So many readers are also writers (or aspiring writers), and today’s guest is one of them!
Allison Fallon, who I know as Ally, is a Nashville-based writing coach and author of The Power of Writing it Down. When she’s not caring for her young family, reading, or writing herself, Ally helps others discover the joy, relief, power, and connection that can come from the act of putting words on a page. Ally’s a champion for the power of writing in any form, whether that’s a regular journaling practice, a manuscript on the path to publication, or anything in between.
My chat today with Ally covers a lot of ground, from reflections on how writing creates a space where you can totally be yourself, to the similarities between the reader’s experience of fiction and non-fiction. Ally’s biggest challenge in her current reading life—finding as much time to read as she’d like—feels oh-so-relatable for so many of us, and I’ll offer some recommendations she can apply right away, as well as my top picks for some lyrical stories that I think will captivate her imagination.
ALLISON: Even the writers who you read and love say to themselves while they're writing their book, "this is stupid. No one wants to read this." [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 307.
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, if you’re looking for a perfect gift for the reader in your life, you’ve got to check out my new reading journal My Reading Life. (Pro tip: you can gift it to yourself!) It’s a beautifully designed, totally giftable book is packed cover-to-cover with resources to bring more joy into the reading experience, from reading lists that encourage discovery, to a to be read list that feels both functional and achievable.
To hear more about book journaling and my new reading journal specifically, be sure to give a listen to Episode 305. It’s called “Read yourself like a book.” And if you’ve got My Reading Life on your wish list this season, don’t delay - my book, like so many others, is definitely impacted by the ongoing supply chain issues. My publisher just informed me that, despite their best efforts, they are out of stock at the publisher on My Reading Life. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a copy right now, you can—the good news here is that the retail pipeline is FULL, so get it now from your favorite independent bookstore or the large retailer. But once those copies are sold, they won’t be restocked until well into the new year. The upshot is: if you want a copy before February, order now, and of course, these issues don’t just affect my book— if there’s any specific book you want for this holiday season, order it now.
I know that sounds grim but it’s not all bad news: this season’s bookish offerings are plentiful and fabulous, and we’re doing our best here at What Should I Read Next to get the right books into your hands, right now.
Readers, we talk about the joy of reading every week on this show, but today’s guest also embodies the other side of that bookish equation: Allison Fallon is an author and writing coach who helps others discover the joy, relief, power, and connection in writing.
Allison Fallon, who as you'll hear I know as Ally, lives in Nashville with her young family, and has built a career around encouraging and equipping others to write, whether they want to journal more consistently, put their personal story to paper, or even become a published author. We chat about how writing creates safe space, how both fiction and nonfiction invite the reader on a journey, and we reflect on our shared appreciation for books that tackle complex human relationships.
Since she had her first child, Ally has struggled to find as much time to read as she’s accustomed to, even though it is so closely related to her job, and right now she’s looking for strategies to help her get back into the reading rhythm she misses. Listen in as I share recommendations that offer an easy re-entry point, while speaking to Ally’s love for powerful stories and lyrical writing.
Let’s get to it.
Ally, welcome to the show.
ALLISON: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
ANNE: Okay, so we actually know each other personally. We've been talking about work and writing and business for a long time now.
ANNE: But our readers, many of them are meeting you for the first time, so tell us a little about yourself.
ALLISON: Well, I live in Nashville, Tennessee, so not too far from you. I am married. I have one and a half ... Well, not quite a one and a half year old daughter. She's 15 months, and I have a little boy on the way, and in my work life, I am an author and I also am a writing coach, which just means that I come alongside people who aren't writing that want to write, or who already are writing want to take their writing to the next level, and I find a way to support them and encourage them in whatever way makes sense for them.
ANNE: So many people don't even know that writing coaches exist as a profession.
ALLISON: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: How did you get into that?
ALLISON: By accident completely. I mean, happy accident. [ANNE LAUGHS] But ... [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Those are the best stories. How did it happen?
ALLISON: Well I went to school to become a teacher, you know, it makes sense my skill set was I really loved reading. I loved writing myself, and I wanted to teach other people to love it as much as I did, so I got my degree in education. I went on to teach in the public school system. This was in Portland, Oregon at the time where I grew up. I taught for a couple of years, the whole time realizing that this wasn't really the job for me, and there were a couple of reasons for that, but most of it was just watching other people be very, very good at the things that I was definitely ... [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Like what? So I didn't know you were ever in the classroom.
ALLISON: I mean, God bless teachers. The biggest job of a teacher, I pictured when I thought teacher more like a college professor I think because I just, I like geek out talking about like the themes that are present in the text and you know, sixth graders don't do that, so. [BOTH LAUGH] So so much of what it takes to be a great educator in middle school, high school, is finding a way to get through to the kids and engage them in the process of learning so that they can find it interesting to talk about the things about you already find interesting, and that's the part that I think I probably was too young too. I was like in my early 20s and I just didn't have it, whatever it is, the magic sauce that so many of the teachers I was working with had that made them great at their jobs.
I made the decision at the end of my third year not to renew my contract because I just was like there's a rub here. I need to move on to something else. So I took this really stupid leap [BOTH LAUGH] into the world of publishing. I was like you know what I'm going to do. I'm going to write a book. That's what I'm going to do. And I had no clue what I was talking about. I was young. I was naive. I was a decent writer. You know, writing is something that I had been doing my entire life, but I didn't understand how the publishing world worked. I didn't know anyone in publishing. I didn't know what it took to write a book or get a book contract. I didn't know what a book proposal document was. I didn't know any of it. And I just very naively was like it'll take me six months. I could have a book published by the end of the year. I’ve got enough savings to last me.
What I thought would take me six months took me three years to write a manuscript, then I realized I didn't really need a manuscript. I needed a book proposal document. I didn't know what that was. So I had to figure that out by myself, and that whole process was so infuriating and frustrating that I was like hey, there should be someone who helps people who want to write books figure out what this all is supposed to look like. And I was like I could apply my skills as a teacher to this and incorporate my love for writing in books and so here we are, ten years later.
ANNE: I love the progression you're describing from [ALLISON LAUGHS] you know so little you don't even know what you don't know.
ANNE: I reached the point where like I just know enough to be dangerous.
ANNE: And now ... [LAUGHS] Now how would you describe yourself?
ALLISON: I do describe myself as an expert, which doesn't mean you know, anytime you describe yourself as an expert doesn't mean that you know everything that there is to know. You're always learning. But what I find really fun about the work that I get to do is there's just stuff you learn from being around books and publishing for ten years that it's not like I sat down and read it in a book. I’ve just watched hundreds of book deals unfold over and over again, and so I kinda ... I just have a little bit of perspective that I can share with someone who's new to the journey and that feels really fun to me.
ANNE: Well something that anyone who knows you knows about you is that you are passionate about the value of writing things down, and we're not just talking about to do lists. [ALLISON LAUGHS] We're talking about ... Well, here, I'll let you take over. So you really believe that even if you're not writing a book, or writing for anyone's eyes but yours that it's really worth doing.
ALLISON: Yeah, I mean, this - this concept evolved from my work with mostly writers who were looking to get published. Early on in my career, I was working with writers who aspired to write a book, didn't know how to do that. I was helping them write book proposal documents, helping them get book deals, helping them get manuscripts written, etc. What I started to notice was there were so many people I was working with who were having really exciting experience in their career because they were accomplishing these objectives that they've always wanted to accomplish, like publishing a book or getting a book deal, but they were also in a parallel sense having a personal experience as a part of the writing process.
You know, they'd be writing a book on let's just say like leadership development or something. They're writing a book on leadership development and as they're writing the book they're realizing areas in their own life where they have space to grow, they're realizing that they haven't really learned how to express this topic or subject that means so much to them that they live out in their values and their daily life, but they haven't learned how to nail it down, and when they do nail it down, it becomes more concrete and they feel more confident. Their self-esteem is going up. Their whole personal life was changing.
So at first I thought that this was just anecdotal, I was watching it happen in a couple of different occasions, and then the more I started to see it happen, the greater the pattern became, the more I thought, I wonder if this is a thing. I wonder if it's a predictable thing that when people engage in the writing process that their life gets measurably better. I started digging into some really obscure research and found out there's actually a really wide data set that shows this is true, so you don't have to be a writer. You don't have to want to write a book. You don't have to ever have plans to be published, but if you sit down and you engage in the process of writing, especially if that process is guided in some kind of way, then you can experience the same benefits that I was watching these published authors experience.
You can experience people who write regularly report being happier than those, than people who don't write regularly. People who write regularly have more connected relationships. They have higher levels of empathy. I started to see that what I was seeing anecdotally was really true, writing can be a powerful tool to create powerful transformation in our lives.
ANNE: Everytime we talk about this, I'm blown away by the statistics you have like in your back pocket. [ALLISON LAUGHS] Okay, so people who write regularly, and again, this can be writing in a journal that nobody sees, they're happier, they have more connected relationships, they have more empathy. Whether it's what the research bears out, or whether it's your own personal hunch, what is happening there?
ALLISON: My own personal hunch is just that there are lots of thoughts, ideas, beliefs, feelings that happen inside of our bodies, insides of our brains, that are unconscious, that we just don't realize that they're happening. That's actually, that first part is proven by data. The second part is the part that's my hunch, which is when we bring those into our conscious awareness that it's like the feeling of telling a secret that you've been holding onto for a long time. It actually takes physical energy to hold onto a secret, so when you let that secret go, it's like a huge sense of relief.
And you've probably have had this experience even if you never have had it in writing, you’ve probably had it in regular life where you finally admitted something to a friend that you've been holding back for a long time like you're just I'm exhausted, like I'm ... I haven't said that out loud, but like I can't do this anymore. I'm so exhausted, and there's a sense of relief that comes from just admitting that to yourself, admitting it to this one trusted friend, saying it out loud, hearing yourself say the words, and you're like that is true. In that moment, you feel more connected to yourself, you feel more aligned, you feel more whole and holistic and that's my hunch about what's happening when we engage in the writing process.
And you know, some of this is born out of my personal experience, too. I was drawn to writing from the very beginning because I grew up in an environment where I felt like there were a lot of things that I wanted to say or talk about or questions that I wanted to ask that I didn't feel I had a safe place to ask, and so I started writing them. I started writing poetry. I started writing in diaries, in journals from the time I was young, fourth, fifth, sixth grade, all the way through middle school and high school and college. I mean, I have hundreds of composition notebooks just filled with questions I was asking about life and about the world and about God and topics that I was interested in exploring that I didn't feel I had anyone [LAUGHS] anyone else who thought it was this interesting as I did or any safe place to talk about these things. You know, I started to feel like my writing was a best friend in a sense.
ALLISON: It was a place I could go and I could say anything that I wanted, I could be totally myself. You know, making that connection later on in my life and later on in my career has felt really satisfying that I can invite people into the world of writing who probably otherwise would have counted themselves out and say you don't have to want to publish a book, you don't have to want to quote-unquote "be a writer," in order to get a lot of value out of this, you can just respond to these journal prompts. You can, you know, use this tool as a safe place to talk about what's true for you.
ANNE: Now I know you've had this conversation a thousand times so let's roleplay.
ANNE: We meet out in the world in a time where we can do that again and I say oh, Ally, you're a writing coach, how interesting. You know, I thought about maybe writing a memoir, or writing some essays about my experience, but then again, nobody's going to read those. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I could probably find other things to do with my time.
ALLISON: Well, everybody says that [ANNE LAUGHS] is what I would say to you. Even the writers who you read and love, whose books you hold dear, they sit on your bookshelf and you read them over and over again, and they're, you know, so pleasantly loved with the dog ears and the sticky notes and the underlined whatever. Even those authors say to themselves while they're writing their book, "this is stupid. No one wants to read this." [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: You heard it from an expert, folks.
ALLISON: There's five excuses that everyone uses to not write, and they're all the same excuses, whether you've sold a million copies of your book or whether the idea of publishing a book makes you want to drop dead. They're all the same excuses, and that's one of them, nobody will ever read this. I don't have the time for this. This is a waste of time. I'm not a real writer, you know, I've heard people say to me, I'm not a real writer, who I'm like you've sold hundreds of thousands of copies of your book, and they're like this was an accident. [ANNE LAUGHS] This whole thing was a big mistake. I was never supposed to write a book.
So it's just funny how we have really specific views of what it takes in order to be a quote-unquote "real" writer. Everybody's views are a little bit different, but these are all born out of centuries of conditioning and training. You know, for a period of time, there were only certain social groups that were allowed to be educated, that were allowed to even learn how to read or write. I think those old beliefs die hard, so so many of us count ourselves out and say like I'm bad at grammar. I'm bad at punctuation. I'm like every author you ever met ... Well, not you, Anne, but [LAUGHS] every other author I've ever met is bad at punctuation.
ANNE: Oh, I don't know. I have my struggles.
ALLISON: [LAUGHS] Yeah. It's hard to edit your own writing is the point, so I always say you don't have to be good at grammar, at punctuation, to be a good writer. You have to be a good thinker to be a good writer, and that's what writing requires of us is it requires us to think more deeply about the topics that are interesting to us.
ANNE: Listeners, Ally's book is called The Power of Writing It Down and I think of it as a manifesto. Can we use that word?
ALLISON: Yeah, sure, sure.
ANNE: Yeah, so what is this writing thing and why should I do it? It lays out why it's worth doing and the various reasons and you have statistics and checklists and it just, it makes me happy. My wanna-be organized self to be happy. [ALLISON LAUGHS] But is there power in fiction and nonfiction?
ALLISON: Yeah. There's actually a great book that I used when I was writing The Power of Writing It Down. The author's name is Jessica Lowery, and the book is all about the power of writing fiction. What I would’ve thought is because ... Because of the assumptions I make about how you know, writing a journal entry or writing a poem or writing nonfiction has been so powerful to me to reconnect to myself, I would have thought that doesn't necessarily carry over to writing fiction, and she lays out from beginning to end how this process absolutely works when you're writing fiction.
And I would imagine that there's a term called narrative transportation that refers to a readership, so when I'm reading a fiction book, or even when I'm reading a memoir, the transportation of the main character of the story experiences, if I engage with the material, I experience the same transportation as the hero does. That's narrative transportation. That's the power of storytelling.
So I would imagine that has something to do with that. This is again my hunch, not necessarily the data, but that if I'm writing fiction, I'm writing a character who for some reason I identify with, and as that character has experiences through the story, I'm going to experience narrative transportation, and I'm also going to transform with the hero.
ANNE: I mean, I used to think that I would sit down and write out the thing that I believe to be true and put it into words, and after a few years of blogging, I realized that no, the writing is how I figure out what I think.
ANNE: But when I sit down it turns out most of the time I just have a premise. I don't actually know what I think, but I don't even realize what I don't know until I start trying to write it down.
ALLISON: You know, I mean, what's happening there is you're engaging a different part of your brain that you don't normally engage. I mean, that's actually what the data shows is that most of our daily activity, we're operating in our frontal cortex, which is great. We need our frontal cortex is very important to modern life, but what's happening is is you're dropping in to the more primal part of your brain, to the lymphatic system when you pick up a pen and start writing, and you actually access more of your brain than you would if you were just thinking in your head or if you were just talking to someone.
ANNE: Mmhm. Well I know as a reader that I love when, no matter what genre I'm reading in, I love it when a writer can put an experience that I've had or that I can imagine a character having into words, and you know, even that's what we do on the show, like we help people articulate swirling thoughts in a tighty package that is actually useful to them, and that's such a gift, and as you're explaining what's so valuable about writing things down, I can see how that's a gift that you can give yourself. Not just one you can find in other people's literature.
ALLISON: Totally. Absolutely.
ANNE: I would like to argue that step one for being a writer is to be a reader. Can we go with that?
ALLISON: [LAUGHS] Yes, agreed.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] So what we're going to do next is get into your reading life and hear a little about the reader behind the writer and the writing coach. Are you ready?
ALLISON: I'm ready.
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ANNE: Okay. You know how this works. You're going to share three books you love, one book you don't, and what you've been reading lately, and Ally, I have heard that your reading life has its challenges right now.
ANNE: We'll talk about what you may enjoy reading next.
ALLISON: Okay, perfect. [ANNE LAUGHS] So three books I love. I pulled sorta like a diverse group of three books together that span over the course of my reading life, so the first book that I can remember like truly falling in love with, Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I remember being in a freshmen literature class in college and just absolutely falling in love with this text. It's a story about a young woman who has everything against her and she's able to overcome like unimaginable odds and in a time before women were even allowed to do this, she fights for herself and comes out victorious in the end. I was just like completely enamored with her story.
ANNE: So a lot of people are hearing you saying that, going oh, classic English major, loves the obscure book. [ALLISON LAUGHS] that no one else thinks is anything other than boring, so.
ALLISON: [LAUGHS] Oh gosh, wait til you hear my other books.
ANNE: No, I know that's not your story, so what were you expecting when you sat down with Tess?
ALLISON: Well, I think I was expecting exactly what you're suggesting, which is I was expecting to be bored. I read classic literature in high school too, and it's a gift that a teacher has when a teacher can help you engage with the story that may otherwise be difficult to engage with and really help you experience that narrative transportation. So I read great books in high school. It's not that I didn't like any of them. None of them just clicked for me the way that the Tess book clicked, so whoever my professor was did a great job of helping me engage with that story.
ANNE: Alright. You said we're going in a different direction after that first pick. What did you choose for your second favorite?
ALLISON: [LAUGHS] Yes. Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides, which I feel like depending on who I tell this to, I get looks from people like kinda confused that, you know, they think that I have this like elevated taste in literature. What's your like first impression of Pat Conroy?
ANNE: I saw The Prince of Tides on a bookstore table when I was in high school and I bought it with my babysitting money and I took it home and I read it and something happened at about page 30 that scandalized me and made me think [ALLISON LAUGHS] I might need another ten years before I'm reading to enjoy this book, and I remember thinking if Holly Cook book sellers doesn't take this book back, I'm going to trash it because I cannot keep it on my shelves.
ALLISON: How funny.
ANNE: I've read some of his nonfiction, but I've actually been saying for a year now like I need to read Pat Conroy, so my Pat Conroy take is I haven't and I want to because I've heard such amazing things about his writing, which might not what you're expecting me to say.
ALLISON: I think some people probably because of what you're talking about it's very adult content. Some people get the idea that it's kinda trashy fiction, grocery store type fiction, and which I'm like hey, more power to you for grocery store fiction if you can engage my attention, then you've done your job as an author. What happened for me when I read Pat Conroy was it unlocked for me as a writer the ability to engage a reader while doing something as simple as describing a scene. He, to me, Pat Conroy, like really does an amazing job of bringing you into the story with him, and also, I mean, Prince of Tides is like 600 pages long and I think I read it in a couple of days. That was back when I was single and had no children. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: His prose style is so lyrical ...
ALLISON: It is.
ANNE: Like the way he can make you feel like you're standing there, and also Ally, I love stories about complex human relationships.
ALLISON: Me too.
ANNE: What does he say in The Prince of Tides? This book I haven't read, I still know that he talks in this book about how what we owe each other in families and he wrestles with the question of are there crimes that are beyond forgiveness? I'm here for that.
ALLISON: Me too. Yeah. I'm a huge fan. And then my third book is more recent, this book I read in 2020 and it was definitely the best book that I read in 2020 and it's by Chanel Miller. It's called Know My Name. If you haven't read the book, Chanel Miller, she was known as Jane Doe in the Stanford rape case that happened back in 2015 or somewhere in there I can't remember exactly when. She wrote an open letter to her attacker I believe and got to read it on her final day of the whole court proceeding. The way that she sorta gained her notoriety in the beginning wasn't even by her real name, but she wrote from Jane Doe, wrote this open letter and that was posted somewhere on the Internet that I read it at the time that this was all happening.
And so when the book came out, you know, come to find out that Chanel Miller is Jane Doe, and for obvious reasons her book is called Know My Name, and she details the entire incident and court proceedings that follow and what happened in her life and the upheaval and it's a really, really powerful book, especially for, you know, women, who all of us as women I guess have had experiences in this world that we live in that we've been objectified or mistreated or whatever. It's that narrative transportation experience really takes place and she's such a powerful writer and she has such an interesting, unique, different kind of voice. I think it's really tough for an author to execute what she does, which is ... It's not your usual sentence structure, and it's not your usual pace and cadence, but it just works. It just sounds like her. It's almost like you could pick up a blank book that didn't have a name on it and would you know it was her.
ANNE: It's incredibly well done. Just such a powerful read, the content warnings are I think pretty obvious there, but the way she weaves together like hope and trauma and healing and even humor is just ... It's so well done. I was really glad I read it, and it says a lot that it was your favorite book of the year that year.
ALLISON: Yeah. Okay, so a book that I had ... I told you I had a visceral reaction to this book. [BOTH LAUGH] So I picked up the book Talk Like TED because this was like early on in my author career when my publisher was like you know you should really get out there and get some speaking gigs, you know, I think like so many authors who were told they should get speaking gigs, I was like wait a second. What?! I thought that being an author meant [ANNE LAUGHS] I just got to happily sit behind my computer screen and never have to see another human being. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I never have to put on real pants again.
ALLISON: [LAUGHS] I know. Anyway, so I was like okay, and this is kinda true to my personality, but I was like I'm going to figure this out. I'm going to become a speaker. You know, I'm going to figure out how to do this. So I picked up a bunch of different books, Talk Like TED being one of them and I didn't realize that this wasn't like a ... It was a compilation of several different TED talks that had been put together, but there was like, there was no guidance for the reader at all.
Like so when I put a book together or when I help an author put a book together the first thing we talk about is who do you want to read this book? Because to me it's like sending a letter to someone without knowing who you're sending it to. Try typing an email without having anyone's name in the to form, and you just have no idea where to start. You don't know what to say. You don't know how to say what you're trying to say. You don't even know what you're talking about because you don't have a destination for the book, and to me Talk Like TED felt like that.
It felt like someone sorta phoned it in, put a bunch of TED talks together [ANNE LAUGHS] that they thought were cool and called it a book and charged me $20 for it, and I would take my money back. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Ally, what have you been reading lately?
ALLISON: I have been reading since the beginning of this calendar year [BOTH LAUGH] I've been reading Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. My caveat for myself is I'm a new mom. My daughter was born in July of last year in the middle of the pandemic, and then my husband and I got pregnant again fairly immediately. It was not planned, but it was ... It - it’s life. And so I'm about to have another baby that has completely turned my life upside down and therefore my reading life, so I need to figure out a solution to this. I'm not a great audiobook person.
ALLISON: I would love to love audiobooks, I just don't process information as well when I am listening to it as I do when I see it on the page. So I'm trying to figure out how I can get more reading in. My husband the other day was like I've read 12 books in the last month, and I was like well, I've read one in the last year. [BOTH LAUGH] I was like maybe we could switch places.
ANNE: How unlike you is that?
ALLISON: Oh, it's so unlike me. I mean, this is another conversation, but I feel like the transition into motherhood, you for a period of time let go of all kinds of things that are like so close to you, that like this was so like me, I would have read 100 books in a year at least. And now to only have read one, and to have books stacking up that I want to read on my nightstand and wherever else that I just don't, I just don't have the space to do it, so life happens in seasons and this one will be short and we'll move on to another one but for now it's been a little bit ... It's been disappointing. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: And I'm sorry for that 'cause as a reader I can appreciate that. [ALLISON LAUGHS] You don't need anyone to explain your life to you, Ally, but in case you do need someone to articulate things, you are having this taxing season of your life on top of a very taxing season for people in the world.
ANNE: And that's a lot all at once. So many people feel like they're at capacity and that's without adding two infants in a very close time frame.
ALLISON: Yeah, I mean, I try to remind myself that and also other people when we're talking about how challenging this time has been because on the one hand, you know, we're 18 months ish into this and it sorta tricks you into feeling like we should be over it by now, like you know, we're past the worst of it or something, when really if you think about what life has been like for the last 18 months for all of us, it's a massive amount of change that takes so much energy to, you know, rise to the occasion, so even the simplest things feel hard.
ANNE: And at the same time we want to remind you what's so great about those books that have reliably brought you joy for all these years …
ANNE: So let's see what we can do here.
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ANNE: Let's start by revisiting the books you loved, and didn't. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy surprised you with its power, The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, not the pulpy fiction, actually the earlier reviews of this book were bad, like they called it ...
ALLISON: Were they?
ANNE: Oh yeah! Yeah. Oh, this is so pulpy. This is so melodramatic, but like are we still reading this book [ALLISON LAUGHS] forty years later? Yes. Yes we are. And Know My Name by Chanel Miller. Again, I keep using the word powerful but a really powerful memoir about trauma and hope and identity. Those books have really interesting overlapping themes that we could draw a really insightful Venn Diagram about. We're going to skip it.
ALLISON: Okay. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: But I'm definitely thinking of that as we're going, [ALLISON LAUGHS] I mean, I just like rattled those off like hope and trauma and identity and also family. That's, I imagine, not a coincidence.
ALLISON: Wow, yeah, you just gave me a new insight into ... That sounds like me. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I hope it makes that stack look good. Okay, not for you, Talk Like TED put together by Carmine Gallo. Not what you wanted. You want something with a more defined purpose.
ANNE: I imagine that you can't quite turn off your writing coaching brain.
ANNE: And you want to see those same skills evident in the books you are choosing to pick up.
ALLISON: Yes. Agreed.
ANNE: Okay. Currently Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey.
ALLISON: Which I've been loving. I mean, I'm not done with it yet, but I'm maybe three quarters of the way through it. I am impressed with what a great writer he is. You know, sometimes you see a celebrity name or photo on a book and you think like I don't know. [LAUGHS] The cynical box that I think. [ANNE LAUGHS] I'm just like oh, yeah, well of course you gave Matthew McConaughey a book deal. No, but he's really a ...
ANNE: And a really good editor.
ALLISON: Yes. He's a gifted storyteller and his voice comes through very clearly on the page. I have no idea what kind of help he had writing the book, but whoever helped him or whatever team he had put together they all did a great job. It's a very engaging book.
ANNE: Well I have had that in my stack for a really long time, I mean, I could turn around from my mic and see it. It's sitting there behind me. [ALLISON LAUGHS] Okay, so Ally, we are just going to ... I want to say swing for the fences but we're not really. I'm just going to share some books that based on what you said that you enjoyed, I think may work for you and may work for you right now. And we're going to like, we're going to cover a range of reading moods.
ALLISON: Okay, great.
ANNE: Based on the fact that you want to be reading and you're not reading because you are at capacity, I'm not going to start by recommending a book. I'm going to start by recommending a newsletter.
ALLISON: [LAUGHS] Okay.
ANNE: Not the entire newsletter. A single issue of a newsletter written by a novelist.
ANNE: That you could like happily plunge into his work, but we're going to start with a newsletter. The novelist is Brandon Taylor. His debut novel won a slew of awards called Real Life. So Brandon Taylor writes this newsletter called Sweater Weather which you gotta Google “Sweater Weather Brandon Taylor,” otherwise you get like the sweaters you need in your wardrobe
ALLISON: Yeah, sure. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: And yeah, yeah. New for fall. But his recent newsletter is called Trauma is a Ghost, Who Knew. And it is ... about the subtitle, if a newsletter can have a subtitle, is trauma, bad vibes, screenplays, etc. This is a short read. I mean, I think you could read this in 12 minutes, maybe less, but what he's talking about here is the process of adapting his novel Real Life into a screenplay, how that is fun, and how that is really, really challenging because it's a different skill, like he says he's great at writing novels. He's never written a screenplay. It is different, and actually, the process reminded me of a very different book from an author I know you know. It reminded me of A Million Miles In A Thousand Years.
ALLISON: Oh, yes.
ANNE: That's what he learned from editing his life in a similar format. So that's fun. So he's talking about what this is like and what is hard, and he talks about the part of the screenplay that was particularly hard to write where the main character has to talk about the trauma he experienced as a child and what it means for his family, and so Brandon Taylor goes into a personal story about what he shares in common with his protagonist and how difficult it was to write these scenes and he talks about memories he has of his childhood and how .... His childhood trauma and how that affects his relationships even now, like these are themes that you will see some varying degrees or levels of specificity in Chanel Miller and the Prince of Tides for sure, and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, assault and identity, like these things are in all your stories.
He goes from talking about screenwriting to talking about trauma to talking about living as a whole human today and what that means for our relationships, it's so short and punchy and good and powerful and you can read it in 12 minutes and read something well written that's satisfying, that has a beginning, middle, and end, and the option exists for you to next go read Real Life, that book that he's already told you a little bit about, maybe whet your appetite for, but we're going to start small, but satisfying with this Substack piece, Trauma is a Ghost, Who Knew. Okay, next I know that you've said that you enjoy fiction when you pick it up, but nonfiction is kinda your jam.
ANNE: Have you read Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb?
ANNE: [GASPS] You have? Oh, did you enjoy it?
ALLISON: It's so good. Yeah, I should have had that on my list of favorite books. She's a really gifted writer, too. That's a book where I feel like ... You talked about it's hard to turn off the voice of the writing coach, and you know that it's a really great book when I don't think about that at all from start to finish and that was one of them.
ANNE: But afterwards were you like okay, can I see her whiteboard because I have questions?
ALLISON: After the book I learned that she worked in TV for a long time, which makes sense because it means that she has been trained as a storyteller. That's really what it means to put a book together is to be a brilliant storyteller. It's just a different format than TV, so I thought that makes total sense, that she's both a therapist and a brilliant storyteller. That's so beautiful.
ANNE: Yes. I really loved it. Okay, but you've already read it, so you've already enjoyed it.
ANNE: Okay, do you want a nonfiction book or do you want to stick with fiction?
ALLISON: Give me a fiction book because I feel like I never know where to go with fiction.
ANNE: Okay, so I'm noticing that your favorites are old and I think we want to stick mostly with books that are older as well. Have you read any Anne Tyler? I'm thinking of The Accidental Tourist.
ANNE: Ally, it has so many of the things you like.
ANNE: She often writes about sad things, like there are tragedies in her book, but she does it in a way that's not depressing, like Anne Tyler does not do depressing, but in this book it begins against the backdrop of a tragedy. It's about a married couple whose 12 year old son dies, tragically. I think it's - I think it's a hold up in a fast food restaurant, so a year later the couple is in the midst of a divorce. Anne Tyler, she writes ordinary quirky really well. Her protagonists are just a little bit not like us, but enough like us that we really enjoy reading about them. Like we can go right along with them on that narrative transportation process.
The protagonist is the husband who is a travel writer, who hates to travel. He stumbled into his profession accidentally as well, but his is not as good as fit as your accidental profession has proven to be for you. [ALLISON LAUGHS] Because things are going so terribly in his life, he falls and breaks a leg. He moves back into the family home with his grownup siblings, all of whom have for some reason found their way back into the family nest. With his siblings and his dog, you can imagine like the opportunities for humor are right there with the grown ups back in the family home, meeting each other as adults this time but you know, the sibling squabbles are not necessarily left behind them.
The dog is expressing its grief in a more, you know, biting, chewing, peeing on things kinda way, so he enlists the help of a dog trainer who proceeds to turn his life upside down and shows him that there could be another way of living that he had not yet found. But it's complicated, of course, as life often is, but I think this story deals with so many of the themes you enjoy. I hope you find the ending satisfying, but I think this is a journey that you may enjoy going on with the characters.
ALLISON: Thank you. I love it. I'm intrigued already.
ANNE: Okay, that's The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, and it's compact. It's probably right around 300 pages. You could read that fairly quickly, but I also want to give you something like a little longer and I don't want to say meatier like those other two books weren't necessarily, but one that has a little more scope to it, and this is a newer release. I'm thinking of Tara Conklin's The Last Romantics. It came out a couple years ago.
The protagonist is a poet, which is important to the story, so her name is Fiona. The year is 2079. It opens at a poetry reading, and she has not been out in the public for 25 years and now I feel like I need to say it's not 'cause there was a pandemic. [ALLISON LAUGHS] She didn't want to talk to the masses but now she's going to do it, and she's talking to an audience about her most known, like most beloved work. It's called The Love Poem that she wrote about the history of her life. And at the reading, somebody in the crowd who turns out to be really important to the story, she has an important connection, says like I want to hear about that poem, and so it causes the story to go back to 1989 Connecticut where we're plunged into the poet's family, but when she is a very small child. Oh, this is also a sibling story, like Anne Tyler, but these are the children in the family home. Tragedy strikes when the father dies of a heart attack. The mother does not handle it well. Here we are again with trauma and family stories and secrets, actually, are really key.
Something that's really I think deftly written about in this book which unlike Anne Tyler might actually be a little depressing, so choose your timing with care. The mother sinks into clinical depression, and a neighbor describes the kids as like going feral. Later the kids describe that period of time as The Pause 'cause their mom was just gone and they had a different life for a couple of years. They talk about as a period of neglect and adventure, and it changes them for the rest of their lives, and you see that track through not just their childhood, but as you check in with them in the decades to come. You get to see how the impact of that one experience brought on by tragedy like spirals out through the different members of their family and beyond over a period of a long, long, long time.
Also one of the siblings grows up to be a blogger and as someone who I know by times works on the Internet, that could be kinda fun. Actually, the book is called The Last Romantics and the title comes from the name of the sister's blog. It's called The Last Romantics. She's probably not blogging about what you think she's blogging about [ALLISON LAUGHS] which is kinda funny in the story, but let's see. So siblings, family, hope, trauma, secrets over many, many years, poet at the center, begins in 2079 but doesn't hang out there. It's mostly of our era, like it feels contemporary to us. How does that sound?
ALLISON: It sounds lovely. I'm into it.
ANNE: Okay. The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin. Okay, Ally, of the books we talked about today, one of them wasn't actually a book, so that was the newsletter piece, Trauma is a Ghost, Who Knew by Brandon Taylor. Though if you love it, Real Life is ready and waiting for you to scoop up next. Next we talked about The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler, followed by The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin. Of those books, and you know, other literary forms, I have a pretty good idea, but what do you think you'll pick up next?
ALLISON: I'm going to read today Sweater Weather, the newsletter.
ANNE: I can't wait to hear what you think. This has been so fun. Thank you so much for talking books and writing with me.
ALLISON: I have loved every minute of it. Thank you for having me.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Ally, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. Connect with Ally at her website findyourvoice.com, or follow her on Instagram at allyfallon. That's A-L-L-Y F-A-L-L-O-N. See the full list of the titles we discussed today at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/307
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Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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•The Power of Writing it Down by Allison Fallon
•Rewrite Your Life by Jessica Lourey
❤ Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
❤ The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
❤ Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller
△ Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo
•Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
•Real Life by Brandon Taylor
•trauma is a ghost, who knew by Brandon Taylor (Sweater Weather newsletter)
•A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
•Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
•The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
•The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
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Brooklinen’s biggest sale of the year is around the corner, and they’re offering some serious savings on cozy favorites. Listening after the sale? You can still save. Visit Brooklinen.com and use promo code READNEXT for $20 off with a minimum purchase of $100.