Readers, today’s guest has looked forward to finishing grad school and freeing up more time for pleasure reading, but now that she’s done with school, she’s run into an unexpected scenario: despite more time to read, she’s not finding the same satisfaction she used to in her go-to genres.
Growing up, Adrien Kordas enjoyed a uniquely bookish childhood, and she’s always identified as a reader. So, this recent change in her reading tastes is particularly difficult for her to reconcile. She knows what she used to love to read, but these days she can’t find the books that satisfy her in the same way, and she’s not sure what to do next.
I help Adrien find clarity in her current reading tastes, and welcome her into this new stage of her reading life. If you have a recommendation for Adrien, let us know in the comments.
Connect with Adrien on Instagram.
ADRIEN: This one, huh, it just made me so invested in 12th-century nuns, which is not something I ever thought I'd say.
ANNE: Not something you thought you'd say. [BOTH LAUGHS]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey, readers, I'm Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 339.
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: Readers, your junior book lovers are just a few weeks away from having my new reading journal, My Reading Adventures, in their hands. That also means there's only a few more weeks to claim those pre-order bonuses.
When you order My Reading Adventures before August 2nd, you get an instant book list and reading guide, and we'll mail your young reader coordinating stickers because book mail is the best mail.
Order wherever you get your books, then visit modernmrsdarcy.com/kidsjournal to claim those bonuses. That's modernmrsdarcy.com/kidsjournal.
Readers, today's guest, Adrien Kordas, recently completed grad school. For a long time now she has been looking forward to devoting plenty of newly freed up time to reading, but she unexpectedly ran into a problem.
Adrien has realized she is not the same reader she used to be. Her tastes have changed. She no longer loves what she used to love. She wasn't expecting this to happen, and she is not sure what to do next.
This is especially disorienting because Adrien has always identified as a reader. She had a... it sounds like a story about childhood. Literally, she read in libraries everywhere while her mother worked as a puppeteer at those summer reading programs. She practically grew up in the library, but now she can't find the right books, and she no longer feels like herself because of it.
She'd love to rekindle that childhood reading magic and get some clarity about the types of books that suit the reader she is today. My mission is to help Adrien clarify what books are right for her right now and to welcome her into the next stage of her reading life. Let's get to it.
ANNE: Adrien, welcome to the show.
ADRIEN: Thank you. I'm very excited to be here.
ANNE: Oh, well, thank you for coming on. Listeners, we put out a call to our What Should I Read Next? Patreon community not that long ago and said that we were seeking to help readers work through their summer reading... "struggles" sounds kinda heavy. But we want to help you all make the most of your precious summer reading minutes.
And sometimes there are some real practical obstacles that stand in your way. So we wanted to help a few listeners work through those issues. And Adrien, thank you for raising your hand there.
ADRIEN: I, honestly, was very shocked to have my submission be chosen. It was my first time ever submitting. And you know, obviously, I thought about it for a long time but this is really the perfect opportunity to hopefully solve my little problem. [ANNE CHUCKLES]
ANNE: Well, you mentioned it doesn't feel like such a little problem in your life. I mean, it sounded like an identity crisis basically.
ADRIEN: It is roughly. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: We'll get to that more in a moment. But first, readers, that submission we're talking about, you can find that form at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/guest. We are always happy to read your submissions to come on the show. That's how we get the majority of our listeners. And we always say that timing is everything.
Okay, Adrien, so you used to be an avid traveler, living all over in South Korea, Russia, France, Taiwan. You even worked on a cruise ship. Now you're settled in Denver. We are here to talk about your reading life right now. But to begin, would you give me a little insight into what reading has meant to you over the years?
ADRIEN: I guess I'll start from the beginning. I grew up as a reader. My parents are avid readers, primarily fantasy. My mom also is really into mysteries, which is that's what I'm reading a lot now. And I'm also watching a lot of like British murder mysteries on TV. And I'm like, "Wow, it's morphing into her. It's happening." [BOTH LAUGHS] You know, I always followed their example.
I also had a kind of another influence. When I was in early middle school... Okay, so I hated summer camp. I just like wanted to sit alone and read, but of course, at summer camp you're not allowed to do that.
So my mom decided to kind of pursue a dream of hers to become a puppeteer. A lot of listeners are probably aware there are things called summer reading programs and local libraries hire performers, musicians, magicians, and yes, puppeteers to come up with a show that goes around the summer reading theme.
ANNE: My own kids were very fond of Mr. Magic here in Kentucky. We followed him all over the city for the various summer reading performances. So that was your mom doing puppet shows?
ADRIEN: Yes. She does music puppets. My parents are both musicians as well. They have, you know, full-time jobs, but they've always had a band going. Instead of forcing me to go to summer camp, my mom was nice enough to bring me to all the libraries across New Hampshire, northern Central Mass, Massachusetts, and Southern Maine. And it was great.
I saw some beautiful libraries, of course. And I did sometimes participate in the shows, you know, helped my mom load up stuff. And if music needed to be played during a performance, I would, you know, hit play. And then, you know, while she was doing her thing, I would kind of just sit in the back and read. And obviously what more of a perfect place then? I had a cute little library. That was a big part of my life.
And also my parents being musicians brought to gigs and to practice, and I just usually sit in the corner and read. Of course, I loved Wishbone as a kid, really informed my love of classics, certainly my love of Pride and Prejudice. Yeah, a great childhood.
As soon as later middle school hit, I read a lot of my, I'd say, formative books. I recently read something someone posted on Instagram. If I really like a book, it's five stars. But if I really like it becomes a part of my personality. And I feel like late middle school, early high school really hit that sweet spot. The His Dark Materials series, which I know is divisive on your show, that is a big part of my life.
ANNE: I still never read it.
ADRIEN: I'm a big fan also of traveling to different locations that I see in books or my favorite movies. When I went to Oxford, I went to the Botanic Gardens. And if you've read it, you'd know. Well, that brings me to my other formative. I read Pride and Prejudice, of course.
So besides Wishbone, my mom... we rented the VHS tapes of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, who is the best, Mr. Darcy. Yeah, I became obsessed. Then I read Pride and Prejudice and I read all the Jane Austen's. Did I understand all of it? No. But I loved it. [ANNE CHUCKLES] That's my history of reading.
I used to, oh gosh, like tear-through classics. Like I read The Forsyte Saga. To be honest, I don't know why. It is a big commitment for like someone fairly young. And also fantasy, of course, very big. Lord of the Rings. But now fantasy isn't doing it for me like it was did. It used to be just like my only genre of choice. I slowly branched out to romance through audiobooks.
Georgette Heyer and Richard Armitage's narration kind of snowballed. And that was a big phase. Now I'm kind of branching off into cozy mysteries. But I'm kind of looking for my book genre touchstone that used to be fantasy. You know, obviously, I still enjoy it but looking back in my reading, none of them have really touched me or stuck with me the way that they used to.
And you know, I don't know if it's because I read all my favorites when I was so young that that's why they're stuck with me. But it's a little disconcerting when, you know, your favorites don't work for you like you expected them to.
ANNE: I was really struck by how you said that since you finished school your reading life has changed for the worse, which is not at all what you expected.
ADRIEN: I know.
ANNE: You told us that you assumed you get to read every free minute after work and that you would finally get to read as much as you felt like you wanted to when you wanted to whatever you wanted to. You can hear it in my voice, listeners. But Adrien, tell us more about how it's actually gone for you.
ADRIEN: You know, I always listen to the guests on your show that, you know, they don't have time to read. Like children and other important responsibilities. Maybe they're listening to me and rolling their eyes real hard right now. I mean, that's kind of what got me through the, you know, last couple of months on my capstone project for school was just thinking about, "Okay, when this is done, when this is done, I'll finally have free time. I can do what I want."
Now, I finally have a stable, great job that I love. I finally live alone, and I really have no excuse. So I'm just not living up to my own expectations. So as soon as I finished school, I was kind of, you know, drained. I hadn't really watched TV in like years, so I honestly did that for a lot of December.
So I go around my apartment... I own a lot of books. Let's just be clear. I like go through, pick the ones I want to read for the year. And that's a loose TBR. They are about 50 of them. I have a special bookshelf next to my bed where I put all those. So object impermanence cannot strike.
You know, those are books I really want to read, at least I thought, and I just haven't really been picking them up. They're not grabbing me as I thought they would. I don't know, I just have such high expectations. And I kind of just psych myself up. I don't know.
And I kind of sit down to read after work and after doing all what I have to do and I just fall asleep. No books are really grabbing me and forcing me to stay awake but also to become committed to them. It's kind of a silly thing to complain about looking at... I have read like 60 books so far this year, but a lot have been on audio. As I said, I live alone so I will listen to audio and it's lovely.
ANNE: So since you graduated, and it's been about six months now, your reading life has not been the source of comfort and joy and replenishment that it has so often been, and the books that you've thought you'd love are just not hitting the chords that you've thought they would right now. It sounds like you're not sure what to do.
ANNE: As we are troubleshooting, exploring how you might move forward from the unwelcome place that you're in, what are you hoping to discover? What do you hope your reading life maybe could become or become again?
ADRIEN: I just really would love to recapture the reading magic that, yes, I felt as a kid huddled in library corners reading everything I could get my hands on. I would love to fall in love with reading again and just recapture my love of reading, and finding books that speak to me in this season of my life that I didn't expect would work for me as a lifelong fantasy reader. I'm very set in my ways and I rarely read contemporaries. And I'm like, "Is that the way? I don't know."
I feel like I'm flailing. I know I need to do something different but I don't exactly know what I identify as a reader. I have I don't know how many like book t-shirts but [BOTH CHUCKLES] I don't feel like a reader anymore. Like, yes, I get the books in but it kind of feels like I'm going through the motions with reading right now and don't feel like myself.
ANNE: Well, we want you to feel like your reader self again. So the genres that you have loved in the past, particularly fantasy, which sounds like it's top of your list, favorite, the reading experience has not been for you what it once was.
I'm really intrigued by what you said: that the books that have stayed with me recently aren't my go-tos. They're kind of weird and quirky and dark. And you have some theories about what that means for the direction you might want to move in as you explore what your reading life can be in this new stage of your life.
ADRIEN: I have been surprised by a few books recently that I never thought I would actually like—I picked up on a whim. When I choose my books on a whim, it's usually they're from the library. You know, I just scroll through the recent additions to the Libby catalog and I choose that. Obviously, it's very low stakes.
Those are the ones I recently have been surprised by that makes me think like, "Oh, maybe I should read more of these." Like, "Boy, am I?" So a lot of those are kind of darker books. You know, I said in the submission format I've always considered myself a highly sensitive reader, which thank you for revealing that to me because I was like, "Why do all these people can read all these hard things and I just...? Whoog! No, thank you."
Like I've always stayed away, not only from contemporary reads, but even historical reads that deal with hard things, which I realized, especially as an, you know, American and looking into our history, that's most of our history. And it definitely comes, you know, from a place of privilege to have that viewpoint.
So I picked up a book that deals with hard things, Parable of the Sower, and man that was darkest for a book club. It was hard to read through, but I didn't stop. So that made me think, "Could I do other things I didn't think I could do?"
Really though I think it will stay constant. I really do not like books that are emotionally manipulative, that make you feel dread, or anxious, or... Like they're written to make you cry. It's just unnatural and disingenuous, I think. Like, if a book is, you know, described as heart-wrenching, I'm like, "Oh, God, no, thank you."
ANNE: Okay. So you haven't had a total personality transplant as a reader?
ADRIEN: No. I don't think so.
ANNE: You do think that you want to push outside of your comfort zone and find books that work for this season of your life because you've never been in this place before.
ADRIEN: Exactly. And I feel like I need to be pushed out on my own kind of rut. I don't think it's like a book slump, but just like all slump.
ANNE: Adrien, I'd love to hear more about what specifically is working for you. And I wonder if that doesn't lead us to the books that you brought today to share is ones you've left.
ANNE: So 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 then we will explore some titles that might be beyond the bounds of what you've read in the past that might be a good direction to move in in your reading future. So how did you choose these titles for today?
ADRIEN: So I chose books that are different from my usual, the quirky books that really stood out for me that I know I want to read more like real likes of.
ANNE: And when you say quirky, I imagine what you mean is that they're out of character, off your reading path.
ADRIEN: Yeah, that's perfect.
ANNE: Okay, well, I can't wait to hear it. Tell me about the first book you love.
ADRIEN: So it was Milkman by Anna Burns. It was long-listed for the Booker Prize, which I've read a couple of books on that prize list. And yeah, they're always like out of left field, and I kind of like it. Such an unusual book. I picked it up on a whim I think from Hoopla.
It's just hard to describe. But first, you have no idea where you are, when the story starts, or even when you are. You meet the protagonists. She's only known as middle sister and the guy she's seeing is her "maybe boyfriend." She just refers him as "maybe boyfriend" throughout the entire story.
And you think that would get annoying after a while but you get used to it. I listened to it. So you get the Irish accent. It was fantastic. So yes, it takes place in Ireland. That was very obvious from the start.
But then you understand through the textual clues that the setting is actually in Belfast. She uses the term "No go zones," which you know, from the context of the Troubles you get. And it's in the 70s. I have, since reading this, you know, read more about the Troubles. I did have a base knowledge but the Republican terrorists are called "renouncers-of-the-state." The Protestants are called "the opposite religion."
And the title of Milkman comes from one of these announcers. There's this guy, the Milkman, he drives in an unmarked milk van and he seems to be stalking middle sister and he's older and married. And in a place where there's no privacy, rumors start because she's already viewed as kind of weird and as an outsider, because—and this is what I really loved—she reads while walking.
And like that becomes a major thing in her community. Like her brother-in-law's like, "Why do you read while walking? You're just like standing. Now you're not conforming." It's so weird even to read in this setting for her community. And she just becomes, yeah, this object of speculation.
She also becomes a target for "the opposite religion." She like hears clicks when she walks while reading, which distracts her from reading. And that's, you know, the opposite religion taking pictures of her. It's like it's dark. It's claustrophobic. It's actually really funny I think and it's just so weird.
You just follow her through the end. You want to know what happens. You know, not a mystery but it just kept me listening. I needed to know what happened. And it's definitely not a book for everyone. But once you get in the flow of it, you're... I just needed to know what happened.
ANNE: Adrien, this does sound like a long way off the books that you typically read. Like the style has been described as almost experimental, it's an interesting almost stream of consciousness, and yet this one really worked for you.
ADRIEN: I was as surprised as you. [ANNE LAUGHS]
ANNE: What made you think that you wanted to give it a chance, knowing those things, knowing that it was atypical for you?
ADRIEN: Well, to be honest, the cover is beautiful. It's a pink sunset, which plays into something that happens in the book. But also the setting, very strong sense of place. It literally could not have taken place anywhere else. I love learning about new cultures, of course.
I haven't actually been to Ireland, but I want to. And so yeah, this just gave me a glimpse that... I mean, I could and I have read nonfiction about it, but it's just something special to read it through fiction.
ANNE: A lot of readers are intimidated by the Booker Prize nominees because they think they're going to be really like difficult or scholarly or challenging reads. But I don't think that's the case for a Milkman. But it does have a very like different voice and style than you'd typically read. And I wonder if that was coincidental or if that was fun. Like if that was part of the appeal, settling into a whole different kind of a book.
ADRIEN: I completely agree. I never thought of myself as really reading to appreciate structure but I have liked a few like that. Like In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. Not for the structure, but just like the uniqueness that it brought. The story is just like nothing I've ever read before. Since I am needing to be pushed out of my, you know, self-induced rut, maybe that's what I need.
ANNE: Adrien, tell me about another book you love.
ADRIEN: This is a book club pick for Fiction Matters. She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore. That's a book I did not think I would like as much as I did because obviously the history of enslaved people in America is just so rough and involves like all of the triggers that I would normally like, you know, want to stay away from. It's just hard and it's dark.
But the story is also about the founding of Liberia, which, of course, you heard, at least in my history classes, about Liberia, but basically the American Colonization during the Reconstruction era that... I guess one of the options for the newly freed people would be to send them back to Africa. So this group of white people called the American Colonization Society was like, "Well, let's take this land and just send everyone back. That'll be just so easy."
And then throughout this book, you learn that it really is not. Yes, the story is about the finding of Liberia but there is an element of folklore. It's just so interesting to view these events from a historical perspective that, yeah, I just knew nothing about.
So the story follows three characters that all have specials kind of supernatural abilities. The first is Gbessa who is a woman sent by her village in West Africa, like around where Liberia is now. They believe she's a witch. Next, there is June Dey who was raised on a plantation in Virginia. He's born under very unusual circumstances.
And Norman Aragon who is a child of a white British colonizer in Jamaica and a Jamaican woman who kind of has a supernatural ability she passes down to her son.
The suspense is not only waiting for these characters to converge in me. Like you know what's going to happen, but also in experiencing who they really are, you know, besides being oppressed people, and then what they do once they reach their destination is just very fascinating to find out. Each of their abilities is just so empowering for them through their powers to take agency for their own destinies and their own outcomes. And yeah, I just really enjoyed, and it stuck with me.
And because I liked this one so much, it pushed me to read The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, which I also really liked, which I did not think I would. So yeah, that's why I chose that one.
ANNE: I'm so glad that this book is leading you down a path to more books that you wouldn't have discovered had you not learn more about yourself as a reader. Listeners, if you were thinking She Would Be King is a book that you've heard on What Should I Read Next? before, you are right. We recommended that to Brenna and Ryan in Episode 189, which is called Our favorite genre is chapter books.
Adrien, tell me what you chose to complete your favorites list.
ADRIEN: The next one is Matrix by Lauren Groff. Yeah, this one, it just made me so invested in 12th-century nuns, which is not something I ever thought I'd say. [ANNE CHUCKLES]
ANNE: Not something you thought you'd say. [CHUCKLES]
ADRIEN: So it's actually about a real woman, Marie de France, who's a poet in King Henry II's court, but not much is known about her. So it kind of explores one of the theories about who she was, which is an abbeys in this monastery. She's put there, she's like... No one knew what to do with her.
She was an illegitimate sister of Henry II, this theory goes in the story. And she just takes charge of this monastery. She protects the women in that monastery from outside forces that, you know, patriarchy doesn't want to see nuns especially succeeding.
She kind of overcomes all of these preconceptions. She's tall, she's, you know, not you know, conventionally attractive, and she helps these women flourish even in such a restrictive society.
I loved it because she has like visions which are turned to making her convent to a haven for women and almost like a bit of a fortress. And she just makes everyone into their best selves, even if it means not staying with the conventions and making enemies. I just like had to know if, you know, the men were going to invade the abbey. Like I just needed to know what happened. It's just lovely reading about an empowered woman in a time when things were just so, huh, restrictive.
ANNE: Adrien, tell me about a book that wasn't right for you.
ADRIEN: Yeah. One Day in December by Josie Silver. I picked it up because I do love British history, but also I like reading about contemporary England. I've been there three times. I love all the books and shows and movies set in England.
So sometimes I do actually pick up contemporary reads. I do like some of Jenny Colgan's series. So I picked this one up, you know, it just seemed like a fun light read. But no, I looked at my review on Goodreads and it says, "I wanted to slap everyone." That was my review.
It seemed like an interesting premise. The main character sees a boy or a bus window. It's like insta love, she becomes obsessed. But then what follows is 10 years of heartbreak, fraught, silences, longing looks, and miscommunication. The man we're supposed to root for, her love interest is just such... like not great person. He's just so annoying and selfish and privileged. And I was like, "Why am I rooting for these people?" I don't have to like the characters in general, but, man, I just don't like books that are driven by miscommunication. [ANNE CHUCKLES]
ANNE: Okay, so you've found the plot frustrating instead of pulling you like through the book in like an enjoyable way?
ADRIEN: They're just so destructive. And because of their miscommunication, they just ruined people's lives around them. And it's just so pointless.
ANNE: You mentioned that you didn't want to root for them, but it sounds like you wish that it had been that kind of story?
ADRIEN: Yes, exactly.
ANNE: Okay, that's good to know. Because not every reader wants that or looks for that.
ADRIEN: Oh, yeah. Like I don't think I could read a Sally Rooney. I just don't think so.
ANNE: I can't really comment on that because I haven't yet. Not have any principal stand. I just have not gotten there. Adrien, what have you been reading lately?
ADRIEN: So I recently read and finished Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, which I did really enjoy. Though it's not really surprising. I loved One Hundred Years of Solitude. But I did actually. I kind of hated the main character at first. He was unlikable. I thought he was just like a chauvinistic, not-good person, but I did end up rooting for him in the end. So I was pleasantly surprised.
Another I'm currently reading is Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. I was bullied into reading by two friends that loved it. And the last is Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age by Debby Applegate. I'm learning about something I never thought I'd want to learn about. And also it is an immigrant story.
She fled the destruction of her homeland white Russia, you know, when the Soviets Bolsheviks were taking control of Russia. So yeah, it's very interesting.
ANNE: All right, Adrien, let's take a look back over what we've talked about. You loved Milkman by Anna Burns, She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore, and Matrix by Lauren Groff.
One Day in December by Josie Silver was not for you. It sounded like you liked the writing, but characters were not ones you were interested in. Like finding out what happened to them or wishing for a happy ending and turning the pages hoping you'd be moving in that direction.
You've been reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, and Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age by Debby Applegate.
And what you're looking for in your reading life are books that are likely off your beaten path, books that are not the fantasy and cozy mysteries you've consistently reliably gravitated for and loved over the years, books that may be a little bit weird for you and quirky and dark, books that might even be contemporary fiction.
But really we're looking for books that will work for this season of life. Because you've done a lot of things. Like you traveled around the world, you have a new job, you finished your graduate degree. You're a different person than you are when you first fell in love with reading.
And it sounds like you're discovering what kind of books suits your... not necessarily changed. That might be a scary word, I imagine, because you have such a fond history with books and with literature, but your evolving sense of self as a reader.
ADRIEN: Beautifully put.
ANNE: Adrien, you've referenced several times that contemporary fiction has not been for you in the past but now you're reconstructing your sense of self as a reader and you think, "Maybe this also means contemporaries."
ADRIEN: I know.
ANNE: We've never really talked about why though. Are you able to put your finger on what it is that has caused you to, in the past, articulate the fact that like contemporary is just not your jam?
ADRIEN: Yeah. I've been thinking about this a lot. So I have picked up contemporaries like The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. If it has like "bookish" in the title, I'm like, "Okay, I can handle this." Seven Days in June I read last summer and I really liked because it had the paranormal author aspects.
So if it's something new and interesting that fits my interests like that, I'm like, "Okay, I can give this a shot." Like any domestic suspense or thriller is like taking place in such like a claustrophobic, like in a house. I feel like so much of contemporaries are like that and just, "Oh, no, thank you."
If, you know, a place I know I'm just not interested unless, you know, it's a place I love, like London. I just like learning new things. And I feel like with contemporaries I just don't get that. But obviously that could just be a block I've put there since I'm stubborn. [CHUCKLES] So I am willing to have my mind changed.
ANNE: It almost sounds as though you're talking about contemporary fiction as its own category. I think is in a sense. You can hear me thinking this out because I don't quite have the words. I wonder if when you choose contemporary novels you're selecting them with the level of care that you select backlist with?
ADRIEN: That is a really good point. I guess I do. If I do choose or look at contemporary as a possibility is because they're popular.
ANNE: Here's something we're going to do. We're going to find you a book with a contemporary setting that hopefully has some of the elements you've loved in your backlist selections and see. Because I do think there's a big difference between... And this is not a value judgment. This is an observation about the kind of work and what the author is trying to accomplish with the work.
So there's a big difference between, let's say, One Day in December, which wasn't for you, and okay, let's take a contemporary enough title from an author that you've loved and say Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. Those are both books with contemporary settings and yet they're not at all trying to do the same thing. They don't feel the same. The reading experience is not intended to be the same.
And so I'd love for you to try something new with a more contemporary setting. I'm just noticing that I'm not sure that it's the contemporary aspects that's killing your enjoyment of those books. I think there might be more to it than that.
ADRIEN: I fully acknowledge it's probably in my head. [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: Like beliefs we have about our reading lives in our heads like really do impact what we choose to pick up. We're in Summer Reading Guide season and I feel like I always have to tell readers explicitly like, "I want you to read through all the books and the guide." Not because I think it's so important that they put eyes on everything that like I selected. It doesn't really matter who selects it.
But even though there's a real beauty in flipping straight to like literary thrillers or you know, some such category where you know, like, "Oh, I love that kind of book," if you don't even consider reading whole sections of the bookstore because of the label at the top, then you're gonna miss out on some really life-changing reading experiences. I don't want you to miss out on that.
ADRIEN: Well, I do feel called out. I totally acknowledge that is correct. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I'm not trying to call you out. I'm trying to welcome you into the next stage of your read.
ADRIEN: No, but that's the whole point of this, right? I need help. How do I choose this whole brand new world of fiction?
ANNE: Yeah. Yeah. I want to say come on in the water. It's fine. And I feel like you're like, "No, that water is frigid. [BOTH LAUGHS] Like, I'm just gonna stay right here on the edge. Thank you." I just want to welcome you in.
ANNE: This is really fun for me. It might be a little scary for you because you want to push outside your comfort zone, which means you get to enjoy trying new things. And while we definitely want to notice what has really worked for you and strive to get that same kind of reading experience, we also want you to try a variety of reading experiences and see how they fit right now. Is that me? How does that inform what I want to read next?
Oh, something else you described is that you wanted harder books that are not in your normal wheelhouse. And while I don't think that any of the books that you read are like, "I couldn't possibly read it without a pen or an encyclopedia handy-
ADRIEN: No. Yeah, no.
ANNE: Like everybody reads with an Encyclopedia these days. They are books that require focused reading.
ADRIEN: No, it requires me to focus and not fall asleep. [BOTH LAUGHS] But it makes me want to focus because it's interesting and I need to know what happens.
ANNE: So here's what I'm noticing. You like books that take you deep into people's lives, that show you lives that you do not know and would have no experience of were it not for the power of the novel to take you there.
You've enjoyed books that have been told in interesting ways. You've enjoyed being surprised. Like you didn't think you wanted to read about... Well, you knew you've wanted to read about 1970s, probably Belfast but the city isn't actually named. You didn't know you wanted to go to medieval France. Wayétu Moore told you the story of Liberia you didn't necessarily know like, "That is what I'm seeking out," but you were delighted to be there.
So if we visited different places and space and time, if we had some stories where you got to know characters really well over a span of time... Oh, and I've also noticed that you have chosen stories that put women and women's stories front and center and that directly confront issues that are relevant in all the times and places the stories took place, but are also relevant in the world we live in now. These are the kinds of books that we're looking for. And we are explicitly trying to give you some off-your-beaten path selections.
Now to some readers, this is not off your beaten path. This is your comfort zone. But that's not true for you, Adrien. Does that sound terrifying? Are you ready to do this?
ADRIEN: I mean, slightly, but it's what I signed up for, so I'm excited. [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: Yeah, you did. Okay, first, a 2020 release. Not brand new, but not old. It's called A Girl is a Body of Water. It's by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Is this a book you know?
ADRIEN: I've heard of it. I don't know what it's about.
ANNE: All right. Well, I think that sounds like just the right amount of information to begin with.
ANNE: Oh... no, hang on. So Makumbi is a Ugandan novelist. She lives in the UK now. Actually, in the UK, this book is called The First Woman, which does an interesting... It plays with the title of her first novel. This is her second. But I really like how this book echoes some of the elements and themes that you've enjoyed with She Would Be King and with Matrix.
So this is about a young girl and her name is Kirabo. And she's growing up in a small village in Uganda. And everything is going swimmingly for her even though her mother has always been absent. Her father is away in the city, but she is loved and cared for and happy.
But then when she's 12, she suddenly develops a desire to find out what happened to her mother, where is her mother. And at the same time, she's become distressed that she seems to have two selfs. When she is worked up, she feels like she's flying out of her body. And she is suddenly concerned like maybe this is connected to why her mom is gone. Like, "Maybe there are two of me: a good self and a bad self. And this can't be a good thing. And uh, I what do I do?"
And I will interject here that Makumbi has said that, when asked the question, "Is this literal? Is this figurative?" she has said that she won't deprive you the reader, Adrien, of the pleasure of puzzling over that question for yourself.
ADRIEN: I do like that.
ANNE: But this young girl, Kirabo, she finds the village witch, and the witch is ready to help her with her query. But the witch has her own agenda, as witches do, and then things get complicated. But this has so many elements that you have enjoyed and some that you haven't read, but I think you might enjoy exploring. So this is a coming-of-age story. It's literary fiction. It has that taste, more than a taste, I would say, of magical realism.
And something else I really like about this story is like out of the gate you are plunged right into the world of Kirabo and her plight and her village. It also contains those folkloric elements that you have so enjoyed with more contemporary ideas about feminism that appear in all of your works.
I want to tell you about the title a little bit—why is it called A Girl is a Body of Water. And the reason has to do with ancient beliefs about how women could not share land wealth. They say that the very first woman rose out of the sea while the first man emerged from Earth. But both women and the sea were baffling because water has no shape. It's inconsistent. It cannot be tamed. It can flow anywhere. You can't draw borders on the ocean. But land belonged with men. With the water that you cannot draw borders on. Well, that is what it means to be a woman: a girl is a body of water.
And I think you'll appreciate how both the characters that you get to know really, really well and more minor but nevertheless important characters in the village community, are both richly portrayed, even though Kirabo is wrestling through a hard question. It's a really joyful novel. And I think you may appreciate that as well. How does that sound?
ADRIEN: You had me at witches. [ANNE LAUGHS] I am there. I do love community stories, especially where it's not all doom and gloom. So I'm very excited about this.
ANNE: Because the next book I wanted to tell you about was The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. And that's her new novel. I don't believe this is available yet in the US, but is out in the UK.
So The Dance Tree, this is really interesting because it's inspired by two historic events, one of awesome Meteor, but the other involves the world's largest ever outbreak of choreomania, the mysterious dancing plagues that swept across Europe in the 16th century and inspired this novel.
And actually Hargrave commented that like the day after her book came out in the UK, the new Florence + the Machine album came out that deals with the same theme. So she's like choreomania, everything old is new again.
So she took part of The Dance Tree Story from this actual historic event in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. Women would dance themselves to exhaustion to the point that they would actually die. And yet at the same time Hargrave thought this was such a pure expression of body autonomy, of ecstasy, and of joy. But also that was really dangerous because in the 1500s, body autonomy, ecstasy, and joy were not okay things for women to have or pursue.
So in this novel, we meet a woman named Lisbet who lives on a farm. The farm's primary source of income is through beehives. So that's really interesting and fun to read about on the page. And she lives there with her husband and her mother-in-law, who does not like her very much.
Lisbet would love to be a mother but it's not happening for her and her husband. She's had multiple miscarriages. So something she's done to process her grief and honor her lost children is designated a linden tree on the property as her dance tree. And that's where she goes to remember the babies that she's lost. And that's where she goes to seek solace.
Something else that happens in the story is her sister-in-law returns, and she's been in exile for seven years. Lisbet doesn't know why. She's never met her sister-in-law before. She was gone when she married her husband. But she spent seven years at a monastery and now she's back, and the atmosphere in the family changes. And Lisbet has all kinds of questions.
And it's very apparent to the reader early that Agnethe sinned greatly by falling in love with a woman but nobody's talking about it. And that's not apparent to Lisbet for some time. But you as the reader know that.
But throughout the story, you see all these vignettes about the women in the community and why they dance and what it means to them and why they need to seek solace, and what is it they're processing, and why do they need to find some outlet for joy that they can't have anywhere else.
I like this for you because this is historical fiction, it's not a fantasy novel, but it does feel like it has a bit of almost magic, Practical Magic about it.
ADRIEN: Well, I do love Practical Magic.
ANNE: So all right, Adrien, kinda weird and quirky and dark. That's what we're going for. Have you read Gabrielle Zevin in the past? Because I want to tell you about her new one.
ADRIEN: Her name sounds familiar.
ANNE: She wrote The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
ADRIEN: I own that. I have not read it yet.
ANNE: Ooh, okay, I might tell you to start there. There's lots of fun. This came out like almost 10 years ago now. But you did say that you love books about books and with bookstore settings and things like that. And this is about a bookstore owner who owns a failing independent bookstore on this island off the coast of Massachusetts. And he's depressed because his wife has died. He's isolated and mad at the world, pretty crabby about the books that he does and doesn't allow in his bookstores.
And do you know what he has, Adrien, is old-fashioned that tastes in books. And maybe you might have a bit of a kindred spirit. Although I think he abhors magical realism and you kind of like it.
ADRIEN: Uh, I do kinda like it, yeah.
ANNE: I'm not accusing you of being [inaudible 00:42:53]. [ADRIEN CHUCKLES]
ADRIEN: Of being a grumpy... grumpy man.
ANNE: Yeah. But he's got a... always looks on the bright side book rep who was assigned at his store. And they get to know each other and everything changes. And it's a lot of fun.
Hard things do happen in this book. I think it's often described as feel-good fiction. And so when the book takes turns into the tragic, uh, a lot of readers feel blindsided. So I want you to know that you may have ideas about what is here that don't quite suit the story.
So you haven't read Gabrielle Zevin before so you don't have expectations going into her new book, which I think is going to surprise a lot of readers. But I hope they like them as well. And you've probably heard of this, listeners, by the time this episode airs because The Minimalist Summer reading guide is out and has been, and I included this. We're in the time machine and Adrien doesn't know that yet.
But her new book is coming out July 12. And it's called Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. And yes, that title is from Shakespeare. This is going to feel like such a surprise to those who do know and love her for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and Young Jane Young because this is a story about video games. But it's about video games in the same way that like Station Eleven is about comic books. While that is in the story, it is not the story.
And I feel like I'm apologizing for the book and it doesn't need anyone to apologize for it. But I will say that the closest I've gotten to video games in the past 20 years is a little bit of Nintendo Switch, Animal Planet Farm.
ADRIEN: Animal Crossing?
ANNE: Yes. That's the closest that I've gotten to video games is playing a little bit of Animal Crossing with my kids. This is the kind of book where you go, "Gabrielle Zevin, how did you come up with this? Like what in the world?"
Well, what it is is a story of two childhood friends. Their names are Sam and Sadie. They met in a hospital game room in 1986. I was originally thinking this could be your contemporary pick, Adrien, but it's not happening right now. Like the present day storyline and the novelist is set about 20 years ago, though we do get a little more into the future.
But they meet in this hospital game room in 1986 and they come from completely different worlds but bond immediately over video games. Sadie lives in a wealthy Jewish enclave of Los Angeles and Sam is growing up in Koreatown with his grandparents because his mom died not that long ago. And that's why he's in the hospital tangentially. But his grandparents owned a pizza place in Koreatown, and he's growing up with them.
So even though they come from completely different worlds, Sadie is struggling to like be at a level in a game, and Sam shows her how to do it. And they're young enough and... they're friends for life. Eight years later, they're both at different schools in Boston, but they reunite and they still have that love for video games. And they bootstrap a video game that becomes an unexpected Blockbuster, which secures their future as sought-after game designers but just brings upheaval into their personal lives and their relationship.
Because what you'll see in this book is that ultimately like Sam and Sadie, though they may pursue other relationships, are the loves of each other's lives. And it's a friendship story that's written as a family saga. And we don't see a friendship saga like that so much.
There's so much here. Like it's about art and creativity, and love and belonging, and betrayal, and collaboration and intimacy. There's lots about identity and belonging. And there's lots of video games.
And some of the little details here are just so much fun. Like when she's in college. Sadie goes through this period of creating video games that are really transgressive. and one of the things she creates is a shooter game that's about poetry. Your success in the game depends on your knowledge of Emily Dickinson.
ANNE: And there's like some funny exchanges. Like one character says, "That's the weirdest poetry video game I've ever played." And his friend is like, "Have you played other poetry video games?"
ADRIEN: I was gonna say, I was like, "Is that a thing? Maybe I should play them?"
ANNE: I do think you could read this as an example of contemporary fiction. It's not set right now but it set... You know, see how it works for you, if the story doesn't have some things you might be wanting to find not realizing that you could find it in contemporary fiction.
ADRIEN: Well, yeah, like when you first said video games, I was like, "Ooh, ooh, that's like too much of a setting." But I mean, I did really like We Ride Upon Sticks, which is that in the 80s. Friendship saga and poetry in Koreatown, that sounds like an interesting place to read about.
ANNE: Zevin has discussed in interviews how her mother is Korean and her father is a Russian Jew. And that unusual family has really informed her worldview and the kind of things she wants to write about and the kinds of stories she wants to tell.
ADRIEN: I will pre-order it.
ANNE: And no matter what you think, you have learned something about the book but importantly, more importantly, I think hear about yourself as a reader.
ADRIEN: I know, right? I wish, you know, how some stories in our including like trigger warnings at the front but like positive ones. Like yes, I want to read about a friendship saga. I wish that could be like noted.
ANNE: Now we are different readers but I will say that this is the friendship saga I didn't know I was desperate for somebody to write.
Okay, Adrien, of the books we talked about day, they were A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, of the books we talked about today, what do you think you'll pick up next?
ADRIEN: Well, I'm definitely the most drawn to A Girl is a Body of Water set in like a new place for me and involves witches. Like you got me there. I will probably go to Tattered Cover this coming weekend and get that. But I will go ahead and order from Waterstones, The Dance Tree, because it has a beautiful cover. And yeah, preorder Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. I am excited for all of them.
ANNE: And Adrien, how are you feeling about yourself as a reader right now?
ADRIEN: I'm more hopeful. I think this is the shove that I needed to get out of my bit of a rut and to just change my perspective on reading in general. Like it doesn't have to be a high-pressure situation. I don't have to like what everyone else likes. I just really appreciate your insights and your recommendations, Anne.
ANNE: Well Adrien, I'm hopeful for you too. Thanks so much for talking books with me today.
ADRIEN: Thank you. I really appreciate it.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey, readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Adrien, and I'd love to hear what you think she should read next. We've shared Adrien's Instagram link as well as the full list of titles we discussed today over at our show notes page at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/339.
Readers, as podcasters, reviews are our love language. Leave us a five-star review at Apple Podcast or star your favorite episode on Overcast. Your reviews bring a smile to our faces and help other listeners discover our show.
Follow us on Instagram for more reading inspiration. We are there at @whatshouldireadnext and I'm there too @annebogel. We'd love to see what you're reading that you learned about on our show, so be sure to tag us in your posts and stories.
Grab our weekly newsletter at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter. And make sure you're following along in Apple Podcast, Spotify, Overcast, wherever you get your podcasts.
We have a fun one coming up. Tune in next week when I'll be talking with an author whose recent guest, Rebecca Freeman, picked as her favorite audiobook narrator. I know some of you already know who that is.
Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with scripts by Holly Wielkoszewski and sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that's it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, "Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading." Happy reading, everyone.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
• Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
• His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman (#1: The Golden Compass)
• The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
• The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
• Georgette Heyer (try The Convenient Marriage narrated by Richard Armitage)
• Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
❤ Milkman by Anna Burns
• In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
❤ She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore
• The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
❤ Matrix by Lauren Groff
▵ One Day in December by Josie Silver
• Sally Rooney (try Conversations with Friends)
• Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
• One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
• The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
• Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age by Debby Applegate
• The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
• Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
• A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
• The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
• The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
• Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
• Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
• Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
• We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry