WSIRN Ep 306: You don’t read in a vacuum

WSIRN Ep 306: You don’t read in a vacuum

One of the common delights of the reading life is the chance to step into another perspective and experience someone else’s story, and today’s guest particularly appreciates the way reading can forge connections and show us how much we all have in common.

Corinne Miller grew up in the American west and devoured her local library’s stacks as a child. Today, she’s still a passionate reader and a confirmed introvert. Corinne works in the healthcare field, so she’s been in the thick of it these past few years. When she started to notice how the stress of her work was impacting her reading life, she decided to focus on small servings of delight via reading poetry collections.

In her poetry reading of late, Corinne’s found inspiration, energy, and encouragement to keep going. Join me and Corinne in today’s discussion of the collections she’s found particularly redemptive and her appreciation for poems that make her feel things. I’ll give her my best suggestions for books and poetry collections that might just break her heart—before putting it back together again.

Tune in to What Should I Read Next? on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast app—or scroll down to press play and listen right in your web browser.


What Should I Read Next #306: You don't read in a vacuum, with Corinne Miller

CORINNE: Sometimes I just scroll through and be like I don't know, I'm not sure where I want to go at this point. It's like Netflix. You can't find what you want and you just end up scrolling forever never watching anything. [BOTH LAUGH]

[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 306.

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, between our annual gifting episode (that was 304, if you missed it), our 2021 gift guides for readers and for bookish kids, and recent blog posts, we love helping you find the perfect book-related gifts for your loved ones—and we’ve got one more suggestion for you that we think is pretty great.

Membership in the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club is a perfect gift for readers who want to deepen their reading experience and connect with other readers. Each month, we come together to read a selected book and then we talk about it with the author. We also suggest one or two optional paired books, our flight picks, to enhance your reading experience, and you know how much we believe in book flights around here!

But that’s not all - with your membership, you also unlock those LIVE author chats, classes to help you examine and enhance your reading life, and a robust online discussion community. We think of Book Club like a buffet: Take as much or little as you please, and enjoy all our events on your schedule, because videos of those events are always available to watch for those who don’t join us live.

If you’re interested in the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club as a gift for someone in your life - or for yourself! - we offer monthly, quarterly, or annual memberships. We also think it’s a perfect pairing if you’re gifting e-books or audiobooks this season, and want to make that gift a little extra-special. Learn more at modernmrsdarcy.com/club!

That's modernmrsdarcy.com/club.

One of the things today’s guest enjoys most about reading is the way the words on the page invite her to step into someone else’s story, whether it’s fictional or based on real life events. A confirmed introvert, which we talk about, Corinne Miller is also a lifelong bibliophile who savors the universal experience of being a reader.

Like so many of us, Corinne has struggled with the unique challenges of the past few years, but as a healthcare professional, her experience has been especially acute. When she felt drained of energy and perpetually distracted, Corinne turned to an unexpected place to find small bites of inspiration and good feelings that lasted even after she closed her book.

Today Corinne and I chat about her love of visceral reads that sometimes feel dark and gritty but end on a redemptive note, our shared appreciation for an artful structure on the page, and why she’s always felt inspired by stories of found families. Listen in as I suggest some books and poetry collections I hope feel just right for Corinne, and give her a little more of that keep-going energy she’s looking for in her reading life right now.

Let’s get to it.

Corinne, welcome to the show.

[00:03:22]

CORINNE: Hi Anne. Thank you for having me.

ANNE: Oh, I'm so excited to talk books today. Finally!

CORINNE: I had to tell you. My partner and Brenna both had to convince me that I could do this, so.

ANNE: Why did you think you couldn't?

[00:03:33]

CORINNE: Oh, I'm very introverted and also don't love talking, but they both said well, I love talking about books, and some of my best friends, they said I love talking about books, so I should be okay. If I can talk about books.

ANNE: As a fellow introvert, I find the research really interesting that says of course introverts can talk! They just need to talk about something they're passionate about.

CORINNE: That's true. That's true. And I guess I am passionate about books. I think I read more than anybody I know in my real life.

ANNE: Tell me more about that.

CORINNE: I've always been a reader. I grew up in Montana, so a small rural town, and I could ride my bike to the library. I don't remember when I got my library card, so I think it must have been pretty early. I don’t have a ... I have a memory of signing it, like practicing my signature so I could sign the back of my library card, but I don't remember like how old I was when I first went to the library or picked out a book. But I know that I checked out as many books as I could, if not more. I think they maybe let the limit slide for me. I would just basically take as many as I could carry or fit in my backpack, you know, like all the way down to my waist. I'd put my chin over top of them. [ANNE LAUGHS] So growing up in rural Montana, small library was a great library, but you know, all the typical child of 80s books, you know, Baby-Sitters Club, Nancy Drew, Backstreet Twins, Hardy Boys.

ANNE: At what point did you realize that reading occupied a different kind of space in your life than it did in the people around you?

CORINNE: Maybe seven or eight. I have a younger brother. He's two years younger than me, and I remember being so excited for when he could learn to read, so we could read together, like talk about books or read books all the time. He was probably ... He's my best friend, or was my best friend growing up, and realizing he didn't like to read as much as I did, or like he could read, and that was great, but he would much rather be doing other things. He was also very extroverted and very social and loves to be among friends, which wasn't always my MO, so I think that was probably the first time, so I was probably seven or eight when I figured that out.

My mom was a family physician, so she often was reading journals, or you know, evidence practice for work, and now that she's retired, she definitely reads a lot more fiction and other things for fun, and then my dad was always a reader and I read a lot of things that I think weren't typical of a kid, and I love that they didn't limit anything I could read, like they never said no, you can't read this, or that's not okay, and so I read a lot of things like very young, like grade school, a ton of Tom Clancy, you know, The Cardinal of the Kremlin, or The Hunt for Red October, John Grisham, all of those when they came out, and then also my dad ... I think my dad read Lonesome Dove, so I think I read Lonesome Dove when I was 10, and then we watched the miniseries together.

And then we would go on road trips a lot, you know, Montana's a big state. There's a lot of land, and then you know, visit family in the midwest, and I remember driving through like North Dakota, South Dakota and stop at drugstores or truck stops and I would pick up just those trade paperbacks, and I was obsessed one summer with Louis L’amour, so I read a ton of westerns. [BOTH LAUGH] At probably like 11 or 12, I mean, tons and tons of them. So I guess I'm thankful that my parents didn't limit what we read, and also I have one very vivid memory of my dad, I was probably I think was 11 or 12, because Anne Frank, when she wrote her memoir was it, was she 12? With her journals? That I was close to her age, and my dad read that aloud to my brother and I when we were kids, so I have a very vivid memory of sitting in our kitchen. I had this big overstuffed chair in our kitchen, my dad reading us The Diary of Anne Frank. I always felt like reading was a big part of our life.

[00:06:43]

ANNE: No, that sounds delightful.

CORINNE: It was lovely. Our kitchen was lovely. Like big, big open windows in the woods with kinda an island and then a big overstuffed chair. Our kitchen's always had a big overstuffed chair in it next to the dining table, so we would all ... That's like where everybody hung out. We never hung out in the living room. We always hung out in the kitchen.

ANNE: And how does reading fit into your life these days?

CORINNE: It's my main pastime. It's like everything. I read every day, multiple hours a day that I fit in little chunks all the time. It's therapy and a companion and my favorite leisure activity and/or learning activity. It's a huge part of my life.

ANNE: So Corinne, you're a self-described introvert, but I'm very interested in the ways that reading has connected you with other readers because I know that is part of your story. Especially these past few years.

CORINNE: In most things I have to choose to go be social, like consciously choose to go be social, and know that it'll be good for me that I need to go do that. One of the things about books in general is that I feel like that opens my eyes, so even though I'm not very ... I'm not as social, I feel like it helps me be a more empathetic person and be able to see, or be a part of other people's stories, whether that's true stories or fictional stories. It helps me understand while there's a huge range of humanity and experiences

[00:07:55]

ANNE: Yeah.

CORINNE: A lot of those emotions are so universal. That is something that I appreciate about reading, having that connection with other people.

ANNE: So, Corinne, you liked to connect with other people over books and I know from your submission that you're part of a unique book club, or unbook club? What is an unbook club?

CORINNE: I said that was one of my favorite book clubs I've ever been a part of, and I've been a part of several over the years, and I think one of the things I have a hard time with is I'm a mood reader, so I don't always love to be told what to read, and so sometimes if I'm part of a book club, I read so much that often times the books they pick, I have already read or read at another point, and so I just will reskim it and then can go talk about it. One of the fun things when I lived in Colorado for a while, which is where I went to nursing school, one of the things that I loved about that book club was a very diverse group of people. We had all worked at a job like doing trail work and construction and restoration things, but we worked, did use core team, so we had teams of kids that were with us, 15 to 17 years old, which was one of my favorite jobs I've ever done.

In the summers, we would have the unbook club book club, and the only rule was you just had to bring a book or two to swap and then just come talk about the books that you were reading and whether that was a book or a magazine or anything like that, so there was no pressure, that anyone felt like they had to read a certain book, or like go to the book club and be like well I didn't read that book, or you talk about it for 30 seconds, and I felt like it was one of the only book clubs I have ever been a part of where we actually talked about books and it was so fun. And then book was, the group was pretty big, I think 25 people, and I'm not sure that many people always came, but it was big enough that you could always find someone that had read something that you had read and/or wanted to talk about a book that you brought with you or swap books with people and so it was just so fun. It was one of the only books club I've ever been a part of where we actually talked about books like the whole time. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: Oh, that sounds like so much fun. What's a great recommendation you got from your unbook club book club?

[00:09:49]

CORINNE: One of my very favorites, all-time favorites, Anil’s Ghost.

ANNE: Oh, I've not read this.

CORINNE: It's by ... I never say his name right. Michael Ondaatje that wrote The English Patient ...

ANNE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

CORINNE: Yeah, he's one of my very favorite authors. I think I read almost everything of his. It's about a forensic anthropologist, so it's a little dark.

ANNE: That's what Anil’s Ghost is about? I didn't know that.

CORINNE: Uh huh. It's so good. I should reread it. It's been a long time.

ANNE: Corinne, I'm really excited to hear more about your reading life 'cause I've gotten just a little glimpse in your submission that you've filled in at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/guest and I'm really looking forward to unpacking it, and I think we want to get there by talking about your favorite books.

CORINNE: Sounds good.

ANNE: Are you ready?

CORINNE: I'm ready.

ANNE: Well, you know how this works. You're going to tell me three books you loved, one book you didn't, and what you've been reading lately, and then we will talk about what you may enjoy reading next. How did you choose these favorites?

CORINNE: So first of all, you know we discovered this morning, I had filled out this form a few times, and every time I do a different version.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] Yes because you told me you're an Enneagram Type One and you like to fill out forms.

CORINNE: So I filled it out a few times, whether my three favorite books of all time, or my three favorite books that have the lowest rating on goodreads or ...

[00:10:59]

ANNE: Hold on, hold on. I want you to tell me more about that. Because when you say that you like the idea of choosing favorites that have the lowest ratings on Goodreads ...

CORINNE: Yeah.

ANNE: I think about how much I love to find those books that aren't right for you as a reader, unless they are really right for you as a reader, you know it's got that like ...

CORINNE: Yes!

ANNE: Super personalized hidden gem feeling. And it also makes me think of the year Will and I went to our family member's wishlists and we chose the books that had been on their TBR list the longest and gave them those. So tell me more about that philosophy.

CORINNE: I think it was just a whim and you always say when you're filling out the form, you know, different things, and I did my three favorites and I didn't hear back, which is fine because I wasn't convinced I could do this anyways, so.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] We knew you could do this, though.

CORINNE: I know, thank you.

ANNE: Readers, you can do this! You can talk about books that you love, really.

CORINNE: Thank you for the encouragement. So it was more like a lesson or just a brain exercise to say what's different ways that I could fill this out that would be interesting and fun, even if it just amuses me and no one ever sees it?

ANNE: For the three favorites we're discussing today, how did you choose these?

CORINNE: This time I went with poetry, which I mean, I've always loved poetry. I would not say that I am well read in poetry. I didn't like poetry that I had to read as a kid or in school because I felt like it was all old white dudes and not that interesting to me. Sometimes I appreciated the poetry that was more about the outdoors or the natural world. I could identify more with that and I always loved Emily Dickinson poetry, but I didn't read poetry collections per se until this last year and a half, or two years. I work in healthcare and being part of the pandemic and working in a hospital has been really awful and hard to manage in a lot of ways, and so I feel like poetry helped me cope.

It was also ... There's short pieces usually so it's easier to digest when my attention span is not the greatest when there's so many other things going on in my brain, and I also, it helped me when we were talking about earlier just about reading, it helped me remember that as people, we're all connected, or remind myself why I'm doing what I'm doing when I'm upset about something or frustrated. I feel like in that way, the poetry has saved me, helped me stay sane and helped me stave off burnout or not that I haven't had some burnout in the last year or and a half, but it has just helped me keep going.

[00:13:26]

ANNE: Did you say that you were coming off a night shift as we're talking right now?

CORINNE: I am [LAUGHS] coming off a night shift. I've been in healthcare for about 15 years.

ANNE: You are a healthcare worker in the midst of a pandemic that has been going on for some time, but back in the early days, when you were looking around for something that would help you keep going, what made you think, and I'm going to pick up that poetry collection? Like that is what's going to help me do it?

CORINNE: I think that some people were posting on Instagram, you know, we were so isolated, first, you know we had to stay home. I was still going to work but otherwise we were very isolated and staying at home. I felt like people were posting on Instagram and people started posting more poetry. I don't know if that was just a thing that happened, or if it percolated in the world, and then I had a couple collections at home and then our library shut down for, I don't know, four months or something I think. Completely. Our library shut down. We had to keep the books we had. We couldn't take them back because we were kinda the epicenter. I live in western Washington now, so we were the epicenter of the pandemic of where it started, the original cases were in Seattle in the United States. Our library completely shut down. We didn't have access to any of it until, I don't know, maybe the summer of 2020 where they started doing remote pickup again where you could do online things, and that was a big deal for me because I went to the library probably every day, if not every other day.

So my local bookstore, which I love, King’s Books, let me give it a little plug, in Tacoma. You could do pickup, so they would order books for you, and then you could pick them up outside, and so that saved me, so I did a lot of that and they have a wonderful poetry section, curate your great poetry section, so. And one of the other things I found was that Button Poetry, which I think is a little independent press out of the midwest, maybe Minnesota or the Twin Cities, they have curated a great selection of poetry, and so I ordered many books from there also if I couldn't get them through my local bookstore. I felt like what we talked about before, those bite sized pieces that I could read that helped me keep faith and humanity that we would make it through this, the universal emotions and they just were soothing in some ways, and that they were short, so that my brain with my limited attention span could digest them. I probably in the last year have read more complete poetry collections than I have in the rest of my life combined.

[00:15:33]

ANNE: Well it sounds like once you started you couldn't stop, or perhaps just didn't want to.

CORINNE: Almost felt like a compulsion, and I think poetry collections were not ... I loved individual poems. I would collect, you know, individual poems from people, but I hadn't read a lot of collections, you know, front to back really ever, and I don't know if it was just because we were home so much and having the pandemic. It just was like the perfect storm or the perfect meetup of criteria that just made it ... That made it work.

ANNE: Okay, so now I really want to hear about these favorites, but Corinne, how did you choose these three specific collections?

CORINNE: These three collections I think were ones that if I didn't love every single poem, I really love the collection as a whole. Many of the poems in the collection just spoke to me or like made sense and felt right when I read them that I just could identify with them, identify with the feelings and the emotions and the story and the language that they were using, so.

ANNE: Well I can't wait to hear.

***

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***

ANNE: Tell me about the first one.

[00:18:47]

CORINNE: Okay. The first collection is one I found from the Button Poetry, the one from the midwest and it's called The Willies by Adam Falkner. It's so much about growing up, identity, loss, friendship. He lost a close friend when he was young. It's about his relationship with his family and with his father. His father is an alcoholic. I think one of the things, too, I love about poetry is that even though it's not memoir, it almost feels autobiographical in a sense, even if it's not, even if not all the details are true. I feel like you can learn something about the people just by the way they write, write the poetry or the things that they're writing about, and his collection is so good. He talks about, you know, pop culture and cultural appropriation and it's so insightful and very witty. He's so self-aware with how he writes, but his writing is very spare and simple with simple structure which I say with the highest compliments, not something you know. [ANNE LAUGHS]

There's one poem where he's talking about, it seems like it's after his dad maybe moved out or they had his dad move out, you know, dealing with his alcoholism or whatever, and he's talking about changing the locks and he slept in his parents’ bed with his mom that night, the way his body feels in that space where his dad used to sleep and how his body is filling up with ghosts and it just, those little lines that just hit you, so even though I haven't gone through something like that, I can imagine what that would feel like, or just feel that empathy.

That's one of those things about poetry is it makes you feel things. I'm good at bottling things up, and so I think, especially with the pandemic, being able to feel those emotions, even if they're not my emotions, if the catalyst isn't me feeling them, but if I can read poetry to make me feel them, to process them, so I'm not holding onto them or causing myself more grief.

[00:20:27]

ANNE: That's so interesting what you said about poetry so often being autobiographical. I hadn't thought to put that into words myself but I can totally, now that you've said it, I can totally see how that is often so true. And it feels like that's a really meaningful part of the experience for you, for someone to, I mean I'm picturing them holding out, like a little packet of story and emotion to you from an experience that you haven't had that you can, that you can read and experience and digest in a way that I imagine feels right to you for this point in time. I want to say safe, but that's not quite the right word.

CORINNE: They're pulling from their life experiences. That feels authentic to me. Like the authentic human experience, yeah.

ANNE: Where does the title come from?

CORINNE: He is gay. The poem when they're talking about the willies, talking about a person who is being derogatory toward people who are gay, rooted in the willy boy or the sissy, so The Willies. So I think being gay, you know, just that identity, grappling with his identity and those kinda things, so yes, that's where it's from.

[00:21:21]

ANNE: You're talking about emotion and I'm just thinking about the way a good poet can like change the way you're feeling about the story they're telling, like line by line.

CORINNE: It's amazing. I know how people are so exact with their words.

ANNE: I remember having a conversation with a writing friend once about how poets have to be so incredibly precise with their language, whether you are a reader or a writer looking to see how words create experiences and how powerful words can be, reading poetry really will help you appreciate everything you read on another level.

CORINNE: Just on a sentence level. I can't imagine how long it takes them to find those specific words that turn the phrase just to make you feel that thing, like right at the right time. Traci Thomas did a great episode on her podcast about The Tradition by Jericho Brown, which won the Pulitzer. I can't remember if it was in 2019 or 2020. It won the Pulitzer prize, which a friend of mine gave me for my birthday last year. Anyway, she talks about how I don't always understand it. I can appreciate it, and I can really enjoy it, even if I don't ... His poetry is so smart. You don't always understand what he's talking about but they were saying the point was, I can't remember who was on the podcast with her, he is I think a professor, he was talking about you don't have to understand it to enjoy it, and he might not understand it, or what I get out of it, and what I understand he's talking about may not be what his intention was, but that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy it or appreciate it.

ANNE: I'm thinking of the quote: “a good book is one that never finishes saying all it has to say,” and that can be true about poetry too. If you read it and you're like I don't ... I ...

CORINNE: Oh, true.

ANNE: [LAUGHS] I don't understand what's happening here. That's okay.

CORINNE: I don't understand something but I can't stop thinking about it.

ANNE: Oooh. That's a good way to put it. As a ... Now tell me about another favorite collection.

CORINNE: Okay. So my second favorite, and it was very hard to choose all of these, but I did it. Okay, Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones. My local bookstore King's Books had Saeed's memoir How We Fight For Our Lives. I think I know that you and Will have both read it or talked about it at some point.

[00:23:25]

ANNE: Yes, he chose that as a favorite the last time he was on the podcast.

CORINNE: So I read it, I think before Will had talked about it but when he talked about it, I was like yes! That book blew me away, and so once I read that and knew he was a poet, I went back and found, so this was his first ... I think it's his first poetry collection, and he has another one coming out in the beginning of next year. Anyway, so this is his first poetry collection, which is amazing. I love ... As just as an aside, I love a memoir by a poet, so I probably have read more poet memoirs than maybe poetry collections just because we were talking about before the way that they use language and how there's no extra words there. They're very precise about their language, which I really appreciate.

So Saeed, he's a Black man. He's also gay, a poet, and he grew up in the south, and so a lot of his poetry is about growing up, identity, figuring out that queerness, especially in the south with religion and that juxtaposition and then talking about his family, you know, in his memoir, his mom passed away but she was his person, and so grief and just the coming-of-age. His imagery is so stunning and his writing is so sharp. It's like visceral, I feel like it just rips you open, but then it feels to me that he has so much hope left which is something that I really appreciate, so even if a book is dark or gritty, if you feel like there's some redemption, or hope. I feel like it needs to have that at the end.

One of my favorite poems, he talks about going to Nashville to like a country western bar where it seems like he may be the only Black person in the country western bar, and so people are wearing wranglers, and so he's dancing but like they're doing like line dancing, and so he's talking about how this, he's like I always felt like I was a good dancer, but then all these people are like country western dancing, and just how that picture is so vivid in my mind about what that would look like or what that experience would be, and then there's another one where he's talking about lying in bed. I think he's hearing people dancing like with a record, like up above, maybe in an apartment or something, and then talking about the way the needle on the record is piercing him. Maybe feeling lonely or thinking about someone being in partnership and then being alone, laying in his bed. Visceral and gets you right in the guts.

ANNE: Corinne, I love the way you describe how it's meaningful to you and just the way he can use words. I did not know about that new collection. I'm excited to hear that. Corinne, you mentioned choosing favorites was hard.

[00:25:39]

CORINNE: Yes.

ANNE: But what did you choose for your third favorite?

CORINNE: My third favorite is Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni. Nikki Giovanni is I think a current professor at Virginia Tech and she is a national treasure. She's amazing. So she's written so much poetry. I think she may be in her 70s. I think the thing I love about this is that they're love poems but it's a little tongue-in-cheek. They're not like traditional love poems. [ANNE LAUGHS] She has struggled with cancer for maybe close to a decade. I think she may be in remission now but so she has one as love poem to cancer, and then in parenthesis it says (this is not a love poem). The love poems are love poems in this collection is very broad, and she has another one [LAUGHS] another one I think called Mastercard where it's basically like you have to fill up your bank and pay off your credits. [LAUGHS] Talking about love. They’re just so smart.

She plays with form a lot in her poetry, which I appreciate. It's very different but also at the same time, I always tell people if you want to start with poetry, she is a great place to start because her language and her poetry is so accessible. It's very simple, and I say that, I mean that as a compliment, but she knows exactly what she's doing when she says it and it's just ... All the mundane things. I think there's poem that I love ... I can't remember if it's in this one or if it's in another one of hers called Good Cry, where it's about fresh baked bread and buttering it and eating it. That's what the poem is about. It's so amazing, like you can taste it [LAUGHS] when she's talking about it. I just love her poetry where she takes those everyday things in life and makes them magic.

ANNE: And she's so smart.

CORINNE: She's so smart.

ANNE: But also I feel like the door in is like wide open, like I know with a lot of people they think like oh poetry's so opaque and I just don't get it and I just don't know where to start, but her poetry has a lot of ... It has a lot of movement, you know, like the lines are short and they just like carry you along and there's a lot of energy to her poetry.

CORINNE: Definitely.

ANNE: And some of it just makes you smile, like most of time when you're around, I feel like a note Roberta Flack is going to sing, like it's just fun.

CORINNE: Yes!

[00:27:30]

ANNE: Not always fun, like when you were describing love poems and what that means, I was thinking of the local to where I am Louisville is for Lovers album that got put out every year for years. I'm not sure if it's happening right now, but oh, just like sad and depressing tales of heartache and woe, which is not what you expect, which is why it's kinda ...

CORINNE: Tongue-in-cheek.

ANNE: That's what I was thinking of as you were describing Nikki Giovanni's Love Poems.

CORINNE: Yes.

ANNE: Well I'm glad you chose that one. Corinne, you know what comes next. How did you choose the book to share that wasn't right for you?

CORINNE: This one was so hard. I don't often hate books, I mean, very rarely. I often have strong feelings about them, but I would rarely say hate, and I feel like the last few years you have done a good job, me being the completionist that I am. I have gotten better about letting go of things that aren't working for me. And I think this one just wasn't, maybe not the right book at the right time. We can talk about it. It's called Homie by Danez Smith and they are another Black queer poet.

I have read other things by them that I enjoyed, and I don't know if I've read other complete collections but I have read individual poems that I enjoyed, and I feel like this collection is not written for me. You know, as a white cis het presenting woman, this collection is not written for me, but I also think a lot of the poems that I read or poetry collections that I read are not written for me as the intended audience. That doesn't mean I can't connect with them, and I feel like this one, it just didn't land for me.

Most of the time I'll read a collection straight through because I appreciate how the poets, they chose this selection and the timing or the order of the poems for a reason, the way that the poetry collections flow, so I'll usually read them straight through. Sometimes if I can't get into it, I'll skip around a little, just to see if I can find an in or a way to connect more, and I did that a little bit with this one. I often love queer stories because one of my favorite things in fiction or reading in general is found family, and I feel like a lot of times queer stories inherently with how those groups are marginalized that they end up having found family, so.

ANNE: Yeah.

[00:29:31]

CORINNE: This collection on the surface should work for me. I feel like it's a queer poet and they talk a lot about loss of friendship and friends and love and identity and things that I have enjoyed in other collections and also they play a lot with style, which I appreciate. I love a book or a poetry that has an unusual style or rhythm. It just felt like it was a little disjointed and jarring and I couldn't connect, and that may be their intention was for it to be that way, and it just didn't - it just didn't work for me. I hear you talk about all the time that just because it wasn't right for me doesn't mean it won't be right for someone else.

ANNE: That was going to be my next question if this was a not for you or not for you right now.

CORINNE: I think it may just not be for me, and that's okay, but I probably will maybe try to revisit it at another point or just try another collection 'cause I have liked other poetry they have written, you know, or have read individual poems that I really connected with. But I don't think I've read another complete collection.

ANNE: I haven't read a complete collection, but I do know as far as like craft is concerned, I love the way ... I mean, I'm a structure nerd.

CORINNE: Yes!

ANNE: Longtime What Should I Read Next listeners know this, like I love to see how an author chooses to lay out a story, and when you take that into poetry, I just love to see the way poets choose to lay out the word and the pages, and I wouldn't even have thought how much the layout could change my experience and my reading and how I hear it in my head until I look at something like a poem by Danez Smith and then go oh, like if it comes to just the various indentations or the spaces between some lines but not others, or even the places where it looks like they hit the spacebar nine times.

CORINNE: Yes.

ANNE: Because that's how you are supposed to hear it in your head, and it changes the way you hear it and then they do these really interesting poems sometimes where the words would be in like a box or in a circle and it's just ...

CORINNE: Or sideways or diagonally across the page.

[00:31:28]

ANNE: The structure nerd in me eats it up. So this specific collection was not a collection that you found was really giving you that keep going energy for pandemic times.

CORINNE: Yes.

ANNE: But in the future, it sounds like you'll be looking for more.

CORINNE: I think so.

ANNE: Corinne, what have you been reading lately?

CORINNE: I recently read and loved Good Talk by Mira Jacob, so I ...

ANNE: Yes.

CORINNE: I am not a graphic memoir person. That's not true. I guess I liked comics okay when I was a kid, but I would just read them in the paper, not ... I never felt like I would read a book or a graphic. I wasn't drawn to those for whatever reason. I've always loved the words more than that, and I feel like listening to Brenna or some of those things just gave me the nudge, so anyway, I loved Good Talk by Mira Jacob.

Her kiddo is maybe a little bit older than mine, but when she was writing the book, she was having similar conversations that we've been having with our kid and he would've been about the same age, her kiddo would have been about the same age as mine when she was writing the book as my kiddo is now, and so it was like almost having a script [LAUGHS] even though like a lot of the book is she's talking about like I don't have the answers or like I'm fumbling my way through this, it just felt so fresh and reaffirming that it's okay if I don't always have the answers or have the right thing to tell him at the right time about all of the things that are happening in the world, and balancing having him be informed and being a good citizen and a good human while also still protecting him in some ways from how awful the world can be, or how awful people can treat each other.

Also a local author, Marissa Harrison, she wrote, I think it's her debut novel called Rain City Lights, which takes place in Seattle. I think it's in the 80s and 90s, a serial killer in Seattle, which is not my usual MO.

ANNE: No, no it wouldn't seem to be.

[00:33:03]

CORINNE: I love mysteries and I love, and I feel like I used to love grittier books when I was younger, like I loved Christopher Pike and like I read some Stephen King and like things like that, and I feel like as I've gotten older, I have less tolerance for that I think in my reading life, I feel like I want more soothing good feelings than reading the grittier. I get the gritty in my real life rather than the books. Anyway, she ... Rain City Lights, but it's about … Really it's a YA book about two kids growing up, the kinda found family and working out their issues and having a hard life and then going apart and then coming back together. And then in the backdrop of that is the serial killer that's kinda preying on people in the 80s and 90s, so it was really, it was gritty and also had a little bit of like YA romance, but real heavy topics, but some lightness and had some hope at the end, so I really enjoyed that. That was a great book.

And then also Poetry Pharmacy is one that I've been reading on and off and the editor is William, I think it's Siegheart, and this is a British collection. There's two of them, Poetry Pharmacy and Poetry Pharmacy Returns and I think they just did a U.S. version. He goes through like different emotions or different feelings, so and one of the first ones is anxiety, one of the facing page he talks about anxiety and how that would manifest in our life and how poetry can help deal with that, and then on the facing page, there's a poem that goes along with that, so like the anxiety one is I think is the piece is by Wendell Berry.

ANNE: That's interesting. It reminds me of The Novel Cure.

CORINNE: Yes, yes. Similar. Anyway, so that has been really great. I think my nerd brain and my science brain with my job appreciate that approach in some ways, so it's kinda fun, you can just kinda flip through and be like what am I feeling right now? And what should I read? And also being a mood reader to do that, so I have really, really appreciated that one. I feel like the last couple years, I have a couple friends that ... Two of my friends who have gone through a lot in the last couple years, losing parents and major health things and we have all traded poetry and given each other poetry books and so that's been a fun, a fun connection also.

ANNE: Oh, that is so fun you could do that. I imagine that you have a lot to bring to the table there, Corinne.

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***

ANNE: Okay. Let's take a step back and see what we've got.

[00:36:27]

CORINNE: Okay.

ANNE: The books you loved are The Willies by Adam Falkner, Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones, and Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni. Not for you was Homie by Danez Smith. Currently you've been reading Good Talk by Mira Jacob, Rain City Lights by Marissa Harrison, and The Poetry Pharmacy Collection. Now Corinne, what are you on the hunt for in your reading life right now?

CORINNE: I don't know. I feel like I'm such a mood reader. Sometimes it's hard to get into ... My local library did a fun thing this year which I did mostly because we've been in the pandemic and it was just a new thing to do, so they did like a reading challenge where they give you ... The librarians did such a great job curating a list, I think it was of 55 different categories and they probably had 25, 30 selections in each category, and then you had to read 50 of the 55 books for the collection, and they have a prize at the end or something, and that was really fun for me to fit my mood reading into that. I think maybe I will appreciate having suggestions or some direction on where to go. My TBR list is so long. I think at the beginning of last year, it was 1500 books or something.

[00:37:35]

ANNE: [GASPS] Oh my gosh!

CORINNE: Oh, it was awful. That was one of your challenges was edit your digital TBR. So I did. I made it down to 700 so I've been trying to keep it around 700 which is pretty good. I feel like I keep a lot of kids’ selections because they give my niblings books for their birthdays and Christmas, so I have a fair amount of selections or ideas for them and then I break it down into poetry and memoir and nonfiction and fiction. I do like that you said that one time about keeping, or trying to make a list based on moods. I might try to do that to be easier. Sometimes I just scroll through and be like I don't know. I'm not sure where I want to go at this point. It's like Netflix. You can't find what you want and you just end up scrolling for forever [BOTH LAUGH] never watching anything. I felt a little lost this year. So yeah. Some direction, Anne, would be great.

ANNE: Alright. Here is the mission I am taking on for myself.

CORINNE: Okay.

ANNE: We are going to look for books that seem like based on your interests that you've shared here in our conversation today, we're not going to go hunting for more info. We don't need it. Seem like they would be right up your alley, and something I'm definitely keeping in mind is the reason why you chose these as favorites. You chose these poetry collections representing poetry as the genre that really helped you keep going these past almost two years now and so I'm looking for books that I feel like could help you continue to do the same. How does that sound?

CORINNE: That sounds great. Thank you.

ANNE: Also I've been taking notes here and I'm really interested in the things you said about the outdoors and the natural world being a solace and that poetry has become almost a compulsion and how you also ... You mentioned like a specific thing, like you love a memoir by a poet, and you're okay with dark and gritty, but you want notes of redemption, so those are definitely things that I'm bringing in as factors here. These seem so perfect for you, I think it's entirely possible that you've already read them all and we're just going to find out. Are you ready?

CORINNE: Yup.

ANNE: The first book I'm thinking of for you is by poet June Jordan. This is her memoir Soldier: A Poet's Childhood. Do you know it?

[00:39:34]

CORINNE: I haven't heard of this.

ANNE: Okay. What to tell you about June Jordan. She's a very influential poet. She died about 20 years ago, I think in 2002, which is a great loss, but she left behind a large library and how do I, I think I want to introduce you to her by saying words that Toni Morrison said about her. That her career spanned 40 years of tireless activism, coupled with and fueled by flawless art. June Jordan was born in the ‘30s in Harlem, and in this memoir she lays out her childhood in composite. Like she has these short, like almost snappy sometimes little vignettes, and the way she juxtaposes them against each other is so interesting, like she'll be talking about the tensions in her parents' marriage, hard stuff, heavy stuff, especially you feel the anxiety of her as a small child, like not quite understanding, but beginning to understand what's happening there, but then there will be one in between about how much she loved orange juice, how it has a wonderful color and the little pieces of orange pulp that float around in the liquid and it's like an aquarium to watch them bob around, that she could taste it. The way she portions out her stories and places them in the narrative, I think you'll find really interesting.

It's structurally interesting, like we were talking about Danez Smith's work, the way June Jordan uses line breaks and white space, the work to influence the way that you hear the story. I've heard a lot of what you said about the poets you're reading today. I've heard you talk a lot about their identities and that is something that Jordan explores as well. She was a Black and bisexual poet. Also a teacher and political activist and she saw all those things as being important to her work and to her poetry, and she talks about the importance of telling the truth and that's how one becomes beautiful and that's how one begins to love oneself, and that's how ... That's the only way you can value yourself. And she calls that political in the most profound way, just the themes I've heard you highlight and the works that you've chosen as favorites today, I see repeated here. She says that her poems are things that she does in the dark, reaching for you, whoever you are, are you ready? I think this could be fun for you. Not that it's all light hearted, but I think the thrill of like holding a book that feels like ah, yes, I am in the right place. I think you could have it here.

CORINNE: That sounds wonderful. It sounds perfect. It makes me think my kiddo says when he learns something new, or he gets excited about something that he says his brain, his brain fizzes. So

ANNE: [LAUGHS] Oh, I love that. I have to tell you, Brenna, our producer, calls June Jordan one of her personal heroes.

CORINNE: Oh I love it.

[00:42:09]

ANNE: That seems like essential information.

CORINNE: That's a wonderful recommendation. Thank you so much.

ANNE: Okay, good, I'm glad to hear it. Oh, wait, hold on. Before we move on from June Jordan, you can hear her reading her work on YouTube. If you like the sound of hearing her read her work in her own voice, don't miss that.

Okay, so now I want to move on to a contemporary poet. The thing that got me first thinking about Maggie Smith for you is that you talked about how poetry has helped you keep going, and I was thinking about her book Keep Moving that came out in the midst of a pandemic where she writes about undergoing massive life change, and then needing to share because it is what she does, you know, all poetry feels in so many ways autobiographical the things, the perspectives, the like tricks of thinking that are helping her keep moving. Have you read anything by Maggie Smith?

CORINNE: It sounds familiar, and I have not heard of this one.

ANNE: Her most well known poem is probably Good Bones that went viral on the Internet. [LAUGHS] The way poetry weirdly occasionally does.

CORINNE: Maybe that's why I recognize her name, yes.

ANNE: Maybe, and when we were talking about poems where you moved to the next line and all of a sudden everything clicks into place and the whole meaning changes, like it's this intricate little puzzle box. Good Bones is one I think of. What does she say? The world is at least 50% terrible and that's a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children. It's short, compact, you can read it in 60 seconds. It would be worth a lot longer of your time. If you want a way in, I think Keep Moving would be wonderful, also she had a new collection come out this summer called Goldenrod.

She talks about her children in her poetry as does June Jordan, which I was thinking of that when you were talking of Mira Jacob, like one of her poems is called In the Grand Scheme of Things and she says we say in the grand scheme of things, as if there were one, we say that's not how the world works, as if the world works. Something she does a lot in this collection is she'll like pull a quote from literature or another source. It'll be like right under the title and then she'll riff on it. And also I just really notice the way she does things, like use ampersands and where she puts her line breaks. I hope you'll find it to have that energy, that reassurance you're looking for from poetry right now. How does that sound?

[00:44:17]

CORINNE: That sounds great. I think one thing I have discovered being a parent, you look at things in the world that you would just take for granted or take at face value that this is just the way they are, and then your kiddo starts asking you questions about why is it like that? What does it do? And you're like oh. That sounds good. Like I like the parenting that she uses her kids in that to think about how the world works, so thank you.

ANNE: Finally, I'm thinking of another graphic memoir for you. Oh, I was thinking, what would someone who appreciates poetry like? And the thing I like about this graphic memoir, and so many, is that there's more to take in than just the word. Of course the words are important, but they don't carry the whole story, like in poetry, the lift is distributed among many different factors, like the layout, the rhythm, the cadence, the meter, like it all matters and in a graphic memoir, the words are the story, but the words are a part of the story, and the one I'm thinking of is by Thi Bui. It's called The Best We Could Do.

CORINNE: No, Anne, you're so good.

ANNE: This has been out for about five years, not brand new. Won quite a few awards for listeners who value that kinda thing. This is a really beautiful, very cinematic memoir. I know that everyone knows Brenna is a huge graphic memoir and graphic novel reader. I am not. I just read maybe a half dozen a year, but I really enjoyed this myself. This is Thi Bui's debut. When she started drawing these cartoons, she wasn't an artist. She'd never done this before, but she had a story she wanted to tell about her family's immigration from Vietnam to the United States.

Originally her inspiration was taken from graphic memoirs like Mouse and Persepolis, which are very serious, weighty, political graphic memoirs, and she thought I want to tell a story like that. But as she went on, she realized as much as the story was about the politics of her family's home country, it was also about her family. It's such a poignant combination of one family's story set against the backdrop of the war and upheaval of the characterized, the Vietnam war, so you see that in the text but you also just see closeups of like how that affected her family and why things were hard.

This is the kinda graphic memoir that I had to take down quotes of the words from my reading journal as she explores her family history, she says things like, "Ugh, it's being both a parent and a child without acting like a child that eludes me when I have these conversations with my parents about these weighty topics. But early in the book she says I realized that I just ... I feel like I need to understand my parents history, my family history, in order to feel like I know who I am and in order to feel like comfortable in the world, like I have to know these things, and so she says I keep looking toward the past, tracing our journey in reverse, seeking an origin story that will set everything right, and that's what she's doing in this book. She's going back in time like tracing her family's origin story and then showing how it's affecting how she's living in the present.

It's beautifully done. The illustrations are really cinematic. I think it could be really good for you, and I think it could be a great read for poetry lovers. Viet Thanh Nguyen said that this is the kinda book that will break your heart and then heal it. So even though the topics are dark and gritty at times. I mean obviously there's difficult content here. There's also a lot of hope on these pages, which makes me feel hopeful, pretty confident actually that you're going to like it, Corinne. What do you think?

[00:47:36]

CORINNE: Yeah, that sounds great. I love that quote that you said, that will break your heart and put it back together. I feel like that's one of my favorite kind of books, so thank you so much and fun to me now that I just have started dipping into graphic memoirs to have some more options for that, so ... And I didn't say at the beginning, I love backlist books 'cause then I don't have to wait at the library and/or the bookstore.

ANNE: Okay, Corinne, of the books we talked about today, we talked about a lot of books today.

CORINNE: We did, I know.

ANNE: We discussed Soldier: A Poet's Childhood by June Jordan, Goldenrod and also Keep Moving by Maggie Smith, and then the graphic novel The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. Of those books, what do you think you may read next?

CORINNE: It's a very difficult choice. I will read them all. I think I'm going to go with the Maggie Smith 'cause I feel like I need a poetry collection right now to fill in a little bit of a void, so I think I'm going to go there.

ANNE: I think that sounds wonderful, and I can't wait to hear what you think. Thank you so much for talking books with me today.

CORINNE: Thank you. It was a pleasure. Appreciate it.

[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]

ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Corinne, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/306 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.

[00:48:54]

Join in our celebration of all things bookish on our Instagram page at whatshouldireadnext. We share fun snippets from our episodes, information on upcoming events, and peeks behind the scenes of making this podcast each week. We’d love to have you join in on the social fun.

Plus be sure to follow me on Instagram at annebogel. That is Anne with an E, B as in books, O-G-E-L. I’ll be sharing some short videos with tips and tricks for how I use my new reading journal, My Reading Life. Available wherever new books are sold.

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Please make sure you’re subscribed in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast and more. Tune in next week for more readerly recommendations and talk about all things reading.

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.

Books mentioned:


The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy 
The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje 
The Willies by Adam Falkner
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones 
How We Fight For Our Lives  by Saeed Jones 
Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni
A Good Cry by Nikki Giovanni
Homie by Danez Smith
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Rain City Lights by Marissa Harrison
Poetry Pharmacy (U.S. Title The Poetry Remedy) by William Sieghart
The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin
Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood by June Jordan
Keep Moving by Maggie Smith
Good Bones by Maggie Smith
Goldenrod by Maggie Smith
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Also Mentioned:

King’s Books
Button Poetry
The Stacks Episode 161: The Tradition by Jericho Brown — The Stacks Book Club (Reginald Dwayne Betts)
•June Jordan on YouTube – Reading Poem of Commitment, Reading Song of the Law Abiding Citizen

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25 comments | Comment

25 comments

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  1. sneha says:

    Anne! This episode and graphic memoirs were fantastic as usual. I recently came across this graphic memoir called Roles We Play by Sabba Khan. This will definitely be in your recommendation lists going forward

  2. Dawn Illsley says:

    Can Corrine be a regular. I really want to know what she’s reading next month and the month after that!!!!!

    Go introverts!!!!!!!!

  3. Mariandrea says:

    I loved this episode – I too work in healthcare and I have also found emotional solace and nourishment through poetry. I will be looking out for all the titles discussed in this episode. Thank you so much for this. ❤️

  4. Kate L says:

    I highly recommend listening to Homie on audio! It’s read by the author, and I appreciated it on the page so much more after hearing it.

    • Corinne says:

      Kate, thanks so much for the recommendation. I’ve recently dipped in to the audio book world so I will try that. Appreciate the suggestion.

  5. Anna says:

    Hi Anne,
    Just wanted to say thank you for the recommendation of Once Upon a River audiobook. Wow! The narration was amazing–definitely a book I might have passed over if not for all the thumbs up from your blog and commenters.

  6. Lizzie says:

    Loved hearing Corinne talking about poetry, thank you! I am only an occasional poetry reader, but would like to recommend a favourite collection, The Taste of River Water by Cate Kennedy. She is an Australian writer, probably better known for her short stories (this one is a ripper https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/09/11/black-ice), but her poems are also wonderful – very accessible, mostly quite narrative, but multilayered and written in beautifully spare and precise language.

  7. Jennifer Walsh says:

    Anne- I am a middle school English teacher in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I have been listening to your podcast since just about the beginning. Imagine my surprise when your guest, Corinne, named a poetry collection by one of my former students! Adam Faulkner is an amazing young writer and person. I am so happy to know his poetry is well received in the public, enough so to make it to someone’s favorites list! 🙂

    • Corinne says:

      Jennifer

      What a small world, that is such a fun connection. I very much admire Adam’s work, he must have had great teachers. 😊

  8. Jill says:

    As a poetry lover (and Tacoma area resident! I really enjoyed this episode. With Corinne’s preference for memoirs written by poets, I’d highly recommend “Early Morning: Remembering My Father” by Kim Stafford. A lovely meditation on the life of US Poet Laureate William Stafford through the lens of his son, also a poet. A memoir of a poet by a poet, set largely in the Pacific Northwest – this book has a lot to recommend itself to Corinne.

  9. Elizabeth Helen Spencer says:

    I loved the focus on poetry in this episode! I want to recommend an Australian poet, Alison Groggon, whose New and Selected Poems I’ve been reading with a friend lately.

  10. Erin W says:

    I love to recommend the book Dear Mr. You by Mary Louise Parker (yes, the actress). It is my absolute favorite book. The hard cover is beautiful but I also own the audio (author narrates it with voice inflection as appropriate). The book is classified as a memoir, written in letter format, it can be read in any order (like poetry) and the writing style reminds me of poetry.

  11. Sharky says:

    I liked Corinne so much. I lived in Montana for 6 years, and I have an MFA in poetry, so listening to her made me feel like I was hearing from a new friend. I think her poetry insights were very smart. I was also interested to hear that she filled out the form to get onto the show a few times — I didn’t know that was allowed, so I am definitely going to keep trying!

    • Sharky says:

      PS Corinne, if you come back to check comments again, I would like to recommend the poetry collections of Lee Ann Roripaugh. The most recent is called tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, and it’s incredible, but all of her books are amazing. (Please admire the restraint I am exercising to not recommend 100 different books!)

  12. Laura McCracken says:

    I loved this episode so much! If you haven’t already read it, I’d highly recommend The Magical Language of Others by E.J. Koh. It’s a beautiful memoir by a poet and it recently won the Washington State Book Award for biography/memoir. I’m a fellow Western Washingtonian. 🙂

  13. Lindsay says:

    I’m late to listen to this episode (also living that busy, healthcare professional life), but I just wanted to say that this episode really struck a chord with me. Hearing Corrine talk about how experiencing a stranger’s emotions through a story was cathartic for her inspired me to rethink my own reading. I’ve been reading light, feel-good stories these past two years, because I haven’t felt like I can handle one more sad or frustrating thing. Now I wonder if I’ve not allowed myself to process my tough emotions more completely by avoiding them in stories. Thank you for offering me a little bit of hope and therapy, Corrine. 🙂 Best of luck to you, and thank you so much for what you do!

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