Readers, we’re celebrating audiobook month today!
My guest Jackie Branz loves tuning in to a perfectly selected audiobook while she works as a gardener and florist on a private estate. But while she’s had some great successes with audiobooks she’s loved, sometimes her selections leave her feeling a little less satisfied.
Jackie and I discuss crafting a formula to guide her audiobook selections, and I recommend some titles that will captivate her listening attention. We also chat about deciding whether to read a book in print or on audio, and Jackie shares how her current reading selections are influenced by her library’s book bingo.
Jackie Branz: One summer, when I was working so hard that I didn't have time to plant tomatoes. I was like, "God, I think I need to do something else." So I like to say that gardening is the antidote to politics.
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Anne Bogel: Hey readers, I'm Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next episode 336. 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 Bogel: If you are looking for your next audiobook read, I'd love to connect you with one of my own books, read by yours truly. Don't Overthink It might be just what you need this summer season to streamline your decisions and bring more joy to your life. Or this might be a perfect time to dive into I'd Rather Be Reading, which is full of relatable reflections on the reading life and perfect inspiration for an on-the-go summer reader. Find all my books and get your copies on Libro.fm, Audible, or OverDrive today.
Anne Bogel: Readers, June is Audiobook Month, and today's guest sent in her submission to the show in perfect time to celebrate with us. Jackie Branz works as a gardener and florist on a private estate. Her job is to keep the plants happy and thriving. And this occupation also gives her ample opportunity to enjoy another of her great loves, reading.
Anne Bogel: Jackie knows she relishes listening to a great audiobook to while away the work hours. Yet, sometimes, as you'll hear, she struggles to find the right fit and ends up reverting to podcasts. While, listen, we all enjoy a good podcast around here. That's not what she ultimately wants to be listening to the whole workday. And, you know, that's where I come in. Today, Jackie and I discuss crafting a formula to guide her audiobook selections and identifying a few titles that fit her reading tastes, specifically her reading tastes in this format. Along the way, we cover finding the right titles to read on audio versus in print, reading around the whole world, and her library's book bingo, which plays a significant factor in Jackie's reading selections in this particular season. I can't wait for you to listen in. Let's get to it.
Anne Bogel: Jackie, welcome to the show.
Jackie Branz: Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I'm really excited.
Anne Bogel: Oh, it's my pleasure. I can't wait to dig into your reading life. And the timing is wonderful because June is Audiobook Month, but no matter when you're listening to this, this is going to be a really fun conversation. And thank you for having it with me.
Jackie Branz: Yeah.
Anne Bogel: Okay. So Jackie, where are you in the world right now?
Jackie Branz: I live in Seattle.
Anne Bogel: What do you do when you're not podcasting for What Should I Read Next?
Jackie Branz: I work as a gardener and a florist on a private estate.
Anne Bogel: So my thumb used to be brown. Now it's just a touch green. So tell me the kinds of things you do in a typical work week.
Jackie Branz: I'm very lucky. I have a job that's pretty 7:30 to 4:00. Normal day, I'll water containers. Most of the plants I have an irrigation system and I'll deadhead perennials. This is like a summer day. Do some light pruning, if there's deadwooding to do. Just your basic garden task. Cutting back anything that's gotten gangly.
Anne Bogel: You keep everything looking pretty.
Jackie Branz: Yes. Very tidy.
Anne Bogel: That sounds lovely. So paint us a picture. What does your landscape that you tend look like?
Jackie Branz: There's a lot of shrubs, evergreens, broadleaf, evergreens, and conifers. There's a lot of perennials. There's a little bit of annual flowers. We are so lucky in the Northwest. It's almost a perfect gardening climate. We can grow anything. The broadleaf evergreens, I think we're really lucky that we have here. There's some lawns... I'm lucky. I don't have to do a lot of lawncare, not my favorite. I am the florist also, so I take care of the cutting garden, picking plants to grow there and keeping them-
Anne Bogel: Oh, that sounds amazing.
Jackie Branz: Yeah, it's really, yeah, the flowers are the cream of the job, I think.
Anne Bogel: What do your florist duties entail?
Jackie Branz: I just provide flowers for the house and if there's any event or something like that. Sometimes for meetings.
Anne Bogel: Okay. Always looking cheerful with fresh and locally-grown flowers. Jackie, how did you get into that line of work?
Jackie Branz: Well, I did a bit of a mid-career change. I worked in politics for a long time, and one summer, when I was working so hard that I didn't have time to plant tomatoes, I was like, "God, I think I need to do something else." I like to say that gardening is the antidote to politics. So yeah, it was a big career shift and change. I went back to school, studied horticulture. And I made a rule, no meetings. I've broken it, but for the most part, I don't have to go to meetings.
Anne Bogel: Okay. So compared to your before life, this is your meeting-free garden green existence.
Jackie Branz: Yes. Mm-hmm.
Anne Bogel: I think many readers do not yet realize that your job is actually the job they covet, but tell me a little bit about your working rhythms and how that plays into your reading life. I know just enough to ask that question right now.
Jackie Branz: Right. Well, so one of the nice things is, because my work is really hands-on, I can plug in a podcast or an audiobook and then just go about my work, and I have to carry a phone anyway, keep it in my back pocket. I have my wireless headphones. And then, as I'm pruning or as I'm doing a flower arrangement, I can listen eight hours a day. So it's a bit of a luxury. Sometimes I struggle on finding things that I really want to listen to. That's why I put in my submission.
Anne Bogel: It's a bit of a luxury that sounds like a bit of an understatement.
Jackie Branz: Yeah, I realize. Yeah, sometimes we don't always appreciate the benefits that we have.
Anne Bogel: That sounds like a joy to be able to listen to so many books as you go about your work. But it sounds like it's not easy to find so many books that you actually want to listen to.
Jackie Branz: Yeah, I think the struggle for me is there are some books that I would be totally absorbed with if I'm reading them as a book, and they don't always grab me the same way on audiobooks. So I know when I find an audiobook that I love, I just want to listen to it all the time, and I'm not lured away by a podcast, which sometimes feel a little more frivolous than checking a book off my list that I've been meaning to get to.
Anne Bogel: Well, that is the tension, right? Like you told us in your submission, and readers, Jackie filled out our submission at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/guest. You told us in your submission that your biggest challenge is finding audiobooks that hold your attention so that you don't default to podcasts. And that you're trying to find a formula, which I'm intrigued by. First of all, friends, we're all listening to a podcast here. We love podcasts. We believe in podcasts. And also, I hear what you're saying, that you want to be listening to whatever you're listening to because you chose it, not because you felt like you couldn't find something that you would have preferred in that moment. So you default to podcasts when you can't find the right book. What are some of the podcasts that really capture your attention that you do look forward to and enjoy listening to while you work?
Jackie Branz: Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of great podcasts and there are plenty that I don't feel like I'm defaulting when I listen to. A lot of books podcasts. There's a couple of British ones that are really great. I mentioned Slightly Foxed in my submission. I also like Backlisted, which has the benefit, a lot of the times it's easier to find an audiobook quickly in a library app if it's an older book. So a lot of times, I do try to find Backlisted books to listen to.
Jackie Branz: And then another podcast I love, which is, I think, almost the opposite of yours, is the Marlon and Jake Read Dead Authors. They only talk about dead writers, so they can be really snarky and rude and as honest as possible. And then the other way it's different than your podcast is, it's completely random. You don't know when you're going to get one. It's when Marlon James, who's one of the podcasters as a writer, when he's not on book tour, he's not writing. So it's not predictable, but if it pops in, it's always a fun listen. And then yours is lovely, because it's so reliable. I always know on Tuesdays, usually the same day that I'm watering houseplants, I pop in.
Anne Bogel: I love that What Should I Read Next goes with the houseplant watering.
Jackie Branz: Yeah. Yeah. That's my route.
Anne Bogel: Okay. But you would love to find more of these audiobooks that holds your attention. We will explore that in this episode. But before we get into that, would you give me a broad strokes picture of your reading life? How would you describe what it looks like in this season of your life?
Jackie Branz: I feel like I've just been on a tear the last few years where I've been really focused on reading a lot. And I think part of that is because I've been tracking it more, talking to other readers. I really started listening to audiobooks when I did the Seattle Library Book Bingo, because it's 25 books in about three months. The only way I'm going to do this is if I'm also doing it while I'm working. And I cannot hide under a rhododendron and read a book at work, so the audiobooks it has to be. I found that some of them, I just couldn't wait to get back to. I love the audiobooks. But some of them, their books I liked, I just wasn't as drawn to. So that's sort of where my search goes.
Jackie Branz: But for reading books outside of work, I have a routine. I usually read maybe 15 minutes in the morning before I go to work. And then after dinner, our habit, my husband and I, we just sit on the couch and read for an hour or so. So it's just part of our routine.
Anne Bogel: Oh, that sounds lovely.
Jackie Branz: It's really nice. Yeah.
Anne Bogel: Do you have any hunches about what kinds of audiobooks holds your attention? Now, you mentioned that enjoying a book in print and enjoying it as an audiobook are often two different things. How far have you gotten in your quest to determine which kinds of books work in which format for you?
Jackie Branz: One book that I absolutely loved in audiobook, weirdly, is a book about Chernobyl. It's a nonfiction, and it came out a few years ago. I think the HBO series was on. I know this sounds crazy.
Anne Bogel: No, no. I'm laughing because I just thinking what kinds of books might Jackie be interested in? I wondered if Midnight in Chernobyl might be one.
Jackie Branz: Yes. Yeah. And it was so great on audiobook. I couldn't wait to get back to it. And then there's other books I really liked. I liked American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson.
Anne Bogel: Oh, yeah.
Jackie Branz: It was a little harder on the audiobook, and it was one of those books where I thought, "I bet if I read this, I would tear through it." There was so much I liked about it, but it was a little like, "I have to make sure I listen to that."
Anne Bogel: Something I love about that audiobook is it's narrated by Bahni Turpin, and y'all know that I love Bahni Turpin. I wonder what it is that sometimes makes audiobooks hard for you. I've read American Spy. I really enjoyed it. I read it in print. And I remember doing a lot of page flipping back and forth...
Jackie Branz: Mm-hmm.
Anne Bogel: ... to note the characters and to see who was who, because readers, this is unsurprisingly a spy novel, and it has to do with African history that I do not know much about. I mean, I learned a lot reading the book, but going in, I knew very little. I think that's why I ended up turning the pages back and forth so often. And I'm wondering if that might have been a factor in your own reading.
Jackie Branz: There might have been a little bit of that. I mean, there were so many great things about that book. One is you learned the history of a country that we don't know much about. And literally, I think the week after I finished it, there was a trial that took place of that assassination that's featured in the book. And I was like, "Oh, I know about this because I read the book." Which is part of why I want to read things from other places is it hooks you into whatever news is happening in the world. But like I said, I think on paper, I would've enjoyed it even more.
Anne Bogel: So our mission today is to identify, here in Audiobook Month, here, staring down the Seattle Book Bingo, with its 25 books in three months. Some audiobooks, that not only you'll enjoy the book, but it'll be a great listening experience, specifically. Jackie, I have to say, this is especially fun for me because your listening tastes, I can already tell, are different than mine. You know what we do on What Should I Read Next is dig deep into one reader's reading life because it helps you recognize so much about your own reading life as you're listening. So, Jackie, whether listeners completely identify with you or not at all, you can still learn so much about yourself. That I feel like the truth emerges because you resonate so much with someone's experience. But also, it emerges in contrast. And we get to do both here.
Jackie Branz: I've noticed that listening to your podcast for sure.
Anne Bogel: Well, Jackie, you know how this works. You're going to tell me three books you love. One book you don't. And what you've been reading lately. And we will talk about what audiobooks you may enjoy reading next. First, I'd love to hear how you chose these books for today.
Jackie Branz: I was trying to cover broadly areas that I'm interested in. So the first book I put down was The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. I guess you would call it historical fiction in a way or contemporary. I don't know. It takes place in North Korea. So you learn a lot. It was fascinating. It was just so fascinating, such a different environment. And the story's a great story. It was really gripping. But my favorite part, when it's a historical novel or partly fact-based, is the epilogue, where he tells you what's really true from history and what he made up.
Anne Bogel: Yes.
Jackie Branz: And it's so shocking.
Anne Bogel: The author's note where they say, "Yeah, this is real. This is where I took liberties."
Jackie Branz: Yeah, and it stuck in my mind. I always go back to that, and it's probably been six or seven years since I read it.
Anne Bogel: That was The Orphan Master's Son. Did you read that in print or...
Jackie Branz: I read it in print, and this next book, I also read in print. My mind had tricked me thinking I had listened to it on audiobook.
Anne Bogel: Oh, interesting.
Jackie Branz: I know. It's Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Anne Bogel: Yes.
Jackie Branz: It's non-fiction. It takes place in Ireland. It's about the Troubles, but he's so great at narrative nonfiction that it reads like a novel, but I remember talking to someone about it and I was convinced I listened to it on audiobook. I think he just paints this picture with words, that when I went back I realized, no, no, no, I got that from the library. I read it. A memory came back of me sitting on the couch and just saying, over and over again, to my husband, "Oh my God. This book is so good. You have to read it."
Anne Bogel: I've heard wonderful things. Readers, if you're thinking you know the name Patrick Radden Keefe, but you don't know, Say Nothing, I wonder if it's because you're thinking of his more recent release, Empire of Pain, about the opioid crisis. So, Jackie, you were convinced that you had listened to this. It makes me wonder if this is the kind of book that you really enjoy listening to typically.
Jackie Branz: Yes. I mean, that's one of the reasons I put it on the list because I was like, "I mean, that's exactly the kind of narrative non-fiction that usually just has me itching to put the headphones back in." When you want to just know what happens next, there's some fascinating tidbits. And this book is written almost like a mystery. He really does get to the bottom of some things that we didn't know before about Northern Ireland and people's participation and what happened. There was, I think it's Boston University, that had this trove of interviews that they had promised they were not going to release for a long time with participants in the Troubles. But through a lot that's talked about in the book, those papers got released, and they had implications. I can't say enough about how gripping the story was. It's not fiction. It's all true.
Anne Bogel: What made you decide to read this?
Jackie Branz: I think once again, I heard an interview with the author, and I said, "Oh, that sounds great." And I think, oh, one of the podcasts I listened to, it's a politics podcast, but they also do, at the end of the show, they do recommendations. And one of them had recommended it, and he said, "Oh my God, it's so gripping."
Anne Bogel: Okay. So you quit the political job, but still listened to the politics podcasts.
Jackie Branz: I would listen to a lot of political podcasts, and at some point, my head was starting to explode, and I had to move on to books or other things.
Anne Bogel: But the same interests that drew you to this field still show up in your reading life all the time, it sounds like.
Jackie Branz: Oh yeah, for sure. Definitely. Mm-hmm.
Anne Bogel: Wonderful. That was Say Nothing. Jackie, what did you choose to complete your favorites list?
Jackie Branz: I picked Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
Anne Bogel: That's interesting.
Jackie Branz: Yeah. I mean, I love mysteries, so I read a lot. I like Tana French, and I like Louise Penny, and it's a genre that I really enjoy. And then, Kate Atkinson had a series of mysteries that she wrote. And then this is part of a, I think it's a trilogy. Maybe there's four books. It's not a mystery book, but she has a lot of the skills of a good mystery writer. It's much more literary than that. Kept having to go back at the beginning of the book to figure out how the plot was going because it's such an unusual plot structure and story.
Anne Bogel: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I'm laughing because I remember that experience like that. Like, what is happening here?
Jackie Branz: Yeah. And then once I figured it out, then I was like, "Oh, okay. This has got me totally engrossed." And so I've read the next two books after that. She's one of my favorites, I would say.
Anne Bogel: Jackie, did you know she has a new one coming out this fall?
Jackie Branz: Oh, I didn't know that, but I'm excited. I'm glad to hear it.
Anne Bogel: I think it's a standalone. I think. But what I know for sure is I want to read this coming this September. Okay, Jackie, tell me about a book that wasn't right for you.
Jackie Branz: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was not a book I enjoyed. This is how it's in my memory. I read it in college. All these boys were like, "Oh my gosh, you have to read it." And I went along, and I was like, "Yeah, no, this is not for me." I think that there's a little bit of the absurdist humor of it, is just not what I'm into. I'm not really into science fiction. So, that's two strikes against it. And I knew I really didn't like it when I had kept my list of books that I read, and it was always at the very top part because of the author is Adams.
Anne Bogel: Oh.
Jackie Branz: And I finally deleted it because I got tired of seeing it at the top of my list of books.
Anne Bogel: So, the wackiness-
Jackie Branz: I think so.
Anne Bogel: ... of this book was not for you.
Jackie Branz: Yeah, I think that was it. Yeah.
Anne Bogel: Jackie, what have you been reading lately?
Jackie Branz: So this is a interesting book. I listened to it on audiobook called Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. She's a Polish author, Olga Tokarczuk. But she won the Nobel Prize a few years ago. So I kind of was like, "Oh, that's interesting." And she came out with a book just recently that sounded great, but it's something like 800 pages, and I wasn't quite ready to tackle that. And this is a earlier book she wrote. And it's a mystery. It's a woman who lives in a Polish village, and she's always just never quite figured out her situation, I would say, fitting in with other people and fitting in in work situations and things like that. And she's a little isolated, and it talks about her encounters with the other people that live in the small village. And then there's a great turn about three quarters through. It was really good. I really enjoyed it.
Anne Bogel: Now that you've read the shorter work. Do you think you might pick up, is it The Books of Jacob? Is that the one that you were eyeing?
Jackie Branz: Yes, that's it. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I definitely want to read it mostly because anything about like cult leader type person is enthralling. Yeah, I intend to check it out, but 800 [page] books with the Book Bingo sets me back. So I'll probably wait to fall.
Anne Bogel: Oh, yeah. So, summer reading priorities. Are there any other books you've enjoyed lately?
Jackie Branz: I just finished Let's Go by Jeff Tweedy, and he's with the band Wilco, and that's a band I've always liked. So yeah, that was really good. He was really honest, I thought. He talked about some things that aren't necessarily just about the biography of his life, but also about what it's like to be a creative person. I love a good rock-and-roll memoir on audiobook. Those are always really gripping. I can totally rip through those on audiobook for some reason. That was a good one. Keith Richards' book is great, Life.
Anne Bogel: I've heard that. I haven't read it though.
Jackie Branz: It was really interesting and gripping all the way through, and I think the thing about a rock-and-roll biography is, it's so different than I am. I am a role follower. I am not always fighting the man like Keith Richards is. And just being in someone else's mindset, it's a totally different way to live your life. So I think that's why I find them pretty fascinating. And if you like music, you want to know about the people who've created it.
Anne Bogel: Keith Richards' book is enormous. Is it not?
Jackie Branz: It's pretty long. Mm-hmm.
Anne Bogel: You mentioned being intimidated by the newer Olga Tokarczuk that's a thousand pages long, but I have noticed that some of your favorite audiobooks are pretty hefty.
Jackie Branz: Yeah. I think it is because if I'm pulled in, I can do a long book. The Power Broker was so long. It was one of those ones I went back to really quickly and easily.
Anne Bogel: Okay. So you'll listen to a 66-hour audiobook. I've never listened to an audiobook that long.
Jackie Branz: Is that how long it is? Oh my God.
Anne Bogel: Jackie, what would you like to be different in your reading life?
Jackie Branz: I think the books in translation are a new interest. And part of that is because when I was looking at, I have my list of countries and what books I've read from where, a lot of the times it was an American author, or maybe a British author, writing about another country, not where they were from. And I thought if I really want to know these countries, if I read books from writers from that area, and a lot of times those are books in translation, the book that I mentioned from the Polish author, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, I just like saying that title, that was a book in translation. And I just think there's often just a different quality to the writing that's interesting from always reading in English.
Anne Bogel: All right, let's see what we got here.
Jackie Branz: Okay.
Anne Bogel: So, Jackie, the books that you love are The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was not for you. The absurdist humor, just you didn't find that appealing to your taste. And that is not shocking to me, given what you've said. So you love titles that let you learn the details of history you already knew and history that was previously unknown to you. And that's especially appealing in recent years, which is interesting to me. You love stories about real-life and real-life events that really bring it home to you when you get to read a whole book about it. And you love to read things from other places that hook you into what's happening in the world. You also really like it when a book makes you want to know what happens next.
Anne Bogel: And for you, that's not necessarily the next stunning plot twist. But what happens next in a real-life, the history of a place, or a fascinating exploration of a true crime case, or you talked about those cult leaders, I'm going to tell you right now, I got nothing on that front that I bet you haven't seen before. But I'm excited to see where we can go around the imaginary bookstore in our heads, but also around the world. Oh, and you're interested in reading more work in translation, which is a fairly new goal for you.
Jackie Branz: Yeah. I'd say that's so.
Anne Bogel: Okay. And also, you are really interested in making your way through the Seattle Public Library Book Bingo. So readers, the Book Bingo card's available online, but just to give you some idea, no, no, some of the squares are a book set south of the equator, a book you've been meaning to read, a book focused on a hobby or skill. You can reread a childhood favorite. Ooh. A book set somewhere you'd like to visit. Jackie, how far have you gotten?
Jackie Branz: I have read Passing for the book to screen category. I just started Carol for the LGBTQ love story. Oh, I know what I'm listening to and I'm actually really, I am really gripped by it. So this is a good example, is Robinson Crusoe, for a childhood favorite.
Anne Bogel: Well, I think some of the books we're going to talk about can do double duty, but ultimately you'll have to be the one to decide that.
Jackie Branz: Yeah.
Anne Bogel: Okay, to start, let's see. There are several nonfiction authors springing to mind that I really think you may enjoy reading who have robust catalogs, but I think what I'd like to try first, and we'll see if this sticks, is books that may be a little more beneath the radar than some of those authors that I imagine you've heard of and may have already read. How do you feel about that?
Jackie Branz: Yeah, that sounds great.
Anne Bogel: Okay. The first one I want to recommend is a novel, and I'm wondering, based on what you said, if you will love this on audio or not. I'll let you be the judge of that. But I do think there's a lot here in this story to appeal to you.
Jackie Branz: Okay.
Anne Bogel: The book is called Hades, Argentina. It's by an literary editor whose name is Daniel Loedel. Is this a book that you are familiar with yet?
Jackie Branz: No, I haven't heard anything about it.
Anne Bogel: Okay. Well, I'm not sorry to hear that. It's fairly recent. It came out just in the past year or two. And while this is not a book in translation, Loedel was born to an Argentine father and an American mother. He was born in New York City, despite those roots that he had in Argentina, but his protagonist is a literary translator. And I think that could be really interesting for you here. So this is a little bit like we talked about with the Ann Shin novel, The Last Exiles, or The Orphan Master's Son. It is not quite historical fiction, but it is awfully close. This story is set in the late 1970s and early '80s. It starts in New York City, but there's an inciting incident right at the beginning of the book that pulls the protagonist back home to Buenos Aires.
Anne Bogel: So what we find out is that he has been hiding out in the United States. He ran away from his life for eight years. He got married, but a year later, he's already sleeping on the couch. He is not in a good place. I'll tell you right now, there are a lot of content warnings, listeners, for this book. If you're a sensitive reader, maybe do a little research or check out those Goodreads reviews or the content warnings on StoryGraph before digging in. Readers familiar with Argentine history will recognize the setting as being during often called the Dirty War in Argentina. And that was just a horrible time following the coup that removed Peron from power. So in the book, Tomás, our translator, gets pulled back into Argentina to try to track down his half sister that has disappeared because of something that happened during the Dirty War. And it was not uncommon for people to be just disappeared. And that was the verb that was used during that time period.
Anne Bogel: Something I didn't realize when I first read the book is that the story was actually inspired by Loedel's own half sister, who disappeared. And something he's talked about that's really interesting is that how he intimately knew, even though his sister was never talked about, what it felt like to have a ghost hanging over the family. Because even though he didn't even live in Argentina, he didn't set foot in the country until he was 22, he knew what that felt like. Jackie, you really like books, it seems, that are thoroughly in touch with the real world. And also, I wonder if this might be a book for that challenge that's a little bit outside your comfort zone because it's very much in the tradition of great South American literary works. There is surrealism here in this story.
Anne Bogel: And Loedel said that he tried to write a realist novel, and he tried to write a realist novel, and he wanted everything to be completely accurate and on the page, but he couldn't quite do it without writing something that felt a little more like a ghost story and that did have some supernatural elements. And this isn't fantasy, but it does try to portray the emotional journey that his protagonist is taking. So it's called Hades, Argentina. So you can tell that he's not entering a good place as he tries to put to rest these ghosts from the past. But I think the way it explores real history and real human nature in a setting, that I'm not sure how familiar you are with the history of Argentina. But I think that this could be a really interesting opportunity to learn more about a people, and a place, and an experience. How does that sound?
Jackie Branz: That sounds really great. And actually, it's something I would be really interested in knowing. I know a little bit about that era in Argentina, but I'd love to delve in. This sounds great.
Anne Bogel: Okay. I'm glad to hear it. This is narrated by Christian Barillas, and I get the impression that you care about literary awards. This was a finalist and long-listed for several. I'm interested in hearing if this is one you might do on audio versus print.
Jackie Branz: Yeah. I'll definitely give it a shot. It's one of those ones where there's enough background information where you learn about a place that pulls me in.
Anne Bogel: I'm happy to hear it. Okay. How do you feel about Cuba?
Jackie Branz: Oh yeah, that would be interesting.
Anne Bogel: So Ada Ferrer, who also has New York City connections, she's a Cuban-American historian who teaches at NYU. She has a new-ish book out that won the Pulitzer, won the Pulitzer prize in history, and also other book prizes in history. The book is Cuba: An American History. It's almost 600 pages. This is 20 something hours on audio. And I think this is the kind of book that is squarely in your, this is what Jackie likes to listen to on audio. And I hope with that length that it's not overwhelming but that it feels promising that you'll have many days of gardening to do while you still get to listen to the story and find out what happens next. So this is a sweeping story that packs five centuries of history into a book that is not that long, considering. And she does build a momentum and a real sense of narrative drive into these historical events.
Anne Bogel: So she starts in the era of Columbus and takes us right through the present day, where she's talking about the collapse of the Soviet Union, how Obama opened the country to Americans again, but then they close quickly again under Trump. And she speculates on what may happen in the years to come that we are living in right now. But throughout, what she argues, is that Cuba is part of the history of American capitalism with its sugar, the slavery, that they are on the island. And her focus in the book is on the Cuban people, not just grand political leaders, although they're certainly in the pages. But really, what she's prioritizing in her storytelling is the Cuban people.
Anne Bogel: And what she says she wants to do in this story is to provide a mirror for US readers so that we can see our own country refracted through the eyes of another country, another people. I think you may enjoy being able to see some of the touchstones through the centuries that you know, and having them just fleshed out with so much detail that you just didn't even know to wonder about. How does that kind of story sound to you?
Jackie Branz: That sounds great. I mean, I think we hear so much about the recent Cuban history in the news, and I've read things off and on about that, but to go back that far, I think that would be really fascinating.
Anne Bogel: That was Cuba: An American History by Ada Ferrer. What do you think?
Jackie Branz: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Anne Bogel: I have not heard the audio because this book is not out yet. I've only read the print, but it would take us to Japan.
Jackie Branz: Mm-hmm. Okay.
Anne Bogel: The book is Diary of a Void. It's by Emi Yagi. It's narrated by Nancy Wu, should you choose to pick it up in that setting. And it's translated by David Boyd and Lucy North. Jackie, I think this could be a lot of fun for you. We talked about what you learned by reading books in translation, and something that's really interesting in this book is right at the beginning, the translators, and for this book, they are David Boyd and Lucy North, give you a note to explain basically the limits of translation, right at the beginning. They say that Diary of a Void, in the Japanese, is this really clever and playful play on words to the Japanese Maternal and Child Health Handbook, which is this notebook that all expectant mothers in the country get to record the details of their pregnancies and what happens, not just during pregnancy, but also until their child is six years old. And the book has a name, and every woman gets it. And if you live in Japan, you know, this is part of your culture.
Anne Bogel: But Diary of a Void is just a slight spin on what that Maternal and Child Health Handbook is called in Japan. So right at the beginning, they're like, "This is a book in translation. This is going to be fun. You're going to get it. But let us tell you right now, what you're not getting, because you're reading it in English." The premise of this is so clever and fun and also subversive. It's about a 34-year-old white-collar employee. She works for a company that makes cardboard tubes, and the office is in Tokyo, and she's a full-time employee. Steady job. She's kind of overworked, and she's gotten to resent it. And what she really resents is the kind of thing that happens right at the beginning of the story.
Anne Bogel: She's a woman. She's in the office. She's not the lowest woman seniority-wise, but she is a woman. And so, when the big boss wants the coffee cups cleared from the big meeting or someone needs to make the coffee, he looks at her. So everybody looks at her, and one day she has finally had enough. And after protesting, like, "This shouldn't be my job just because I'm a woman." And just because, like, "Why are you looking at me?" So one day she's like, "You know what? I can't do it. It makes me nauseous because I am pregnant." But she's not pregnant. She's not pregnant. She just wanted a way out. So what she's done, right at the beginning of the story, is she set up this ticking time bomb, like you usually have in a very different kind of story, because even though she says, "Oh, just five weeks." And everybody's like, "You don't usually tell people that early." But what she's done is bought herself as much time as possible to figure it out.
Anne Bogel: But this Diary of a Void is her journal of all her experiences and how her life changes after she begins to pretend she's pregnant in the office and how she begins to compensate by packing scarves and dish towels under her belly so she looks pregnant. But she starts doing the things a pregnant woman would do like eating differently and going to prenatal yoga. And the way that the reality in her lie that she's living begin to blur are really, really interesting. And this book, I imagine, doesn't have much in common with other books you will have read before. You said that you love reading books in translation because you often find surprises and different kinds of stories. And I think this could be fun for you.
Jackie Branz: Yeah, that sounds great. It sounds like she's painting herself into a corner, and how is she going to get out of this? It sounds great. Yeah.
Anne Bogel: That is the question. Now, this is not a super long book, in the neighborhood of 250 pages. I think the audio run length is going to be about seven hours. So this won't keep you occupied for weeks, but I hope the time that it does keep you occupied feels very enjoyable.
Jackie Branz: Yeah. That's perfect. And it'll fit right into one of my Book Bingo categories.
Anne Bogel: Oh, which one is it going to be?
Jackie Branz: Well, I think some place you'd like to visit.
Anne Bogel: Well, I sure would, but it's your card. As for a couple of authors who write the kinds of books that I imagine that you would really enjoy. I mean, some of the obvious ones that came to mind were Candice Mallard. Have you read her books before?
Jackie Branz: No.
Anne Bogel: Oh, really?
Jackie Branz: Uh-huh.
Anne Bogel: She is an American journalist who documents all the details of these stories. You might know the glimpses of, but definitely don't know the details, in the same kind of way that you would find in Say Nothing, which, of course, is a very different story. She has a new one that just released in May called River of the Gods. The subtitle is Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile. So that's taking you to a different continent, but she's also written a lot about American history, about presidential history. The first book I read by her was Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. And that's about Garfield and the assassination attempt and what led up to it and what actually did kill him, which was basically terrible medical care.
Jackie Branz: Oh, yeah. I've heard of that one. I've heard her interviewed before, but I have not read her before.
Anne Bogel: Well, take a look at her books and the settings and think about where you want to go. I think maybe the new one, because it takes you to the Nile instead of keeping you in the US or taking you to Britain, because you've read lots of those books. But I think any of those works just would really appeal to your taste and interests.
Anne Bogel: Okay, Jackie, of the books we talked about today, we talked about a lot of books today, but of the three, they were Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel. Cuba: An American History, by Ada Ferrer. And Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi. Of those works, what do you think you may read next?
Jackie Branz: I think I would start with Hades, Argentina, but I'm going to put them all on my hold list at the library, and just depending on the waits, I might just swing by the bookstore.
Anne Bogel: Well, I can't wait to hear what you think, and I hope it brings you many hours of reading pleasure. Jackie, thank you so much for talking books with me today.
Jackie Branz: Anne thank you so much.
Anne Bogel: Hey readers. I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Jackie, and I'd love to hear what you think she should read next. Check out our full list of titles we talked about at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/336. And if a title came to mind while you are listening that you think Jackie would love, drop that there in the comments.
Anne Bogel: Sign up for our weekly newsletter at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter. Each week, I send out a quick and breezy newsletter inspired by our podcast format, sharing three things I've loved, one thing I don't, and what I've been reading lately.
Anne Bogel: Another place to keep up with everything happening here is on Instagram, where we are @whatshouldireadnext. And I'm there, my personal account @annebogel. That's Anne with an E. B as in books. O-G-E-L. We are still so enjoying seeing all your summer reading posts. Tag us there. Use the hashtag #mmd for Modern Mrs Darcy, MMD Summer Reading to share about your summer reading picks.
Anne Bogel: If you haven't ordered your What Should I Read Next gear, be sure to check out our T-shirt, our book bag, and book darts over at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/store.
Anne Bogel: Follow along in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, wherever you get your podcasts.
Anne Bogel: We are taking a break next week, but we will be back July 5th to chat with a guest about how to become a library power user.
Anne Bogel: Thanks to the people who make the show happen. What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with scripts by Holly Weilkoszewski, and sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Anne Bogel: Readers, that's it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening. And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, "Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading." Happy reading everyone.
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