a story to make it seem alive, then that's not a book that you're gonna want to read and it wasn't one she was interested in writing, so I thought that was really interesting.
But for a different kind of relationship, she wrote a shorter novel. It's called Half Light. It's also very short on audible. Christine, I hear that you have not really found audiobooks to work with you. This one is barely an hour and a half. It's narrated by Bahni Turpin who is among the best in the business, and it's a story of two sisters. And you said something about how you enjoy stories where you see how people change and evolve as you should but sometimes it really surprises people, and this is a story that portrays many changing relationships between husband and wife, between mother and daughter, and especially between two sisters, the identical twins at the heart of the story.
Either of those Tayari Jones books, I hope would be good picks for you all. I wouldn't be surprised if you've read Jones. I do think she's one of our greatest living writers, but also for those who love We Are Not Like Them and want to pick up a similar book or vice versa.
CHRISTINE: Oh, I love that. I mean, I'm a huge Tayari Jones fan, but I hadn't listened to the audiobook that you mentioned and I'm going to do that. It sounds really fascinating, so I can't wait to read it.
ANNE: A phrase we use at Modern Mrs Darcy is seasoned female protagonist. We want women who are older than 27 and preferably older than 40 or 50. Women don't just want to read about 20-somethings. They want to read about protagonists about them, and that means having characters who are older. So we're going to go with the new Elizabeth McCracken short story collection The Souvenir Museum. Have either of you read this?
JO AND CHRISTINE TOGETHER: No, no.
CHRISTINE: But I’m a huge Elizabeth McCracken fan, so this is great.
ANNE: Okay. I'm glad to hear that. It might not be an obvious comparison to We Are Not Like Them, but here's what I love about it. It's a book that makes you feel something and a short story collection, they're able to present a host of characters that somehow manage to feel highly developed, even though they're not on the page for that long, and Jo, you want to see something unique [LAUGHS] and I feel like so many times in this collection you move to the next paragraph and you go what just happened?
So this boyfriend and girlfriend, we meet in story one, Jack and Sadie, they reoccur in several of the stories throughout this book, so that does provide a spine to it and you do get to come back to characters, but you do it at very different points in their life. What I really like about this book for you is it feels intimate and you feel like you're coming alongside their life and watching them experience something big, even if that big something is in the past tense, like something horrible or something wonderful and you're seeing how it affects them at the coffee shop on a Thursday morning. It's so, so funny. And yet devastating but on alternate pages.
The way she's able to draw these characters so succinctly and so powerfully I think there's a lot here for you all to enjoy here. I should say I was a little taken aback by some of the difficult content. There's definitely grief, but if you consciously avoid reading about suicide or depression, death of a child, there is a lot of all three of those things in here so do a little bit of research for content if there's certain things that you're on the lookout to not read at this point in your life, but I think there's a lot to recommend to you all here. That's The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken.
CHRISTINE: Oh my gosh, it sounds so great. I mean I really like speaking of her devastating past books, she wrote that book An Exact Replica of the Figment of My Imagination.
ANNE: Oh, I keep thinking I'm going to read that. I haven't yet.
CHRISTINE: Oh, it's brutal. I mean, it's about her stillborn child and so wow, and yeah, it's devastatingly gorgeous and to your caveat, it's probably not for everyone. I mean, I could see it being triggering and very sad for some people, but just the way she's able to conjure, you know, sorta grief and resilience on the page is amazing, and so I'm really, really excited by this recommendation because I haven't ... It wasn't ... I mean, it was on my radar that I've read, you know, a couple of reviews for it, but it wasn't on my oh my gosh, I need to get this immediately list and based on this and your persuasive description, I'm going to get it immediately. I'm really excited, so thank you.
ANNE: I can't wait to hear what you think.
JO: Also just ordered it. Done. [CHRISTINE AND ANNE LAUGH]
ANNE: So efficient!
JO: It's in the air as we speak.
CHRISTINE: Oh, it's so funny 'cause Jo and I do overlap a lot in terms of what we read and what we like to read, but we're often reading different books. It would be fun, I think, to read something at the same time and then talk about it, right? [JO AGREES] When it's both fresh in our heads? Sometimes I'll read something and then six months later she'll read it and vice versa, which then I can't remember a single thing about the book, so I'm really excited, you know, to talk about other people's work with you, Jo, and not just our own work together. [LAUGHS] What a refreshing change of pace to be able to talk about something other than ourselves and what we're working on.
ANNE: Maybe a fun little perspective shift could be a break before you dive back into the second book. Christine and Jo, it was a delight to talk with you all today. I wish you all the success in the world for We Are Not Like Them and before we go, I have to know, so of the books we talked about today, what do you think you'll read next? We talked about Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad, we talked about An American Marriage and Half Light by Tayari Jones, and then The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken.
CHRISTINE: I'm going with Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken which I'm going to start immediately, and I'm going to make Jo do that too, so we can read it. [ANNE AND JOLAUGH] She doesn't have a choice. That's what we are reading next. [LAUGHS]
JO: Yes. We. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Yes, and I hope she's reading it at lunch time.
JO: In our book club of two, we are reading The Souvenir Museum and I also just ordered Between Two Kingdoms and I'm going to listen to the Tayari Jones.
ANNE: Well you are all loaded up.
JO: Great, I'm set.
ANNE: Well it's my pleasure. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking books with you today.
CHRISTINE: Oh my gosh, we loved being here and chatting with you. This was really amazing.
JO: I loved it.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Christine and Jo, and I’d love to hear what YOU think they should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/302 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
Connect further with today’s guests on Instagram to follow along with what they read next! Find Christine @cpride and Jo @Jopiazzaauthor. That's Jo, P-I-A-Z-Z-A, author. And check out their new book We Are Not Like Them, now available wherever new books are sold.
Connect with me on Instagram @annebogel and @whatshouldireadnext. That is Anne with an E, Bas in books -O-G-E-L. I’d love to see what’s next on your TBR!
Don't worry about missing out on What Should I Read Next news the next time Facebook goes down. Our newsletter subscribers are the first to know. I’d love to add you to our list. You can subscribe now by visiting whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter to get that free weekly delivery.
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Please make sure you’re subscribed in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast and more. You don’t want to miss next week’s episode, where I’m helping my once-scaredy-cat guest get smart about wading into scary book territory. It’s a lot of fun. We’ll see you next week!
Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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•Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza
•No One Tells You This by Glynnis MacNicol
•We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza
•Marriage Vacation by Pauline Brooks
❤The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
•Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan
❤Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
❤Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
❤Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
❤The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
❤It Had to Be You by Georgia Clark
•The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
•Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
△The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
•The Secret History by Donna Tartt
△Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
•That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
•Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam
•Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad
•Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
•An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
•Halflight by Tayari Jones
•The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken
•An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
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