Beach Reads for Book Lovers

What Should I Read Next episode 332: Reading selections for that summer reading state of mind

a blue and white striped bag, a hardcover book, and a pair of sunglasses laying on a wooden dock with water in the background

Readers, if you’re looking for even more summer reading suggestions, today’s guest is here to help!

Emily Henry is a familiar name around here, between People We Meet on Vacation—a 2021 Summer Reading Guide selection—and Beach Read, which was one of my favorite books of 2020. She’s joining me on the show today to talk about the books we love when it’s hot outside, and to share her new release, Book Lovers!

We also spend some time chatting about the timeless appeal of Nora Ephron, the unique enjoyment of books set in the publishing world, and the deep pleasure of reading exactly what you really want to read. We’ll also talk about what it means for a book to be a “beach read”, and share some of our favorite titles that fit that description, leaving you with a beach bag full of summer reading inspiration.

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


What Should I Read Next #332: Beach Reads for Book Lovers, with Emily Henry

Connect with Emily on her website, Instagram, and Twitter!

Emily (00:00): I'm really interested now in how many people are like I sobbed at the end, because to me, I was like, this book is me not torturing anyone. [ANNE LAUGHS] That's how I felt.

Anne (00:09): Hey readers, I'm Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next episode 332. 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.

Anne (00:46): Readers, it's finally here: our 2022 summer reading guide arrived in inboxes yesterday. And we've already heard from so many of you how excited you are to add books from the guide to your summer reading list. If you've already inhaled the 2022 guide and want even more summer reading fun, join us in our Patreon community, where you can watch our unboxing video book party, unlock bonus episodes, and join in all of the summer fun with your fellow patrons. I'm so excited to kick off summer reading season and I can't wait to read alongside you all summer long. Become a member today by going to patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext. That's Patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.

Anne (01:23): Readers, today's guest is a summer reading guide veteran: her past releases, Beach Read, and People We Meet on Vacation have been much loved summer books and summer reading guide selections.

Anne (01:41): I'm delighted to welcome Emily Henry onto the show today to talk about the titles we reach for when the temperatures rise and the pool or the beach beckons. Today, Emily and I chat about her brand new release, Book Lovers, the appeal of books set in the world of publishing, and Nora Ephron. We also came prepared to share some of our favorite beach reads with you, and what we even mean when we describe a book that way. We will leave you with a nice selection of titles to fill your seasonal reading list and a permission slip to read exactly what you want this summer. Let's get to it.

Anne (02:13): Emily Henry, welcome to the show.

Emily (02:15): Thank you so much for having me.

Anne (02:17): Now we actually connected last year for People We Meet on Vacation. You joined us in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, and we had a blast talking about that. So thanks again. And thanks for coming back.

Emily (02:27): Oh, of course. I mean, I also had a blast with that, so I was really excited that we were gonna get to talk again.

Anne (02:32): You have a brand new book out, so congratulations, it's here now, and so many readers have been looking forward to this for so long after loving Beach Read and People We Meet on Vacation. We want to hear all about it, especially because there is just something about books set in the world of books and reading that just fills a certain kind of reader—I know we have many among our audience, I would definitely count myself as one—just fills our hearts with joy.

Emily (02:58): Yeah. So Book Lovers follows Nora Stephens, who is a cutthroat, ambitious career-oriented literary agent in New York City. And she's kind of got her life down to a science in a lot of ways. She knows herself pretty well. A character says to her early on in the book that she dates like she's shopping for cars and that's really accurate. She's like looking under the hood, making sure everything makes sense and checks out and all of that. But despite all of that, she keeps getting dumped over and over again for women who are her polar opposite. So, you know, she's got these other career-oriented, high profile city person boyfriends, but they get sent out of town for work. And inevitably they fall in love with like the local innkeeper's daughter or, you know, a cupcake baker or whatever, and they uproot their whole lives and trade their situation for like a little house in Vermont or whatever.

Emily (03:49): So Nora is feeling a little bit cursed. She's feeling a little bit like she's the villainess in someone else's love story, and her younger sister Libby convinces Nora that she needs to have her own transformational, small town love story. She will do that by going with Libby to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, which is outside of Asheville, it's fictional. They'll go there for a month. They'll check off this list of, um, small town romance tropes. They'll let their hair down. They'll wear flannel. Maybe they'll ride a horse. This is supposed to ostensibly help Nora get out of her little dating rut, but really she just does it cuz she wants to hang out with her sister. So they're having this experience, but Nora keeps bumping into her nemesis from back in the city, Charlie Lastra, who is this prickly, opinionated book editor who rejected her client's biggest book a couple of years earlier, and Nora has disliked him ever since. She thinks he's very rude and a little overly confident, and now here he is in Sunshine Falls, North Carolina mysteriously, and he is ruining her small town love story. And she wants to kind of figure out why, and you know, maybe some, some sparks fly between the two of them.

Anne (05:00): What kind of reading experience were you hoping readers would get out of this book when you were putting it together?

Emily (05:05): I wanted this to be the ultimate comfort read. I'm really interested now in how many people are like "I sobbed at the end" because to me, I was like, this book is me not torturing anyone. [ANNE LAUGHS] That's how I felt. I was like, this is just like a pretty nice time from start to finish. You know, not to say there's not real emotional stuff going on, but I really just wanted it to be a comfort read. I wanted it to be cozy and I wanted it to feel really re-readable. I wanted it to be like a place that readers want to go back to, even if they're not reading the whole book again, you know, maybe just reading a couple of chapters when they're feeling down or want to be immersed in this cozy little atmosphere I've created. So that was definitely the goal, is just like comfy cozy throwback rom-com feeling.

Anne (05:52): Have you sought to write a comforting book before? I'm wondering if that's your style or if that's the times we're in?

Emily (05:58): I, I think that's the times we're in, this was the first book I wrote during the pandemic. I mean, I think with Beach Read, I was writing that I, I set out to write a comforting book for myself, but it ended up, I think, um, going to a lot darker places than I anticipated. It still was, you know, very much about comfort, but it was also about like confronting grief and pain and betrayal and, and then finding healing and comfort on the other side. And um, with People We Meet on Vacation, you know, I wasn't trying to write something comforting, but I was just like, this will be fun. They'll go on a bunch of trips. Um, it'll be super angsty. [ANNE LAUGHS] And yeah, this one, I was just like, everyone is fine. Everyone is fine. Everything is going to be fine. That's what I needed at the moment.

Anne (06:38): So I was having a conversation with a friend who hasn't read this yet. And she was like, it sounds like a rivals to lovers story, Anne, but you keep saying enemies. And I was like, no, [EMILY LAUGHS] they hate each other. First of all, I'd like you to tell me that I'm right. [EMILY LAUGHS] But second of all, I heard a writer comment once that the beauty of enemies to lovers is that there's such potential for humor. You set yourself up to be really, really funny. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on that because Book Lovers is funny.

Emily (07:03): Well, thank you, first of all. And second of all, I totally agree with that. I mean, with People You Meet on Vacation, I knew I was gonna be writing this friends to lovers story. That to me felt like a personal challenge because I was like, how do you make it funny when it's two people who just pretty much like each other, you know, how do you make it tense when they're already really good friends and have been for years? And with this one, the challenge aspect was more just that Charlie and Nora, Nora were going to be so similar there wasn't gonna be like the opposites attract. It was gonna be like, we are exactly the same. And that is creating friction. [ANNE LAUGHS]

Emily (07:34): Which I think happens in real life all the time. You meet someone and they're just a little too much like you for comfort. But yeah, I think it, there is that perfect opportunity for humor, but there's also really good opportunity to see, I don't know. It's like with enemies to lovers, there's like barbs and insults and all of that. And you want those to be funny and you also want them to not cross any lines that then readers feel like they can't get on board because these people have truly been horrible to each other in a toxic way. And so it's like a fun challenge of balancing that, like we are insulting each other, but you can tell we're both having a really good time doing it. [ANNE LAUGHS] And I think that's like really fun to be like these people, they say they hate each other, but it seems like they're having a blast hating each other and that, you know, that's something else.

Anne (08:20): Oh, I love the way you put that. When you're trying to write funny books, like how do you know when you have it right? What I have ringing in my head right now is in book club, we just had a conversation with spoken word poet, Amena Brown, and she said, the pandemic was rough. Cuz there weren't open mics. You couldn't perform, you couldn't see people react to your work. And you're also writing in a quiet room at home.

Emily (08:40): Yeah.

Anne (08:41): Tell me more about what happens after you put the words on paper.

Emily (08:45): I have to say, I am so relieved that you had another writer mention that, because I have said that exact thing. I mean, I wasn't doing open mics to begin with, you know [ANNE LAUGHS] , but like, and hopefully never will.

Anne (08:58): I would totally go to those.

Emily (08:59): Oh my gosh. That is like my worst nightmare. Yeah. Like what do you think of this? [ANNE LAUGHS] um, no, but, but, but there's, so there's still a ton of truth to that. Like when I was writing this book, I kept telling all of my writer friends, it is so boring, it is so unfunny, because I felt unfunny. Because the only way that I know I'm funny is from being around people who tell me I'm funny or who laugh when I say something. And so writing this book in this vacuum of just being like, I don't know, like I, I feel like the most boring person on the planet and here I am trying to pull off this funny, cute romcom. That was like so much of the writing experience because it is such a private thing, like the writing part of it is. And so it really wasn't until I had like a pretty, pretty finished draft and started sending it to friends that I was actually like having it confirmed that it was funny, [ANNE LAUGHS] but the whole time I was writing it, I was like, I don't think this is funny.

Anne (09:52): What changed along the way? How did it end up differently than you might have initially envisioned it?

Emily (09:56): Well, a huge, a huge thing that changed two, actually two huge things. Originally Libby, uh, Nora's sister was not there for the whole trip. She was just, she came at the very end or actually I think she kind of surprised Nora and was like, I'm here [LAUGHS] but her and Nora's relationship just kept getting bigger and bigger in the writing process and pulling more and more attention to it. And it just felt like, okay, this is also a book about sisters, so we need to like rethink this. And also I, you know, my editor I think suggested and was totally right that Nora would not just go on this trip because Libby wanted her to, she would only go because it was like a chance to spend time with her sister. So that was a big change that affected everything and made the book so much better in my opinion.

Emily (10:39): And then also initially, you know, there's kind of this running thread throughout the book where Nora and Charlie end up working on a book together and they're in the same place, so they're like, well, we might as well do this in person instead of over email. It was like a second or third, I think it was a second draft choice that I didn't really have them doing anything like work related together. Like they were working on this book, but it was just kind of like occasional emails, whatever. And I think in the second draft, I changed it to be like they were negotiating for the length of the book. So you could see kind of her being the shark and being very cutthroat and, and whatever. And then later it became more of this like collaboration instead of them negotiating like the sale of this book, two of them loving this book that they're working on together and she's combing through his notes to make sure her author is happy with what he's doing with the book and all of that. I mean, that might not seem like a huge change, but it changed a lot about the book and it changed a lot about their conversations and what they reveal of, of themselves to one another.

Anne (11:39): Yeah. I'm like picturing the pieces clicking into place, as you're getting these little, um, insights along the way. Now you told us about the inspiration for Nora, how she's basically the villain in the hallmark movie who keeps chasing the boyfriend away, so he can find himself in New York, like on a Christmas tree farm. And you chose to make her a literary agent and Charlie the editor that she's at war with. What made you think that it was time to return to the, the actual world of publishing in the pages of the story?

Emily (12:07): Well, I think there are two things. The first thing, honestly, the bigger thing was just that I knew I wanted to write someone who really took her job very seriously and who really loved it, you know, because when we see this hallmark villain, who's like all about business and high heels, we don't really ever get to see like why she loves her job or we don't even see that it is love for the job. We're kind of treating it as like a shorthand for materialism. It's like, she's shallow, that's what this is all about. But for anyone to have, you know, that kind of schedule to be working those weird hours, all of that, like passion has to play into it. And I know firsthand that that is the reality for people in publishing. Like, it's not a great paying field. And you know, when we see it in TV and movies, you know, we're often seeing like this very glossy version of it that makes it look super glamorous, but it's actually not like that.

Emily (13:02): Like, it's just a ton of work. My editor is always taking her manuscripts home at the end of her workday, and that's when she's doing most of her editing, and over weekends and all of that. Um, and my agent, you know, she's incredible and available to me and her other authors like all the time basically. And so when I wanted to, to write that character, who's really, really driven and kind of work obsessed, I also wanted it to be something she was super passionate about because I thought that explains, you know, the dedication, is like she loves her job, even if it's really taxing at times. So that was like a big part of it. It's just like, I understand publishing, I understand how hard these people work, how much time and energy goes into it. And the other part was just that I love reading about books. Like, and I think, you know, when I was talking earlier about like the coziness element, when you think back to like a lot of your favorite coziest movies and shows and books, a lot of times for me that is about the setting. And I think there's like nothing cozier than like a room with a lot of books. [BOTH LAUGH]

Emily (14:08): You know? Yeah. You're like guilty. Yeah. [ANNE LAUGHS] So part of it was just thinking like, I, yeah, I want this to be so cozy. I want this book to feel like you are inside of a bookstore or a reading nook or a library, that, you know, the rest is history there.

Anne (14:24): Exactly. Okay. You said cozy shows etcetera. Let's talk about Nora Ephron.

Emily (14:29): Yeah. So Nora is named Nora after Nora Ephron. Her name was always Nora from the first, um, iteration. I am a passionate and devoted Nora Ephron fan. And I do feel like everything I'm writing. I I'm always kind of trying to, I don't know. I, I, I just feel like I was raised by Nora Ephron and Gilmore Girls. [ANNE LAUGHS] Like those were my two touchstones. So now it's like everything I'm writing, I'm just like, I want more of these things.

Anne (14:57): Right. Ultimate comfort read. Okay. So this is the fuel.

Emily (15:00): Yeah. Okay. I'm gonna back up and tell you, I am reading this biography, I guess, is what you would call it [LAUGHS] of, of Nora Ephron. It's called, I'll Have What She's Having, um, by Erin Carlson. And it's so good, but it kind of opens with the fact that like Nora herself was not this overly like sentimental soft person. Like she, you know, was like an intense, smart opinionated woman who wrote these love stories that have become so iconic. They never go out of style. And I just feel like it comes from that wit and there's like a weird realism while at the same time, it's like she's presenting the fantasy. Like the New York of Nora Ephron is like a very specific New York. [ANNE LAUGHS] And that was also something that really made its way into Book Lovers. Like I very much wanted to capture the feeling of New York in a Nora Ephron movie in explaining this character's connection to the city and how she, you know, how much she loves it and all of that.

Emily (15:56): And also like, there are so many things about this book that were in homage to Nora Ephron. I mean the, the little bookstores, um, definitely. I was like trying to capture the magic of The Shop Around the Corner. And, um, You've Got Mail and funny emails back and forth. Like, it's kind of like a reverse You've Got Mail where it's like, they're very rude to each other over email. Like they're not [BOTH LAUGH] they're not doing the Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, like, I love you over email, but in real life, Ugh. It's kind of the reverse of that. But there are just so many little like nods because that to me really is one of the ultimate comfort movies. And it's like every fall you just wanna put on a Nora Ephron movie and then you want to like step into it and live it.

Anne (16:36): [LAUGHS] Oh, that sounds like an amazing escape for speaking of the times we're in. Okay. Emily, I have to ask because I have a very specific visual in my head for Charlie. Who would you cast?

Emily (16:48): I feel like I need your answer because I feel like I'm not picky. I just want it to get made. So for me, as long as it gets made and he has big eyebrows and he has good chemistry with whoever they cast for Nora, I'm happy. My, my reading base is also like a very large age span, which I think is super cool, but it's like, you know, some of my younger readers will be like pitching people who I've never heard of [BOTH LAUGH] I have to Google. And then it's like, you know, my older readers are pitch pitching people who it's like, yeah, I loved them so much. And now they are technically 55 years old. So that might be tricky. But if we could get a time machine to get them back to 30 or 35, like let's, let's do that. But yeah, I, I don't have an opinion. Who would you cast, Anne?

Anne (17:31): It's just Charlie. I keep picturing a young Stanley Tucci.

Emily (17:34): Oh, I love that. [ANNE LAUGHS] Oh my gosh. That's so cute.

Anne (17:39): But you know, time machines.

Emily (17:41): Right? We need them.

Anne (17:45): Emily, you talked about wanting to hit a certain mood for readers this summer. I'm really curious to hear how you think about approaching this season of reading, especially, Emily, like you wrote a book called Beach Read. I'd love to know what "beach read" means to you. Like when you think about a book that's perfect for the time of year we're rolling into, what are you envisioning?

Emily (18:04): Oh, it's just all over the map. Because for me, what makes something a beach read really is that unputdownable quality. So normally it's like got this fairly hooky concept and you, and you slip into it right away because there's this question immediately that you need answered. Like, I think it's like everyone in the entire universe has already read this, but The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, I think is an, a great example. Like it's not like, you know, the light fluffy beach read that I also love. I don't know. There's like this salaciousness to it and this sexiness to it. And as soon as you get into it, you just can't put it down. And I feel like if you're reading on vacation, especially, you have so many things competing for your attention, that to me, beach read is synonymous with something that like is going to hold my interests and that I can read very quickly.

Emily (18:51): That does include like Elin Hilderbrand's novels are like, I feel like the quintessential beach read. In a way they're like aesthetically, such a beach read, they're all set on Nantucket. And there's lots of, you know, champagne being drank and like lots of seafood being eaten and lots of beautiful clothes being described as all this very aspirational, beautiful imagery. But also a lot of times there is still that like hook or that mystery where you're like, what's going on here? Or like, how is this all going to shake out with all these competing personalities and buried secrets and all of that. And yeah, I think when people like really hit the sweet spot is when they marry those two things where they have like the setting and the trappings of like a vacation feel, but then they're still like, and here is a really juicy story you won't wanna put down.

Anne (19:38): [LAUGHS] Yes, that sounds good to me. I think when I think about beach read, I mean, obviously like you can read any number of amazing books during the summer month. You know, a beach read is a book you read on the beach, and yet I do want something that, um, doesn't maybe require a huge amount of patience and doesn't require note taking. I'm happy to Kindle highlight. I'm happy to dog ear, but as soon as I need a pen, you know, not just like take notes for fun, but need a pen, that's maybe not, not where I wanna go.

Emily (20:05): That makes perfect sense.

Anne (20:07): Okay. This is, this is such a tough question. I acknowledge that, but I'd love to hear some of your favorite beach reads, like for all time. These don't have to be your tippy top, very, very, very favorites. But what are a few that just brought you a great amount of beach reading satisfaction?

Emily (20:22): I don't know. This is like a little bit older now. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie, I feel like is one of the first beach reads that like imprinted on me.

Anne (20:29): I don't know that book.

Emily (20:30): Oh my gosh. It's yeah, I haven't read it in a while, but it's just this old, not old. I mean, I think it, I don't know when it came out, it just isn't like the last eight years. The premise is basically like this woman, I'm trying to think how she gets roped into it. This man is like at a bar and he sees this woman, his friends make a bet that like, he won't be able to get that woman to like go on a date with him or something because maybe they know something about her. I don't remember exactly. I feel like it's really the predecessor to Sally Thorne's The Hating Game in some ways, which is another great beach read. The heroine's really thorny. And she has like a lot of really fancy shoes, which I always like reading about [ANNE LAUGHS] in a book.

Emily (21:09): Um, so that's one that I would recommend. And Sally Thorne's The Hating Game, which again, I feel like most people have read. And it's not like either of those have beach locales, there's just, yeah, that, that feeling it's not requiring anything of you. It's just this like, gift that you can kind of like float through. And it's really, really pleasant.

Anne (21:26): And regardless of setting, I feel like summer reading is a state of mind.

Emily (21:30): I completely agree. I also think almost every Christina Lauren title is like a summer read except for their Christmas book is like, or their, you know, wintry book is very much like a wintry book, but in general I feel like everything, you're like, yes, I want to be in the hot sun, sipping a margarita and reading a Christina Lauren novel.

Anne (21:48): Are there any more you wanna share?

Emily (21:50): Yeah. I, I have to like look around at my shelves. [ANNE LAUGHS] It's, it's that feeling. Um, and all my shelves are like triple stacked, so I can only see the front row of everything.

Anne (22:00): I used to give my dad such a hard time for doing that. And now I'm a grown up and here I am.

Emily (22:05): [LAUGHS] Right! You're like, I guess I love books too much is the message I'm getting. Oh, okay. You know, one that does have a beachy setting again, gets that sort of pulpy salacious feeling that I love is The Siren by Katherine St John. It's about this family, the husband and wife have divorced years ago, but they have a grown son and he is directing this movie and his dad is funding it and everybody's keeping secrets. And they all, you know, are off in like the Caribbean or somewhere filming. And it's like hurricane season and there's a loaded gun on the island. And it's like that kind of, [ANNE LAUGHS] that kind of book where you don't know where anything's going and it gets tenser and tenser. And it's sort of like Big Little Lies meets Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. So that I think is like a really good beach read, if you want something, that's not quite like a thriller, but there's like some suspense and all of that.

Anne (22:53): Oh, that's fun. I haven't read that.

Emily (22:55): Yeah. Check it out. Oh, anything by Jasmine Guillory, I feel like again, it's like a quintessential beach read, where you're like, there's lots of food descriptions and cozy feeling. I think the food descriptions is like a big part of how I judge a beach read like, this makes me want to be eating something. [BOTH LAUGH]

Anne (23:12): I hear that. I felt if I was asking you for some really great beach reading experiences that I should have my own.

Emily (23:18): Yeah. Please share.

Anne (23:19): Here on my list is Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory, which I've enjoyed like so many of her books, but this might be my favorite. And I think one of the reasons is that the hotshot Senator who's, you know, falling for, I forget what the profession is of Alexa's sister, Olivia, and readers, that's Alexa from The Wedding Date. I think she might be a lawyer.

Emily (23:39): That's what I was thinking. It's been a while since I read it, but I believe she's a lawyer, who's like just trying to start her own firm maybe. Does that feel right?

Anne (23:47): Yes. And moves across the country to do it. New life in California. And she meets this like handsome guy in the bar, who's really nice and funny and oh, who's a Senator. That's important. [EMILY LAUGHS] Who starts wooing her with like a whole series of baked goods because he knows she loves them. And just reading about the cupcakes that kept arriving in beautiful boxes with bows was just so fun.

Emily (24:07): Yeah. It's so interesting. Those little details, even like the box with bows, like there's something so entrancing about [ANNE LAUGHS] that where you're just like, I really like need this experience to be happening to me. I need this, this cute little paper box with a bow on it and a delicious cupcake inside.

Anne (24:25): And it just feels so visceral. Like you're gonna grab the ribbon and just like, you know, pop it open.

Emily (24:29): Yes. I do have to ask you in your mind, is the ribbon a specific color?

Anne (24:33): Oh, the ribbon is actually lavender, but I don't know if that's from the book or if that's just what my brain has done with it in the year since I read this book.

Emily (24:39): Exactly. Cuz in my head it was pink and I'm like, I don't know if that's...

Anne (24:41): Those are awfully close.

Emily (24:43): So we must be onto something.

Anne (24:45): [LAUGHS] I enjoyed her latest even though she, um, it's a bit of a departure this time. So I'm really curious to see what's coming next.

Emily (24:53): Me too.

Anne (24:54): For more amazing beach reading experiences. I really love like a nice, hefty story that I can really sink into in a way that I really only do in the summer and then like by the fire around the holidays. And I keep thinking of a book that looks like more of a beach read than it is. And that is The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, which is a big fat like Pilcher says that she wanted to write a big fat novel that showed like, multiple generations. 600 pages, so you really get to like sink into the story and know the people and see how things play out across time. And I am all for that kind of mood during the summer.

Emily (25:32): I feel like for another one in that same vein, I feel like Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic series is a really similar thing where it's like the books follow different generations from the same family. Her writing is so beautiful and it feels like you're just kinda like falling into the ocean. Like that's what reading an Alice Hoffman book is for me. It's just falling into the ocean.

Anne (25:52): Okay. True confessions. I've actually taken that book to the beach, but I haven't read it yet.

Emily (25:58): Well, that's something to look forward to. That's like a great thing.

Anne (26:01): My Alice Hoffman summer.

Emily (26:03): Yes.

Anne (26:04): I also wanna add that I love, I like to call it a compulsively readable literary novel, where like it's so like the writing is just so well crafted and stylish and it feels like, oh the author was like just smiling to themselves as they were writing it. But also it's a total page turner and you need to know what happens next. And just in thinking about that experience I've had over the past five years, I really like The Lola Quartet by Emily St John Mandel, which I think we don't think of as a beach read except that this one is set in muggy south Florida. I don't know how she did that because she's Canadian [EMILY LAUGHS] but um, she's writing about like the reptiles lurking in the canals that people have, like let go from their home aquariums when they outgrew them and they realize that maybe they didn't want to, you know, like have a snake as a pet. [EMILY LAUGHS] I remember it grabbed me right from the beginning, cuz there's like a 17 year old girl who is hiding something like 117 grand duct taped to the underside of her baby stroller. And you think, okay, what is happening here? I need to find out. And then like slowly you understand what's going on. And it all has to do with the high school musical group. And ooh, that was fun.

Emily (27:08): Okay. I have not read that and that's going on my list.

Anne (27:10): Okay. Well good. I'm glad that we're like adding to our TBRs because I'm sure we don't have anything else to read. [EMILY LAUGHS]

Emily (27:15): Exactly. My shelves are like giving me an evil glare right now. I think [ANNE LAUGHS]

Anne (27:21): Emily. I'd love to hear what books you are either already loving or really looking forward to reading in the summer of 2022. I know so many readers are enjoying or looking forward to your book, so thanks for putting Book Lovers on that list, but what are you really anticipating?

Emily (27:37): Emma Straub's This Time Tomorrow, have I touched on that one yet?

Anne (27:41): No, but it's—it's sitting at my desk right here. I haven't cracked the cover yet. Okay. Tell us about it!

Emily (27:46): It's so good. Okay. So it is about, I think the main character's name is Alice and it's the night of her 40th birthday and she lives in New York. She was born and raised in New York and her life has just turned out, not bad. Like it's a nice life, but it just didn't really turn out like in any way she expected. It's just sort of like, she kind of feels like she's been kind of floating along and hasn't made any real decisions. And now she's 40 and is just sort of like, what am I doing? And she has like a 40th birthday party. This is like not, this is all in the publicity material, so this is not a spoiler. She has like a 40th birthday party, and then something happens. I don't remember quite what, but she wakes up back in her childhood bedroom in New York and she is 16 again.

Emily (28:31): And her dad is there and you know, in her present timeline, he's in poor health, but now he's healthy and young and spry, and he's actually like younger than she is mentally. So it's like, wow. I thought my dad was so old and now I'm looking at him and he is like 38. That really fun, like, if you could do it all over again thing, but with the added benefit that it's really about this father-daughter relationship that is so beautiful. It's so beautiful and quirky and sweet. And I do think Emma is a fantastic writer and it's, at first it's the kind of thingm when you read an Emma Straub book, it, you think like, oh, the writing is so good. And then you forget you're reading. And to me that's the ideal experience is when the writing just kind of fades in the, into the background because everything is so expert that you're like, I'm just living this [LAUGHS] This is just my life now is like, I am a 16 year old in New York, who's actually got a 40 year old brain in my body. [ANNE LAUGHS]

Emily (29:26): I just loved it. It, it made me cry in like a happy way. And it was, it was the kind of book where I was almost done with it and I wanted to finish it so badly, but I, my parents wanted to have dinner and I was like, I'm not gonna not go have dinner with my parents while I'm reading this book about like a father-daughter relationship. Like it really inspired me to just be more present with, you know, the people I love. And I feel like that's a rare book.

Anne (29:51): Okay. A poignant father-daughter relationship that also does funky things with time.

Emily (29:55): Yeah. It's fun. Exactly. And it's like, you know, this nineties, New York setting. And I think like the nineties teen thing is also like really funny and fun and it's not like, I didn't think it was too heavy handed. Like it didn't feel like a commercial for the nineties, but there are a lot of like weird little things that I feel like I'd kind of forgotten about. And you're just like, oh yeah, everybody loved that back then. Like that was a thing.

Anne (30:18): I'm wondering if I'm noticing the prevalence of midlife reassessment novels right now because of my age, or because it's a real thing in publishing right now.

Emily (30:28): I think there's something to both. I think definitely like you're you gravitate toward a things when you're like, this is like the stage of life that I'm in and you know, like reading Emma's book, it was so interesting and thought provoking because I, I definitely feel like I am specifically at the age where I'm realizing that like none of my teachers were old [BOTH LAUGH] and like, none of like my babysitters were all babies and should I have been left with children and just like looking back and just being like that is so weird. Everybody tells you and you really cannot understand until suddenly you're an adult. And you're like, well, they were right. [BOTH LAUGH]

Emily (31:02): They weren't old. When my band teacher said she wasn't old, she was right. And we were all wrong. [BOTH LAUGH]

Anne (31:07): I don't know that that made her feel better at the time though.

Emily (31:09): No, definitely not. But it is comforting to see that in a book and just be like, yeah, that's, you know, you don't, you don't get old. You're just you and you hopefully get smarter.

Anne (31:20): Yeah, you see that in a book and you go, yep. It wasn't just me. That is the human experience.

Emily (31:24): Exactly.

Anne (31:28): Well, a book I'm really looking forward to, but haven't read yet, readers, is the new one from Linda Holmes called Flying Solo.

Emily (31:35): Me too. I have a copy.

Anne (31:37): Let me know what you think when you read it. But this is also about a woman who's about to be 40 and has just broken off an engagement, and then she's going back to her hometown to deal with some old family business and the death of a beloved grandmother, no, great aunt, I think. I'm so intrigued by Linda Holmes's inspiration. She says that it was the pandemic and she watched a lot of PBS and a lot of Antiques Roadshow. And that's what was kicking around in her brain was she's writing this story about starting over. I am hoping for that comforting feel good, you know, like dealing with some real stuff, but a novel that's still going to leave you walking away, like doing that satisfied kinda sigh.

Emily (32:15): Well, that's exactly what Evvie Drake Starts Over was for me. I mean, I really like, I love that book. It was like a hug to your chest when you're finished kind of read for me. And I reread it probably twice since my first read. So I'm, I'm right there with you. I think she's a phenomenal writer and she really does that balance perfectly of like real life stuff that's hard, but making you feel so safe while you're reading it.

Anne (32:39): And something else I really think is fun for this year is Denise Williams is doing this series of airport novellas, which I think is such a fun format for the summer. Like three short books that don't come out at the same time. I think that is brilliant. They're set in the airports, which a lot of us felt a whole lot of nostalgia for and may still be feeling like, I haven't flown since the pandemic began. Supposedly it's coming soon fingers crossed, but I haven't, you know, been anywhere. And Denise Williams said that that's what really inspired her like that wistful longing she felt for the ability to like go places and specifically be in the terminal. I think she talks about the terminal the same way that your characters in Book Lovers talk about bookstores. Like you're just surrounded by all these possibilities and all these potential futures that you could have and all these places that other people are going. And it just feels so like teeming with life. And that's a great place to be in when you're in that, you know, beach reading frame of mind.

Emily (33:34): I love her books so much as well. And she's someone I should have shouted out. We were talking about beach reads um, yeah, she's fantastic. Her books are so cute and sweet and sexy and fun. And I totally get that, that airport feeling. I mean, I think it's funny, but as a teen and in college and all that, I loved the airport so much. Like I think at least one time a group of my friends and I just drove to the airport [ANNE LAUGHS] for fun. There's a line in Book Lovers about how a bookstore is basically an airport where you don't have to take your shoes off [ANNE LAUGHS] because they do have that same feeling of possibility. Limitless possibility. I haven't read yet Katie Cotugno's Birds of California, but she—

Anne (34:15): I, I don't know this author.

Emily (34:16): Oh my gosh. Okay. So Katie, she previously has been writing YA and the way that her YA was sold to me, I went to a Barnes and Noble with one of my best writer friends. And she saw Katie Cotugno's YA novel on the shelves. And she marched me over there and she held this up and she was like, this book is so much better than it needs to be. And then she read me aloud the first page. And then we went up to the register and she bought it for me. [ANNE LAUGHS] She was like, you are reading this. And, and she was so right. Like I read it. And then I went and bought all of Katie's backlist and I read all of them. She is a phenomenal writer. She writes, at least in her YA, I don't know what's gonna happen with Birds of California, but I'm so excited. In her YA she writes these very messy, like realistically messy characters, making realistically bad choices. And I think for someone who like, I don't, I, I feel like I'm very cautious in real life. So there's like kind of a thrill to me reading about a character who's just like, I did this and I shouldn't have, but I did it. [ANNE LAUGHS]

Emily (35:17): Just like, wouldn't that be nice sometimes. Um, but Birds of California is about, I think it's a child actor, a former child actor reconnecting with an old friend/possibly flame. And it's kind of like post me-too Hollywood. So I think she probably has some trauma to unpack. So I think it's gonna be like that exact balance we're talking about where it's like this real life stuff that, you know, really makes you think and maybe gives you some catharsis, but also like I'm sure a beautiful, sexy love story because she's so good at writing romantic tension and dialogue and all of that.

Anne (35:53): I look forward to exploring more. That sounds really interesting. And you know, you touched on an interesting, not trend exactly. It seems like there's a number of authors moving from YA to adult fiction and especially romance right now. Because of what you do, you may have some insight into the, the appeal of that, Emily.

Emily (36:09): Well, I think there's a lot going on, on the business side that I simply don't understand, like YA is a fairly new category that I think, I mean, I think it really blew up after Twilight, and a lot of people kind of honed in on that category and were like excited about kind of the pacing of it and the prioritization of emotional characters. I think, you know, we used to see in literary fiction a lot more like detachment or, um, disaffectedness or something. And so YA I feel like became this beacon for people who are like, I wanna write about people having big feelings [ANNE LAUGHS] um, and I want a fast paced story that just, you know, is quick and kind of commercial and all of that. And now I think that all of those readers, a lot of those readers were already adults. And then a lot of the ones who weren't are now adults.

Emily (36:57): And of course there are always new teens, but I feel like there has been kind of a shift as a lot of the people who loved YA and, and so started writing YA like kind of age out themselves. And they're sort of like, okay, you know, and for, and for me personally, what it was was I love writing coming of age stories. And so as I got a little bit older, I was like, oh no, it's happening again. I'm coming of age again. And so that like was what made me excited to keep writing. It was like, okay, I have this whole new, this whole new moment in life where everything changes again. I don't know. I think, I think a lot of the writers who are moving into romance, they're sort of like still excited about a lot of the same kinds of stories and a lot of the same story elements, but probably they're similarly finding, like they just have new stuff to write about that they weren't like maybe ready to write about before, because it was like not enough hindsight or something.

Anne (37:49): I'm here for it. Uh, not that specifically moving into adult from YA, but I'm excited about reading stories that authors feel like are their stories to tell. And whatever that looks like, that's what I'm here for.

Emily (38:02): Totally.

Anne (38:02): Might you ever return to your YA writing roots?

Emily (38:05): I think it's very possible. Right now, I don't have plans to, because I, I know what I'm like working on for, for the next couple of years. I don't foresee that happening there being an availability for it, but I definitely am open to it. And I think like, especially, you know, in my YA writing, I was really doing kind of genre-bent fiction. And so I'm especially hopeful that someday I will get to do that. Whether it's for teens or for adults, I definitely would like to do some genre fiction again, at some point I just, right now I'm like, okay, people are in need of romance. I'm in need of romance. [ANNE LAUGHS] Like, the world just needs this and I'm gonna stay in this place for a little bit. But I'm definitely gonna, I wanna write everything. I mean, I like reading every single kind of book and I am actually interested in writing almost every genre. So we'll see.

Anne (38:52): Well, I'm excited that you have your lineup all cued up and can't wait to see what it holds and where it takes you.

Emily (38:59): Thank you.

Anne (38:59): Okay. So you like to write and read almost everything. Can you tell us about a book you loved that might make us go wait, really? Like a book that I really loved, I have to say, this is not a total surprise because it's this summer's new release from Gabrielle Zevin. It comes out July 5th. It's in the Summer Reading Guide. It's called Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. The thing about this book was, well, it's about video games, Emily. And so, I love Gabrielle Zevin. I have zero interest in video games. [EMILY LAUGHS] Although we did, my family was just in Asheville. We went to the like, it's called the pinball museum, I think. And we didn't play a lot of pinball, but we did play a whole lot of their vintage eighties video games like Centipede and Donkey Kong with the little joy thing. It was so fun. So that's the most video game state of mind I've been in, since I was eight, when my brother like, wouldn't even let me have a turn at the Nintendo.

Emily (39:51): Exactly.

Anne (39:53): So I, I was like, almost disappointed, like, oh, I'm so excited for new Gabrielle Zevin, but video games, I just don't care. But then I remembered how I didn't care about Shakespeare either. And Maggie O’Farrell's Hamnet just ripped my heart out and blew me away. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow—that's a title from Macbeth— is the story of two video game, I guess they're designers. They're two lifelong friends. They meet in the hospital game room in 1986. They come from completely different worlds, like different parts of L.A., different communities, different ethnicities, but they bond over video games. I think specifically Sam shows Sadie how to like unlock this special thing so she can move on to the next level. And you know, friends, friends forever. I thought I didn't care about the video games part. I won't like get really into the plot, but I mean, this book is about video games in the way Station Eleven is about comic books. Like ultimately it's about lifelong friends and how they make your life what it is, and also can wound you more than anyone else. And it's about creativity and ambition, and they have astonishing successes, but then what comes after, isn't always pretty. It's a decades long, like sweeping friendship saga. I think that's really what it is. It's like the friendship saga about art and creativity I didn't know that I was desperate to read, but oh, it's so good. And yet my initial reaction was like, this really [EMILY LAUGHS] and the answer is yeah, this.

Emily (41:09): Oh my gosh. That's so fun. I mean, that just really shows you it's like the right writer can, can really make you care about almost anything. I think about there is a young adult, like fantasy-ish, like contemporary fantasy series, Maggie Stiefvater's um, oh, The Raven Boys. That's what it is. So those books, you know, Maggie like loves cars, she's obsessed with cars. And so her love of cars is on the pages of those books. And that's like an example of something that I just could not really imagine caring less about, but she really does make like the car descriptions, you're like maybe I should get into cars. [ANNE LAUGHS] Which yeah, I think is like a huge, huge success. But I think I'm just such a curious person by nature. There isn't a ton that just simply does not call to me. If somebody tells me like, read this, it's great, and it's someone I trust then I'm like, yeah, sure. Like, I, I don't do, I don't do many video games, but I could check that out. I think, you know, like, I, I love The Shining. Like The Shining I feel like is a good example where it's like, I don't think of myself as—

Anne (42:10): I didn't expect that.

Emily (42:11): Yeah. So there [LAUGHS], I'm not even a huge horror reader at all. Like I'm very easily frightened, but I love The Shining because I love that it's really well, first of all, it's like about a writer, like losing their grip on reality, which, you know, probably calls to me a little bit, but also it's really a tragedy. Like it's about a man who's trying to be better than his father. And it's like a horror about that. You know, it's like a horror about a man who has his own dark past and is fighting against it when everything around him is trying to call that forward. And I mean, it's more sad than scary. The movie I think is terrifying. The book to me is like a tragedy. And also I think it's real, I think I'm just really like fascinated by Stephen King in general, because I've read some of his newer stuff as well.

Emily (42:59): And I feel like you can see, he doesn't get called sentimental enough. And he is a seriously sentimental writer. And I mean that as a compliment, I love that it's like, his horror novels, there is like so much like little bits of sweetness tucked into it. And like, you know, his kids have grown up and I don't know if he has grandkids or not, but I just feel like he's writing the most twisted things, but you can just like, see little glimpses of him as just like this like sweet uncle or something. I don't know. I I'm, I'm a fan. So that's probably a somewhat of a surprise.

Anne (43:28): And listeners, if you don't know, like they talk about Stephen King in all the writing books for so many of the reasons Emily just said, although nobody's really called him a sweet uncle though I don't think. Emily, you know, we're at the beginning of summer here in the Northern hemisphere and readers are looking out at the landscape and see so many reading options. Summer's only so long. What's a piece of advice you would offer at this time for approaching this season of the reading life?

Emily (43:52): I think read exactly what you actually want to read and when you're packing for the beach or the park or whatever, don't worry about being aspirational. Don't read what you think, like you're supposed to be reading, grab the book you just really wanna read right then. I don't know. I think there's like some, some reader shame that happens. And I just hope that you can fill up your summer with the books that you actually need right now.

Anne (44:15): That's perfect. Read exactly what you actually want to read. Emily, thank you so much for joining us on What Should I Read Next, for talking about Book Lovers and all the beach reading books that have brought you joy and a few to look forward to this summer as well.

Emily (44:27): Thank you so much for having me Anne.

Anne (44:33): Hey readers. I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Emily today. Connect with her on Instagram at emilyhenrywrites and snag her new book, Book Lovers, at your favorite indie or wherever you buy your new books. I would love to hear what you would pick as the ultimate beach read. Tell us in comments on our show notes page at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/332. That is also where we share the full list of titles we talked about today. Dive into summer reading with the 2022 Summer Reading Guide, and help us spread the book love: We created some beautiful images that are Instagram-ready so you can share summer reading with your friends. Grab those graphics at modernmrs.darcy.com/srg for summer reading guide, then tag us in your posts or use the hashtag #MMDsummerreading so we can see what you're reading this summer.

Anne (45:23): We are on Instagram at whatshouldireadnext, and I'm there too at annebogel. That is Anne with an E, B as in books, O G E L. We love sending delightful email packages your way, like the 20222 Summer Reading Guide. But that is not the only treat you'll find in your inbox when you subscribe to the What Should I Read Next newsletter. Our regular Tuesday emails mirror the show with me sharing three things I've loved lately from the bookish world, one thing I don't, and what I am reading lately. Sign up at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter.

Anne (45:56): Listeners, reviews are our love language as podcasters. When you give your favorite episode a star in Overcast, or leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, it makes us smile and invites new listeners to experience our show. Thanks in advance for taking the two minutes to do that. Make sure you're following in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, wherever you get your podcasts. Tune in next week, when I'll be talking with a travel agent who wants to send her clients to their destinations with curated book lists in hand.

Anne (46:25): Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek. Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening. And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.

Books mentioned:

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
• Nora Ephron (try Heartburn)
I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy by Erin Carlson
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
• Elin Hilderbrand (try The Rumor)
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
• Christina Lauren (try The Unhoneymooners
The Siren by Katherine St John
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory 
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher 
• Practical Magic series by Alice Hoffman (#1 Practical Magic)
The Lola Quartet: A Suspense Thriller by Emily St John Mandel
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
Flying Solo by Linda Holmes
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
• Denise Williams Airport Novellas (The Love Connection)
Birds of California by Katie Cotugno
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer 
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater 
The Shining by Stephen King

Also Mentioned:

Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club
You’ve Got Mail
Asheville Pinball Museum

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13 comments

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  1. Sandlynn says:

    I really enjoyed this conversation and related very much to Emily Henry’s love of Gilmore Girls and, especially, Nora Ephron. It’s sad that we lost Ephron too soon and didn’t get more movies from her. Another book that celebrates a Nora Ephron-esque view of New York City is Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn. Highly recommend.
    Also, if you enjoy Alice Hoffman, you might like Sarah Addison Allen. Her Garden Spells is great.
    Finally, another author I recently read who gave me “beach read” vibes is Jamie Brenner. Her book The Husband Hour is actually set at the beach and is a juicy story of family, secrets, and love.

  2. Kristy Ensunsa says:

    I just finished People We Meet on Vacation and haven’t laughed that hard while reading in a long time. Thank you for that.

  3. Mary H. says:

    Fantastic episode. I appreciated the mix lof the old and the new here. Finally, the nudge I need to reread The Shell Seekers. Also, I’ve never heard of Katie Cotugno but looking forward to exploring her titles.

    I love author epidodes and this was a good one. Thanks, Anne.

  4. Marie says:

    That was so much fun. I love putting a voice to a face/name. I follow Emily on Instagram but had no idea what her personality was like live. I think her third story is her best yet. Thanx Anne!

  5. Lisa J says:

    Last year my normally very healthy and fit husband had heart surgery (it was a common procedure and he’s totally fine now), and I knew I needed a book to get me through that long day waiting at the hospital in my mask with all my fears. I have about a million books on my TBR list, but it was easy to choose Emily Henry’s latest read at the time, People We Meet on Vacation. That book got me through a scary day, so she’s earned my loyalty forever! It’s pretty easy to be loyal to an author who consistently puts out great stuff, though, and I think I love every new book more than the last. Great episode!

  6. Nicole Reyes says:

    I just listened to the podcast about beach reads with your guest Emily Henry. I loved you and Emily! I’ve just purchased Emily’s Book Lovers book and am even more excited to read it since I feel I know her more now.
    You did such a great job having a real conversation with Emily, sharing books you live and asking her engaging questions that us book livers want to know.
    I am hooked, and I will start listening to your podcast regularly! Thank for sharing your love of books!

  7. Melissa says:

    Anne, you mentioned The Lola Quartet and wondered how Emily St. John Mandel was able to write a book set in Florida as a Canadian. As someone who lives in Florida, I have to point out that it was obvious while reading the book that she’s not from Florida! There were a couple of times I cringed, especially when she mentioned characters having a basement in their home. Other than the missteps with the setting, I enjoyed the book!

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