Readers, around here we’re getting excited for the official kickoff to summer reading season (that’s our 2022 Summer Reading Guide, of course), so it was a treat to create today’s episode, that’s filled to the brim with summer reading energy. Today’s show features four avid readers on the podcast—a What Should I Read Next first!
You might recognize the other voices in today’s episode: my husband Will’s here, along with two of our reading buddies, Melissa Joulwan and Dave Humphreys, who I spoke with once before in WSIRN Episode 219: Required reading revisited. You might also be familiar with Mel & Dave from their podcast, Strong Sense of Place, where they explore far-flung destinations around the world via books that make you feel like you’ve traveled there yourself.
Years ago, the four of us enjoyed a trip to Scotland, a destination that oozed winter reading vibes and inspired some paired selections for that season, so with summer reading season just ahead of us, it felt like a great opportunity to bring the four of us back together to talk about what makes a book a summer read, and share some of our favorite books filled with summer reading vibes. I think you’ll walk away eager to find a sunny space to sit and crack open your next read.
Anne (00:00): Have we ever had four people on the show before?
Will (00:02): No, there might be a reason why too, you know, We'll find, we'll find out [ALL LAUGH]
Anne (00:08): Hey readers. I'm Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next episode 331. 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 the 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.
Anne (00:39): Readers, if you've ever wanted the perfect tote bag to carry your latest library haul or indie bookstore buys, I have great news for you. The What Should I Read Next store is open. We're excited to share our 2022 collection of products. We've created a cozy, stylish T-shirt, a book-worthy tote, and the most delightful book darts all to help inspire and equip your reading lifestyle. Order yours now at modernmrsdarcy.com/store. And once your order arrives, we'd love to see you in action with your What Should I Read Next gear. Tag us on Instagram at whatshouldIreadnext, and show us your merch. And, if you wanted to show us what's in your reading tote as well, we wouldn't mind a bit. Get your gear at modernmrsdarcy.com/store.
Anne (01:25): Readers, summer is so close that we can almost taste it. And today we're celebrating summer reading with three special guests. Having four avid readers together on the podcast is a What Should I Read Next first!
Anne (01:37): Joining me today are my husband Will, and two of our reading buddies, Melissa Joulwan and Dave Humphreys, who you may recognize from Episode 219: Required reading revisited. Mel and Dave are the creators of Strong Sense of Place, a podcast that pairs far-flung destinations around the world with books that evoke the experience of being there. The four of us took a delightful trip to Scotland in the before times, an amazing destination that we paired with winter reading picks that were perfect for that time and place. Now today with summer reading just around the corner, it felt like the right time to get the four of us back together to talk about some of our enduring summer picks. The four of us have a spirited conversation about what makes a book a summer read. And, we share a stack of titles that convey a strong sense of summer. Our conversation has me even more excited about choosing my next summer read, and I think you'll feel the same. Let's get to it, Mel and Dave and William, welcome to the show.
Dave (02:34): Thanks. It's so good to see you.
Mel (02:37): We're so excited to be talking to you guys. It's been way too long since we got to talk about books with you.
Dave (02:42): Yeah.
Anne (02:42): I think it was on Voxer last week, but I appreciate the thought. [DAVE LAUGHS]
Mel (02:45): Maybe talking about books in public. [LAUGHS]
Anne (02:48): Oh, that's so much better, and we can at least see your faces. Listeners, I wish you could see our faces right now. So Will and I are in our respective home offices in Louisville, Kentucky, and Mel and Dave are in different rooms of their apartment in Prague. And we are just so glad to be together back on What Should I Read Next! This is also uncharted What Should I Read Next territory, so Mel and Dave, thank you for being the first to join us along with William and myself for our four person episode of the show. Six and a half years in, this is a milestone. We know each other from, I mean the short version is the internet.
Mel (03:21): I was thinking about that earlier, actually like I bag on the internet and social media a lot in private because I find it very anxiety producing. But then today I realized that's how you and I became friends. And that's pretty amazing.
Anne (03:35): I have to say Will and I were just discussing how social media might be the devil. We were actually discussing a recent Jonathan Haidt article that's been making waves, and it seems appropriate to pull him in here since his book The Righteous Mind has been a favorite of several What Should I Read Next guests. But we were talking about how blogs were actually pretty great. I think Jonathan Haidt says blogs were pretty great. A lot of my internet friends, that's how I first connected with them. And they're no longer internet friends. They're just plain friends.
Will (04:02): Right. You haven't done international travel with all your internet friends. So.
Anne (04:06): No [ALL LAUGH} Mel and Dave, you all are the only ones. Okay. So first Mel and I became friends. And then I think working the dates out, it was in 2016 or maybe even 2015 that I got a landmark email [MEL LAUGHS] from you, Mel. [DAVE LAUGHS]
Mel (04:22): It said, um, we are going to Wigtown Scotland to run a bookstore, and I'm wondering if you and Will wanna come with us. And we had never met in person. I had been a guest on your show. Yeah, you guys said yes, and I was like, these are our people because they said yes to a really crazy idea.
Dave (04:39): Well, let's step back and explain the crazy idea too, cuz there's - so Wigtown is the book town of Scotland. There's a bookstore there. The bookstore is also an Airbnb. So there's a store on the bottom floor and there's an apartment on the top floor and you rent it out for a week, and for that week you are running that bookstore. It is crazy popular. I think we put in our reservation as soon as we heard about it, and it was about two and a half years between when we made the reservation and when we actually got there.
Anne (05:08): I checked my email history this morning [MEL LAUGHS] and on February 11th, 2018, I got an email that indicated that plans were well underway and had been for some time.
Will (05:17): And then we went that December.
Anne (05:18): Yeah. We went December of 2018 and it was magical.
Mel (05:22): It was pretty epic.
Will (05:23): There's a lot of pressure traveling with other people, traveling with strangers is definitely a little harder [MEL LAUGHS] Uh, but yeah, that was great.
Mel (05:30): I mean, I feel like if you describe that situation outside of the context of us being who we are, it's like, these people are insane. Like who does that? [ANNE LAUGHS]
Will (05:40): Oh, we left out a lot of details when we asked my mom to stay with the kids, [ALL LAUGH] we were just like , we're meeting friends. Like, it was just like, we don't need to explain all this. [ALL LAUGH]
Anne (05:49): Although I will say by that point in time, it wasn't, it wasn't weird anymore. Especially you and I were in a, a group of female business owners together where we saw each other on video all the time. And you really do feel like you know somebody.
Mel (06:01): Yeah, it's true.
Anne (06:01): When, when you do that. But I felt like by 2018, we were far removed from the days of me mentioning that I was gonna get together with a Twitter friend for coffee [MEL LAUGHS] and my other friend who was not on the internet saying like, oh my gosh, you're gonna get murdered. Like we, [MEL LAUGHS] we had moved, we had moved beyond that stage, but we did. We went to Scotland together, the four of us and your friend from cartoon school, Tillie Walden, whose books have been recommended on What Should I Read Next.
Dave (06:26): Yeah. She's since gone to be international star of cartoons, Tillie Walden.
Anne (06:31): At the time, Tom of Typewronger Books was still real excited when she said, I wrote that, do you want me to sign it? [DAVE LAUGHS] I think that was about Spinning, her debut. Listeners. I know that you have a lot of questions about The Open Book and Wigtown and when you can go and how you can find out and Mel and Dave and myself have written about this extensively on our respective sites. So you can find that information on Strong Sense of Place and you can find it on Modern Mrs. Darcy. And I'm sure we touched on it when you all were on the podcast two years ago, you wanna go back and listen to that episode.
Mel (07:03): I feel like Typewronger Books made such an impression on me that I will talk about it at any given opportunity.
Anne (07:09): I agree. I'm so grateful I got to go, and Will and I are so grateful that you invited us to crash your long planned trip and come along. That was such a wonderful experience. And I need to mention that for a bit of Wigtown flavor. I recorded a podcast episode on our trip with Scottish bookseller Ruth. And that episode we'll put it in show notes for you, but it's recorded in her bookstore, which was a door or two down from the open book, I believe.
Dave (07:31): Yeah. Out the door and around the corner to the right there. And she was lovely. She's just so fun.
Anne (07:36): Well, she won you all over immediately when she pushed through the doors of The Open Book and complimented Mel's pun that she had put on the standup sign advertising the fact that the store was open. We liked her immediately. So we have done winter reading together before, and that is its own mood, but now it's almost summer reading season and that has a very different energy. Mel and Dave, I'm so glad that we get to talk about this with you because your podcast Strong Sense of Place is built on a very particular premise. Before we start talking about a strong sense of summer, what does it mean for something to have a strong sense of place?
Mel (08:17): I'm very, very particular about the books that I choose that I think have a strong sense of place. For me, it has to really transport me there beyond having street names or a mention of landmarks. It needs to, you know, evoke the sounds of the street, the energy of the people, the kind of food, the smells that you would smell when you step out of the airport or off the train, or I don't know, let's make it really romantic: get off of a boat at the port. [LAUGHS] like, what does that air smell like? What are you hearing? Um, so that's what we look for in the books that we recommend on our show.
Dave (08:58): Life's too short to go everywhere. [LAUGHS] And so we read and we try to get a sense of what those other places are like. And for me, I think one of the greatest things about it is it really helps me extend my, my empathy, right? I get a sense of a place and the people who occupy that place. I need a sense of authenticity that it, that I feel like the author is, has been there, has experienced it, has done the thing and it has a strong sense of place.
Anne (09:30): Oh, what Dave doesn't know is that Mel, Mel and I were just talking this week about an author who wrote a book set in a certain city you're very familiar with who had never been there and it kind of showed.
Dave (09:39): Yeah.
Mel (09:39): Yeah.
Will (09:40): Oh, I read a book, uh, set in Louisville recently and they mentioned a couple Louisville places. I'm like, cool, cool. And then I got to the end and I forgot it was set in Louisville. Like there was just nothing about it that said it was our town. So they mentioned a couple of places. I'm like, yep. I know where that is. I get where that is. But over time I just totally forgot, it could've been anywhere.
Anne (09:56): Yes. When I think strong sense of place, I think not just a book that could be set anywhere and it would be fine. I think of a book that couldn't be set anywhere else because the setting matters so much to the story.
Dave (10:10): Yeah.
Mel (10:10): Yeah. I have to say that one of the best reading and then visiting experiences I had was actually a book I read before we went to Edinburgh. It's called City of Ghosts and it's a middle grade novel. It's about ghost hunters. So they go to all of the haunted places in Edinburgh, and then we went to those places. I enjoyed the book when I was reading it, and then it deepened the experience of the book when I saw those places, and there was this feeling of recognition when I went to those places, even though I'd never been there before, because the descriptions in the book were so evocative. That is exactly the kind of experience we're hoping to have for all of the books we recommend on our show, like that's what we want to have that feeling of recognition.
Anne (10:51): But if you'd never been to Edinburgh, you would still get to experience it through the pages of City of Ghosts, but having been to Edinburgh, or having subsequently gone to Edinburgh, it really added to your reading experience. So your podcast is called Strong Sense of Place. What do you do every week there?
Dave (11:06): So every episode of Strong Sense of Place, we take a look at one destination, and then we talk about five books we love that are set in that destination. So, we are sort of looking at different angles of a particular place. And the books that we read are all over the place: they're fiction, of course, but we also do nonfiction, graphic novels, photography, poetry, cookbooks. We try to cover the whole bookstore.
Mel (11:32): We try to let our curiosity about a place drive what we talk about, and we try to choose books that give a broad look at the destination. So, we're pretty deliberate about picking things that cover different aspects of the culture or history or landmarks, different kinds of people, so that by the end of the show, you feel like it's like a travel show that went through a library. [LAUGHS]
Anne (11:58): I feel like if you're interested in a destination, you often offer something for all different kinds of readers. Actually in a couple of weeks, we're having a guest on What Should I read Next who is a travel agent, and something she started doing and wants to do more of is recommending books about a destination or set in a particular destination to her clients, so they can prepare for their travel experience, read them while they're there, keep lovingly remembering their trip after they get home, through books. As you'll hear, we wanted to choose books for all types of readers set in these various destinations, so she could give them to her clients and any kind of reader could find a book that would transport them to that place. And that's what you'll do every week minus the booking the actual tickets [DAVE LAUGHS] and reserving the hotels bit.
Dave (12:43): We, we had a, we actually had a listener contact us once and say that she and her family had gone to Peru because they'd heard our [ANNE GASPS] our episode on Peru. And that was just amazing to me. [LAUGHS]
Anne (12:56): You never know what's gonna capture your imagination.
Dave (12:58): You never do.
Anne (12:59): Yeah. Now what does it mean for something to have a strong sense of summer?
Dave (13:06): For me, that's something that's gonna evoke summer. Like there's summer reading, which is the book that you read next to the pool, but something that has a strong sense of summer is the book that you read that describes being by the pool that gets you excited about being by the pool, that like makes you think this is gonna be great. I'm gonna go sit by the pool. For me that a strong sense of summer evokes what it is, you know, the, the qualities of summer that you want to have.
Will (13:32): And since all of summer is by the pool, I take it that means you didn't grow up near the beach.
Dave (13:37): It's a metaphor. Okay.
Dave (13:38): It's a metaphor. [ALL LAUGH]
Anne (13:41): Well, something, I think that's so interesting about summer reading is that we all bring our own experience of what summer means to everything we read. So I grew up going to the beach, but I didn't live by the water. And I grew up next to hot places, not cold places. And yet I think I can still recognize the experience of someone else's summer in a variety of reads. As I've been thinking about summer books, not books you read in the summer, but summery books in preparation for today's episode, I kept thinking about this quote I read years ago in Colson Whitehead's novel Sag Harbor. The narrator is a 15 year old boy and he comments that there was summer and there was the rest of the year. And while I love every season of the reading life, summer is set apart in my mind, but that's summer reading. So a book with a strong sense of summer goes back to what we said about strong sense of place. It's a book that couldn't be set anywhere else like geographically, but couldn't happen at any other time of year. Because it is a summer story. It happens in the summer and it happens then for a reason.
Will (14:41): Is that how we're defining summer and do my books have to fit that description? [ALL LAUGH]
Will (14:47): Folks, we're 45 minutes into this and I'm like, oh, are these my books? All right. I'll make it work. I'll make it work. Let's go. [ALL LAUGH]
Anne (14:56): What does strong sense of summer mean to you? William?
Will (14:59): I, I agree with Dave. I think, I think it's sense like that, that evoking a feeling, whether that be you're reading about someone who's by the pool or you're reading the book and it's like actually making you feel like you have to sweat. Like, it's just like, you get the sense that like, this is the summer time. There's also just like the distinction between the summer and the rest of the year. There's a sense of like freedom in summer. Maybe this is only true for kids. I still feel a little bit like it's different though.
Anne (15:21): I think we all experienced it growing up though. Like that's ingrained in you forever.
Will (15:25): Yes. There's a lot of like freedom and, and so there's that, um, uh, ability to explore and wander and, and have kind of less rigidity in your everyday life.
Anne (15:34): Something that's common to the summer books I love is that that freedom to explore and wonder also lands the, the characters in a whole heap of trouble. And I enjoy, yes. Well, Mel and Dave, you are the experts when it comes to a strong sense of place [MEL LAUGHS] and Will and I, I think we have our bonafides with summer reading. So we thought it would be really fun to bring those things together, and each recommend a couple of titles, probably backlist titles, that have a strong sense of summer. Books that we really love, that we find ourselves recommending often, and that we think our listeners may enjoy considering for their own summer reading and beyond. Are you ready?
Mel (16:11): Ready
Will (16:12): Yes.
Anne (16:15): Dave, take it away.
Dave (16:16): My first book, my first recommendation is a book called This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by her cousin, Jillian Tamaki. This is a graphic novel. It came out in, uh, 2014. It's a family story, and it's set during a single summer at a lake house. The central character is a girl named Rose who's 12. She goes on holiday with her parents. She has a local friend, Wendy, Wendy is 10. That set up, I think makes it sound like it's intended for 12 year olds. It's not, it's a coming of age story. And the coming of age story has parallels between Rose and Wendy or 10 and 12, the local teenage sort of gang, and Rose's parents. And you explore sort of summer and growing up through all three of those stories. The attention to detail in this book is amazing for me, the way like water is illustrated and the little looks that family members give each other and the way a 10 year old sort of dances across the page there, and the things that teenagers do when they're bored.
Dave (17:24): Oh my gosh. This was just like resonant for me. Uh, it put me on a gravel road in converse with no socks, walking to a store to get a, an ice cream bar. Like it's so strong with summer. Also, if you don't read graphic novels, this is a great place to start because it's beautiful, because the story hangs together, and because it's sort of a simple story in a way. Mel and I talk sometimes about writers who seem to be struggling for greatness. [LAUGHS] right. You get sometimes those books where you feel like the author is really trying. This is not that book. This is a really nice, well told story. And the frame is just, just fantastic. This One Summer was the first graphic novel to receive a, a Caldecott honor. It also got a Printz and an Eisner and an Ignatz. It's basically all the awards. This is one of those books that came out and the industry was just like here, take everything. That book is This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki.
Anne (18:23): I love that you started with a graphic novel. [DAVE LAUGHS]
Anne (18:26): Mel, have you read this one?
Mel (18:27): I haven't. But every time Dave describes a book, I immediately wanna read the book, which is a good problem to have, but also a problem with our show [ALL LAUGH] It's a, it's a problem.
Dave (18:38): We don't share books or information until we start recording. We'll sit down and start talking about books. And yeah, my TBR just keeps growing cuz Mel talks about awesome stuff.
Anne (18:48): Anyone who's ever listened to a good book podcast knows this struggle well. [DAVE LAUGHS]
Mel (18:52): I like to look at it as a gift that we will never run out of great books to read.
Anne (18:57): Mel, you can approach your to be read list with the spirit of summer that Will was just talking about. You have freedom to explore and wander [MEL AND DAVE LAUGH] and discover, cause so much great stuff lies ahead. Dave, what else did you bring today?
Dave (19:10): My second book, we need to talk about ice cream. So for me, ice cream is a year round treat. One of my favorite parts of fall is the line recedes at the ice cream parlor, and now I can get ice cream freely. [ANNE LAUGHS] Halloween, Christmas, New Year's ,not a problem, but there's something special about ice cream in the summer. And there's even something even more special about homemade ice cream, and that's what I'm talking about. So there's the absolute magic of putting like five ingredients into an ice cream maker and watching that turn into just sweet, fresh cream. And that's a joy in part because it makes me feel like a wizard. I have made this thing, ice cream. I'm here to tell you if you don't have an ice cream maker, absolutely go and get one now. An electric one, nothing fancier than that.
Dave (19:56): You'll wanna get a copy of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book.
Will (20:01): Oh wow. [LAUGHS]
Dave (20:03): Yeah, this is an ancient book. Let's call it a classic [MEL LAUGHS] uh, it came out in 1987. made back when Ben and Jerry were two hippies in Vermont with an outrageously successful ice cream business. And the book recaptures that era, every page has these really great watercolor illustrations, and the whole book is sort of a small rectangle and every page is different from one another. Every page is individually illustrated, but the real draw of course, is the recipes, that they show you how to make ice cream. They start with the simple stuff of bases and vanilla and three kinds of chocolate. And then they show you how to add stuff, peaches and strawberries and coffee and Oreos and Kit-Kats and all that good stuff. And then they get into more exotic things like maple walnut and peanut brittle and ginger snaps. Then in the back of the book, they tell you how to make sauces or make brownies to put your ice cream on or how to make a killer sundae. And then in the end, you're stuck with the dilemma of whether you want to take your ice cream to a social gathering and be a big hero, or whether you're gonna stay home and enjoy it yourself. Either way, huge victory. That's Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield with illustrations by Nancy J. Stevens.
Will (21:16): I have questions. [DAVE LAUGHS] There's, there's a lot going on in Ben & Jerry's ice cream, right? Are these the recipes you can make, like, have you made these?
Dave (21:22): Absolutely, well, and they ramp up, right? So if you're uncomfortable with your ice cream making skills, you can start sort of simply, and then you can get into stuff that's more multiple ingredients, if you have that kind of patience.
Mel (21:33): We've used this cookbook a lot and it is magical.
Anne (21:36): We like ice cream.
Will (21:37): Adding that to my TBR. [ALL LAUGH]
Mel (21:41): And it's, as Dave said, like it's such a nostalgia trip to flip through this book because the illustrations are very 1980s Ben & Jerry marketing. It's very cute and very sweet.
Anne (21:54): Dave. That's not the book I expected you to share, but I'm so glad you did. [DAVE LAUGHS] Mel, what did you bring for us?
Mel (22:01): My first pick is Joyland by Stephen King.
Anne (22:06): [LAUGHS] Didn't see that coming.
Mel (22:08): And I need to explain some things first. I am not a huge Stephen King fan. Not because I don't like scary books. I do, but because I feel like his books start really strong and hook me with the characters. And then about halfway through, I kind of get a little lost in the weeds and I never finish them [LAUGHS] but I think he is a phenomenal writer in terms of developing characters. And I love his non-fiction book On Writing, which is about how to write, the writing process, and his experience when he had his accident. So it's a very personal like autobiographical book about how to write. And I reread that every couple of years to get inspired. This book, Joyland, is not scary. It is not a horror novel. It's a very bittersweet coming of age story. It does have some of the elements of a horror novel. Here is the setup.
Mel (23:04): So it's a bittersweet, eerie, kind of coming of age story set in an amusement park by the beach in North Carolina in 1973. So it has tons of atmosphere. It's got this kind of nostalgic retro feel to it because of the seventies setting. And the thing that I really love about this book is that it's infused with that feeling. I don't know if you guys felt this way when you were teenagers. When I was 17, I always had this feeling of feeling like I was waiting for my life to start. Feeling like I was on the cusp of something, and being really impatient to get things going, but also feeling at the same time, like I'm a kid and I'm supposed to be carefree and having fun [LAUGHS] and that kind of push-pull was going on all the time. This book perfectly captures that.
Mel (23:53): The hero of the story is Devin. He's a college student with literary aspirations. He has just gotten his heart broken in spectacular fashion, and he decides to go work at this amusement park in North Carolina. The amusement park is kind-of run down. There are carnies who are kind of jaded and have worked there for decades. There's a fortune teller who may or may not actually have the sight. There is an unsolved murder that happened in the horror house at the amusement park. So Devin walks in there. He kind of has a little bit of a bad attitude. He's given the job of wearing the furry costume of Howie the Happy Hound, who is the mascot of the amusement park. So it's summer and it's hot, and he's in this big furry costume. The kids who come to the amusement park, absolutely love him, and this earns the respect of his coworkers. And suddenly he finds himself as part of this community in this town that he just kind of moved to by happenstance. And then one night he thinks he sees a ghost and he decides that he is going to try to solve the murder of the funhouse killer.
Anne (25:08): So you said this wasn't a horror novel, but that sounds plenty creepy for me.
Mel (25:12): It is creepy. It is not a horror novel. There's no gore, there's not slasher things that happen on the page. There are some ghostly happenings, but the majority of the story is about the metaphorical things that haunt us. Loss and facing sorrow, kind of moving through the sad things that happened to you in life. And all of that is kind of wrapped up in this murder mystery coming of age story. I've read this book at least three times. I really, really love it. Okay. This is my ugly confession. Don't kick me off the show. [DAVE LAUGHS] I don't actually like summer that much. [ALL LAUGH] I don't like to be hot. And I find sometimes the long days, the sky staying light until well past bedtime makes me feel pressure that I'm supposed to be having fun. At the same time that I say that, I also have very nostalgic feelings for the summer that you have when you're a kid where, as Will mentioned, like there are no boundaries. There's more time to explore. The days just feel so long. And like you can just play and explore and have fun. And this book is infused with that feeling. At the same time, there's also a little bit of sense of unease. Kind of like when you can feel in the summer air that a storm is coming and it hasn't quite broken. This would be a good Stephen King book to try if you think Stephen King is too scary for you.
Dave (26:49): Yeah. I read this a couple of years ago and I think as I recall, it's like maybe a PG-13 story. There is some stuff, but...My other takeaway from reading that book is that I absolutely chose the wrong career as a, as a young teen. [LAUGHS] I was a, a horrible camp counselor and I should have been at least a mediocre amusement park worker. [ANNE LAUGHS]
Anne (27:14): Mel, what else did you bring today?
Mel (27:15): My second book is completely different. It's called Last Summer at the Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedland.
Anne (27:22): Oh, I've heard you talk about this one before and I still haven't read it.
Mel (27:25): If Dirty Dancing was a book instead of a movie and was set now, instead of in the 1960s, it could be this book. It's set at the fictional Golden Hotel in the Catskills. And for people who aren't familiar, the Catskills are mountains in southeastern New York. They're about 90 miles from Manhattan. The whole area is dotted with lakes, for swimming and fishing, and there are forests where you can go hiking. And in the summer, the temperature is 15 to 20 degrees cooler than in New York City. That means that in 1940, the Catskills were the place to take a summer vacation. If you were a person with a little bit of expendable income in Manhattan, this is where you went. There were over 500, all-inclusive resorts that had gourmet meals and tennis courts and swimming pools and like big national acts would travel to perform there.
Mel (28:21): So Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, like this was the place to go. And that is the world of this book, except the story takes place now. And the days of like playing bridge in a paneled game room and heart shaped hot tub have passed. [LAUGHS] People are not interested in those things anymore. The Golden Hotel is owned by the Goldman and Weingold families. They have been friends for decades and have been running the hotel together and now, and now there's an offer for a big conglomerate to buy the Golden Hotel, and the families, the adults, grandchildren have all descended on the hotel to have a family reunion and decide if they're gonna try to save the hotel or if they're gonna sell it. As I like to say, hijinks ensue, secrets are revealed, there's a little romance, there's some heartbreak. It's basically all of the things you would want in an imaginary summer vacation.
Anne (29:24): And isn't that why we read, to go on the summer vacations that we can't.
Mel (29:27): 100%. I'm very attracted to comical family stories, where if you actually knew those people, you would probably not be happy that they're your family, but vicariously having them be your family is really fun. The vibe of this book is almost like a 1930s screwball comedy sometimes. There are, are very funny set pieces and there's some really like wisecracking dialogue. But then there are also these really sincerely emotional moments that I found really touching, and the ending was perfect. It was really sweet. It was very satisfying. It's very frothy and fun, right? This is a good time. But it also is really poignant in that it's exploring how even good things sometimes have a natural end. And when they end is when you get a chance to have a new beginning to try something new.
Anne (30:24): Okay. Expect a lot more hotels and the related manor houses [MEL LAUGHS] from Mel when you follow along.
Mel (30:31): It's true.
Anne (30:32): All right, William, what did you choose for your books?
Will (30:35): I love to read outdoor books. I think What Should I Read Next folks know that. The summertime, maybe because that's when I got to explore, right? Like that seems like a great time to explore. Uh, even now, like we, we like to go camping in the summer and that sort of thing. So, uh, non-fiction books that really are about people getting out and seeing things and doing stuff. Even if it's not specifically about summer. First book is On the Burning Edge. This one's about the, uh, hot shots that fought the Yarnell Hill Fire. Uh, this is maybe 10 years ago at this point, Kyle Dickman had the author had been a hot shot in a previous life, and then, uh, after this incident where a whole, I don't know what they call 'em platoons. I, I have no idea firefighters. A crew perished in, in fighting this fire.
Will (31:19): And there's a lot of questions as to how they ended up where they were and why, you know, what was the, the reasoning for this incident? It was a terrible fire altogether, but they really shouldn't have been in the spot they were to have this kind of tragedy. And so he went and, and, um, visited with, uh, the couple of people who either weren't working that day or weren't there, you know, that this survived, um, and all the families and all that and reported this. Um, and as a former hot shot, like understood a whole lot about it, but tells you a ton about the, the west, but the houses that people are building closer and closer to the woods and like why we have sort of this, not just do we have like these terrible fires that are worse, but like, they're also harder to control and fight.
Will (31:54): And, and there's more at stake, um, with them. Uh, just amazing story. It will make you feel hot. I mean, it's, it's just crazy. [ALL LAUGH] These, you know, these guys go day days without showers and it's, you know, a hundred degrees outside and they're wearing a bunch of equipment and standing next to a fire, you know, literally like next to a fire, they're cutting brush and stuff like that. There's a fire. They're like, oh, it's not coming at us so we can stand right here cuz it's 30 feet away or whatever. But yeah. Great, great story of uh, heroics, uh, and tragedy.
Anne (32:20): Oh, when you talk, y'all keep talking about books that make you feel hot. And I keep thinking about our Modern Mrs. Darcy book club community manager Ginger Horton, who often talks about reading The Dry and being like, I need some lemonade. I need another glass of, somebody bring me some lemonade. [ALL LAUGH] Because Jane Harper is describing like the unbearably hot Australian setting. William, I read a book during the summer many years ago by Sebastian Junger, his collection of short essays called Fire. And I think because I read it in the summer and because it was so it's, it's set in the wilderness. I think of that also as being a summertime book. I love that. I'm wondering if I should read this one.
Will (32:56): I would say probably, I mean, cuz this has much more of a story to it as well, so like, uh, Sebastian Junger is essays. Um, but this one will give you a little plot and it does move quite a bit. It takes place over the course of a summer, but the fire was pretty early in the season. There's maybe two or three lead up chapters. And then the rest of the book is all in three days or something as they're fighting this fire,
Anne (33:14): How interesting that it was written 10 years ago and yet fire season has grown increasingly worse. And it's something that I think is on more of our minds, especially as we move into the hotter summer months in the U.S. Okay. Interesting. William, what else did you bring?
Will (33:26): My next book is very summery. So we talked earlier about, uh, if, if Dave's experience of summer is just sitting by the pool, like did he ever go to the beach? [MEL AND DAVE LAUGH] Like people do have different experiences of summer. So, but this one is called The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti. Uh, this is about a couple of boys that live in the Italian Alps and one of 'em lives in Milan. And one of 'em is from the, the small community there in the Alps. But the one from Milan, his family is from there. And so they summer back in the mountains and he gets to know this local boy. Yeah. It it's not hot. Right. I mean, at the top of the mountains, when there's storm coming and all that, like they, they have like danger of like actual cold weather right at, at the top of the mountains.
Will (34:01): But there's just this amazing like freedom that they, their parents just let 'em run. Um, I don't remember when it was set, but it's a small town and then you have all this wild space and they just let the boys go. And so, uh, Bruno, the, the local kid is like showing off all of the little nooks and crannies that, you know, he's got his favorite creek and, and there's trails that they wanna go on and, and there's a, an abandoned, uh, farmhouse or something like that, that, that, uh, apparently the local kids go get in trouble in, you know? And, uh, so he's showing this all off to Pietro. Um, as they come over a number of summers, they get to know each other over a couple of years and, and grow up together. And it's this respite because his family's not happy in Milan.
Will (34:41): So, you know, he, his dad has this job that he has to be there, but they're always longing to go back to the mountains. And, but his parents have kind of a different relationship with the mountains that his dad's after like adventure and wants to climb them all and conquer them and, and see the top. And do, you know, do, do all these like things and Pietro and Bruno just kind of want to like be. Dave was listing a bunch of awards for the, uh, graphic novel that I had not heard of, so I will tell you all this one won the Strega prize, Italy's most prestigious literary award. That's The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti.
Mel (35:11): That sounds really good. And the thing that I find really appealing about that is the idea that they go back multiple years. I really love stories that are set in a compressed timeframe. So the first book you talked about is really interesting to me for that reason. And then I also love stories where people revisit the same place year after year and kind of have their relationship grow through that time. That is like catnip to me, that sounds really good.
Anne (35:40): Oh, okay. No pressure, but now it's my turn. After those six amazing sounding titles, I'm gonna start with a book that many readers know, many have read, many more have heard of and not read, that I don't think we often think of as being a summer novel, despite the fact, I would say, that the chain of events that gets set in motion on a sweltering summer day in 1935 at the beginning of this novel, depends on it being a sweltering summer day. And I should probably tell you before I go any further, this book is Ian McEwan's Atonement, which came out just over 20 years ago now. And it does open at, oh Mel, it opens at a family mansion, not a manor house, again, cousin in the Surrey countryside, so this is totally your jam so far, and there's a house party where all the rich people are gathering to try to find some escape from the heat, cuz it's not like they can crank on their air conditioning. We've talked about being hot and thirsty, but you also know that oppressive, oh, I'm so cranky. It has to stop. I just can't take it kind of feeling that happens when it's hot.
Dave (36:44): By the way, that's Mel at like 82. [ALL LAUGH]
Mel (36:50): No lies detected. That is true. [ALL LAUGH]
Anne (36:54): At this family home in the Surrey countryside, the rich people are gathered along with the friend of the family who the wealthy patriarch has kind of taken under his wing to look out for him a bit. So I wanna give you all this setup without telling you anything specific, which is tricky, but when you're reading the book, you'll go [ANNE GASPS] no, and I don't wanna take those moments away from you, but I will tell you this much. There is a long sweltering afternoon and a 13 year old girl, the daughter of the family, happens to be looking out the window, when she sees her older mature, almost grown up, sister, just stripping off her clothes and desperation and just like plunging into the fountain to cool off. And she notices the man whom the patriarch has taken under his wing watching and she thinks, Hmm.
Anne (37:38): And later that evening, when something tragic and dramatic happens, she can't get that out of her head. So I left out a big bunch of important parts involving a note that was never intended to get delivered, but did, and a huge misunderstanding and a massive injustice that alters everyone's lives forever. But we gotta start with this sweltering summer afternoon. What happens next, I think, is what many more people remember about the book. We shift forward five years to a wartime setting and the rest of this story minus the controversial, as in some readers adore it and some readers despise it, epilogue, not set during the war, but what I really like about this book is that it's minutely detailed and also feels expansive in its scope. And doesn't that feel like summer?
Mel (38:24): That sounds like something I need to read almost immediately.
Anne (38:28): Have you not read Atonement?
Mel (38:29): I haven't.
Anne (38:29): See, you never know, cause so many people have, and yet you don't wanna assume.
Mel (38:33): I can see why you would assume that I had read it. Manor house, party, misunderstanding, secrets, notes that get delivered to the wrong person. Yes, please. [DAVE LAUGHS]
Anne (38:43): Okay. For my final title, you all left like the glitzy beach book with a turquoise kind of cover uncovered. So I feel like I gotta bring it. I had lots of options to, you know, like balance to round out our assortment here. And while this book does not have a turquoise cover by golly, it totally could have. It is Who Is Maud Dixon?, a novel by Alexandra Andrews. And this just came out last year, but it has serious vibes from older authors like Patricia Highsmith, with a serious dose of Vanity Fair vibes. An aspiring writer who feels desperate, even though she's not like desperately hot, she's just desperate. And we think she's kind of pathetic if she weren't so darn conniving and scary. So she's a grunt worker at a publishing house, but she knows that she is destined to be famous and she feels like she deserves it, but she's not really keen to do it the old fashioned way of writing something good.
Anne (39:41): Instead she's trying to, uh, manipulate and blackmail and put people in terrible situations so they will have to give her great jobs. But then, she receives this fortuitously timed offer, even though she's just been fired, to become assistant to a blockbuster novelist whose identity is unknown, nobody knows. And that is in fact part of the appeal to her, like she'll be in on this secret, if she takes the job. This novelist goes by the pen name Maud Dixon, and she is a household name because she wrote this novel called Mississippi Foxtrot that sold a scandalous number of copies. And it was a coming of age story, about two teenage girls and a murder. And now she needs a new assistant so that she can finally get some work done on her sophomore novel. And she won't tell anybody what it's about, but it's, it's gonna be good.
Anne (40:30): It's also going to be set in Morocco. And so the novelist invites Florence to come along on a trip and you might be thinking here like, oh Morocco, if Mel and Dave cover Morocco, I hope they talk about this book. That is not the case. This novel has a strong sense of summer. You have these coastal drives where the characters are looking down on the shimmering waters as they hug the edge of the curve, and it makes me feel a little queasy even now remembering reading those scenes. It had a strong sense of cliff side drive that was kind of terrifying [MEL LAUGHS] and the characters are wearing summery clothes and lounging by swimming pools and drinking their, you know, drinks with little umbrellas in them. It has a strong sense of summer. It does not have a strong sense of Morocco. The book takes a suspenseful turn that I did not see coming, though I had some idea because Alexandra Andrews is clearly channeling again, like The Talented Mr. Ripley, right from the beginning, something sinister is afoot, you just don't know exactly what, but summer is sure a fun time to find out.
Dave (41:28): That sounds amazing. That sounds really fun. That sounds like a summer blockbuster movie waiting to happen.
Anne (41:34): Those cliff scenes, I'm gonna have to cover my eyes. [DAVE LAUGHS]
Anne (41:37): They're gonna make 'em look real good on the big screen though.
Mel (41:40): I was visualizing that as you were describing it, and I was like, yes, people in beautiful locales making bad decisions. [ANNE LAUGHS] I just realized is something I really love.
Anne (41:52): Mel and Dave and Will, thank you so much for sharing those summer reading picks. I love that with our variety of voices and opinions, and just ways of talking about books, that things will appear to readers who might not have had their like ears perk up at a title otherwise, and listeners, I hope you found some good stuff today. We can't wait to hear what you are going to choose to read next this summer. And on that note, I'd love to hear what you all are planning on reading next. Dave, what's up next for you?
Dave (42:18): We're getting ready for our next couple of episodes. Right now I'm reading a book for Tasmania. It's called Ten Rogues by Peter Grose. It's a non-fiction adventure story about 10 prisoners stealing a ship and escaping from a prison in Tasmania. It's got, uh, pirates and sharks and escaping the hangman's noose. And the writer's doing so far just an excellent job of telling the story like he's sitting at a bar it's, it's really fun.
Anne (42:45): [LAUGHS] That sounds amazing.
Dave (42:47): After that we're covering Appalachia and I'm thinking about reading David Joy's Where All Light Tends to Go, which is sort of a tough coming of age story, but also open to suggestions, so if anybody has any ideas about books that are set in Appalachia, I would be happy to hear from you.
Will (43:04): Speaking of David Joy, he has an entire Appalachia booklist on bookshop.
Dave (43:09): Oh, does he? Have you read Where All Light Tends to Go?
Will (43:11): I did. I've actually read all his books, including his, I think he's disclaimed it, but his, his memoir about fishing.
Anne (43:17): He's disclaimed it?
Will (43:18): Oh, I think he feels like it might have been an early work that didn't need to be, continued in print, but yeah.
Anne (43:23): I will say that at the Kentucky book festival, he told me to make sure I didn't miss it, which doesn't sound quite like disclaiming it, but this was in 2018.
Dave (43:31): Did you guys like Where All Light Tends to Go?
Will (43:33): Uh, I did. I don't know. I don't think Anne read it. Did you, did you read it?
Anne (43:36): I, I think it's in that stack right behind me that you can.
Will (43:38): Might be a little gritty for Anne, but um, like all of his books, but yes I did. I did like that one. Actually. I like them all, so I'm not, I don't mean to qualify. Like I liked that one. [MEL LAUGHS]
Anne (43:48): I loved Shiner, which is the most recent book I've read set in Appalachia by Amy Jo Burns. It was a Modern Mrs. Darcy book club selection, and we just had an amazing conversation with her, where she talked about her research trips to among other things, sample moonshine.
Mel (44:04): Oh, fun.
Anne (44:05): You gotta get that authenticity. Mel, what are you reading next?
Mel (44:09): I too am preparing for our Appalachia episode. I try to sneak in some personal reading when I'm reading for our show, because as we've discussed, I'm really into manor house books and things that are murdery. The next book I wanna read is actually set here in Prague, because I am also voracious consumer of books set in Prague. This one is called There Was Still Love by Australian author Favel Parrett. I was not familiar with her, but I just read another book by her called When the Night Comes, which was set in Tasmania and Antarctica. And it was really sad and beautiful, it was about this unusual friendship and family and love and loss, and it made me cry, and I loved it so much that when I found out she had a book set in Prague, I was like, yes, I need to read that. The flap copy for both of these books is terrible in that it gives you no sense of what kind of book it is. I still don't know what kind of book There Was Still Love is going to be. The only thing I know is that it has two timelines, in 1938 and 1980, and it's set in Prague. That's good enough for me [ALL LAUGH] because I know that she is a great writer. So that's next on my list for my personal reading, which I read as quickly as I can, because I have to shove it in between my Strong Sense of Place books.
Will (45:34): Yeah. I don't have what'd you call it work reading to do so I can read whatever I want, not to not to like rub that in. I didn't mean to say it that way. [ALL LAUGH]
Mel (45:44): Well, and as you were saying that I was like, I mean, work reading in air quotes because it's all great.
Will (45:49): Right.
Mel (45:50): It's all really fun.
Will (45:51): They're great books. It's it's good reading. So I actually just started, uh, Renovated to Death. Um, the first in what is apparently going to be a series, the, uh, domestic partners in crime mystery. Um, this is a HGTV type couple where the two guys, one one's an actor and one's a writer, but they get put on TV to, to renovate homes. And I believe the first one's already happened. First season's happened. I think it was their house. And now they're sort of on the hunt for this next house. And, uh, I just, just started I'm maybe three or four chapters in and no one's died yet, so someone's going to die. Um, [ALL LAUGH] and then in addition to these two guys, I guess the actor, a TV movie person, but they have an actor and a writer and these two guys, uh, do this home renovation thing, they are also then going to solve a mystery apparently.
Mel (46:34): That sounds fantastic.
Anne (46:36): Really, I can't wait to see what you think about this one.
Will (46:39): Uh, so far it's cheeky and, and funny and, and moves pretty quickly.
Dave (46:43): Sounds like great summer reading.
Will (46:44): It has been so far.
Anne (46:45): Speaking of great summer reading, I am planning on reading imminently, Doris Kearns Goodwin's Leadership: In Turbulent Times, because I've been reading summer reading books like nonstop since January. Not really, but it can feel that way sometimes. And this year I resolved to be a completist of several authors I really love and wish I made time to read more, of and she is one of them, nd yet here it is almost at the halfway point of the year. I haven't read a Doris Kearns Goodwin book in years at this point, and it is time. Also, I mean, I'm sorry, friends. The September releases are calling my name and I've been very patient about not reading when they first came in. Uh, I can't wait to read the new Sarah Addison Allen. I've been checking compulsively like once a month for many, many years at this point, when is the next book coming?
Anne (47:35): The first of the year we found out the answer is September and it's on my shelf.
Dave (47:38): Ah, that's exciting.
Anne (47:39): And I'm going to start it very, very soon. It's called Other Birds. And I also have Nora McInerny's book, Bad Vibes Only. I've not read any of her full length works before, but I thought this sounded like a good place to jump in. And of course y'all, there are so many amazing books that have come out this year. Like I feel like way more than usual, I don't just think it's that I know about them more. Um, April especially was just an incredible, it was an embarrassment of riches and great books are coming out every month, this summer, and we didn't share them all in the summer reading guide cuz they don't fit. There are hundreds of them. So I'm really going to enjoy exploring my options there and continuing to read the new books this summer and also just resuming my uh, regular preferred pattern of basically alternating the new with the old. I'm looking forward to reading more backlist this summer, which is how I always roll because it really works for me.
Mel (48:29): I just got really excited about turning on our big summer fan and lying on the bed with the windows, open reading a book. [DAVE LAUGHS]
Anne (48:37): That sounds amazing. Friends, thank you so much for joining us for talking about books with a strong sense of summer and sharing more about your podcast, your reading lives and those wonderful book recommendations with our listeners, and William, thank you for hopping on this show. You've been on Patreon, I feel like a lot lately, but not on the main feed in a while.
Will (48:56): Always happy to be here.
Dave (48:57): It's fantastic to see you guys and it's such a joy to, to spend some time with you.
Anne (49:02): It has been a pleasure. Let's do it again. [DAVE LAUGHS] Until then, happy reading everyone.
Anne (49:12): Hey readers. I hope you enjoyed today's conversation with will and with Mellon Dave and I'd love to hear what books you think. Have a strong sense of summer follow Mell. Dave on instagram @ strongsenseof, listen to the Strong Sense of Place podcast at strongsenseofplace.com or wherever you get your podcasts, and find the full list of titles we talked about today at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/331.
Anne (49:36): The 2022 summer reading guide is almost here, which means now is the time to make sure you're getting our newsletter. Next week, we're sending out the new 2022 guide by email. To get yours sign up today at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter to make sure it lands in your inbox on May 23rd. If you don't want to wait till next week, I do not blame you a bit. There is still time to join our Patreon community and tune in on Thursday, May 19th for our live summer reading guide unboxing. Get all of the details and sign up today over at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext. That's patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext o join us for unboxing and get your summer reading guide four days early.
Anne (50:20): Follow us on Instagram at whatshouldireadnext for more summer reading inspiration and follow me at annebogel. That is Anne with an E, B as in books, O G E L. We love seeing all of your reading posts and we love sharing what's happening lately here at What Should I Read Next headquarters. So, come on over and follow along. Make sure you're following in Apple podcasts. Spotify, Overcast and more, and tune in next week when I'll be talking with repeat summer reading guide author, Emily Henry, author of Beach Read, and the new release Book Lovers. We have a terrific conversation and I can't wait for you to listen.
Anne (50:54): 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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