Floundering with fiction no more

What Should I Read Next episode 334: Fiction isn't frivolous

a brown wooden bookshelf full of colorful books and independent bookstore shelf talkers

Readers, today’s guest is looking for ways to feel less lost while exploring a new-to-him genre, and I’m excited to help him gain some fresh perspective on his reading life!

Wes Martin’s professional career in industrial and organizational psychology includes reading a lot of nonfiction—a genre he also enjoys when he’s off the clock. He’s confident about finding the nonfiction titles he’ll enjoy, but when it comes to fiction, he feels totally lost, and often finds himself floundering when choosing his next novel. This is especially frustrating because he’s recently started to really enjoy fiction and he wants MORE of this reading experience!

I’m here to help, of course, and today we talk about what makes for a satisfying fictional read. We’ll also explore what’s worked (and what hasn’t) for Wes, and discuss structures and systems he can apply to help bridge the gap between finishing a great novel and picking up his next read.

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 #334: Floundering with fiction no more, with Wes Martin

Find Wes on LinkedIn.

Anne (00:00:00): That's so fascinating. Okay. So in my next career, I can be an organizational psychologist. [WES LAUGHS]

Wes (00:00:05): You can.

Anne (00:00:05): Do you wanna be a podcast host?

Wes (00:00:07): [LAUGHS] No, thanks. Sounds like a lot of work. [ANNE LAUGHS]

Anne (00:00:10): Hey readers. I'm Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next episode 334. 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 (00:00:45): Readers, if you've been loving our 2022 Summer Reading Guide and enjoy tuning into our podcast, our Modern Mrs Darcy book club is the perfect space to explore next. Our community of readers gathers online each month to read a selected book, enjoy booktalk on a whole range of topics, and tune in to live events. This month we're welcoming Mary Laura Philpott, the author of 2022 Summer Reading Guide and June book club selection, Bomb Shelter. Mary Laura was so fun to talk with back on Episode 195 called Wanted: Book enthusiast at large, and I can't wait to talk about her latest book with our book club community. This is the place where we are learning to read better together, and we'd love to welcome you to join us there. Our summer calendar is full of events, classes, member meetups, and all kinds of bookish fun. Learn more and join the club today at modernmrsdarcy.com/club.

Anne (00:01:35): Today's guest Wes Martin is a dedicated reader of nonfiction, something he does both for pleasure and to fuel his professional career in industrial and organizational psychology. He knows what he likes and can easily find books he loves, but only for nonfiction. When it comes to fiction, he feels totally lost, which means he often finds himself floundering when choosing his next novel. This is especially frustrating because fiction has become a huge passion of late. Wes knows he could benefit from an outside perspective on his reading life. And, you know he came to the right place. Today we explore the elements that combine for a satisfying fictional read for Wes, and discuss structures and systems he can apply to successfully bridge the gap between finishing a great novel and picking up his next read. Along the way we discuss methods to build readerly resilience, learn from our reading successes and failures, and the themes common to Wes's and perhaps your most enjoyable reading experiences. I can't wait for you to listen. Let's get to it. Wes, welcome to the show.

Wes (00:02:34): Thanks Anne. It's a pleasure to be here.

Anne (00:02:36): Oh, thank you so much for joining us from Oklahoma. So tell me a little bit about where you are and what you do there.

Wes (00:02:42): Yeah, absolutely. So I live in a town called Edmond, Oklahoma, right outside of Oklahoma city. I'm married to my wife, we're coming up on nine years, have two kids together. So I have a daughter who's three and a half and a son who's about eight months old. So very busy with that. Uh, professionally I am an industrial and organizational psychologist, which essentially means I take all of the best of what we know from different psychological disciplines, like clinical psychology, positive psychology, social psychology, behavioral psychology, and try to apply those insights to the world of work. Industrial and organizational psychology is a pretty broad discipline. So even within sort of my network and my group, there's a lot of different ways we actually show up in the world and make a difference. Uh, and so I've specifically sort of carved out a niche for myself within the leadership development space. So I spend the majority of my time coaching leaders, coaching executives, and then also doing, uh, training on a variety of topics.

Anne (00:03:42): Well, that sounds really interesting. Wes, tell me about yourself as a reader.

Wes (00:03:48): No, I I've been listening to the show for about three years now and I often hear the story of, you know, people surrounded by books from a young age. And I always enjoyed reading, my mom read to me growing up. Uh, but I don't recall really being, or considering myself a reader through childhood, really, even through college. Um, so initially my undergrad degree was in ministry and theology. So I started really getting into reading, I would say reading a lot of, uh, books about what it means to be a pastor and theology, and then that's evolved over time. Within the last three years or so really since finishing grad school, I've fallen in love with fiction, uh, in a way that I had never anticipated. So I, I would say I've always been a nonfiction reader specifically for work and building competence around the things that are important to me, but it's only recently that I've shifted to, I, I actually would today say I have fallen in love with fiction, maybe even more so than nonfiction.

Anne (00:04:46): I'm interested in hearing what happened there. So was it about three years ago when you graduated from grad school?

Wes (00:04:52): Yes. Yeah. Okay. So right after I graduated from grad school, I think I recognized just the shift of, I had been sort of pushing and achieving and following my ambition for so long. And I wanted to kind of take a concerted pause in my life and not be so consumed with sort of moving forward professionally or vocationally. I found your podcast, which has been really, really instrumental in my reading journey. I, I'm not sure my horizons would've been broadened quite the way they are if I hadn't found What Should I Read Next. Getting to hear different readers describe books in a way I think has opened up what books can mean to me and helped me relate to books in a different way that I may have not had access to previously, if that makes sense. And so I think it's had a pretty profound impact just on how I see reading and the effects that it can have on my life. And I actually train executive and leadership coaches as well. And Anne, I don't know if anybody's ever said this about you, but you are a fantastic coach. [ANNE LAUGHS]

Wes (00:05:53): Your ability to listen to what people are saying and hear what they're saying, but also hear what they're not saying and create stories and narratives and pick up on themes that help them uncover something about themselves that they didn't know. And you're just tracking with their words and sort of doing meta tracking and then playing that back to them. You're one of the best coaches I've ever seen, and I've actually told a few coaches that I know, Hey, I don't know if you love reading, but you should go listen to What Should I Read Next just to see how fantastic of a coach Anne is.

Anne (00:06:24): That's so fascinating. Okay. So in my next career, I can be an organizational psychologist [WES LAUGHS]

Wes (00:06:29): You can.

Anne (00:06:30): Do you wanna be a podcast host?

Wes (00:06:32): [LAUGHS] No, thanks. But [ANNE LAUGHS] Sounds like a lot of work.

Anne (00:06:36): Wes, when your submission came in, we were really intrigued by so many of the things that you were saying, oh, listeners, I should tell you that's from our submission form at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/guest. I was so struck by what you said, you have a really good grasp on who you are as a nonfiction reader and never have a hard time finding a book that you enjoy across a variety of nonfiction genres, but that you feel like you're still getting to know yourself as a reader of fiction, and I'd love to hear more about that.

Wes (00:07:03): Yeah, no, it's, it's a really interesting thing. I've sort of struggled with it even how to conceptualize it in my head. I think one of the things that's difficult about knowing myself as an, as a fiction reader is I'm not particularly drawn, drawn to genre fiction, like things that fit squarely within categories of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, psychological thrillers: those don't tend to land with me very well. And so I've sort of, and, and even actually through this podcast, I didn't even know literary fiction was a thing, but I've come to diagnose myself as a literary fiction reader. But I would say also within that, I don't know. I, I guess I think I'm more nuanced. Like I'll read a book and it'll land really powerfully for me and it'll have a ton of resonance, but actually conceptualizing and putting into words what it was specifically about that book that worked really well for me, I don't know that I've been able to do that very well. And, um, in fact, I would say the three books that we're gonna discuss today, I don't think I would have chosen those for myself had they not sort of been put in front of me in a random variety of ways.

Anne (00:08:18): Okay, Wes, I have a hunch and I'm gonna start exploring it by asking you a really big question that might be a little bit overwhelming, so we'll break it down if we need to. When, when I ask you this, like, what's your gut reaction? Why do you read?

Wes (00:08:31): I read to understand myself better, understand other people better and make more sense of the world.

Anne (00:08:38): Hey, you've thought about that.

Wes (00:08:39): Yeah. Uh, so one of the things I teach within, uh, my training, one of the favorite, my favorite topics to teach is storytelling and leadership. And I sort of conceptualize it in three ways of there's three different stories we're always telling: there's the story we tell ourselves about who we are; there's a story we tell ourselves about who others are; and there's the story we tell ourselves about the world and our place in it. And I think understanding those three stories and the narratives we're telling ourselves about those three domains of life, I think can unlock quite a few insights for us. And I would say that resonates pretty strongly for me within my reading life as well.

Anne (00:09:17): Okay. I think that's why you love literary fiction. I'm reminded of an episode we had, not that long ago, it was 327 with Gary Robinaugh. It was called Brilliant books that ask big questions, and his particular love was different than yours, or at least different than what you suspect that you are, are going to enjoy Wes. But he really loved the, the kind of quiet sci-fi that gives the author room to explore deep and meaningful questions about who we are as humans and who others are and what, what is the world and our place in it, and what should it be? He loved books that let him explore that. And even though you have not in the past been drawn to that specific genre, I am positing, oh, I just said positing, is that because I'm talking to somebody with a PhD? You are also looking for books that really wrestle with those big questions. Like who, who are we and what, what is, what am I here for and what is my place in the world? And what does it mean to be, you know, those big questions and literary fiction happens to be the place where you consistently find those themes played out.

Wes (00:10:20): I think that's right. And I think I've heard that said about sci-fi and, and fantasy as well. Just this idea of sort of, you know, exploring these themes from a different world or a world detached from our own creates kind of the space for us to even understand our place in the world and what's going on here. And I, I get that and I've, I've tried to find that within sci-fi I would say a few times, but what I find is I, I don't feel like I actually need to travel to a different world or be in a different dimension or explore, um, theoretical concepts. I think the world itself, the world, as it plays out in front of me is mysterious and fascinating and compelling enough that I, I actually kind of want to go deeper into what's here and, and play around with the, you know, the choices I would say that were faced, uh, quote unquote in real life versus in some sort of alternative reality or alternative timeline.

Anne (00:11:14): I think, no promises, but I think we're going to stick to literary fiction today and readers. I should just say that the, the boundaries of that specific genre are fuzzy if you're thinking, but Anne, how precisely, like it's fine. We're just using this loose term because it's helpful, but we will stay within that realm today, I imagine.

Wes (00:11:32): I, I will say, and I did mention that to Brenna the other day as well. You know, literary fiction is compelling to me, but I think part of what's compelling about literary fiction is I don't know the writing or the rootedness in real life, but I also think the lines that are drawn between literary fiction and genre fiction, I think are arbitrary in some cases. And so, like Blake Crouch is an author that I love that I probably would read anything he writes and he would maybe be more classified as sci-fi, but I would sort of lump him in it, into that literary fiction because I think he's very literary in his approach to writing and storytelling. Um, I'm also thinking of Simone St James and the Sun Down, uh, hotel or motel, I forget. And that one, I loved that one. I wouldn't try a whole lot of horror novels, I would say, but for whatever reason, that one landed really powerfully for me too.

Anne (00:12:26): Gary, I can hear a spirit of curiosity in everything you're saying. So I'm not worried that you will never visit another section of the bookstore if we focus primarily on literary novels today. And you know what else I think is really interesting, I'm not sure if this is a massive coincidence. I mean, it's not a massive coincidence. It's, it's a product of the times we're in at least to some degree, but so many literary novelist right now are writing books that could definitely be classified as science fiction. Um, there's this whole thing happening with literary novelists writing time travel novels. I imagine that's a serious pandemic, like get me out of this world, moment. But even in that section of the bookstore, there's so much variety, which I think actually is why we're talking because there is so much variety even though, you know, consistently that so many of the books that you really love are in this genre, it's a huge genre. And you said that you are still getting to know your taste better and can end up feeling lost sometimes because of that.

Wes (00:13:22): There are a lot of adjectives that I would use to describe my reading life. So if I were to sort of be in a book slump, which I find myself in more often these days, and I'm trying to get out of it, I may go to Google and then I even get stuck there of what do I even search? What do I even like? You know, I know I like compelling characters that I can root for. I know that I like good writing and I know that's sort of subjective, but good writing as it, as I would mean it. And I also know that I like novels that are hopeful. So if it's bleak, uh, if it's unredemptive, if there's nothing good that's coming from this story and it's just sort of one pain after the other, that book is not gonna hold my attention. It's not gonna work for me.

Anne (00:14:06): Okay. I just crossed a title off my list. [BOTH LAUGH]

Wes (00:14:09): So I, this is where I get stuck sometimes because I think I like books that are hopeful, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I like books that are lighthearted. And so I sort of get stuck in this circular pattern of what do I mean by hopeful and trying to go deep into that. That's where I get stuck, a lot of times is it's sort of this fine line between I don't want something that's super heavy, Um, I definitely check trigger warnings before I read books. Uh, like there are Train Dreams by Denis Johnson was one I was really enjoying until I hit about the 40 page mark, and there was a scene and I could not read the book anymore after that. It just, even now just even talking about it, I sort of have a visceral reaction to that scene. And so I know that I don't like things that are super trigger heavy. At the same time, life is complex and life is messy and characters to me are not meant to be perfect. And I like that. I like when characters are complex and they make interesting choices and they even go against what you may think they're gonna go with from time to time. And so that's a strikes me as a sort of fine balance between real and complex and messy, but also hopeful and redemptive. Uh, and so I, I don't know how to put that into words to find books that fit within that specific window.

Anne (00:15:27): Tell me more about your book slumps.

Wes (00:15:30): [LAUGHS] So I've had several, uh, happens more and more recently, I would say, which I'm not really sure why that is. They tend to follow a book that I know has moved me in pretty profound ways. So one that I read recently was Deacon King Kong by James McBride. And I loved it and I couldn't, I couldn't read another book for like two months. I think I started and stopped maybe 10 to 15 books within that period, and I just could not get going again. And so I don't know if that was a book slump attributed to sort of a book hangover or if it was just, I didn't have a clear direction of what should I read next? And didn't have a list and I've tried out a variety of techniques to ensure that I guess I call it readerly resilience that I'm more resilient and that I'm not so subject to book slumps.

Wes (00:16:21): None of them have really worked, like the sticky note method that you talk about, the five titles. That was really compelling to me, but I find by the time I write that list and then I end the book, sometimes none of those five titles appeal to me anymore. And I don't really know what to do with that or how to, how to create systems and structures that help me to be more resilient, when I, once I finish a book, I'm not spending a ton of time and a ton of energy deciding what to read next.

Anne (00:16:49): Oh, Wes, how to create systems and structures for your reading life. I love it. I also feel like if you hadn't just told our audience that you were an organizational psychologist, you just revealed yourself to be one to everyone who has any familiarity at all with what you do by day. Okay. So you would feel really supported and empowered by knowing what to do practically when you're feeling blah in your reading life.

Wes (00:17:13): Yeah, absolutely. So I get into these anytime I enter a reading slump, I know things have gotten really bad when I'm on Libby and I'm borrowing five titles from my library and saying, okay, I'm just gonna read the first paragraph of each and then I'm gonna decide which one to read. And I go back to that time and time again. And it never works. Like, that is always a bad strategy and probably actually a sign that I need to just take a pause and walk away and, uh, maybe revisit the issue of what should I read next tomorrow. Because at that point I've really worked myself into a corner, sort of worked myself into a tizzy, and it's not a good situation that I'm able to just sort of dig my way out of.

Anne (00:17:53): Okay. Two things. [WES LAUGHS] One, I love how some people just mindlessly scroll Instagram when their brain is overtaxed, but you were downloading five library books at a time from Libby and reading the first paragraph. So that's not entirely bad, Wes. The second thing is, I wonder if I have burdened you with the question, what should I read next? Like I say, in the intro every week, that it's the question that plagues every reader. And it's a question that seems to imply that there is a definitive answer and it can be fuzzy sometimes and that's okay, but you don't wanna be slumpy. I get that too.

Wes (00:18:25): I don't wanna be slumpy. At the same time, I, I would say, you know, there's sort of this concept of your brain can only work in survival mode or creative mode. It can't work in both at the same time. And so in seasons when I'm particularly stressed or overwhelmed, uh, my job can be pretty cognitively and emotionally demanding. And so there may just be seasons where making choices about what I should read or even going through the process of my brain, starting a new book and going through that whole routine over again of figuring out what is the author's writing style? What are they trying to say? What is this book about? I may just not have the cognitive or emotional capacity in that time to be able to really have what it takes, I guess, to start a new book. Um, but the problem with that, and I would be okay with that, but the problem with that is I have a routine at bedtime.

Wes (00:19:19): I read my Kindle paperwhite for, you know, 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how tired I am, every single night. If I don't have that, that makes, uh, nighttime pretty miserable and makes it harder for me to fall asleep. And so I need a book on my Kindle queued up that I can go to that I don't have to think about, that I'm not making, you know, big decisions about what I should read right before bed, so, that's where I feel like I have to at some level power through and, and find the next book and get back on track.

Anne (00:19:51): Wes, now I'm worried because you said that you read Deacon King Kong recently and it took months to find another book.

Wes (00:19:58): Yeah.

Anne (00:19:59): So this sounds like pretty miserable 10:00 PM hour at your house.

Wes (00:20:04): [LAUGHS] Yeah, no, that's true. I do have a few books on my Kindle that haven't held my attention, but that I do want to read. So when I find myself in that really slumpy place, I'll typically just kind of read a chapter of those. And I figure, you know, after two to three years, I'll probably finish a few of them. So that's sort of my backup plan. If I don't have something obvious or something exciting, that's grabbing me at the time.

Anne (00:20:30): So after you read a book that does leave you feeling like you have a book hangover, is it easier to pick up nonfiction next as opposed to fiction? Cause you have a lot of confidence in yourself as a nonfiction reader.

Wes (00:20:40): So I actually have to pace myself on nonfiction books. I actually, part of my job is sort of this research and development for my company of always building out our leadership development programs and writing training content. And so within that, I actually have a book budget through work where I can buy as many books really, as I would like that pertain to work for research and development purposes. This is sort of the double edge sword of loving what you do. I love what I do. Like I love my job so much, but I also, if I'm not careful, I will spend all of my free time and all of my energy and time outside of work, just continuing to work by reading this book or reading this journal article or listening to this podcast. And so I try to be pretty disciplined in pacing myself of not taking in too much information at a time, not overwhelming my brain, trying to disconnect from work, which I think is one of the reasons why, uh, my love of fiction and the important role that fiction plays in my life has become increasingly important as I've taken on this new job and this new role.

Anne (00:21:45): Because for you with fiction, there's a clear demarcation.

Wes (00:21:48): Yeah, there's a clear demarcation [LAUGHS] I guess I would also say in college, one of the assigned texts to me and my undergrad program was The Pastor by Eugene Peterson, which is sort of one of his memoirs slash autobiographies, and I remember him saying, uh, Ulysses by James Joyce had a more profound impact on how he saw his role as a pastor than any pastoral book he ever read. And so I remember that being a moment where I went maybe fiction, isn't just sort of this throwaway thing that's out here and non important, maybe fiction actually does have something important to teach us about how we approach the world and the goodness we bring to the world and how we make sense of the world and, and our place in it. Ever since I think, I guess Eugene Peterson kind of gave me permission to not view fiction as frivolous, that's where I've really found a lot of traction with fiction in my life. And so the answer to your question is sort of yes and no of yes, fiction is a way for me to disconnect and get away from work at the same time. I think reading fiction makes me a, a much better leadership coach and trainer.

Anne (00:22:59): Basically, you wanna be reading books you can't expense at night.

Wes (00:23:03): Yeah, definitely. And I will say another important role that fiction plays in my life is, you know, in any helping profession, when we're, you're working with people, the job is never done, right? Like there's never this arrival point for a, a leader or really any person navigating their life where they're done growing, they're done expanding, they're done achieving. And so my job doesn't get to tie up in a nice bow really ever because I'm working with people and I'm helping people and people are always evolving and systems are always growing and organizations are always changing and the landscape of work is changing rapidly as well. And so fiction doesn't mean that the book ties up in a nice pretty way at the end, but it does mean I've read this book. I get to set it aside, I get to mark it as done, and something feels done in my life. And I do need some sort of closure, some sort of resolution on the story where at least I feel like I'm leaving the character in a place where I know that they're in a good spot moving forward. If that makes any sense.

Anne (00:24:06): It does. Okay. I really want to create a system and a structure for your reading life, but I think we'd be getting ahead of ourselves to do that before we actually talk about your books. So we can put specific titles into your queue when we talk about what's going to happen next. Are you ready to go there?

Wes (00:24:21): Absolutely.

Anne (00:24:22): Okay. I can't wait.

Anne (00:24:27): Wes, how did you choose the books that you're bringing to us today?

Wes (00:24:29): Yeah. So the books that I'm bringing to you today, I really, I would say the common thread of why I chose these ones is they affected me and moved me in ways that I couldn't clearly conceptualize, why did that book move me so much? But I knew that it had a profound impact on me and it was sort of this, you know, before, after moment. There is, uh, Wes before he read this book and then Wes after he read this book. And I look for those moments in my life, those sort of moments of transformation or just kind of expanding my horizons and learning something new about myself or about the world. And so that was really, I would say whenever I was choosing the books, that was what I went to.

Anne (00:25:10): Okay. These are before and after books for you. [WES LAUGHS]

Wes (00:25:13): Right.

Anne (00:25:14): Okay. Wes, tell me about the first book you loved.

Wes (00:25:17): Yeah, so the first book I love is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. And so this is a book that I chose and, uh, this sort of goes back to my perplexity with, I don't think I would've gravitated towards this book necessarily just on my own, but I read about it in, James Mustich's 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. And it really stood out to me. Uh, The Catcher in the Rye really follows a 16 year old protagonist Holden Caulfield across three days. Uh, so he's just been, uh, kicked out of a school for academic failings, sort of a boarding charter prep school. And it's really his journey going home and picking up the pieces of his life, I guess, along the way and deciding what he wants to do next.

Anne (00:26:03): I did not expect that to be a favorite and I didn't expect Jim Mustich to have been the one to send you there. That's so fun. How recently did you read this?

Wes (00:26:11): Yeah, I read The Catcher in the Rye, uh, about a year ago. I would guess.

Anne (00:26:16): It's different to read that book as an adult versus being 16 yourself, isn't it.

Wes (00:26:21): [LAUGHS] So I am a big brother. I have three younger sisters, and I like to say that the role of big brother is sort of the first identity that I really remember wearing. And so I really read this book, I guess, through the lens of putting myself in the place of being Holden's big brother. And that I feel like gives me a perspective around him and a lot of empathy. I think Salinger drops some hints in there. Some pretty obvious hints along the way that Holden is actually a really gracious, loving guy. Like his relationship with his sister, Phoebe is, uh, really touching and really moving. And then how he mourns the loss of his brother and how he grieves that in, in a very imperfect way as a 16 year old, that doesn't have people around him helping him. And I think a lot of his frustration and the angst that people often describe is just him actually feeling really deeply and not knowing what to do with those feelings.

Anne (00:27:20): What I'm really noticing is that you read this book a year ago and it's clearly something that you wrestled through, not just when you were reading, but for a long while after.

Wes (00:27:29): Yeah. And one other thing I would say about it as well is I think the writing is just super compelling for as sort of serious as the subjects of the book is, Holden is the narrator and he's just really witty and really funny. And I feel like the way that J.D. Salinger writes is unlike anything I've read before or after, in the sense of it's intelligent, it's compassionate, it's wise, it's serious, but also really, really funny.

Anne (00:28:01): Duly noted. Wes, tell me about another book you loved.

Wes (00:28:04): Another book that I chose is Writers & Lovers by Lily King. So this book completely snuck up on me. I can't even remember why I picked it up, but I would say sort of judging the book by its cover, just the cover alone is not something I ever would've picked up. Having, uh, lovers in the titles would've sort of signaled to me that it was a romance novel, which is not something I'm typically, uh, looking for in my reading life. And so on the surface, it doesn't make a lot of obvious sense why this book would work for me. At the heart of the story there's sort of this love triangle, and I'm not the biggest fan of love triangles. I think that trope is used a lot and it just, it doesn't ever do much for me, but I think what's so compelling about this is, one, Lily King's writing is just fantastic, really, really good.

Wes (00:28:56): It feels lyrical and prosaic without having a lot of wasted words, which I really appreciate sort of the blending of those styles. And then I also just really loved the protagonist Casey. So Casey is, at the time of the novel, she is 31. Uh, and I think when I read it, I was 31 as well. And being in your early thirties, there's not a lot of literary characters that are actually around your same age. And I think she's sort of in this place of life that I feel like a lot of people are wrestling with nowadays of this kind of quarter life crisis. So she's been in this in groups with other writers and other aspiring creatives who are wanting to write novels and dedicate their life to the arts. And then slowly along the way, one after the other drops off. And she actually uses the words about one of her friends, that he was the first to surrender and go to law school.

Wes (00:29:51): And I love how [LAUGHS] I love that Casey views giving up on your creative pursuits or giving up on your passion in life as sort of this act of surrender, and not in a positive way, but in a very negative way. And she's holding on tight. So student loan debt is, is racking up for her. She doesn't have much, uh, left over. She says she can barely afford to eat cereal and noodles. So on the surface, she doesn't have a whole lot going for her, and she has a lot of problems that she needs to overcome. And I think a lot of people may approach that and say, she's being irresponsible, right? She needs to grow up. She needs to leave the writing behind, but the way that Lily King treats her is not that at all, Lily King treats her as a very responsible, capable person, who's wise.

Wes (00:30:39): This book is also set in the backdrop of Casey's mom's death, which is sort of mysterious. And so another reason I think that this book really resonated for me is Casey is sort of navigating life, also carrying around some level of grief from her mother's death. It's I think at this time, just six months, uh, six months old. And so King is grabbing Casey right after she's lost her mom. And when I read this book, it was about four months after my wife and I lost her dad. So my father-in-law had just passed and I feel like this book helped me make sense of my grief and helped me, I, I don't know, I just empathized really strongly with Casey. Although on the surface, we've made very different choices in our life and have become very different people, there was just so much about her and so much about her story and her world and the world that she inhabits and the way that she sees the world and, and makes decisions and processes, information that I just latched onto. And I don't know that I've connected with a character and a story as much as I've connected with Casey in Writers & Lovers.

Anne (00:31:50): That's so interesting. I love how, even though, on the surface you would think y'all's lives, don't resemble each other, that's not how it felt when you were reading her story.

Wes (00:31:58): Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of my favorite things coming out of a book is that I feel like my empathy and compassion for others has expanded. So I would say this book totally did that for me, probably the first novel I ever remember really loving was A Man Called Ove, and that novel, I think, expanded my capacity for empathy and compassion. As well as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. That was another book that I left feeling like, I don't know my reservoir for compassion and for empathizing with the stories of others and not just accepting what's going on on the surface and not judging people just based on sort of their life circumstances, but also recognizing that there are things going on behind the scenes that you don't know. And Casey's a really interesting character as well, because while she is very heavily entrenched in the grief of losing her mom, she also doesn't want anybody else in her life to know, because she doesn't want to be the girl whose mom just died. And so Casey, in a sense, she doesn't even really let people into her story and what she's dealing with very well. I don't know. That's just, that's just really eye opening for me and I guess yeah, empathy and compassion expanding, which, I love it when a novel can have that effect on me

Anne (00:33:15): Wes, tell me about the third book that gave you that before and after sense.

Wes (00:33:20): Yeah. So the third book that I chose is There There by Tommy Orange. And, uh, this book is one that had been on my radar. I I'd seen it circling around goodreads and heard people talking about it was on a, a bunch of book lists, but I was slow. And I don't think I would've picked it up, but my sister who was living in New Mexico at the time, found it at a Little Free Library, and she read it and she loved it and she passed it along to me. And within the first chapter, I knew that it was unlike anything I had ever read before. Being from Oklahoma, Native American culture and heritage is very important. And I, in fact, Tommy Orange is even a member of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes of Oklahoma, even though I believe he lives in, uh, California. And so that really connected with me really strongly there.

Wes (00:34:11): And I also feel like the writing, again, was just unlike anything I had ever seen before. So Tommy Orange does not hold back any punches. He starts off the book with a prologue that is an essay on really his take, I would say over how, uh, Native Americans have been treated in culture and in stories and movies, all of this signaling about what it means to be an Indian and how Indians are portrayed in the media, has had a profound impact on how we view Native American culture. And that part, I would say wasn't as unknown to me, but was what was unknown to me that I feel like he lets the readers into is how that affects people today, who would identify as Urban Indians. So he talks about Urban Indians as being anybody that has Native American, uh, history, Native American ancestry that lives in urban cities within the United States and how hard that can be to sort of process.

Wes (00:35:14): What does it mean for me to be an Indian in the 21st century? What, like, what does that mean? And just the wrestling throughout the book of this issue of identity, of what does it mean for me to be a part of, uh, this broader picture of tribes known as Native American people within the United States, and all of the story of all of the injustice that has happened, you know, throughout the generations and the history of the United States against American Indians. And Tommy Orange, I feel like, lets the reader into that, and then also he just has something to say, and he says it with a ton of force and with justified righteous anger, but also from a place I would say of deep love, of wanting to honor all of the generations of Indians who have suffered and uh, yeah, just kind of wanting to throw his hat in the ring and say something and spark a new conversation. And it just, it, it hit me really, really hard in a way I was not anticipating.

Anne (00:36:15): Now Wes, tell me about a book that wasn't right for you.

Wes (00:36:19): Yeah. So the book that [LAUGHS], I chose that wasn't for me, uh, was The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I sort of have selective memory, selective amnesia, I would say about this book. And so I don't remember a ton of the details, but I just remember it just felt bleak. It just felt dreary. It felt like there was a gray cloud sort of hanging over the story and it felt like characters in a sense, got a pass for the actions that they had made that had very negative effects on one another. So it sort of looks at this family unit and the choices that different people within the family made, and how that affected the different members of this family. Yeah, it didn't feel like there was a strong sense of justice or really a strong sense of hope. It just felt sort of stuck. Like it felt like the characters were just stuck in the past and stuck in all of the bad things that had happened to them and unable to move forward or make choices that would lead them to some sort of desired future.

Anne (00:37:22): Interesting. Okay. When did you read this, Wes?

Wes (00:37:24): Probably about a year and a half ago. And maybe an important caveat is I, I do recognize that Ann Patchett is a really good writer. So the writing worked for me. It was just the story that didn't work for me. And so I would totally be willing to try something by Ann Patchett again in the future. Another maybe important qualifier is that I did do this book on audiobook with Tom Hanks as the narrator, which I was really excited about. But in retrospect, I wonder if Tom Hanks, you know, and, and sort of growing up as a child in the nineties and thinking of Tom Hanks' Buzz Lightyear, if that maybe took me out of the story. [ANNE LAUGHS] And, and so if that made it maybe more difficult for me to connect, but the reason I chose this as the book that I didn't like is because looking back on it, it feels like there are a lot of things there that should have worked for me. Besides what I've already said, it's sort of a mystery of why did, why did this not land for me very well?

Anne (00:38:24): Yeah, that's what I was wondering too. Cause I'm thinking the same thing. Like it, it does seem that this book has a lot of elements that resonate with you also I, my brain is going, but, but what about, but what about, but what, but we can't talk about those things. [WES LAUGHS]

Anne (00:38:38): I'm also struck by the fact that this is bleak, but the book you just talked about immediately before this was Tommy Orange, which I don't know is bleak, exactly, but I remember that just being so impeccably crafted and so devastating.

Wes (00:38:55): Maybe the difference between the two is, There There, I felt like, was going somewhere. Like I felt like Tommy Orange definitively had something to say, and in The Dutch House, it sort of felt like we were just running in circles over and over without actually going anywhere or making any progress or watching, you know, characters. It does span, uh, a good length of time, but it feels like even as time's moving on, characters are not moving on or growing. So maybe it's, it's not as much practical progression, but maybe the emotional arc of the story, it didn't feel like it moved anywhere emotionally.

Anne (00:39:37): Okay. Treading carefully here because spoilers, it may be fair to say that The Dutch House is actually a story about an inability to move on from hurts in your past. And that's not something you wanna read about. Okay. That's my theory. That's my hypothesis. How does that sound?

Wes (00:39:51): Yeah, no, that sounds really good. So I would say the two descriptors that I would say I consistently use to describe books that really did not work for me would be bleak and unredemptive. And so I need some sort of redemption arc. Like I need some sort of hope that the characters are going to land in a place at the end of the book that is, it doesn't have to be drastically better, but slightly better than where they started the story.

Anne (00:40:18): Wes, what have you been reading lately?

Wes (00:40:20): Uh, I just recently on a whim from one of my local bookstores picked up Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen, and I'm about 200 pages in. Uh, one of the things I am trying to do more and more is, is be open to reading novels that are longer, without putting pressure on myself to finish it within a certain amount of time, like just be with the story and take the time that the story deserves. And so it's one that I've been reading now for about two months, which is a really long time for me to stick with one story. And I'm still only about half of the way in, but every time I pick it up, I just wanna read more. I mean, I, I really feel drawn to the story and excited by it and excited by the characters in a way that I did not anticipate.

Anne (00:41:05): That sounds interesting. What else?

Wes (00:41:08): Uh, How to Change by Katy Milkman. So Katy is a, uh, PhD and she's a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. And How to Change is all about really looking at what does the research say about how we can make lasting change in our lives? Um, changes to ourselves, changes to our organizations, changes to our systems. And Katy is just a tremendous thinker in this field and looking at again, systems and structures, and how that influences behavior and how people act with the understanding that behavior informs identity. There's sort of this feedback loop between, the choices we make communicate something to ourselves about who we are, and there's sort of this, uh, reciprocity between the decisions we make and the behaviors we interact and who we're becoming and the identity that we're taking on. And, uh, Katy just is, is a phenomenal thought leader in this area. And I really loved that book.

Anne (00:42:08): Okay, Wes, we're gonna talk about what you may enjoy reading next, but first I wanna talk a little bit about systems and structures in your reading life. I feel like I should leave the actual plan to the organizational psychologist, but I am interested in the gap between the priority TBR that you mentioned keeping and readers, we're talking about five book titles on a post-it that you think you probably want to read in the near future so that you have a smaller TBR than all your titles, but just an easier decision. You've already narrowed down the books in advance. And you mentioned sitting down at Google and not being sure what to search for when you're looking for your next read. Is, do you have a system for middle ground in your reading life right now?

Wes (00:42:50): No, I really don't. I have a goodreads TBR, but I often find myself revisiting that, you know, about every six months and probably eliminating more books off of that list than what I read. I do think it's important to say this. I think in describing how I approach books, common pattern in my life is overthinking things and making things harder than they are. So somebody needs to write a book called Don't Overthink It.

Anne (00:43:18): That's a great idea.

Wes (00:43:20): Yeah, [LAUGHS] that would be then I, uh, would be better about this, but that's, uh, you know, my mom even has kind of consistently throughout my life told me that Wes, you know, your, your main problem is you just think too much. [ANNE LAUGHS]

Wes (00:43:33): It is interesting. So as a coach, oftentimes I get to work with people and the things that are strengths about us, right? The things that serve us really well, the patterns of behavior that serve us really well in certain aspects of our life actually inhibit us and keep us from experiencing joy and fulfillment in other areas of life. And so for me, it's this dichotomy of yes, but overthinking things or being overly analytical or applying critical thinking to various things within my life, it has served me really, really well in a bunch of areas of my life. I, I actually don't know that it does serve me very well in my reading life. I mentioned 1000 Books to Read Before You Die earlier. I remember James at the end, he says, read at whim, read at whim. And I just thought, you know, that's a, that's a good challenge for me to take and a good one for me to heed.

Wes (00:44:25): I would also say, and like just looking at practically. So if we're talking about systems and structures, the current systems and structures in my life is I have a three and a half year old daughter and uh, almost eight month old son. And so my free time and my [LAUGHS], uh, energy is both of those are smaller than they ever have been in my life. And so I guess I feel more pressure to get my reading decisions right the first time, because I don't, I don't want to get 50 pages in because really, I would say going through the process of starting a new book, that actually is sort of hard for me. So I, I would say I, I read the last half of books very, very quickly, but the first half of books take me a little bit of time. Like there's a, there's definitely a journey of, I feel like the first half I'm I'm peddling uphill and it requires a lot of energy for me to really get into the book. And so when my time and energy are both really low, I don't want to spend a lot of time finding just the right book.

Anne (00:45:32): I would just like to say, it's not just you, in fact our What Should I Read Next alum, Lamar Giles, who writes books in addition to enjoying reading them was just saying on Twitter—friends, you should follow him there—are there any other new parents out there who just can't read? He was saying he can do audio books right now, but the second his eyes are on the page, he's just out like a light cause he's exhausted.

Wes (00:45:56): Right.

Anne (00:45:57): I think it's really good to recognize the challenges that you're facing right now in your life and your reading life, instead of hoping they'll go away or pretending they don't exist. But saying, this is where I am, is really valuable. And also I really hear what you're saying about how your biggest strengths can also be your biggest weaknesses. Like I learned in writing Don't Overthink It, that intellectual curiosity that I have in abundance just leads me terrible places when left unchecked. Like you just get nothing done. Cuz I, cuz what you do is you Google How to Change by Katy Milkman and you think that sounds interesting. I could use that. I need to know this information and then you spend the afternoon reading it instead of doing your to-do list, which sounds delightful, but also not a good thing. And I can see how wanting to get it right leads to you, putting pressure on yourself with, which leads to being tense and not being able to make a decision. And so I, what we do actually want is just what you said and that's to have habits that you can rely on, that you can serve you, that don't have to, you don't have to think about so much when you're choosing what to read next

Anne (00:46:56): Okay. Wes, something I'm noticing is that I wonder if some of your struggles are because you're such a heavy ebook reader. Now it might be that I don't navigate my own e-reader as easily as you do, because I don't rely on it as much. Although honestly, that's maybe not true, recently I've read so much on Kindle. But what I mean is, it's easy to scan a physical shelf when you have books in your home to see what you might read next, you can take in 50 titles at a glance and it's easy. But it's harder to take in 50 titles at a glance on an e-reader, and I'm not suggesting you change formats, but I am thinking through like, what are your sticking points here?

Wes (00:47:38): It's a good point. I do read a lot of print books, but the majority of print books that I read are nonfiction cause I typically think, you know, most of the nonfiction books that I read are also reference for my job, and so I make highlights, notes in the margin so I can come back to them. But with fiction that feels like something that it's okay for me to just check it out from the library and have it for two weeks and then turn it back in at the end of two weeks, and it doesn't have to reside on my physical bookshelf. So maybe shifting some of that paradigm in my head and giving myself permission more and more to buy physical copies of fiction that could change things for me

Anne (00:48:16): That could work. But even before we propose a solution, I just want to identify like, is this part of the problem? Because you could read every single book this year that you read as a novel from your library. And that would be amazing. We'd high five about that. But so I'm imagining when you're thinking about what to read next, you have a whole library at your disposal. So you're not just looking from a selection of books that are already pre-chosen in some sense, like a book on your shelf is ready, waiting for you, but you can search for the whole library. It's possible you'll decide what you wanna read and then find out it's not available from your library, which is its own thing and you lose momentum, but I'd love to narrow down the number of titles you could consider to read next. We'll increase it from the five that you might not be in the mood for on that post-it note, because that was past Wes that made that list and maybe your life is totally changed by Deacon King Kong. And now you wanna read something else and we want to allow some flexibility there. I want you to have fewer titles to consider than everything on Google, everything available from your library. Like we gotta, we gotta make it smaller.

Wes (00:49:19): No, it sounds good. And I think I'm actually sort of primed to make this transition as a reader. If this makes any sense of, like I said, it was about three years ago that I made a concerted effort, maybe a shift in my life from I like reading to I am a reader. So once I started listening to What Should I Read Next, and started getting more active on goodreads, my horizons were opened up of, I had no idea there were so many books. And along the way, that's led me to discover different books and different authors that I've really latched onto, some I knew ahead of time, oh, I think I'm really gonna love this, others, like some of the titles I've mentioned today have been really surprising, but in my process of sort of working through this and having my horizons expanded so much, I've been in this expansive mode, right?

Wes (00:50:06): Like I have a list on my phone of authors that I think I need to read this person once, they're so prolific, they're so popular, they're so big within the readerly community. I need to read something by them once just to see if this works for me. And I've sort of worked through most of that list. Like I've gotten through most of the titles that I feel like I needed to read or should read. And now I'm sort of ready to make this transition into, but what does Wes actually like, like who is, who is Wes as a reader? Not what does the reading community like? What does Wes like? And I I'm feeling that transition sort of happening in my life right now.

Anne (00:50:44): An encouragement I would give you is you mentioned that you don't wanna get 50 pages into a book and feel like you've invested that time and then end up setting it aside. But I think you could really take advantage of this period of exploration when you're trying to, to get to know your tastes better. Like any time you read a book, that's data to help you figure out like what really works for me. And you could come back and we could talk about it. You could, you could give a little book report on, you know, how it went and what you liked and what you didn't, what it might mean, but reading books and having an opinion about them and you, I that's incredible that you do a little short review about everything. Like, you will garner a lot of data just by virtue of reading these books. And you'll be able to answer that question better. And I would also encourage you if you're not reading something every once in a while that you completely hate, you're not taking chances in your reading life, and it's really it's it's okay for that to happen. I would say it's even a good thing because so often when we read something that we do not like, that's the only way we can really understand why we love what we love.

Wes (00:51:49): No, that's a great point. It's actually, it's convicting that you say that because that's one of the stances that I take in my coaching faculty.

Anne (00:51:56): [LAUGHS] Of course it is. It's always easier to see when it's not you and it's not your reading life.

Wes (00:52:01): Yeah. A a, a no is, uh, a no is clarity that gives you more insight and leads you closer to the yes. So I like that approach.

Anne (00:52:11): So Wes we're, we're gonna make some recommendations here in a sec. First, would you tell me what you're looking for in your reading life right now? We've talked about the broad strokes, but is there anything specific you're on the hunt for?

Wes (00:52:23): Yeah. So one thing that I think would be really fun that I haven't been able to find a lot of is just this idea of finding fathers or father figures in literature that I can really latch onto and look at as role models. You know, I think as a early father with a three year old and a almost eight month old, my identity as a father and my sort of conception of who I am as a father and who I want to be as a father is really expanding and really growing. Like, it feels like undoubtedly it's the most important role that I feel like I've played in my life. And so I'm always on the lookout, always scanning for what are other dads doing? Like what is, what is the role that a father plays in a child's life? Like where does a father get to really make a significant difference? And I've found that I would say throughout the, uh, my reading journey in a few places, but haven't consistently been able to find just kind of dads or, or dad role models. I I'd say it's more often the case that in literature and fiction that you find dads doing the wrong thing, which that can be clarifying as well. But I would love more stories with dads doing really, really good work in their role as fathers.

Anne (00:53:41): Okay, Wes, the books you loved were The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Writers & Lovers by Lily King, and There There by Tommy Orange. Not for you, was The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. And recently you've been reading Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen and How to Change by Katy Milkman. We wouldn't be averse to finding some great dads in fiction, literary fiction specifically. And I mentioned the, the trend I'm noticing now about literary novelists writing, um, more sci-fi kind of books. One of your favorite protagonists is Holden Caulfield, a 16 year old boy. And I've got a story of a 16 year old girl for you, who's also a 40 year old woman, because it's a time travel story. This is the new Emma Straub.

Anne (00:54:31): And I didn't you, when you walked in the conversation today, I wasn't thinking, you know what you should read next, Emma Straub. Wes, the new Emma Straub is a literary time travel novel with an amazing father. And the way she writes about the father in this book is so sweet and poignant and touching. It follows, her name is Alice, because of course her name is Alice, there's many Alices in books of this sort. You know, thank you, Lewis Carroll, but she is having a crisis of sorts as well. You mentioned that you really enjoyed reading books that featured a protagonist like on the cusp of the next chapter of their life, like in Writers & Lovers, having to reevaluate everything, and that is the case with this protagonist. Because at the beginning of the book, Alice is not a 16 year old girl. She is a 40 year old woman who is not unhappy, but she tells you that she's not truly happy either, because she just kind of drifted along and gone where life has taken her, but a sincere and steady source of joy in her life is her 70 year old father.

Anne (00:55:32): Alice's father is in the hospital and he's not doing well, and she loves him more than anything. Her mother is alive, but checked out a long time ago. And she was raised by him as a single parent. And she has some really touching lines in this book about how she knows this isn't the case in other families, and she knows you can't always make it happen, but she will never not be grateful for the fact that she and her father just have always clicked. They've always been each other's person, like the most important person in each other's lives. And she couldn't imagine a life without him, but now she's thinking I might have to. So that is her prevailing crisis, even though she's about to dump her longtime boyfriend when he proposes in public, and she's not sure that she's in the career, she wants to be in which wasn't where she ever saw herself going.

Anne (00:56:17): But that is her crisis, her sick father. On I, it might be the night of her 40th birthday, something happens. And then the next day she wakes up and she is 16 years old. So the publisher has described this as a mix of 13 Going On 30 and Big, maybe The Interestings and Stranger Things-esque kind of vibes, but she wakes up and she's suddenly living her life as a 16 year old. And the thing that she is most struck by other than fact, like she's like, wow, I didn't remember what it's like to have a 16 year old body, is that her father is so young and she's like, darn it. Isn't it true that like her dad was always insisting, I'm not that old. I'm not that old, but now he's 49 and he's charming and he's vital and she just can't get over it, but he's still him and they are still them together. And it's so poignant. And the way that relationship is portrayed in the book, I think that could be something you really enjoy reading.

Wes (00:57:09): That sounds perfect. I love the concept of a character getting to a place in their life where they sort of look up after years and years of just going about their business and following the status quo, making the next right decision. And then recognizing how did I end up here? That sounds really exciting and obviously love the concept of the relationship between her and her dad.

Anne (00:57:31): I'm glad to hear it. Wes, the next thing I wanna recommend is a mystery series, but how do you feel about that?

Wes (00:57:37): I am up for it.

Anne (00:57:39): I want to put the Cork O'Connor mysteries, if not on your radar, then higher on your reading list. But first let me tell you why, because I imagine it's not the reason you're expecting. This is now a, or it will be by the end of the summer, a 19 book series. Um, you've got lots of story in front of you, but 19 books gives you lots of room to spool out. And one of the threads Krueger explores in this series is parenting. There is not only good parenting in these books, but the way over time, as he shows characters grow and evolve and change and age, parents are portrayed in these pages, not just fathers, but definitely fathers, is something that I think you'll find really, uh, fascinating, and I, I think encouraging and life giving. I mean, that's not what they put on the flap copy, but listeners, so you know more about this series.

Anne (00:58:30): So these are the adventures of private investigator Cork O'Connor, who used to be the sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota. The first book in this series is called Iron Lake and there's a crime most in the community think is coincidence, but Cork thinks is, um, probably of significance. But in this series, which is set in Minnesota in a small community, I mean, you're probably imagining Cork O'Connor is Irish, and he is, but he's also of Ojibwe heritage, and relations in the community between the Native American community and the white encroachers, how they're often portrayed in this community, is always significant and present in the pages of every novel. Seeing as you really enjoyed There There, and appreciated the way he explored questions of, of heritage, I think you may enjoy those same themes in the pages of these books. And I'm wondering how you may take to a series, Wes, something that a lot of readers enjoy about having a long series that they kind of have going, is that there's a default answer to what should I read next when they're not sure what their next book might be. And I wonder if that might be a bit of like a safety net for you.

Wes (00:59:46): I think that's a really good idea. I like the idea of having a default though, when I find myself in those reading slumps or reading lulls, that I can go back to.

Anne (00:59:54): Wes, I'm looking at a list of books I jotted down and where are we going to go? But I'm wondering if you've read any Colson Whitehead, specifically, Harlem Shuffle.

Wes (01:00:07): I have not, no.

Anne (01:00:09): This is his newest, um, he has range. None of his books feel quite like the other ones. This is a literary heist, and I like it for you because I imagine it could be trying something new for you. And you described Catcher actually as being intelligent, wise, compassionate and funny. And I wonder if this book might not have a lot of the same qualities. It's also thin, so you could see how it lands with you, see what you think, without a huge investment of time or pages. Like you could fit two and a half of Harlem Shuffles into the Crossroads book you're reading right now, maybe even three. And something else I like about it for you is you just loved Deacon King Kong. And this book definitely has Deacon King Kong vibes.

Wes (01:00:57): I did love Deacon King Kong.

Anne (01:00:59): This is historical fiction. I think it's fair to say it's about a man who is caught between two worlds. He wants to be the good father that I can hear you want to be, Wes. Like he wants to be the respectable family man, but times are hard. And he has some family in delicate places and he can't quite evade the pull of the crime scene of 1960's Harlem and its profits. His cousin Freddy wants him to serve as a fence, selling stolen goods, so as to legitimize them and he doesn't wanna do it, but he gets leaned on in a variety of ways and does. And what you see over time, cause this book unfolds in three distinct time segments, which are so evocative, like I felt reading it like I was there in 1960's Harlem, but over time you can see how in the early section of the book, the first, uh, I think it's in 1959, he doesn't want to do it.

Anne (01:01:58): And yet at the same time, he kind of rationalizes it. Like it's not really a bad thing. Like I'm just, I'm just like helping. I'm just the accessory. I'm not really the bad guy here. But as the years go on, he gets very comfortable with the idea. And this is often described as a heist novel. It's a slow heist. But the thing that I really like about this the most for you is that Whitehead's prose is incredible. He's so descriptive. Like even now I read it a year ago and I can still remember this passage about the jeweler giving Ray lessons about like color, clarity and cut; how a bead setting showcase faceted stones, but you needed something else, like a bevel, if you have like high carat gold. It's just so descriptive and evocative, but also kind of sly, like there's a discussion about how a man needs to have a safe and that safe has got to be big enough to hold his secrets. There's a lot of like screwball comedy in these pages. The characters have such funny names and some of the antics are like verging on ridiculous, but it works. It's not that different from what you've read before, cause you just love Deacon King Kong, but it is a step in a different direction. And I think it might be interesting to give it a try and see how it goes.

Wes (01:03:06): Yeah, that sounds great.

Anne (01:03:08): So Wes of the books that we talked about today, This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub, The Cork O'Connor mystery series by William Kent Krueger, beginning with Iron Lake, and Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead, of those books, what do you think you'll read next?

Wes (01:03:25): Yeah, the one that's grabbing my attention is actually the Emma Straub book. I don't know the time travel thing? I don't know that I've actually read a book that had a time travel element. And so I'm very intrigued by that.

Anne (01:03:39): No time like the present. I can't wait to hear how your literary experiments go.

Wes (01:03:44): This has been such a good conversation. So much fun. Thank you Anne.

Anne (01:03:52): Hey readers. I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Wes and I'd love to hear what you think he should read next. Leave a comment with your suggestions and see the full list of titles discussed at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/334.

Anne (01:04:06): A quick but meaningful way to show your love for our show is by giving us a five star rating and leaving a review on Apple Podcasts. This means so much to our whole team. We are thrilled to read your reviews and your positive feedback helps other listeners discover our show.

Anne (01:04:19): Readers, to celebrate the launch of the 2022 Summer Reading Guide, we've created a collection of fun social media graphics just for you, ready to download and use. Get those at modernmrsdarcy.com/srg, that's for summer reading guide, and you can share your summer reading plans on social. Tag us if you want, so we can see your posts. We are at whatshouldireadnext. Thanks in advance for spreading the book love.

Anne (01:04:42): The best way to stay in the loop of all our podcast happenings is through our free weekly newsletter. Sign up today whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter.

Anne (01:04:54): Follow along in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, wherever you get your podcasts. Tune in next week, when I'll be talking with an international reader with an appetite for overlooked titles.

Anne (01:05:05): 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.

Anne (01:05:12): 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:

• Blake Crouch (try Upgrade)
The Sun Down Motel by Simone St James
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
The Pastor by Eugene H. Peterson
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List by James Mustich
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
There There by Tommy Orange
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Katy Milkman 
Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
• The Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger (#1: Iron Lake)
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Also Mentioned:

WSIRN Ep 327: Brilliant books that ask big questions with Gary Robinaugh
• WSIRN Ep 238: Windows, mirrors, and why We Need Diverse Books with Lamar Giles

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38 comments

Leave A Comment
  1. Andrea Van Hazelen says:

    I’d recommend anything by Bryce Courtenay, Don Robertson, Ann Tatlock, Anne Tyler, or Pat Conroy. Also Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. All older books I know but these are the ones that have stuck with me through the years that made me “feel”.

  2. Janice Cunning says:

    I love how the three books the guest loved and the one they didn’t are now tagged. Would also love a tag that shows the three – or more 😉 – books Anne recommends to each guest.

  3. Elle says:

    Another recommendation that made me think of fatherhood is: “These Silent Woods” by Kimi Cunningham Grant.

    • Susan V says:

      Oh, this book was a 5-star read for me, and it will be one of the top books for 2022. LOVED this one, and so did my husband. Also Peace Like a River and This Tender Land. My husband read both of these too, and loved them! Normally we don’t have the same taste in books.

  4. Amapola says:

    I would recommend the Susan Hotwach’s Starbridge Series (Glamorous Powers, Glittering Images, Ultimate Prizes) which centers about the stories of Anglican priests.
    Elizabeth Strout also has a lesser known novel, Abide with Me, about a pastor dealing with grief.
    And since your guest like “There, There”, I’ll recommend The Break by Katherena Vermette.

  5. Elizabeth Miller says:

    I would recommend Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Also The Nix by Nathan Hill and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. All are absorbing finding yourself type of books with a lot of humor.

  6. Ashley says:

    YES! (to comment below.)
    I got on here to recommend Peace Like a River. As soon as Wes mentioned fatherhood I thought of this.

  7. Sandlynn says:

    An older book, but he might enjoy Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns – especially in terms of the main character’s relationship with his grandfather.

    Also – not related to fathers — The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies, just because I think it’s good.

    • Audrey Fowler says:

      I read Cold Sassy Tree, one of the first books by a Southern author I read shortly after moving to Georgia. I really liked it a lot. I have since read many books by Southern authors – I have lived in Peachtree City, GA for 31 years so I consider myself a Southerner by Marriage since my husband is from south Georgia!

  8. Lynn says:

    This definitely doesn’t follow any of the parameters Wes requested but I absolutely LOVED reading The Color of Water by James McBride after I finished Deacon King Kong. It’s his memoir and while his mom is the central figure it also gave so much color to the settings of his novel. Wondering if Wes might enjoy this as well!

  9. Beth Roireau says:

    I found myself with sooooo many suggestions Wes might like but am just going to drop a few here The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle and Plainsong by Kent Haruf.

  10. Rachel says:

    Wes, I’m currently reading through Josiah Bancroft’s series called “The Books of Babel” – the first book is called “Senlin Ascends.” Based on your interview with Anne, I think you’d love the series!

  11. Audrey Fowler says:

    Hi Ann,
    I read and/or skim your email everyday and i ordered and am using My Reading Life and I do like all the lists in the journal, but I do have a few suggestions.

    1. It could be a little larger in size – closer to 6 X 9 inches.
    2. Spiral binding so that the book lays flat.
    Plastic sleeves inside front and back covers so the user can save book clipping and lists.

    I hope you will consider these suggestions from an avid reader and book club member.

    • Sue Duronio says:

      I LOVE Audrey’s suggestions here and would like to add that I would fully support a “revised” journal that incorporated these ideas. I do love my journal but I would love it even more if it were larger and would lay flat–this would make for easier writing and easier for my (old) eyes :). Thank you!

  12. Brigette Hill says:

    For books that lend to learning empathy: “Language of Flowers” and “Long Walk To Water” (a middle grade novel, but a book for all ages to get something from). For a good father figure character, though not a father: “News Of The World”.

  13. Karen Simmons says:

    I really enjoyed this episode. I have more of an unrecommendation. I think Wes should avoid Olive Kitteridge. I do think he would like Blindness by Jose Saramago. And wondering if Historical Fiction would appeal to him. I love the mixture of true events and a fictional plot to move the story along. It provides the “what would I do” that Wes seems to be craving.

  14. Pam Spicer says:

    I recommend: 1) Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese – It is so emotionally moving, like There, There. The movie is also terrific! The writing is concise. No wasted words but very powerful.
    2)American Pastoral by Philip Roth – a father whose life is turned upside down by his daughter’s unbelievable action.
    3) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – literary sci-fi. Yes, there is such a thing! The story is fascinating while also devastating. I love her writing style and the themes she explores.

  15. Justine says:

    Wow!! Great guest. I totally related to so many of the things Wes was struggling with. He was articulate and authentic. The redemptive theme hit home for me. And the one book that immediately came to mind was The Sparrow by Mary Doris Russell. One of my all time favorites. Loved this episode and as a MN girl. will be checking out Iron Lake. Cheers!

  16. Loved this episode so much – I think I’ve found my reading twin (well, except I HATED Catcher and the Rye as a high schooler, but maybe now I should revisit?). I LOVED the three books Anne picked for him (and I had just finished This Time Tomorrow the day I listened to this – it’s a perfect fit!) and also love the Cork O’Connor series (I’m on Book #4) but wanted to add two other books featuring strong father figures – The Unseen World (Liz Moore) and Concrete Rose (Angie Thomas). And a couple other book I loved (that featured some parents/caregivers doing things right, IMO) are Far From the Tree (Robin Benway) and The House in the Cerulean Sea (TJ Klune). And I second The Sparrow and Language of Flowers mentioned in comments above…. Happy Reading!

    • C. F. D. Liebman says:

      I would suggest short stories for Wes Martin and perhaps for you, too, Elizabeth. 9 stories by J. D. Salinger provides the joy of Salinger’s writing style — it is the reading equivalent of eating a box of chocolates. That said, Elizabeth, I can understand why you didn’t like Catcher in the Rye. Perhaps most high school books are chosen with male students in mind, and it doesn’t fit where the females are at in that period of their lives. I felt that, too, but loved everything else Salinger wrote.

  17. Sarah says:

    Throughout Wes’ conversation I kept shouting at my radio – “Last Summer at the Golden Hotel” by Elyssa Friedland. A family story with interesting fathers, well-developed characters who grow a,nd descriptions of The Golden that made it as clear as day.

  18. Ayanna Cone says:

    TJ Kline’s Under the whispering Door, is a wonderful book asking about what lies beyond this life, how and who we forgive, and grief. I love a good found family story anytime.

  19. Gretchen says:

    So much to think about in this episode, starting with Deacon King Kong, which I saw as a perfect example of a bleak, non-redemptive work. The alcoholic lead character remains alcoholic, leaving a path of mayhem and death in his wake.

    Please consider reading (or even better listening to) Niall Williams’ This Is Happiness. The narrator is a man recalling his late teens when he spent some months with his grandparents in a small Irish village which was about to be electrified. It is a book about love, kindness and mourning, and about nearing the end of life and appreciating and atoning for what happened earlier. Male role models abound, and, if you’re in the mood to travel, it feels like a trip to Ireland.

  20. Kathy D'Amelio says:

    I loved this episode with Wes, I could relate to his reading challenges and how to keep the eagerness alive. I am wondering if he has read “To Kill a Mocking Bird” I just the Father Atticus Finch and how Scout narrates but tells so much about her dad, loved it!

  21. BarbN says:

    Sorry to be late but we’re out of town this week and I’ve been out of my normal routine. Wes has already received a ton of great recommendations in the other comments but what I really related to in this episode is wanting to have Systems and Structures in Place for My Reading Life. It’s like Wes knows me. So I thought I would tell him mine. One of my sources of books to read is the “Want to Read” shelf on Goodreads, which Wes mentioned he already uses. The next is my Kindle’s collections. Collections are a way of organizing your books however you want, like having a bookshelf for mysteries or biographies. As soon as I buy a Kindle book, I put it in a collection called “aTBR” (the “a” is so it will show up first in my list of collections). I also have a collection called “aNext” which is sort of like Anne’s priority read sticky note, except there are usually 10–15 books in it. We have a family Kindle account, so just looking over the read and unread books list doesn’t work for me, since a book gets marked as read when someone else reads it. The third source I highly recommend is your library’s ebook lending site. Most libraries have one, and for most of them you access it through a phone app called Libby. If a book you want isn’t immediately available, you put it in your hold queue. You can have up to ten books your queue, and you can “suspend” one or all of the books in your queue if you’re not ready for one, or if you’re going out of town or something. Using those three sources, I can almost always find something to “read next,” and they have just enough randomness that there is some serendipity involved in what I find to read. Also, since I just enjoy thinking about books (nerd), rearranging and organizing my three lists gives me something quick and entertaining to do when I have 15 minutes waiting for an appointment or whatever.
    Fun episode, I’m way too old to start a new career but if I were younger, I would seriously consider organizational psychologist, it sounds really interesting.

  22. Nicole Conrad says:

    Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri. It is the best book I’ve read this year or maybe in the past 3 years. Redemptive, funny, it hits all the requirements.

  23. Christen says:

    Has anyone commented that Tom Hanks voiced Woody in Toy Story…not Buzz Lightyear 🙂

    Great episode as always.

  24. Hilary says:

    The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune features an amazing father-figure.
    This is a middle grade series but I HIGHLY recommend Space Case by Stuart Gibbs. The protagonist is a 12 year old boy but he has GOOD, kind, interesting, loving parents and they have a good relationship. It’s a great series.

  25. Megan Doyle says:

    “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone”
    And,
    Two oldies but goodies:
    “The Drifters” and “Caravans” by Michener

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