Readers, today’s guest knows that her life is about to change in a big way, and she’s taking advantage of the opportunity to create a special reading list she can rely on during this time.
Odeta Dyrmishi is looking forward to the arrival of her second child, and she wants to fill up her TBR (that’s to-be-read!) list with selections that she can enjoy during midnight feedings and quiet moments. Since Odeta first learned to love reading as a teenager, she’s turned to books to help her through life transitions big and small, and trusts reading as a way to feel like herself in any circumstance.
Odeta loves stories that entertain or teach her something, and she’s looking to bring a greater sense of adventure into her reading selections. I loved helping Odeta find the perfect titles to expand her readerly horizons and prepare for her special reading project.
Connect with Odeta on Instagram to see what she reads next!
ANNE: Usually I ask guests what they are going to read next, but your intention was to save these for July. Is that still the case?
ODETA: It is …
ODETA: But now I’m kinda like don't want to wait. [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 325.
Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?
We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading, and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.
Readers, today’s guest is about to embark on an exciting new chapter in her life, and she wants a reading list for the journey!
Odeta Dyrmishi first became a reader with the help of an English teacher who gave her the right book at the right time. Since then, reading’s been a big part of her life and something that’s helped her through life transitions both big and small. Now that she’s preparing for the arrival of her second child, she knows from experience that keeping her regular reading habit is one of the best ways to feel like herself during this period of exciting change.
While she typically enjoys a mix of books that promise to entertain or teach her something, lately Odeta has felt less adventurous in her reading choices. With the upcoming arrival of her new baby, she knows she’ll have time during midnight feedings and quiet moments to sit down with a book or listen to audiobooks. Odeta wants to make the most of this time to nurture her growing family while also expanding her readerly horizons.
I loved helping Odeta find the perfect titles for her special reading project, and I can't wait for you to listen. Let’s get to it.
Odeta, welcome to the show.
ODETA: Thank you and thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited to be here.
ANNE: Odeta, we're talking today because you filled out a submission at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/guest. What inspired you to do that right now?
ODETA: Well I've been a listener of the podcast for a while now. I kinda found out about it by accident. I've loved it ever since. It's something I like look forward to every Tuesday, even when I'm not necessarily looking for something to read. I just love hearing people stories and kinda how they go about making decisions about their reading life, so I've always thought it would be fun to submit a request at some point, but I'm like ah, you know, they're probably not going to pick me. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: And here we are.
ODETA: Yeah. So I'm just like I never even thought about it, but what's kinda pushed me is that I am pregnant with my second baby. Gonna be due in July, and when I had my first son, I never had time to read, but this time around I want to go into it prepared. I want to have my books ready to go. I want to have a list of things that I can go to, and I also discovered audiobooks, and it's just makes it really easy when there's a million things going, you can just put your earphones on and listen to it as you're like doing dishes or cleaning diapers or, you know, mundane everyday chores.
I am excited about it because it's not going to be as hard as it was with my first baby because I just didn't have a chance to actually sit down and read when I had him. So I really wanna try to get some fun ideas now that I'll have this time that's dedicated and I know I'm going to be awake a lot in the middle of the night and I'll have a lot of time to be at home, so it'll be a good time for me to catch up on some reading, but also very interested in kinda just coming out of my comfort zone a little bit and just expanding some of the variety and genre of different books that I usually listen to/read.
ANNE: Ohh. I love the sound of that. Congrats on your expected arrival. That is so exciting.
ODETA: Thank you.
ANNE: I mean, I'm definitely noticing that planning a reading project and getting your postpartum reading checklist already to go months in advance is not on every expectant mother’s to-do list, so that must say a lot about the place reading has in your life.
ODETA: Yeah, well, I think that and when you have a baby, especially during these times, it can be stressful. It certainly was with my first son. I just kept trying to find ways to feel like myself again.
ODETA: And it was just very challenging because I had him in 2020. He was born literally like two months after we went into lockdown, so there was just nothing to do. I couldn't just go out with my girlfriends for dinner and kinda just unwind. I couldn't take him to the park because I didn't want him to get exposed to germs. The recovery was ... It took me a couple of weeks to feel physically a little bit better. I just really didn't have a lot of room for feeling like myself, like things that I used to be able to do I just couldn't do anymore because of the pandemic and just because I underestimated how challenging the postpartum phase can be.
So this time I really want to try to plan some activities or some things that I know really help me feel like myself so that I can kinda lessen that anxiety of having a new baby with a toddler in the house. Again, still dealing with the pandemic and bunch of other stuff that is happening around the world, so it's kinda a stressful time to be a human, and I'm just trying to think ahead of time what am I going to plan so that when the time comes I can just kinda like lessen some of the anxiety or that I have my go to places that I can kinda take some alone time to just feel like myself again in some small portion. And that's kinda what prompted me to try to come together reading lists.
That's one of the things I enjoy, and it makes me feel like myself even when I'm really stressed out and there's a lot of other things going on and I'm just like yeah. That's definitely going to be on the list. [ANNE LAUGHS] And it's so easy because I don't have to go anywhere. I don't have to plan an outing. I don't have to like worry about, do I have enough diapers in the diaper bag? Is the baby cranky ‘cause he didn't get enough, you know, their nap time wasn't long enough, so it's something I can do anywhere and it just makes me feel a little bit like myself. So that's kinda what prompted me to submit a request and I was like oh, they're probably not going to pick me. [ANNE LAUGHS] You know, it can't hurt. I don't have no idea how they pick people, so I'm just going to give me my best shot and see if it works out.
ANNE: Well I can tell you how we choose guests. First of all, rarely does a submission come through that we don't want to talk to that reader because our goal on What Should I Read Next is to help you listeners get more out of your reading lives and we do that by featuring a variety of guests, so at some point there will be a week where you're like ugh, that reader sounds just like me. Even listening to readers talk about the books that don't work for them can help you realize why you love the things you love, even if it's completely different than what that guest is sharing, and I'm so glad you're here.
This sounds like such a life giving project and what can be a joyous time in your personal life but also a stressful time, and I'm just nodding along to everything you said about the postpartum period and toddlerhood as my kids are older, but there are four of them and I well remember those days, and also how difficult it is to be a human in the world we're living in right now. There are so many hard and difficult things that we are all experiencing or watching from a distant on the news but either way, it makes a difference in our hearts and our minds and our lives and being cognizant of that I think right now as you're looking forward to this time of transition in your life is so wise.
Odeta, you mentioned that you wanted to get a little bit out of your comfort zone as you're choosing these postpartum reads. So I'd love to hear more about that starting with what you have been reading lately and how you choose those books.
ODETA: Typically, I choose my books from a variety of different ways so obviously I listen to the podcast and if there's a book that sounds really good, I will usually write it down and then I'll look into it later on. I also kinda sometimes, you know, stumble into things on Instagram, friends recommend different books to me and occasionally I'll go to like the New York Time bestseller list just to see what's there and if anything looks good.
I have like a couple of different categories that I always like to kinda go to when I'm reading a book. I like to combine like something that I would consider like a fun book with a book that I would consider like educational/self-improvement. So for example, if I'm in like the mood for a mystery thriller – which is usually my go to; I love those kind of books – I'll pair that with a historical book about you know the conflict in the middle east, like a book that's a little bit heavy and make myself read it because I really want to learn more about the topic, but I know that it's going to be hard to get through it because sometimes it's just a lot of heavy stuff in those books.
So to kinda push myself through it, I'll pick a book like that and then I'll pick something fun to read right after or in between my next book. So I'll kinda like pair it in groups like that. I found that that really has worked for me. It doesn't mean that I always get through the books that I ... You know, I have the heavy topics sometimes I start reading them and they're just too much and I just can't do it, so I just kinda decide you know what, this is not for me. I'm going to pick another one that's sorta similar that will help me become more knowledgeable about, the history, the world, myself and how you know, kinda improving my knowledge and improving myself but maybe this is not the exact right format for me.
And … but I kinda try to just pick like combination of like a fun one versus an educational one and then the third category that I always like to put in there is classics because it's just so much new material coming in every day and there's just so many good books that I know that there's a lot of good classics as well so I try to like you know, put in an older book that has been established, like for example, a while ago I kinda forced myself to read War & Peace. It took me ... Oh my god, about eight months. Came back, put it away, came back, but I finished it and I was really proud of myself because I did love the book. I enjoyed it. It was just kinda slow.
But I would say my main categories are books that I can learn something from, whether it's historical, political, self-improvement. Books that are fun, whether that's mystery, thrillers, you know, something that's popular at the time and books that are a little bit more on the classics side so that I don't miss some of those books that have that history and readers are in love with them and, you know, keep hearing about them over and over again.
ANNE: Okay, so those are your staples. Odeta, have you always been a reader?
ODETA: No, I – that's really funny. I really haven't. I'm originally from Romania and it wasn't until I moved to the US and started high school here, my English teacher introduced me to A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. We were reading short stories at the time and I just thought it was so clever. The sarcasm behind it. I really enjoyed it and I'm like oh, this could be a thing. I can find books that are similar to this that are funny. Yeah, I think it started after high school for me and I got a lot more into it in college and after college.
ANNE: Now, Odeta, I heard that Nora Roberts played a big part in expanding your reading life. Can you tell me a little more about that?
ODETA: When I first moved to the US I didn't really speak English. I came at a time where I wasn't really able to enroll in school yet 'cause it was the last few months of the school season. My sister actually had a bunch of books, mystery, thrillers, romance, bunch of different things mixed together and I just randomly picked up a book and started reading it. I found it so easy to read. You know, the material wasn't heavy. The language wasn't heavy and I liked the stories, so I went into a phase where I was reading a lot of her books and it really helped me with my English and kinda just how to understand and make basic conversation and I found her books to be fun.
I still go back to it once in a blue moon. I don't find myself gravitating towards those books anymore because I feel like there's a similar patterns, but I think at the time in my life it was perfect because like I said, I didn't really have a lot to do. These were just random books that I had in the house that I could just kinda pick up, and at the time I was not prepared to read mystery thrillers because I thought that was going to be too scary. Not really understanding how genres were kinda categorized. [LAUGHS]
So my sister also had a lot of John Grisham and other books like that and when I went a little bit into it, then I figured it was like about murders or about other stories like that, I just couldn't find myself getting into it. That's kinda how I got into reading in the U.S. and then kinda like took over from there, recommendations from friends and then just books that looked interesting.
ANNE: Odeta, are you still in the US now?
ODETA: Yes. I live outside of the Boston area in Western Mass. This is where I met my husband, got married, had my babies, so I'm going to be probably here for the foreseeable future.
ANNE: Odeta, thank you so much for letting me and our podcast and listeners be a part of your postpartum project planning for your reading life. I'm really excited to choose books that I hope you were excited to read that provide the same things that you love about reading but also help you branch out the way that you like to do right now and I can't wait to get a clear idea on what those books might look like. Are you ready to dive into your reading life so we can figure it out together?
ANNE: Okay, well you know how this works. You're going to tell me three books you love, one book you don't, and what you've been reading lately and we will talk about what you may enjoy reading come summer. How did you choose these titles?
ODETA: I kinda chose the titles the way I usually categorize my books, so educational/self-improvement category, the fun category, and also the classic category. So like those main categories that I gravitate to, I picked my favorite book from each genre.
ANNE: Tell me about the first book you loved.
ODETA: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved and I really love that second portion of the title cause almost nobody ever says that. [ANNE LAUGHS] That's ... And I feel like that's what gravitated me towards the book. I don't know how to describe it. I was kinda hesitant to pick it up because it's kinda a heavy topic, but when I did I was so happy because the author was just so kind to her reader.
I'm not a particularly religious person and I was a little bit worried that it was going to be a lot of really just themes and I found that that's not what it was at all. It was just a human being kinda struggling with how to be a human and the difficult decisions that you have to deal in life with being a human, and one of the fun things that the books that I picked is that usually if there's a quote that I cannot get out of my head with a specific book I know that book is going to be a favorite for me.
And for that one one of the things that she said in the book I literally wrote it down and I just kept going back to it because I think it's such a powerful quote. The quote was "I can see now how hard people work to keep it together, but the walls that keep their lives from falling apart are so brittle."
ANNE: Thank you for sharing that. Now you mentioned that you are not wanting to read about difficult things right now and yet this is a book, you know, from Kate Bowler, you mentioned the religious aspect and she is a professor at Duke Divinity School who has a textbook wonderful life and has been diagnosed at age 35 with stage 4 colon cancer and this is her writing about her experience in ways that are straight forward and surprisingly funny.
ANNE: But just feel really, you know, at times dark but wise throughout. That is Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler. Odeta, tell me about the second book you loved.
ODETA: So the second book I loved was a book that I stumbled into when I went to my local library by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The Shadow of the Wind. And I loved this book for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons is because this book introduced me to the fact that I love books about books.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Oh, tell me more about that.
ODETA: Yes. [LAUGHS] So the whole idea of like the book being set in this, you know, war time or post-war time Spain and the idea of like this secret library, you know, that exists and nobody knows about with exception of a few special people. I mean like the second I read that I'm like yes. That is amazing. Can I live there? [ANNE LAUGHS] You know, can I just have access to a couple of secret libraries? Not even like any cool ones or special ones, but just the fact that they're secret, it makes it feel like special. So I think that's one of the main things that I love about this book.
I also loved how it was written. I read the English translation. I know originally it was written in Spanish because the author is, if I'm remembering correctly, from Spain originally. So I read the English translation, and I'm not sure if that makes a huge difference but I just found that it was just very beautifully written. I just found that there was some quotes in there and some of the passages. They were just so poignant and kinda just like again spoke to that human condition.
I think that's one of the things keeps … I keep coming back to as a reader, is just I really love when I'm able to learn something from a book and it's not telling me, this is what you need to learn. This is what the message is. You just kinda like going about telling the story or telling me what's going on in somebody's life and just by telling me that, I kinda learn something about how to be a better person and how to approach things or kinda like oh my god, I thought I was the only person that was going through this, or that think that way. But no, it's not just me. There's a bunch of other people that also go through that same experience I go through.
ANNE: That is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Odeta, what did you choose to complete your favorites list?
ODETA: This is keeping up with my theme. I picked a book that was in the category of the classics that I have read and that I enjoyed. A Thousand Years of Solitude. I love that book because it was just so strange. [ANNE LAUGHS] Like it just kinda really pulled me out of my life. When I came out of it I was just kinda like what just happened? [ANNE LAUGHS] I need like ten minutes to kinda reorient myself and you know, I live in 2020, you know, this is who the president is. This is what's going on. This is who I am. To kinda just sorta remind myself of what the world around me was because it just really pulled you into that life of those people and just other family and just the weird stuff that happened, but it wasn't like so weird that you're like oh, this is science fictiony.
It reminded me a lot of Isabel Allende and her books. I have read her books before I read this one so I'm just like it just felt very similar to that. I'm like oh, this feels just like her books, and I know that's not the case because he wrote his book before she did, but that's kinda like I like that, I kinda like that feeling of like completely being removed from your reality, being placed in a different reality, and then just kinda like having to shake yourself out of it to just kinda remind yourself where you live. [ANNE LAUGHS]
That's ... I love that feeling about reading. When a book kinda like takes me out of my own life and puts me in somebody else's, it's just ... It's incredible. I find that when that happens, I have an easier time making difficult decisions in my life because nothing seems as complicated, as stressful or as important when you are able to live in this different reality. You just come back and you're like okay, well this is just the small problem that happened in my life and I'm going to figure out how to fix it.
ANNE: So it's the best kind of disorienting. That was 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Now, Odeta, tell me about a book that didn't feel right for you.
ODETA: So a book that I really, really didn't enjoy was The Amber Keeper. I'm not sure how I found this book. It was either recommended to me or I found in a list somewhere, but I kinda went into it kinda just trying to stay open minded because historical fiction is not really a genre that I gravitate towards. I can do historical fiction if it's like you know 1940s, 1950s because that feels sorta close enough 'cause I'm like oh, I know people that lived in the '50s so I can still sorta relate to it. But I've never really ventured on historical fiction that was like from really long time ago.
So I went into it kinda like trying to stay open minded. I read the whole thing because I really wanted to see if there was going to be a redeeming quality to it and there just really wasn't. [LAUGHS]
ODETA: I just really didn't enjoy it at all. I think the main reason why I didn't enjoy it is just that I found the characters to be silly. It reminded me a lot of Spanish telenovelas. [LAUGHs] The main characters have this really good person, has this really awful things happen to them, but they're always the good person that never makes a bad decision. You know, they never do anything mean to anyone, and you know, all these bad things keep happening over and over and over again and they eventually they get their happy ever after. People aren't just good or bad. They're just always like mixture of things. There's not one person that's always going to make good decisions or the right decisions.
ANNE: So it sounds like this book happened to combine [LAUGHS] a few too many elements that you'd know that you don't take to all in the same book. It was a bridge too far.
ODETA: I enjoyed the historical fiction part of it. Like I liked that I learned a little bit about Russia before the Russian revolution and kinda like what life was like and kinda how, you know, the experiences that some people had when they were going through the Russian revolution. I enjoyed that a little bit. I wasn't against that. What I didn't enjoy about it at all was just ... It was all just very one dimensional. Like there was a good person and a bad person. So that's the main part that I didn't like about it.
ANNE: Odeta, what have you been reading lately?
ODETA: The one that I just finished yesterday was The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and that one was okay. It wasn't like bad. There wasn't anything about it that I didn't enjoy, but I really didn't like it that much. I thought it was just okay.
ANNE: Also historical fiction.
ODETA: I guess so. I don't think of historical fiction if it's like a story that starts around the '40s or '50s. I don't know why because maybe I can just relate a little bit to that generation, but yeah, it was historical fiction, you're right.
ANNE: Odeta, what are you looking for in your reading life right now?
ODETA: I'm kinda looking for just something to shake me out of my comfort zone. Feel like I was a little more adventurous when I was in college in terms of what books I picked up. For example, I'm not usually a poetry person. It can be a little bit heavy when you read it and like if I have to figure out what it means, I just don't want to read it. You know, I want to read something that like I know what it means and I can just allow it to make me feel however I'm going to feel. I don't want to have to spend time to interpret what it means before I'm like able to have emotions about it. So it just was never my thing, but a friend recommended Langston Hughes when I was in college and I read some of his poems and then I really enjoyed it …
ANNE: Oh, good.
ODETA: So I picked up all his collected works and I read all of them, and I still go back to it and read them sometimes because I learn things when I read this book, but his poetry, but it's also like not super dense. Something I can digest, you know, I actually know what he means when he's writing something.
ANNE: Right. There's an immediacy to it.
ODETA: Yeah, yeah. So that's what I like that – that's what I like about his poetry, but I also kinda want to go back to reading some books that I find myself learning from whether that's political, historical, or even just like The Shadow of the Wind. I feel like I just learn something from there, even though it really wasn't meant at all for people to learn anything from. It was just a story, so I just want to come out a little bit out of my shell and out of my comfort zone 'cause I feel like I'm missing out on some really good reads because I'm sticking so much to the mystery fiction. At the same time I'm a little bit scared [ANNE LAUGHS] because I get like freaked out by things easily nowadays.
ANNE: That will definitely be a guiding principle for today. But I am taking your words to heart when you said that you would love a combination of comfort reads and books that are out of your comfort zone and that can shock your system a little, and I'm going to your submission where you said poetry, but also books that are funny, science fiction and fantasy. How can we add a pleasing jolt to your reading life so that you have some good options come July in your postpartum period.
ODETA: I think that sounds amazing. That's exactly what I'm looking for.
ANNE: Okay, let's do this.
Odeta, the books you loved were Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved, can't leave off that subtitle, by Kate Bowler, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Not for you, The Amber Keeper by Freda Lightfoot, and lately you've been reading The Corman Strikes series by Robert Galbraith and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and you are looking to branch out a little and I'm excited to see how these picks sound to you.
And I want you to know that I'm very much keeping in mind the fact that you discovered reading The Shadow of the Wind that you love reading books about books and libraries and bookstores. I thought you know, if we can do that during your postpartum I want to do something for me, I want to feel like myself again period, then I'm just going to go with it.
ODETA: That sounds great.
ANNE: Okay. So the first book I have in mind is The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Australian writer Garth Nix. Is this one you know?
ODETA: No. I've never heard of that.
ODETA: The title though sounds so much fun.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I think you'll find it is. This was just published a few years ago and this is the story of a girl named Susan. This story opens on her 18th birthday, and she has a big day ahead of her and an exciting trip ahead of her. Susan is an art student. She's beginning at a prestigious school in London in just a few months so she kinda feels like she has to get it together before then. She also knows that she's never met or known her father and her mother has always been very tight-lipped about his identity. Susan doesn't know who her dad is. She's never met him. She doesn't know his name. She doesn't know anything about him, but on the morning of her 18th birthday, her mom almost lets some things slip, but then stops herself before it comes out.
When Susan ventures to London for her little birthday adventure, she ends up getting mixed in some ...Okay, actually you know how you said The Shadow of the ... No, you said One Hundred Years of Solitude was just so strange and you said it like it was a compliment.
ODETA: Yes. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Well Susan accidentally ends up getting mixed up in some weird ancient stuff. So what happens is she goes to London and she meets this man named London, and right in the very beginning, I think we're in chapter two, it might still be chapter one, she says wait a second. [LAUGHS] It sounds like you're a wizard. I saw you do something weird with a hatpin to that guy. What's going on here? Are you a wizard? And he says well [LAUGHS] mainly I'm a bookseller. And she's like what? And he's like you know I handle incoming deliveries. I do unpacking. I do shelving. I don't do selling. I'm left-handed. Right-handed booksellers do that. And she's like [LAUGHS] hold on, what is going on?
And so he explains to her really we, you and I, Odeta, are living in the quote-unquote "normal" human world, but really it's just the top layer of reality and there's another world beneath our world and under certain conditions, or at certain times, which Susan either luckily or unluckily kinda stumbled upon. The old world comes to the top, or elements of the old world become part of our world, Odeta, that we're in living and when that happens, you need a left-handed bookseller to kinda police the gates and make sure that the right people and things stay in the right places or just everything goes to pieces. And she's like that sounds fascinating and amazing, but what does bookselling have to do with all this? And he's like we have to make a living! [LAUGHS]
So what you have is a clan of booksellers. You have a mysterious thrilling adventure fantasy ride set in a slightly alternate 1980s England. All about books and bookselling. In ways that you never expected or saw coming. How does that sound to you?
ODETA: That sounds amazing. All of those things together, it sounds like so much fun.
ANNE: I hope so, and I think if it's not clear yet that this book has a serious sense of humor that I hope you'll appreciate, and the origin story is really funny. Garth Nix said that he was on book tour. He's a prolific writer of sci-fi, but he was on book tour in the before times and he was doing a signing in Edinburgh, and he noticed the bookseller was left-handed. He commented on it, and the bookseller was like eh, we're all left-handed here. [LAUGHS] And he said something about the mysterious left-handed booksellers of Edinburgh, and maybe I'll write a story about them, and you know, five years later he actually did that. I thought that kinda was fun.
ODETA: That is a really cute story and I think it sounds amazing. I'm definitely going to try to check that out.
ANNE: I hope that's an escape into another world at a time you need it this summer.
Okay, next you said that you weren't sure if you wanted to do poetry or not even though part of you really does but I could hear you hedging. I'm going to give you a little nudge in this direction because I think I have a good twofer that'll help you step into this genre that you have really enjoyed. You said that you really appreciated those Langston Hughes poems and I'm hoping that you'll find with this collection by Beth Ann Fennelly. Have you read anything by her? We've talked about her on What Should I Read Next a little bit.
ODETA: No, I've not read anything by her. I mean, it was probably in the podcast before, but either like I kinda like don't remember it.
ANNE: Oh, I am – I am pleased to make an introduction.
ODETA: Yeah. Okay. Great.
ANNE: So that is wonderful. She was the Poet Laureate of Mississippi, and I think it's her micro memoir collection Heating & Cooling that has come up most often on the podcast. But she is a poet by profession and yet she hasn't written only poetry, and I think something that could be really fitting reading for your postpartum reading project this summer is her collection called Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother.
It's a reflection on pregnancy and young motherhood and this is a series of actual letters that she wrote to a young mother in her life by request. The origin story of how this collection came to be is really touching, and it appears right at the beginning of the book, but the bottom line, she was writing letters to this young mother who had lost her mother because this young woman who had been her student was like what am I going to do without my mother? Who will tell me what to do? And Beth Ann Fennelly said I will write you. I will write you every day and she said it wasn't actually every day, but there were a lot of letters.
But what she's really saying in the introduction in the book is we are to care for one another as people, as women, and that's really of it in this collection. In fact in the acknowledgment she says this book is a tribute to friendship, particularly the friendship between women that sustains and guides and comforts. And I think reading this at a moment in time when you are entering motherhood again with your second child could be really wonderful timing. So many readers have said about this, I felt like she was speaking directly to me and telling me what I needed to hear at that point in my life.
Also if you've never read her work before this is a wonderful way in, and then once you're in, I would go for her poetry collections. There's not a bad place to start, but for you, for this summer, I would really recommend Tender Hooks. This was published like almost 20 years ago now back in the early 2000s. This is an almost unbelievable coincidence, but I believe in bookish serendipity, so it's not too good to be true. Just delightfully true, but the epigraph here is from Gabriel García Márquez's 100 Years of Solitude. It's the quote that says, “the world was so recent that many things lacked names and in order to indicate them, it was necessary to point.” And Beth Ann Fennelly does not write in flowery language. That is not her style. It's very plain and straightforward. It is not hard to interpret. It does have that immediacy about it that we talked about, but there's also a real humor to her work.
Like when I've talked about Heating & Cooling before, listeners, you may remember that I've said that she can have you laughing and crying on alternate lines 'cause she's very frank, like almost in the way that Kate Bowler is about the human experience, like the good and the bad and how those are so often commingled. But some of the poem titles in this collection ... Well, “Bite Me” kicks off the collection. [ODETA LAUGHS] There's one called “If Only We Could Keep Them Small Forever,” which of course that's not going to be all sentimental because this is a Beth Ann Fennelly collection, but my favorite title in this little book may be “Three Months After Giving Birth, the Body Loses Certain Hormones.”
So that is Tender Hooks, her poetry collection, and then the almost essay collection the collection of letters is called Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother. How do those works by Beth Ann Fennelly sound to you?
ODETA: Sounds incredible. I think it's just perfect because again like I'm trying to go into the poetry route but not to be overwhelmed by it and to be able to adjust it easily and the fact that she's writing to young mothers, I mean, I think it's going to fit perfectly. I think one of the things that I've learned when I had my son is just kinda like it just immediately creates this bond between all mothers. I didn't even know was possible before. It's just incredible because now I feel like the way I look at the world and the way I look at my mom, my sisters, and literally any woman who has had children whether they've had their children or adopted them or, you know, in some other it's just that connection it's almost like it's weird. It's intimate, and it's just so automatic and to be able to kinda just get the different perspective of other mothers out there. That sounds incredible.
ANNE: I'm so glad to hear it. Now finally there's a book that I know you haven't read yet because as we're speaking today it's not out yet, but it will be out in plenty of time for your newborn's arrival. The book is The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd. I like it for you because it combines elements that you already know you love with elements that you don't read as often and are wanting to read more and I really hope that means that it will shock your system in the way that you're hoping to find.
So the aspects you already know you love, there's a strong mystery thriller component here. Something else I really love about this for you is that much of the action takes place inside the New York Public Library. Odeta, you said that you loved the secret library in Shadow of the Wind and I can't go into details ‘cause that's part of the fun of the book is you get to figure out how it works, but there are definitely some secret rooms in libraries in this book, oh, that it's hard to find your way into unless you know how to get there.
There's a strong dose of magical realism on top of this otherwise like quite realistic novel set in today's world. At the heart of this story is a young woman named Nell Young. I think she's in her late 20s when this story opens, but she begins by telling what happens seven years before when she was going to be one of the, like, most renowned cartographers of her generation. She was going to follow in her father's footsteps. She had her whole career ahead of her and what she wanted to do was take on her father's role after working with him. He's the head of the New York Public Library's esteemed maps division. Everybody knows and laudes him. She was willing to take her place in the family chain, especially because her mother who had also loved mapmaking and cartography had died under mysterious circumstances when she was young.
So that's what she wanted to do with her life, but at that point seven years ago, her father completely destroyed her career for reasons that are still inexplicable for her. It happened because of a map, a weird, cheap old gas station map and he basically publically cast her out of the New York Public Library and she has been more or less shunned by her old colleagues ever since and that includes the man she thought she was going to marry. So all kinds of things wrong in Nell's young life.
So right now when the story opens, she's working in a job that she considers to be a big disgrace. She is making fake maps. Her job is to make new things look old to make people happy. So that's where we meet our young protagonist, but then her father dies under mysterious circumstances in the New York Public Library and when she's called to the scene she can't help but do just the tiniest bit of snooping around and pretty soon she realizes something fishy has happened here. I don't know what it is, but it has to do with that old, cheap gas station map that I got fired and cast out into the ether over seven years ago and I don't know what in the world the deal with that map could be. Like it's cheap. They were abundant. Nobody would want one. Like what in the world, how could it be so important that now it's seemingly causing her father's death?
So she starts investigating and she finds out that there were in fact at one point thousands, maybe tens of thousands of these maps but she knows how to do this research as a cartographer and they're all missing or destroyed. The few in existence are being sold for tens of millions of dollars. It just doesn't make any sense, and suddenly she has the only one in the world and she realizes she has a target on her back and she doesn't know why or what she's gotten mixed up in but she has this old map, and it has the symbol of the cartographers on it like proper noun, The Cartographers, and she doesn't know what that means, but she's scared, and she's gotta figure something out real quick.
So with that backdrop, she plunges into the world of her parents' past and this exciting, adventurous literary super nerdy old group of friends they were apart of and the escapades they got up to before she was even born and then shortly thereafter, discovers a lot about the history and what it means for what is happening today. So that was a lot of words, but how does that sound?
ODETA: That sounds incredible. It reminds me a little bit of The Da Vinci Code.
ANNE: Oh, yeah.
ODETA: Almost like – like the library, like versus museum, you know, the thriller, the science fictiony part of it. I think it sounds incredible and very exciting, so that sounds great.
ANNE: Well let me give you a much shorter description of this book. So Peng Shepherd just gave in an interview I was reading, they said, can you like tell somebody what your book is about in like five words or less? And she's like yeah, maps, family secrets, more maps. That's what this book is about.
ODETA: Sounds incredible. I'm very excited.
ANNE: Now Odeta, usually I ask guests what they are going to read next but your intention was to save these for July. Is that still the case?
ODETA: It is ...
ODETA: But now I’m kinda like don't want to wait. [BOTH LAUGHS] 'Cause they sound so good!
ANNE: Alright. Well how about tell me what you think sounds like you want to jump into next, even if next is in July. So we talked about The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix. We talked about Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother and the poetry collection Tender Hooks by Beth Ann Fennelly, and then we finished with The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd. Now of those books, tell me what you think.
ODETA: Well I think that I'll probably start with The Left-Handed Booksellers of London because it seems like it's already out and it's probably available, but I'll probably I’m going to try to see if I can actually hold off until I'm closer to having my baby to reading it because I do want these books to be my special thing that I do for myself [LAUGHS] while I'm taking care of a newborn, but we'll see if that works out.
I'm definitely going to read all the books you recommended, Great with Child and the other ones that you recommended, but those I'll probably reserve for when the baby's here. That way I can feel like I'm, you know, having this extra connection to mothers and motherhood and just, you know, a slice of something good in the world. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: There's no judgment no matter what you choose. I only hope that you enjoy the reading experience when it happens. Odeta, this has been a delight. Thank you so much for talking books with me today.
ODETA: Thank you so much. Thank you for the recommendations. I really appreciate them. I think it's going to be helpful in kinda getting me out of my comfort zone a little bit.
ANNE: Oh, it was my pleasure, and I wish you a very happy baby moon on behalf of our listeners as well.
ODETA: Thank you.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Odeta, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. See the full list of the titles we discussed today and leave a suggestion for Odeta at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/325.
Follow us on Instagram for shelfies, reminders, videos, and generally delightful book talk. We’re there at whatshouldireadnext, and I’m at annebogel. That’s Anne with an E, B as in books, O-G-E-L.
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If you’re looking for even more inspiration in your reading life, check out the Modern Mrs Darcy book club. It’s an online community where we read books, connect with authors, chat with fellow readers, and learn how to read better, together. Join us there at modernmrsdarcy.com/club.
Make sure you’re following us in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, wherever you get your podcasts. Tune in next week, when I’ll be talking with an author who showed up as a guest favorite way back in Episode 57. I can’t wait to share our conversation with all of you.
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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• War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
• A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
• Nora Roberts (try the Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy #1: The Next Always)
• John Grisham (try A Time to Kill)
❤ Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
❤ The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
❤ One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
• Isabel Allende (try The House of the Spirits)
▵ The Amber Keeper by Freda Lightfoot
• The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
• The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
• The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix
• Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly
• Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother by Beth Ann Fennelly
• Tender Hooks by Beth Ann Fennelly
• The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd