Readers, I love talking books with my podcast guests each week, and I also love coaching them through whatever reading-related struggle they’re facing at the moment. Today’s guest has a dilemma that may sound familiar to some of you: they’re torn between reading for pleasure and reading the books they feel they should be reading … even if they don’t enjoy the experience.
Academic librarian Lorelei Rutledge knows what they love to read. There’s a specific niche genre they really enjoy, in large part because it brings them joy and relaxation during challenging times. But Lorelei often struggles with the feeling that their reading choices aren’t “serious” or “important” enough, and they should be dedicating more time to the books that “everyone” is reading.
Readers, you know how much we disapprove of the word “should” around here. So today, I help Lorelei gain some clarity on what these words actually mean to them and what role (if any!) they should play in their reading life. I’m happy to help alleviate some of the pressure they’re feeling to change a reading life that’s actually working really, really well.
LORELEI: When I'm having a normal Tuesday, like you were saying, [ANNE LAUGHS] and I'm drinking my coffee and doing my thing, I want to imagine that there's this whole beautiful, magical world where all these deadly intrigues are happening and I just don't know about it.
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey, readers, I'm Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 343.
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, we've been talking a lot lately about my new reading journal for kids called My Reading Adventures, and I wanted to make sure you also know about My Reading Life, the companion reading journal for adults. It's designed to help you make the most of your reading life by guiding you to understand what's working, what you've loved, why you love it, and what you'd like more of when picking up your next read.
The My Reading Life journal features a compact design, inspiring book list, and copious space to record what you've been reading and what you want to read next. Get your copy of My Reading Life wherever you buy My Reading Adventures and your other new books.
You can also grab your copies from our website at modernmrsdarcy.com/store along with all the books I've written, and our new for 2022 merchandise, including our t-shirt, tote bag, and book parts. Order your journal today. I think you'll love seeing how journaling brings even more joy into your reading life.
Readers, we take reading seriously around here but we are not snobby about it. After all, a big part of being a reader is the pure delight that comes with getting lost in a great story, no matter the topic or genre. Today I'm talking with a guest who's struggling to find the balance between reading for pleasure and reading books they feel they should be reading, even if they don't enjoy the experience.
Academic librarian Lorelei Rutledge knows what they love to read. In the past few years, embracing their deep love of a nice genre has brought them joy and relaxation and deep readerly contentment during difficult times. But Lorelei continues to struggle with a lingering sense of shame that they're not reading the serious and important books that everyone is reading—I hope you can hear my air quotes—and second-guessing themselves as a result, and also feeling pressure to change their reading life.
Lingering doubts like these are antithetical to reading enjoyment. So today we tackle this question head-on. I lean all the way in to Lorelei's plea for coaching on conquering their genre shame.
Along the way, we talk about what "serious and important" even mean and who exactly we have in mind when we say "everybody is reading certain titles."
In our episode, you'll hear Lorelei say they love a good book in which the protagonist overcome big challenges by the end of the story. My goal today is to help Lorelei feel our conversation does exactly that for their own reading conundrum. Let's get to it.
Lorelei, welcome to the show.
LORELEI: Thank you so much, Anne. I'm so excited to be here.
ANNE: I can't wait to dig into your reading life. Our team was so excited when we read your submission at What Should I Read Next? HQ because you're talking about a genre that we don't talk about as much on the show. That you are both unapologetic about reading and also a little guilty, you even use the word "shame" about reading. And I'm so excited to dig into it. And thanks for coming on today.
LORELEI: Yeah, thank you for having me. I'm really excited to talk about urban fantasy.
ANNE: Lorelei, tell me a little bit about who you are. I almost want to say who you are when you're not reading but I feel like that's almost a nonsensical question for our guests and listeners. But a little bit about what you do, where you are in the world.
LORELEI: That is 100% true. There's not a lot going on when I'm not reading, [ANNE CHUCKLES] but let's see. I am an academic librarian in Salt Lake City, Utah.
So whereas a public librarian might be working with a wide range of people and making book recommendations and doing public programming and that kind of thing, I work a lot with students, faculty and staff at our university to do research on topics, and I teach them how to use the library and kind of the best ways to do their research.
So a lot of times people will ask me like, "Hey, do you get to read at work?" [BOTH LAUGHS] And I wish I did, but the answer is, "unless I'm reading for my research or for somebody else's research who needs my help, I'm not really reading at work."
ANNE: Right. I think that's a common myth of libraries. I remember when I first went to college I had this dream of coming home and working winters and summers. Really what I wanted was a garret over the bookstore, where when I worked I'd be drinking tea and reading books and when I was off work, I'd be drinking tea and reading books. You know, bless my little young heart, I just had no idea.
LORELEI: I know. I think that's the dream for a lot of people, but it doesn't necessarily shake out that way, which should not at all discourage anyone listening to this podcast from pursuing librarianship. But you definitely won't spend most of your time reading. [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: It is a different skill and field. And listeners, I'd like to invite you to go way back to June 2016 when we hosted Andrea Griffith on the podcast. That episode is called Books that no one's writing about in Entertainment Weekly.
And if you know Andrea's name today, it's probably because she is the owner of the wonderful Browsers Bookshop in Olympia, Washington. Love their newsletter. I get so many great books from it. And I can't wait to go back again one day. Hopefully not too far in the future. But Andrea's background was as a medical academic librarian.
Lorelei, you and I hadn't met at that point. I hadn't had you explain the field to me and Andrea boggled my mind saying what she did on the job. I just had no idea. Tell me a little bit about how you got into that field.
LORELEI: I started doing an internship with government documents and organizing government documents, and helping people use them. And then I realized, you know, I'm actually really good at helping other people do their research. It just always gives me a little bit of a thrill, right, if I can help somebody find exactly what they need or if I can kind of get them on the right track and have them feeling confident and satisfied.
So as soon as I knew that, I was like, "It's obviously clear that I should be a librarian." And I told all my friends this and they were like, "It wasn't clear to you when you were five years old." [BOTH LAUGHS] Because I've always loved books and always loved talking about books. So as soon as I told people, that was what I was going to do, they were like, "Well, obviously." [CHUCKLES]
ANNE: Oh, that "obviously" is a good sign. Tell me a little bit about what that looks like in a practical sense. So you're at work, it's a Tuesday morning, somebody comes to seek your help, like what's an example of a specific query they could have for you?
LORELEI: So I just got a question from somebody who was interested in toothbrushes. So they wanted to manufacture a new kind of toothbrush and they were looking for whatever information I could help them find about the market for oral appliances and toothbrushes.
So I kind of walked them through some of our databases and talked to them about like, "Okay, you're thinking about a new toothbrush. Here's kind of what you need to keep in mind."
ANNE: Lorelei, I didn't really have any expectation for what you're going to say, but that was not it. [LORELEI LAUGHS]
LORELEI: I know the toothbrush is kind of an unusual one. but that's a lot of the kinds of questions I get. I worked a little bit more in business, so a lot of people will ask me like, "Hey, I have an idea for a business. Where can I get more information about it?"
And when I'm not doing that kind of thing, I might be prepping for a class. So going in to kind of talk students through how to use the library, what are some ways that they can start their research, where should they look depending on their specific topic.
And I also spend some of that time doing my own research as well. So I do research on how people use the library and kind of the inner workings of the library. So I might be working on that too.
ANNE: Interesting. Now, I have heard that Salt Lake City has a wonderful book community. What's your experience there been like?
LORELEI: It's been so great. The Salt Lake City Public Library system is amazing. We also have a really great County Library System. And we have some really great bookstores.
So we have a bookstore I love that's an independent bookstore called The King's English that hosts a lot of book clubs and other things like that. And we just got an amazing new queer bookstore called Under the Umbrella that's selling amazing books, but also doing a lot of book clubs and kind of outreach to the people who are interested in books.
And of course our academic library is a little bit more targeted towards the campus community, but we're always doing outreach trying to, you know, bring people in and doing a lot of cool things to get people interested in books.
ANNE: That's so exciting. What wonderful resources to have for your reading life! Which I would love to hear more about. Tell me a little bit about where you got started.
LORELEI: So I've always really been a reader. I just love books. I would say it's my primary hobby. It's something I've always gone to is kind of a way to relax. Things have changed a little bit recently.
So once the pandemic started, like a lot of other people, I felt a lot more pressure and I needed like an escape, right? So I kind of switched directions in my reading a little bit.
So I've always loved urban fantasy, but as soon as a pandemic started I went hard for like books that provided that kind of escape that were maybe a little bit more silly or fantastical. And it got really hard to read like nonfiction or anything that felt really heavy. So that's kind of been a shift for me.
ANNE: Is that a shift that you consciously took? Or did you look up one day and go, "Wait a second! I'm not reading the same way that I used to."
LORELEI: I think it was more the second one. So I kind of just noticed, like, "Wow, I really haven't read any nonfiction in a while." And the things that I would normally be picking up I'm kind of going in a different direction. I even read some romance novels, Anne, which is a genre that- [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: The tone of your voice, Lorelei.
LORELEI: There's nothing at all wrong with romance novels but it's not a genre I knew anything about. And then all of a sudden, I was like, "Man, I'm reading romance novels because they're very formulaic in some ways, and I know exactly what to expect."
ANNE: And you know the dog isn't going to die on the last page.
ANNE: Okay. So, Lorelei, I'm going to read your own words to you. Are you ready?
ANNE: Okay. "Since COVID I felt really stressed and I need my reading to be relaxing and positive. However, sometimes I struggle because I feel like my urban fantasy is like a guilty pleasure. It is not serious reading." Lorelei, you know we have to talk about this.
LORELEI: Yeah. It's funny because I was a librarian. I am never somebody who would encourage book shame but I'm feeling book shame, Anne.
ANNE: We don't want you to feel any shame about your reading life.
LORELEI: Thank you, Anne. I guess it's just that I want to kind of explore those hard-hitting books, right, things that everybody's talking about, things that are addressing, you know, the real problems that our society is facing or that are drawing attention to important issues or places where I can learn more about something. But the reality is that when I get into them it just really brings me down and it doesn't feel relaxing anymore.
ANNE: And that relaxation... like that is one of your whys?
LORELEI: Yeah. I wouldn't have said that, you know, before COVID, but it's really turned into one of those things—just a chance to kind of escape a little bit. Like I want the world to be magical, Anne. I think that's part of why I love urban fantasy.
I want there to be a world where good guys can defeat bad guys and kind of tie it all up with a nice bow. Right? Like, I want there to be a sense that the world is manageable and that people can overcome challenges and win in the end.
ANNE: We're gonna have fun with this. We're going to talk about your books, what you love... And I was just telling you, when I'm making my notes, readers, for the show, I write down in my Rhodia Reverse book the three books our guests loves, and then I have a line for, Nope, did not work for them. Just nope."
So we're going to talk about your loves, and your nope, and what you've been reading lately. And through that lens I really want to get into these questions. Like, who is "everybody" when we're talking about the books that everybody is reading? And what does "important" mean? And what are your reasons for reading? We're going to do all that.
But first, let's roll back just a little bit. Lorelei, how would you describe what urban fantasy means to our listeners? You don't have to provide the definition the reference librarian would find for you. But when you're thinking, "Oh, I want to read that kind of book," what kind of story are you expecting to find? Like what are you on the hunt for?
LORELEI: So when I'm looking for a story, I'm usually looking for something that happens in a city, so has kind of some gritty realness maybe in a way, it has usually a main character who has some kind of maybe what you would call paranormal or magical skill. Not always, but that tends to be what I like.
Usually, there's kind of a cast of characters who are with them who have similar skills or have something that makes them different. So one of the books that we're going to talk about, the main character is close friends with a giant spider. [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: I don't know what book that is right off even though I'm looking at your list of favorites. I can't wait to hear it.
LORELEI: So that's kind of what I'm looking for. I guess I would contrast it to like high fantasy, which would be closer to like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. So this is maybe a little bit more gritty, down-to-earth. They're usually, you know, fighting a series of baddies, hopefully coming out on top.
ANNE: So with urban fantasy, we're talking about a fantasy story with extraordinary elements, but laid over a world that we really largely recognize.
LORELEI: Yeah. So in a lot of cases, it's kind of the same world as we have, but maybe with some extra skills thrown in or maybe with like a whole amazing underworld that the average person is not aware of. So those are stories I really enjoy if they have like a whole world underneath, our current world, right, that's teeming with like vampires and werewolves and talking sentient creatures who do magic, I'm totally down for that. That's really what I want.
When I'm having a normal Tuesday, like you were saying, [ANNE LAUGHS] and I'm drinking my coffee and doing my thing, I want to imagine that there's this whole beautiful, magical world where all these deadly intrigues are happening and I just don't know about it.
ANNE: I was thinking that you wanted to imagine they were werewolves in like the sewer system. And instead you're like, "A beautiful, magical landscape." [LAUGHS]
LORELEI: I mean, there's some werewolves. Let's be real, Anne.
ANNE: Yes, let's be absolutely real [LORELEI LAUGHS] and realistic. I love it. I'm here for it. So with that in mind, I'm so curious about how you chose your books for today. Are these recent favorites that represent the last couple years of your reading life?
LORELEI: Yeah. So these are mostly books that I loved before the pandemic. But then when the pandemic started, I reread all of them because I was like, "You know, I need a hit of that comfort." And then instead of kind of branching out into other genres, I kind of picked ones that were similar to these. So it's an old love, but I would say it's really gained a lot of traction since the pandemic.
ANNE: Ooh, I like the way you put that. Okay, tell us about your first chosen beloved title.
LORELEI: So the first one is the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher. So these are kind of what I would say are hallmark urban fantasy. So this series follows Harry Dresden, and he bills himself as Chicago's only professional wizard.
He even has some ad in the Yellow Pages. I just love this ad. So he has an ad in the Yellow Pages that says, "HARRY DRESDEN—WIZARD Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment.
So he's serious about no silliness. He's a hard-hitting wizard. And so he kind of works as a PI. At the beginning of the books, he assists the Chicago PD. And as the series goes on, you learn more about his backstory, and the kind of person he is. And he's just really committed to protecting people and fighting supernatural bad guys.
And he is also hilarious. Like, he cracks wise all the time. And he will be in situations that are life-threatening and be a total smart aleck. So he kind of goes through a lot of suffering in the books, I'm not gonna lie, but he, in general, kind of really fights to do what he thinks is right. And in a lot of cases is successful at kind of pitting bad guys against each other and ending up okay.
ANNE: Do you remember how you first found this series?
LORELEI: You know, I don't know actually. I feel like I probably checked them out at the library honestly, and just tried one and then was like, "Oh, my goodness, this is what I need in my life."
ANNE: And this is a hefty series at that point. Lorelei, tell me more about your relationship with series as a reader.
LORELEI: Oh my gosh, I really love series. I like kind of a story that unfolds over time and has a lot of ups and downs. I've actually gotten even more into series since I started listening to the podcast.
So, for instance, you had someone on who talked about Armand Gamache and the Louise Penny books. You know, Armand Gamache is kind of similar in some ways. Obviously, not urban fantasy. He's a detective, but he's kind of the same kind of guy as Harry Dresden in a lot of ways.
He goes through a lot of ups and downs and sometimes makes bad decisions, but tends to really try to protect people and do what he thinks is the right thing. So that was another series. And I feel like I just really enjoy the continuity of series, but I'm open to reading, you know, one shots as well.
But if anybody who's listening is looking for like a good long series that you can read for a long time, I would definitely recommend Harry Dresden. There are so many books in this series, you will have fun for a long time.
ANNE: That sounds amazing. And I also love how you drew that comparison between The Dresden Files and the Armand Gamache series. Because I'm imagining many readers aren't thinking of those as reader likes, and yet they do have so much in common.
LORELEI: Yeah, they really do. Maybe not the magic-
ANNE: Definitely not. [CHUCKLES]
LORELEI: ...but definitely kind of character. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Lorelei, tell me about the second book you choose as your favorite.
LORELEI: So the second one I chose is also a series. It's The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. I just want to address at the beginning some people said, Oh, The Alex Verus series is Harry Dresden light, but I do not feel that way. [ANNE LAUGHS]
ANNE: That is a misperception that you would like to address.
LORELEI: Yeah. I think Alex Verus does have a lot in common with Harry Dresden but his world is a little bit different, right? He's undergoing his own challenges. He's based in London, and in the world he lives in people tend to have specific affinities with elements. And so he has a skill that he reveals in the very beginning of the books he's a diviner.
So he can see what might happen in the future, depending on how he and other people behave. And so the books kind of talk about like, how would you function if you had this sort of probability magic? And how could you use it to kind of help other people and also navigate sort of these complex political and social issues that might come up when you have all these different majors who are jockeying for power or prestige?
So I like him. I think he's a lot of fun because he's really crafty. Even though he doesn't have a ton of power, he uses it to his advantage to just really make sure that he's protecting people and to kind of stay out of trouble. So well, not really stay out of trouble. I was gonna say he tries to stay out of trouble, but usually trouble finds him. [BOTH LAUGHS] I think he is so much fun. And he's another one I would totally recommend.
ANNE: I would hope if you're choosing it as one of your three favorites. And if you chose to spend all the time rereading these like 10 Plus books series. Tell me what the reread was like for this and The Dresden Files.
LORELEI: Well, so for my reread, I actually got all of them on audiobook, which was amazing. The readers for both of these series are so good, and I think the audiobooks are just so much fun. That's another thing I've kind of slowly been getting more into audiobooks, especially over the course of the pandemic. And just rereading these on audio was so much fun.
ANNE: That is serious love because you're talking about spending literally hundreds of hours with these books. What a compliment!
LORELEI: Yes, that is 100% true. I dove back into them the same way that you kind of wrap a cozy blanket around yourself when you do feel good, you know? [LAUGHS] These were my emotional cozy blanket.
ANNE: I love it. It's good to have one of those to turn to or as may be the case doesn't have those to turn to. Lorelei, tell me what you chose to complete your favorites list.
LORELEI: For my third favorite, this is kind of a newer series that I don't know as well. I think there's a new book coming out in October. It's The Rook series by Daniel O'Malley. This series follows employees in kind of a magical government organization whose job is to manage supernatural threats.
And that might sound kind of boring, but there's a lot of really cool characters in here and a lot of really great plot. For instance, in the very first book when it open, so this is not a spoiler, the main character wakes up and has a note in her pocket that says, "To you." And she basically learns that even though she doesn't know who she is, this other person knows who she is, and is going to give her the choice to either pick up life as this other person knew it as this government person or run away and start a whole new life.
And so that book kind of follows her decision-making about how to do that and talks about how this organization tries to protect citizens by confronting supernatural threats. And this just has this really complex and beautiful world building and so much detail about the characters and also kind of the political state of the world that they live in. I would say that this is really similar kind of to the world we live in now just with this extra layer of this special secret organization protecting people.
ANNE: Interesting. Okay, we talked about urban fantasy and how it's often have fantastical stories set in a more realistic world. I'm just noticing that your locales here are Chicago, London and London. Are those incidental to your opting for these stories or your enjoyment of them or is that something that you're seeking out because you like those locations?
LORELEI: I would say that they're incidental although I do kind of like reading about big cities. I find that fun. Especially on the ones that are set in London, that's been a really cool thing to learn a little bit more about. I would love to eventually find some urban fantasy series that are maybe set in cities in other parts of the world because I do feel like so far my reading has been very US and Euro-centric. So that's something that I think would be really fun.
ANNE: Readers, every episode we ask for your comments and suggestions in show notes. If you have any for Lorelei set around the world, please, you know what to do with them.
Okay, Lorelei, thanks for telling us about the books you love. Now tell me about one that was not right for you.
LORELEI: One that wasn't right for me was the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey. This main character is Jimmy Stark. He has kind of all the elements that I like, the kind of grittiness and the magic and that sort of thing, except a problem is Jimmy Stark is just kind of a jerk. He doesn't necessarily want to help people right away in the book and kind of not a very likable guy. He doesn't really give me that sense of a good guy triumphing over evil. It just didn't work for me.
ANNE: So you talked about what you really love about the urban fantasies you love: watching the world become manageable, and watching the protagonist overcoming challenges and watching the good guy win in the end. And that's not descriptive of all urban fantasies, but it is descriptive of the ones you love. And Sandman Slim isn't it?
LORELEI: Yeah, I would say that that's true for the most part. I'm willing to branch out into other kinds of urban fantasies but I think that kind of that sense of somebody overcoming evil and protecting people is really what I'm looking for.
ANNE: We don't need to branch out into the baddies winning.
ANNE: Lorelei, what have you been reading lately?
LORELEI: So lately I picked up the Simon Snow series by Rainbow Rowell. And that's three books. So I don't know how I missed these earlier but these are so amazing. So they're YA, the students at this magical school going through and defeating bad guys in some ways and also learning kind of how to cope with growing up and with was sort of some drastic changes over time.
I don't want to say too much about the drastic changes and kind of give away the plot, but this is one that was just so much fun. It's also an LGBTQ love story, which is kind of a side piece that I wasn't looking for, but really enjoyed.
ANNE: Based on what you said about your reading life, I can definitely see why that was a hit for you.
LORELEI: Yes. Loved it so much.
ANNE: What else have you been reading lately?
LORELEI: Of Women and Salt. So this is totally not an urban fantasy. This is a novel that focuses a little bit on immigration. And it's so amazing. It was chosen by my book club. You know, it's a great book, but it's kind of an example of one of the books that I'm having a hard time with, right? Because there's all this beautiful language and all these heavy-hitting lovely stories that are also so sad that I'm just really having a hard time not getting sad when I read it, even though I know it's an amazing book.
ANNE: Have you finished this one?
LORELEI: Yeah. So I finished it. Liked the ending as well, but also was just crushed by it.
ANNE: So when you talk about wanting to read important books but them being really emotionally difficult maybe to the point of untenable right now, this is what we're talking about?
LORELEI: Yes, this is the perfect example. So, you know, I think that these kind of books are important to read. It's important to me as a reader to get a sense of what, you know, people who are having really different lives are going through both in fiction and nonfiction, but lately, it's just been so hard when I read one of these stories that's a total heartbreak or a total gut punch.
ANNE: Readers, if this sounds familiar to you, this is a slim book. It's just over 200 pages with a beautiful cover that was a big literary fiction released in spring 2021. It was one of flat iron's huge titles of the season.
Some of the hard things that you're talking about, Lorelei, are abusive families, especially I think men or women, oppressive regimes. There's drug addiction. The scene that stands out to me the most in my memory is the [unintelligible 00:30:07]. Do you remember the [unintelligible].
LORELEI: Yes, I do.
ANNE: I would read this just for the [unintelligible]. But oh, goodness, there are hard things. It's set in Miami.
LORELEI: This one had, you know, a little girl who kind of goes through a lot of challenges related to immigration. And that one was just really hard for me. I think it was a worthwhile book to read but just hearing about that was so so hard.
Or another one I've been reading is Ten Steps to Nanette, which is Hannah Gatsby's. An amazing memoir. You know, it has a lot of really positive things, but she has had... All I will say is she has had a very hard and challenging life.
I love reading the story, especially because it's about real, amazing person who is autistic and who, you know, just talks about all these different facets of her life experience in addition to that. So that's another one that I know is important to read. And I feel guilty that I, you know, am not getting through more books like that because I feel like it's giving me that learning that I need about different people's lives. But it's also just so painful that it's not easy for me emotionally.
ANNE: Right. And in our reading life often we do have the choice of the place we want to go emotionally. And we want to be respectful of that, and wise and also not turn away from the hard things like always. I really appreciate and respect the way that you're like wrestling with that tension.
LORELEI: Yeah, absolutely. And I'm sure I'm not the only one, you know, who in periods of heightened stress, like you were saying, has to kind of resist that urge to curl up into a ball when I read sad things.
ANNE: And I mean less the authors who are willing to go to those hard places in the book so that we can have them available to us, like I can't imagine what it was like to research and write Of Women and Salt or in Hannah Gatsby's memoir, which I just listened to. That was a terrific book on audio, listeners, if that's making your ears pick up.
She says in one place how comedy, she's an Australian comic, is trauma plus time. She jokes that she's never needed the time. But in her memoir she's relaying all the trauma that feeds into her... I was gonna say that feeds into her comedy, but hers is a different kind. Nanette especially is a different kind of comedy. And yeah, it's hard. Really eye opening, fascinating, I learned so many things, and also really emotionally rough.
LORELEI: Yeah. And you know, I really admire her. She talks a lot about how being a person with autism has informed how she does comedy and also how she just interacts with the world. It really taught me a lot. But yeah, a lot of what she went through is just so extraordinarily painful.
ANNE: This is not the point, but I also thought she was so wise and observant about the family dynamics of her family. When I was jotting down transcribed quotes from the audio in my reading journal, that's so much of what I wrote down.
LORELEI: Yes, that is 100% true. So she talks about kind of life with her siblings and her mom and dad and next door neighbors who were a big part of her life. And also just, you know, the other kids at school, right? So she's really clear on what's going on with her and her family. It's really relatable in a lot of ways, some of those family dynamics, but yeah, also hard to read.
ANNE: Lorelei, what do you want to be different in your reading life at this stage?
LORELEI: I think I want to continue reading important books, but I also want to just find some things that maybe can help me meet that need for narrative closure in some ways or for the bad guy getting beaten. Maybe I want to just be able to accept that that's where I am right now and maybe find some things that kind of meet that need that I can really sink into.
ANNE: Okay, I think we've heard you say what it is about—picture my air quotes—important books that draw you in. Like you want to be educated, you want to hear from other people's experiences. And that is a wonderful thing. When you say "important book," what kinds of titles are you thinking of?
LORELEI: Well, so I guess if it's a book that I've heard people talking about that talks about some of the challenges that people face in their lives that I might not be exposed to or that deals with kind of a really important public issue like immigration or climate issues.
I guess I always feel a little guilty about urban fantasy because I know it's not real, even though that's the exact same thing that draws me to it, right? The fact that it's not real is fun and makes it easier to read, right? Because I know it's not really happening. It's 100% not really happening. But that's the same thing that also makes me feel like maybe it isn't an important book to read because it's not getting at people's real lived experience.
ANNE: In episode 327 with Gary Robinaugh—listeners, that's called brilliant books that ask big questions—we talk about his specific love, a certain kind of quiet philosophical science fiction. His favorites were Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and Ted Chiang's collection Stories of Your Life and Others. We talked about how when you detach a little bit from reality you can see it more clearly than when you're in the midst of it.
Now, I feel like this isn't something that I can like intellectually... I can't be like, "No, Lorelei, you just need to think about it this way and that's going to fix everything." Like you're a librarian, you know different ways to approach this question.
But I'd like to quote your own words to you. When you were describing Daniel O'Malley's book, The Rook, you talked about how this book so brilliantly showed the protagonist navigating complex political and social issues and that it was really crafty, and also so much fun.
LORELEI: That's true. That's true. I do think that there are kind of life questions that do come up in most books, including urban fantasy. So that's a really good point, Anne. They still have to negotiate interpersonal dynamics, and also, what does it mean to be truly helpful to other people? And how do you manage problems and try your best to solve them? And what do you do if you make a mistake? You've enlightened me, Anne, because they are still answering big questions just kind of in a different way.
ANNE: That's just what you said. And I'm also thinking of just for a completely different genre. I'm thinking of Lily King who wrote Writers and Lovers, which came out the same days. Don't overthink it. So I remember March 3rd 2020.
That is a serious novel about the writing life and female ambition. It has a happy ending. And she said that she was really nervous and thought we get slammed and be told, "This isn't literary because people can't be happy in a literary novel." And she thought that people went easy on her because it did come out in the pandemic and that felt welcome, instead of like, "Are you kidding me?"
But I know saying this out loud doesn't make it so but maybe this is like inviting a toddler to taste a food. It takes 17 tries. [LORELEI CHUCKLES] It doesn't have to be doom, gloom and despair to address issues that really matter.
LORELEI: That's true. That's a fine point, Anne. I think you're right.
ANNE: I'm talking to everyone, Lorelei. I know that we know these things intellectually and yet when we're looking at the books that it seems like everybody is reading and that doesn't seem to be the cultural narrative, it's easy to forget the things that we know to be true.
LORELEI: That's true. It's easy to forget that a happy book can teach you just as much as a sad book or maybe even more in some cases.
ANNE: I'm thinking of that old quote that I always think of as being from Anne of Green Gables. It's not. It's from Chesterton. "It is easy to be heavy and hard to be light." And actually I think that might be another thing to explore as we're thinking about your urban fantasy [whispering] shame.
But first, I want to ask, you've said a couple of times you've referenced the books that everybody is reading. And what I want to know is, who's the "everybody" here?
LORELEI: I don't know. You know, I'm saying everybody but I guess I'm thinking about books that have gotten critical acclaim in some way or books that I know are popular in my book club, which is actually not everybody. That's like a few of my closest friends. So I don't know why I'm saying “everybody.”
But I guess if I think about the books that I feel like are getting popular acclaim or that I hear people saying, you know, "You definitely need to read this." I also think it's true that sometimes people will give me book recommendations, which I absolutely always appreciate. But because I'm a librarian, they'll assume that I want this really hard-hitting stuff.
So of course, they'll say like, "You have to read this amazing book." And I'll think, you know, "I really should read that book. It's about a topic that's important to me like climate change but I also know that I'm probably going to be heartbroken when I read it." So that's true. I don't know who that everybody in my mind is, Anne.
ANNE: There is a time and place. You know there are some books or films also that I think I'm so glad I read that but like, huu, I am never going back to that emotional place, but I'm so glad I did it. And there was a time for that.
And also I think it's important that we take care of ourselves. You know, when we have the ability to choose not to go there, I mean, sometimes we need to take advantage of that.
So, Lorelei, I hear readers talk a lot about the books everyone is reading. I just want to like parse out a little bit of what that can mean. Sometimes what we mean when we say that is readers with tastes like mine. Maybe that's what you're thinking of when you think about the people in your book club or people who know my tastes. In that case, everybody could be really persuasive.
Sometimes it could be everybody on Bookstagram. And like, friends, that's marketing dollars. And sometimes it seems to be the critics and the culture at large. And that can be worth paying attention to, but I don't think it's necessarily going to help us get more out of our reading lives by automatically adopting those two wrecks as our quote-unquote shoulds.
LORELEI: Yeah, that's absolutely true. And, you know, if I were giving someone advice, I would probably just say, you know, read what you love, read what speaks to you. But I guess it's a little harder for me to take my own advice. [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: It's always harder. And I think the closer you are to a situation, the harder it can be to see it. What would I tell a reader who came to me and my library and ask for advice, that could be a really healthy approach here.
Lorelei, with that in mind, let me read your own words to you. You said in your submission, "I might need some psychological coaching on how to overcome my urban fantasy shame." How are we doing on that?
LORELEI: I think I just need someone, Anne, to give me permission to love urban fantasy as much as I do.
ANNE: You know what I feel like I need a lot of the time? I'm more competent now in my house plant care and my exercise regime, and I... We all have our own examples. But sometimes I feel like what I need is not someone to like teach me how to do it necessarily, but just to come alongside me and say like, "Yes, that is it. You are doing it right."
Like I can just confirm outside external trusted voice you are on the right path. Keep going. Sometimes I feel like that's all I need. And otherwise it's hesitation and insecurity that makes me think, "Oh, I just feel so wobbly." But for somebody just to say, "Yes, keep doing it," is what I need to hear."
LORELEI: Absolutely. I do think that's what I need.
ANNE: I would like to say like, yes, you have permission to enjoy the books you already enjoy. Absolutely. And you can still be a serious reader if that's important to you. What we like to say are around What Should I Read Next?... Listeners, this is how we think about what we do. Like we are smart about reading but we're never snobby.
And we do think reading is a serious pursuit, it is something that matters, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously in the process. And it is okay to have fun with your reading. That doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. That means I think that there are some things that you're doing exactly right.
LORELEI: Yes, I love it.
ANNE: So something that I wanted to invite you to consider is the brilliance that goes into creating these books that you so enjoy. I don't know if you've ever checked out like Jim Butcher's extensive writing on how he puts his books together, how he creates these books that you feel might be more akin to readerly candy because you just fly through them even as they're addressing important issues.
It takes so much talent and craftsmanship to put a story together like that that goes down easy. And I wonder if thinking about it from not just a story perspective, but a craft perspective, like, "How was this book that I have so much fun with, how was it made?" I wonder if that might help you give it a little more credit.
Like I know you give these books a lot of credit in one sense, but I wonder if that might help you feel more like, "Yeah, this is a work of freaking art and I can appreciate it as such."
LORELEI: Yeah. I absolutely think that it would. You know, I have thought a little bit before about just how much imagination it takes to create these worlds and to make sure that the internal logic of the story follows what you've already established about the world and that the characters, you know, match up with the kind of overall feeling of the world.
So I do think that that's actually a great way to think of it. I hadn't realized that, you know, Jim Butcher had written so much about how he puts the stories together. And I would absolutely love to check that out.
ANNE: He has copious writing on craft going back to the early 2000s at least, maybe even earlier. That could be lots of fun. Readers, we have a link. We can put it in the show notes for you.
If we're feeling guilt because we're not like following through with the expectations we set for ourselves for good reason or if I were not to finish my novel for the book club I'm leading, yeah, I should maybe feel guilty about that. But shame is a big no. Like we don't want you to feel shame in your reading life EVER. And we definitely want to get to the heart of that. Lorelei and all our listeners, no shame. This is a NO SHAME zone.
LORELEI: I love that. I'm down to be part of a no shame zone.
ANNE: I'm so glad. Okay, with that in mind, can we talk about what you may enjoy reading next?
ANNE: So you're open to exploring new genres but urban fantasy is your love, and you'd especially love series. Oh, you said you've also been trying to explore graphic novels a little bit. Do you know about The Dresden Files graphic novels?
LORELEI: I just heard about these. I don't know how I missed it. But I did just hear that there are some graphic novels that kind of cover the same ground, and I am totally down to check that out.
ANNE: And also in Gary Robinaugh episode, he loves those sci-fi graphic novels. So that would be worth looking into. Which I feel like it's kind of a tease because we're not going to lean into that today, but it's because we're leaning into other good stuff.
ANNE: First, this feels like a wonderful thing for you and also not quite because we're not quite there yet. But have you read The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri yet?
LORELEI: No, I haven't.
ANNE: Okay. It's 533 pages, which is nice and long. But the not good thing is that it's the first in a planned trilogy. That trilogy does not exist yet. Our team is loving this. It's a top contender for books of the year for Holly. And I think for Leigh as well.
And it's not quite as urban in the traditional sense. It's the books that you chose for your favorites today. It definitely speaks to your love of kick-butt heroes and heroines who solve these overwhelming problems in worlds that are magical.
The main characters are an imprisoned princess and also a maid who has an identity that she's keeping secret for reasons that the story reveals. This is an Indian-inspired sapphic fantasy inspired by the history of India.
So Tasha Suri the author, I love this for you, she is a librarian in London. I don't know what kind of librarian, I'm sorry to say. She was born in the UK, but spent a lot of time in India during childhood holidays. And she studied English and creative writing.
This book has so much adventure. I think it has the tone you're looking for. Romance is not the primary storyline but it is an important secondary component. And I think this could hit that, making the world manageable again, showing characters overcoming challenges and the unlikely duo is teaming up to fight the baddies. I think this could be fun for you.
LORELEI: I love it. I think I have this on my Kindle because I think one of the people involved with the podcast recommended this.
ANNE: That is a true thing.
LORELEI: That's one of their top favorite books. So yeah, I love it. And I'm totally down to try it. That sounds like so much fun.
ANNE: I am thrilled to hear it. Next, I'm wondering if you've read—Oh, shoot, this is also an unfinished series but I do think it would be a good fit—The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.
LORELEI: I don't think I have. One of the reasons I love this for you is because when the first book was published in 2013. It got a lot of critical attention. And the trade reviews, the big guns like the New York Times, The Washington Post were so, so crappy and condescending towards this book, which readers loved. I really like that tension for you.
Sometimes it's interesting to see books that have become like publishing phenomenon and you look back and you look at the Kirkus Review from 2011, which is like, "This is stupid. Nobody's gonna read it." And sure enough, 3 million copies and 4.4-star rating later that has not proven true. So I do kinda like that for you about this book.
This is a planned, I don't know, series. Is there a special word for a series with seven books in it? But it set in 2059 in London. So you talked about Alex Verus as being a diviner. This has a similar kind of setup to me.
So the protagonist in this book, her name is Paige and she is a dream walker. That means she's a clairvoyant, she can like literally see in other people's thoughts, and that is illegal in the world of science where she lives. So they are hunting down these dream walkers and trying to kill them.
I think the Samantha Shannon's description is she commits treason simply by breathing. She is not supposed to exist. But then one day her life changes forever because she's attacked and kidnapped and wakes up in a city that has been kept secret for 200 years and bad things are happening. And she has to again team up with her natural enemy to regain her freedom and save the world basically.
I have to warn you the first 100 pages, there is a lot of worldbuilding. And it's not just a giant info dump. So props to Samantha Shannon on that but there is a lot of worldbuilding and it's going to be very confusing for the first few chapters. And just know this is normal. It will all become clear. Hang on. And I think you will really feel a payoff on this.
Just for kicks, you may enjoy going back and reading though... You may enjoy reading the terrible reviews from the New York Times and the Washington Post. I don't know if this is inevitable or is a natural byproduct of her own publishers but it was like billed as the next Harry Potter.
The review said, "Let's talk about why it's not in what it does differently." And they use the word "mughal" a lot. And it's just, you know, context matters. That wasn't the context for this book. It's funny how those words would mean something different now, even 10 years later.
I don't know, maybe it would be good for your readerly conviction to go back and be like, "Ah, you know, the critics don't always nail it."
LORELEI: Yeah, absolutely. And I would love to see, you know, the author triumphing over not evil, but over dismissive words and, you know, winning this popular claim, despite what critics might say. So that definitely sounds like a winner to me.
ANNE: I am thrilled to hear it. So if you love this, the good news is four of those books are out right now. And the bad news is... Well, the good and bad news is that three more are on the way, but the next edition is not expected to come out until 2024.
ANNE: Maybe it's a little late to ask you this, but how do you feel about uncompleted series?
LORELEI: I mean, I think I can handle it. It's good to have something to look forward to. There is a part of me that loves it when there's, you know, as is the case with Armand Gamache, when there's like 15, or 16 or 17 books. I love that, but I'm down for an uncompleted series where there's still more to learn about the world.
ANNE: More to look forward to?
ANNE: Okay. So I'm wondering if you want to go urban fantasy or if we want to do one of those more offbeat picks.
LORELEI: I'm going to try something offbeat, Anne.
ANNE: This is not a huge series but I think it's a good pick to insert into our conversation because we've been talking about the tension between guilty pleasures and serious books. And first of all, I know many listeners you're like yelling at your phone, like, "There's no such thing as a guilty pleasure." I respect that. But we're describing books that we love so much they feel indulgent versus serious books feels like there's a tension there.
But fantasy books also win big awards. This is one of them. I mean, awards for skillful, intelligent, important, beautiful, absorbing, entertaining writing. And one of those books—this is the first in a trilogy—it's awfully short. So like put these three books together and you'll have The Bone Season. But never mind that it is a trilogy and you like series.
The book I'm thinking of is Nghi Vo's The Empress of Salt and Fortune, which won the 2020 Crawford and the 2021 Hugo, and now it's a Hugo Award-winning series, and it was a Locus Award-winning finalist and it won the Ignite Award, and it was a Goodreads Choice Award finalist. It has won all the awards, and also I think it's squarely in your wheelhouse.
LORELEI: It's funny that you would mention this book. I haven't read it, but I've literally just put it on hold at the library.
ANNE: Oh, that's so funny. It is blurbed by Seanan McGuire on the cover, who calls it gorgeous, cruel, and perfect. This is a book that combines fable and myth, and also that complex political and social intrigue that you really enjoy.
It's a feminist fantasy. The land is inspired not by the North America that you know or London, but by Imperial China. I imagine those were some of the things that appeal to you when you put it on hold. I hope that's a setting that sounds like it could really work for you.
It's almost a completed trilogy, because the final book, Into the Riverlands, comes out in October. So you don't have too long to wait for this. It's called the Singing Hills Cycle to be complete.
Also, we haven't talked about this today, but I want to point out that this is published by Tor. I think it's Tordotcom actually. Publishers and imprints have their own personalities, and this is an imprint that jives really well with your reading personality.
LORELEI: That's really good to know. Yeah, this series sounds amazing. It sounds like a really cool world. I can't wait to get it from the library.
ANNE: I hope it comes in soon so you can dive in. And on that note, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, and The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo. Lorelei, I might know the answer because of timing, but of these books, what do you think you'll pick up next?
LORELEI: Well, I'm definitely going to read all of these books. They all sound amazing. I already have The Jasmine Throne on Kindle, so that might be where I start, but definitely gonna pick up Nghi Vo's book as soon as it comes in through the library. And I definitely want to check out The Bone Season. So they're all at the top of my TBR pile right now.
ANNE: Well, Lorelei, I can't wait to hear what you think. Thank you so much for talking books with me today.
LORELEI: Thank you for having me, Anne. It was wonderful. I had so much fun.
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Lorelei. I'd love to hear what you think that she should read next.
See the full list of titles we talked about today at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/343.
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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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Books Mentioned in This Episode:
❤ The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher (#1 Storm Front)
• The Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny (#1 Still Life)
❤ The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka (#1 Fated)
❤ The Checquy Files series by Daniel O’Malley (#1 The Rook)
▵ Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
• Simon Snow series by Rainbow Rowell (#1 Carry On)
• Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
• Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation by Hannah Gadsby (on audio)
• The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
• Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
• Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
• Writers and Lovers by Lily King
• Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files Graphic Novels: Storm Front, Volume 1: The Gathering Storm by Jim Butcher and Mark Powers with illustration by Ardian Syaf
• The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
• The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
• The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
• Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo
• WSIRN Ep 28: Books that no one’s writing about in Entertainment Weekly with Andrea Griffith
• Browsers bookshop Olympia
• The King’s English Bookshop
• Under the Umbrella Bookstore
• WSIRN Ep 327: Brilliant books that ask big questions with Gary Robinaugh
• WSIRN Ep 291: The best books of summer (so far)
• Jim Butcher on Craft (also here and here)