Once upon a bookshelf

What Should I Read Next episode 346: Discovering the unread gems you already own

a bookshelf along the edge of a room with an orange couch and a lamp in the foreground

Readers, our guest today has 500+ books on her bookshelf, and she’s constantly adding to her to-be-read list. She’d love to read more from her own shelves, but she needs a little support in finding the titles that fit her reading goals, right now. I’m here to help!

Saadia Shafati Shamsie’s professional career sounds delightful. In addition to her work with the Department of Defense, she owns a travel company, produces her own podcast, and teaches Indian Dance. Despite being busy with all of these roles, she’s also an avid reader, and usually reads multiple books at once. Lately, though, she’s had a string of 3-star reads, and she’d love to discover a few books she’ll love.

Saadia’s interested in reading from her personal library, and she’s here for my help in finding the 5-star reads hiding on those shelves. We have a great time exploring the titles that she’s purchased over the years, and I make some recommendations for titles that will fit what she’s looking for now, and (hopefully!) end up as 5-star reading experiences.

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

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What Should I Read Next #346: Once upon a bookshelf, with Saadia Shafati Shamsie

Find Saadia on Instagram or visit her travel business website.

SAADIA: Look at me. I have such great books on my bookshelf.

ANNE: Yeah, you do. We will not fault you for bragging about that. I do think a victory lap might be entirely in order here. [LAUGHS]


ANNE: Hey, readers, I'm Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 346.

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.


Readers, I'd Rather Be Reading turns four this week. Thanks so much to those of you who have supported my work and this book by buying it, giving it, sharing it, and reading it. To wish it a happy birthday, would you please take two minutes and write a quick review on a retail site if you haven't yet? Just two sentences as a review.

As of this minute, I'd Rather Be Reading has 923 reader reviews on Amazon, and it would be incredible to hit 1,000 to celebrate this book's birthday. That really does make a difference in the algorithms. And thank you so much.

If you haven't yet read it or purchased a copy, now's a great time to pick it up for yourself to read immediately or as a gift for a friend. I'd Rather Be Reading makes a wonderful gift. And with the holiday season right around the corner, fresh reviews make it even easier for new readers to find this book.

Speaking of gifting, we are getting ready for our annual holiday gift recommendation episodes—note the plural—where we saw your book gifting conundrums. We created a Google form so you can tell us all about your holiday shopping dilemmas.

Pop over to today's show notes to put in your recommendation requests for the readers in your life so we can answer them in that future episode. Future episodes I should say.

If you want your request to have the best shot at making it into our episode, submit it right away. That link is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/346. I can't wait to hear what you're looking for. Again, that's whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/346.


Readers, Saadia Shamsie has a CV that had me squealing in delight before we even met. She lives in New Jersey and works for the Department of Defense at the US Navy.

She owns a travel company where she curates custom trips for clients. She has been teaching Indian dance for 22 years, a part time role she's about to retire from. And when she does, she's going to put the freed up time to use on her podcast, What I Think I Say, which is dedicated to discussing unpopular opinions from the viewpoint of a now 40-year-old South Asian Muslim American immigrant woman.

Saadia reads multiple books at once, has reading rituals for every season, and dreams of moving to France to open a bookshop in the not-so-distant future. But right now she's here because she's having a hiccup in her reading life.

Lately, she's found herself reading mostly three-star books, which means, sure she enjoyed it, but she didn't love it. And she really wants to read books she loves. She knows that's a tall order, but that's why she's here today.

When it comes to choosing what she wants to read next, she would love to discover the books no one is talking about. and her top priority is to read the great books she already own. My mission today is to help Saadia find those hidden gems from the over 500 books already on her shelf.

Today we're going to scour her personal library for books already on hand that meet her reading goal right now. Fingers crossed, they'll be five-star reads. Let's get to it.

Saadia, welcome to the show.

SAADIA: Thank you so much for having me, Anne.

ANNE: I can't wait to dig in today. So how are you this morning? And I'm really hoping you'll mention St. Lucia.

SAADIA: I'm doing really well. I just got back 10 hours ago or 12 hours ago from St. Lucia. So I'm just adjusting back to regular life. And this is a great way to go into that.

ANNE: Travel and reading, two of your favorite things. Was that business or pleasure?

SAADIA: It was a pleasure. I turned 40 at the beginning of the year, and this was my belated girls trip to celebrate.

ANNE: Ooh, it sounds like you're doing it right. Congratulations and belated happy birthday.

SAADIA: Thank you so much.

ANNE: Now, I know for your day job you worked for the Department of Defense. Is there travel involved in that or is that a purely... I almost said leisurely pursuit. But that is also a business for you?

SAADIA: Yes. So I work for the Department of Defense in the US Navy now. And there is, unfortunately, no travel anymore. But I did work 10 years in the US Army and there was lots of travel in that. Now, it's more of a desk job.

ANNE: So you had to create your own reasons to travel all the time.


ANNE: Tell me more about that.

SAADIA: I've always traveled ever since I was a little kid. My dad's a big traveler. So we've always been out and about, and that's honestly where I feel most at home.

And about a few years ago, I went on a trip to Bermuda, I broke my foot. When I came back home, I was like at home for about three months where I couldn't go to work, I couldn't go anywhere. And during that time, I created a travel company with my best friend.

And it's basically where we curate trips for customers. Anything from like, you know, if you want to go somewhere with friends to big family trips. So essentially anything and anywhere you want to go, we will make it happen. So it's a customer-centric, customer itinerary company.

ANNE: What are some of the trips you've had the most fun putting together for clients?

SAADIA: We just put together a Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier Park trip for 50 people, their family, friends. And this was planned during the pandemic. So we've had... I don't know if fun is the right word, but it was definitely challenging because they just went on this trip about two weeks ago.

Three weeks ago, Yellowstone had a massive natural disaster in parts of the park. And so we had to change so much for this giant group at the last minute, but they had an amazing time when they got back. It was challenging, but it was such a learning experience to do this and all the things that it involve. So in retrospect, a fun trip to plan but not necessarily every aspect when it was happening. [CHUCKLES]

ANNE: It sounds like what writers say. [SAADIA LAUGHS] They love having written but not necessarily the actual writing. Okay, so pulling it off was enormously satisfying once it was over?

SAADIA: Yes, it was.

ANNE: Have you put together any great trips for book lovers? Trips for yourself I think totally count here.


SAADIA: Yes. So I have a friend with whom I travel a lot. And she lives in California. And we actually have a book club, which at the moment is just us. So once a month, we meet on Zoom, and we discuss the books. And we travel a lot together too.

So we'll often find books to pick based on where we're going. Either a book that's set there or an author from there. And then once we're at the destination, we'll scout out all the locations that have to do with that book or that author. So I do a lot of that primary for her and myself.

ANNE: Saadia, tell me a little more about your reading life. What's it like these days?

SAADIA: I read multiple books at the same time. So I have like a morning book and going to bed book and then a book throughout the day. And they're all different genres. There was a time where I could only read one book at a time, but over the last couple of years, or I would say maybe the last decade, I've been able to read multiple books as long as they're not of the same topic or the same genre because I work multiple jobs.

Or originally I didn't love reading audiobooks. Because of the type of work life I have, I had to kind of try that out. And now I really do enjoy it as long as the narrator is good.

So I'll have at least one or two audiobooks going which I can read while I'm working or doing chores or pretty much anytime. Anytime I don't have to think I just listen to my audiobook.

And then I have a couple of physical books. Physical books are so important to my reading life. So I have a bunch of those going at the same time as well. So any moment I get, I will read.

And I've picked this idea up from one of your podcast episodes. And I don't remember how long ago it was, but one of the readers said that they block out like 20 minutes to just read no matter what is happening in their life. And I find myself doing that during the work day.

I will ask Alexa to set a 20-minute timer, and I will just go sit in my beanbag and I will read for 20 minutes no matter like if there's a pressing thing to do at work. It doesn't matter. I'm just like, "I need a mental break and that's what I'll do." And that's been really helpful.

ANNE: Oh, I love that. And I love that that's something that you've instituted as a routine in the middle of your workday when necessary. Because everybody knows that we don't get anything done when our brains are overwhelmed.


ANNE: That was episode 265 listeners: 10 questions to ask yourself about your reading life. It's a good one. And she is a timer evangelist.

And Saadia, how do you choose what to read right now?


SAADIA: So there's a few ways I do that. I'm part of a book club of local women sort of in my county that I met right before the pandemic on meetup. So we have one book a month we pick. We vote and we pick from there. So that can be anything. So that's one of the books I read.

The other book is my friend and I have a book club. Each year we pick a theme. And this year our theme is backlist titles From bestselling authors of '21 and the first half of '22. So that's the second book.

And then the other way is I just kind of been going through Agatha Christie's books. So I'll pick one Agatha Christie book just to go down and try to finish the whole collection. I'll pick a book randomly from my bookshelf that is just staring at me telling me to read it. And then I get heavily influenced by Bookstagram. Those are some of the different ways I select books.

And then surrounding all of that will be whatever season I'm in. So if it's summer, I'll try to read more. I don't want to say fluffy but light hearted beachy type reads. In the winter months, I love reading thrillers or books that take place in the season that I'm in.

I'm a big atmospheric reader, both in terms of the book I'm reading and also the time frame in which I'm reading it. So every season I have different rituals. As much as I can make the reading experience into an elaborate, luxurious experience, [ANNE LAUGHS. SAADIA CHUCKLES] I will do that.

ANNE: I love the words elaborate and luxurious in this context. So tell me a little bit about what that might look like.

SAADIA: You know, I kind of do this for everything I love just because I'm like constantly working. I barely sleep. Three to four hours. Five is like a good day. So all the little things I enjoy and reading as a top of that, whenever I can do that I try to make it like just an experience instead of like, "Oh, I opened up a book and read."

So in the summer months, I'll use my lunch breaks to go to the local park with a picnic blanket, my book, my pillow and food. And just for one hour that will be a whole solo picnic book thing that I'm doing. That just makes my entire day so much more exciting. Like I had a little mini vacation in the course of a regular day.

And then in the fall I have to have my cozy blankets and candles going and tea or hot cocoa. In the winter, if it's snowing, I like to leave all the doors open and kind of let the snow fall. I'll put blankets so that the snow can just kind of get soaked up. So if I'm in a place that has a fireplace... So I just needed to look like I've stepped into an ideal book setting dream=like situation.

ANNE: Okay, speaking of bookish dreams, tell me about living out Belle's life from Beauty and the Beast.

SAADIA: When I went to Paris the first time, which was back in 2003, and I've been there a dozen times since then, I just fell in love with the city. And I'm a big Disney fan. I'm like one of those classic Disney Princess adult people.

So I always thought I wanted to own a bookshop, I wanted to write a book, and someday I'm going to live that Provenceal life [ANNE LAUGHS] of being in the countryside of Paris and opening my own bookshop. The library in the Beast Castle is my ideal dream.

When I was younger, I was like, "Oh, that's not a possibility." Ironic, because as I'm getting older, that dream is starting to feel like a possibility. So I'm like, Well, I can retire in 10 years when I turn 50. So I would like to move to Paris or in the countryside. And if I can't get to a castle library, I will at least open a bookshop of my own and kind of set it up like a castle library.

So things that are dreams as a kid have now become a reality as an adult. I will try to see what I can do about making it a reality.

ANNE: I love how the bookshop France dream is coming clear. And maybe I won't give up hope for you on the castle library aspect of it yet. [SAADIA LAUGHS]

SAADIA: I feel like if I have access to a castle library, that'll be good enough.


ANNE: Saadia, you know, this episode ends with me recommending books that hopefully you will love, which can be a little bit of a pressure situation. So what I'm doing now is trying to form a picture of your reading life.

I love the theme for your local book club backlist titles from bestselling 2021 authors. That is genius. You read with your book club friend, your book club of two, which for many can be exactly the right number of people for a book club and for our friendship. So you get to read whatever the two of you choose.

I'm so interested in hearing how those Bookstagram titles are working out for you. Because you mentioned that they have a pretty big influence in your reading life right now.

SAADIA: You know, it's a hit or miss. I get caught up in sort of the latest book that everyone's talking about. And even though I actively tell myself, "Don't do that. Read the books you want to read. You have a TBR that just keeps growing," I obsessively buy books.

I mean, my friends have tried to do interventions. [ANNE LAUGHS, SAADIA CHUCKLES] And at the beginning of the year, when I turned 40, I was like, "You know what? I'm gonna change something. I'm not going to buy a single book until I read through the books I have. Unless I read a book, I don't like it and I get rid of it, then I can replace it."

So far I've been good. I have not bought any books this year. But I also haven't really read through my personal collection. I will look on IG, I'll see the latest title, it's usually an authorized light.

Honestly, I get heavily influenced by your podcast. Every time I listen to an episode, I'm jotting down the books I want to read, and then I go through them.

And what I'm finding is I don't usually pick up a book that's a two star. It happens but not that often. But I usually pick up books that are three stars. They're good, I enjoyed it, but they don't stay with me.

And because I love to read mysteries, I found that mysteries recently are not doing it for me. Either I figure it out or you know, they don't give me the same feel like an Agatha Christie or Nancy Drew, like one of those books. And I'm kind of left disappointed or just not taken for the ride that I want to go on.

So I feel like I just need to step back from being pulled by the books that are shiny. Or if I walk into a bookstore, those are the books that are being displayed and then they end up being kind of mediocre for me. So I need to pick books with more intention, instead of just like, "Oh, everyone's talking about it. I should read it too."

ANNE: It's not just you. This is a common thing. And how great to read so many books that you enjoy. Like you said, a three-star read for you is a book that you like and yet what you really want is books that you love.

SAADIA: I'm trying to find books that do one of three things for me, or maybe all three. And one is a book that just makes me feel delighted. I love books that make me feel happy and warms my heart and I mean this with like 100% from the bottom of my heart, I loved reading your I'd Rather Be Reading. I've read that several times.

ANNE: Oh, thank you.


SAADIA: It's just so funny. Every time I read it I'm like, "Oh my god, me too." And I've given it to my friends because it actually makes me delighted. And I've taken some ideas from that that I would like to incorporate into my life. So books Like that. Books about books are... Oh my god, I love books about books. [BOTH LAUGHS]

The second thing is books that just stay with me. Books where I'm like long after the book is over I'm still thinking about it. And one of them is Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. And I think I read that last year. And I still think about that book's ending.

And I won't give anything away here, but just everything that happens in the book and the way it ends, I'm constantly finding myself randomly thinking, "Would I do that? Would I have done the alternative? How did that...?" He just writes so well. I love science fiction that takes place in outer space. That's a second thing.

And the third thing are books that I learned from. So during the pandemic, I got COVID really early on. Like pandemic was announced and two weeks later I had COVID.


SAADIA: And it took me a really long time to recover. Something like eight to ten months. I'm a very nature person. I like to be out in nature and stuff, and I wasn't able to. Like I couldn't do my daily walks. I would just sit by the balcony and I would read about books that had to do with forest therapy and nature therapy.

And I always knew that nature has a big impact on our mental psyche and everything, but reading books that had like a scientific proof of what nature really does for you, that was just such a timely subject to come into my life.

And ever since that I've been obsessed with reading books like that. Not pure science books, but like books that have scientific proof of how to lead your life better or with more intention and be more connected to nature and things like that.

So those are the kinds of books that... they're very different, [CHUCKLES] but those are the kinds of books that I'm looking for.

ANNE: I mean, we are not One Note Wonders here as [ANNE CHUCKLES, SAADIA LAUGHS] people who love to read. And I think it's great that you've identified this variety of things you love. You love books that make you feel delighted, books about books, books that stay with you, books you learn from. Those are great things to know about yourself.

Okay, so what we're going to do, Saadia, is we're going to talk about the books that you love that I imagine really bring these factors to life. And then we're going to talk about how to find that in a way that brings you satisfaction, not just with the individual titles, but with your reading life as a whole. How does that sound?

SAADIA: That sounds great.

ANNE: Okay, how did you choose the books we're going to talk about today?


SAADIA: You know, when I've listened to the episodes before, I've always wondered, like, "Oh, that must be so difficult to do." But when I was filling this out, it was actually pretty easy because I picked books that represent different parts of my reading life, but also different times in my reading life.

ANNE: Ooh.

SAADIA: The first book I picked was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. And I must have read this book when I was 10 or 11 years old. And since then, I have read this book dozens of times. And I kid you not, the book makes me feel exactly the way I felt when I first read it.

I love this book so much. I love the characters. I loved Jo March when I was pre-teen. and I love Joe March now as a 40-year-old. I find her independence and her need to just want to write and want to tell stories and her love for her family.

The fact that she doesn't... You know, she almost doesn't believe in marriage. There's a part where she's like telling Meg, "Why do you even want to get married? We'll just live on our lives, just the two of us." And sometimes I feel like that about my brothers. I'm like, "Don't get married. We'll just be the three of us." [ANNE LAUGHS]

Like marriage is not important to me. So it was an impressionable age when I read that book, and that character stayed with me. I adore that book.

It's got family, it's got heart. It's got little things. It is sad, but it's also such a depiction of life I feel like and that's one of my favorite books.

ANNE: Little Women. Okay, you like to read books that you learned from. I imagine a deep dive into the actual life of Louisa May Alcott may be extremely satisfying for you. Just putting that out there.


ANNE: Saadia, tell me about the next book you love.

SAADIA: So I had to pick a thriller or a mystery because for the longest time that is all I read. Other than the childhood classics of Little Women and Little House on the Prairie, I want to say for a good 20 years of my life I only read mysteries. Because I am a big problem solver, so I love books where like things are happening, it's fast-paced, and then it gets solved.

And Agatha Christie is like my top, top mystery writer. So at first I thought I would have a hard time picking her book because I love the Miss Marple series and I love Hercule Poirot series. I love that her stories are... You know, they're so atmospheric. I'm instantly taken into the English countryside which is where most of her stories take place. I love the eccentric characters but lovable character she has. But I ended up picking And Then There Were None, which has neither Miss Marple nor Hercule Poirot.

But I think the reason it was easier to pick this book is because it is different. It takes place on an island, which is not what most of our stories take place, it doesn't have a detective solving the problem. It just kind of is the storyline where, you know, it starts with this poetry.

And then the whole time as the book is evolving, I'm like, "Oh, it's this person." And then the next thing you know that person's dead. I'm like, "Oh, it's this person." So the whole time, I could never guess who it was. And nothing is more satisfying to me than a book where I don't get it, that I am wrong and I'm just thrown by what the ending is. I just loved that about this book.

I also listened to this on audio. That's how much I loved it. And Dan Stevens, oh, my gosh, I love him so much. And he does such an amazing job with all 10 character voices and the narration. I felt like I was right there on the island and just like observing all of this happening. And I love a book that will take me to where the book is taking place.

So this is like a super satisfying, easily one of Agatha Christie's best in my opinion, mystery book. So that's how I came to this one.

ANNE: And also a great entry point for those who haven't read her. I was just about to tell you that I also love the Dan Stevens audiobook narration, but no, I read this in print. I listened to him do Murder on the Orient Express, which was wonderful. I'm glad to know he also does And Then There Were None.


ANNE: Okay. So you really don't want to get there before the author does when it comes to solving the case?

SAADIA: Yeah, yeah. When I do, I find myself a little disappointed. [CHUCKLES]

ANNE: That's good to know. What's the final book you love?


SAADIA: So this one I picked as one of the more recent books that I enjoyed. And I love a book that can be relatable. I don't need a book to be relatable. Most of the time I read books that are not relatable, and I love them just fine.

But every now and again, I get a gem that is so relatable and funny, comes to me at the exact right time. And this was Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up by Alexandra Potter.

ANNE: Well done.

SAADIA: And oh my gosh, I read this last year, I was 39 years old, and the things that happened to her in this book are not what things were happening to me. I wasn't 40 yet, I wasn't looking for love or marriage, I didn't just come off a broken engagement, I wasn't renting a room at someone else's place, but so much of what she goes through and what she feels and how she articulates and the things she does, including starting a podcast, which is something I did last year, I was just like, "Oh my god, this was the universe just handing me the perfect thing at the perfect time."

I think it's over 500 pages and I was in just giddy delight reading it. When I finished it, I wished I could reach out and be her friend. It's just so funny. And I come from a group of friends where like a lot of my friends are married with kids, and some aren't, but are looking. And I'm kind of like the anomaly.

Like I'm in a relationship, but I'm not looking to get married. I decided a long time ago, I didn't want to have kids. So I often find reading books for like, it's either a wife-centric or mother role, I find them to be tiresome from my perspective. I'm like, "I never get to read a book where the person isn't any of those and is happy about it and isn't searching for it."

And I love a book that'll make me laugh. I had a hard time not selecting a Mindy Kaling book because her books are so funny. I haven't read a book that connected me in recent years in a long time. So when this one came up, I'm like, "Oh, this is definitely one of my favorites. I'm pretty sure I gave it a five star."

ANNE: I hope so based on all the things you said about it. [SAADIA LAUGHS] Yeah, I can see how that sounded perfect for you. Saadia, tell me about a book that was not right for you.

SAADIA: I have to say this was not very difficult to choose because like I said, I don't normally read books I don't like. This was just so hard for me to get through. It's a loved book, so I hope no one gets upset by it. But Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was a book that just did not work for me.

I have a problem where I have to finish books. I'm trying not to be that person. But this was like pulling teeth for me. I found majority of the book just dealt with, for lack of a better word, dumb teenage drama in my eyes. And then the other third I felt like it was gonna get to some real dark secret and then it just sort of fell short of that.

And although I don't have to relate to the characters or even necessarily like... this book just made me feel like I didn't care about any of them. I didn't understand the character of Izzy. I didn't understand her obsession with Mia. I didn't get the ending.

I read the book first and then I know that they had created a TV series. I don't watch TV. I don't even own a TV. But I went and watched this because I was like, "Well, maybe I'll feel better about this story." And I didn't. I may have liked the TV series even less. [ANNE LAUGHS]

When I finished the book, I remember thinking, "This was such a waste of my time." And I don't often think that about books. So this was just like, "I can't. Whatever is happening here I don't want to be a part of it," is how I felt when I finished it. It had nothing that worked for me in it.

ANNE: So teenage drama, not your thing.


SAADIA: Oh, no, I don't like coming-of-age stories. Normally, there are some exceptions. But yeah, this just didn't work for me.

ANNE: Okay, Saadia, if we were having a different conversation, I might be like, "Well, let's think about this. Well, let's try different coming of age novels. Well, did you enjoy this? Well, let's look at this one." But you have 228 books on your home library shelves that you are really wanting to read. I'm kind of doubting that there's much in the way of coming-of-age stories on that list. And we're just going to work with what we've got today and let you enjoy this aspect of your reading life. And we'll be happy about that.

SAADIA: Yes, that's very exciting to me.

ANNE: Okay. Saadia, what have you been reading lately?

SAADIA: I just finished The Guide by Peter Heller. I loved The River. Oh, it was one of my favorite books last year I read. And I was really excited to read The Guide. I didn't enjoy it as much. You know, I know there's this whole mystery aspect. But the whole time I was like, "What is really happening?" I felt like it was trying too hard.

The first one, the whole adventurous, the Mark Twain type of I love books like that, I almost put that as a top three. I kind of wish there was top five. [BOTH LAUGHS] So I didn't care for The Guide. It was okay. I think I may have given it a three or two star.

And the second book I just finished was Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I adored this book predominantly for the atmospheric aspect of it. I wasn't sure where this book was going. I ended up liking what happens in the book.

I love that it was a story about this woman in this timeframe in New York City, where, you know, whenever I was reading about a street or an area, I was like, "Oh, I know where that is. Oh, I know where that is." You know, it just transported me back to the 1930s. Or I think it may even start a little earlier. But a wonderful, delightful read. It's my first book by him, so I'm curious to see how I feel about his other books. I thoroughly enjoyed that book.

ANNE: So I'm really noticing, especially with the distinction between The River and The Guide, that you love books that have immediacy about them, that are really evocative of a time and place, and you know you love atmosphere.

So much of The Guide literally unfolds at a distance like where you're watching things that are happening from a great remove. But The River, you're like, you're in the canoe or kayak or whatever.

SAADIA: In it.

ANNE: Like, yeah, you are in it. And those two people have a really deep relationship with each other, the two people at the center, the book in a way that's also not true of The Guide, which readers, I really love both, but we're noticing the differences and what they mean for Saadia's reading life.

So in your own words Saadia, what do you want to be different in your reading life right now?

SAADIA: I want to read books I love. And I know that's hard to gauge, but I want to be more intentional with the books I select. I want to at least know that, like I said before, one of the three things are going to happen. I'm either going to remember the book and think about it, even if I don't love it, that I'm going to ponder on it long after it's over or that I'm going to learn something from it or that it's just going to warm my heart.

You know, I think there's a book you talk about often. It has the word "laundry" in it. [ANNE LAUGHS]

ANNE: Laundry Love.

SAADIA: Every time I've heard you describe the book, I'm like, "I have to read this book about laundry." And I have to tell you, laundry is my least favorite thing to do. So I'm just like, how does one love a book about something they don't like doing? So like little things.

I want to read about everyday life, things that are just, you know, we take for granted or we don't think about. And I would love to read books no one is talking about because I don't want to get caught up in the here and now. I just want those little gems that have been forgotten.


ANNE: I think lots of readers are talking about all kinds of books, but they're just not doing it on Bookstagram. Like you are having some really amazing conversations at your local book club and on Zoom, but that is Zoom party of two, and nobody else knows it's happening.

So I think you want to tap into the books that plenty of readers have read or are reading and enjoying but that aren't currently like filling up feeds on social media.


ANNE: I think sometimes like feeling like you have to blaze a literary trail all on your own can feel really daunting. But to think of it as, "Oh, no, you're just tapping into what's happening offline can feel a lot more hospitable.

If you want to blaze your own trail, readers, by all means, think of it that way. That's great by me. And if you're like, "Oh, that sounds really scary," then let's approach it from that perspective. So you want to find the books you have to go seek out because it's not like you're going to stumble upon them in your feet?


ANNE: And you kind of want to stay out of the bookstore, I'm guessing because your friends have already tried to stage one intervention. Which is so kind of them. Tell me how that went down, Saadia.

SAADIA: Whenever I travel, I have to visit local book shops. And I have this thing that if I go into a bookshop, I have to walk out with something because why not? I'm like, I'm supporting the local bookstore, the indie bookstore. And I love reading a book later in my life where I remember where I got it from, and it connects me to the place that I went to. So it's like a whole connecting experience.

But I just have too many books. And my friends who have gone with me to bookstores, and have literally taken books out of my hand and put them back on the shelf, [ANNE LAUGHS] or have reminded me of my own promise to myself that I'm not supposed to be buying any more books. So I pledged that at the beginning of this year, and so far, halfway through the year, I have been good about it.

ANNE: This may seem like a silly question, because it's so obvious to you. But how do you know you have too many books?


SAADIA: Because if you were walking into my apartment, I think at a glance, you would tell me I have too many books. [ANNE LAUGHS] I have books everywhere. And they're categorized to the part of the apartment. So I have a whole travel section that has travel books, cookbooks that are in the kitchen, I have books just on tea because I love tea.

And I have books that I use as like decoration furniture, if that makes sense. So I don't have shelves rooms anymore. So I've used books to like put plants on top of it or to prop up things. So the books have now become part of the furniture. And I think that's a sign.

ANNE: For space reasons, this is a real thing. Too many books.


ANNE: You don't want to read them as a duty. You want to read them because you want to. And you want to find your reason why to pick them up in a certain order. We don't want you to feel chastened or shamed or like, "Oh, I bit off more than I can chew. So now I have to sit in this chair and read this stupid book." Tell me how you're framing it up. [SAADIA LAUGHS]

SAADIA: That made me laugh so much. Yes, I think that's correct. So I'll give you an example. I'm obsessed with all things France, French. And so if-

ANNE: Oh, I could tell because I've seen the list of books you own. [BOTH LAUGHS]

SAADIA: Yeah. If the word Paris exist, I buy the book. It doesn't matter what the book is about. I have to read it. And now I have a collection of Parisian books that I would probably have to devote half the year just to get through them. I often buy books because of those reasons. Like, Oh, I love books about books, so I'll buy it.

But I'm also a mood reader. So unless I'm in the mood to read it, I won't pick it up. And because I have so many books, I often forget what I have. And honestly doing this list was a reminder, like, "Hey, you have all these books you bought that you're very excited about.

And ultimately what I would like to do is to do this whole goal in 10 years of moving to France with my books, I want to take the books that I absolutely love. And I know that I have books that I'm going to finish and probably give it a three-star. Those are the books I would like to get rid of. And I only want to keep the books I love.

Right now I just have books because I love buying books, not necessarily books that I'm going to love. I already know that. So it's kind of a two-for-one. I'm like, "I need to read these books and then I need to weed out what I love and what I don't and start only owning books I love.

ANNE: Saadia, did I just hear you say that you need to read these books that you own even though you think that some of them you're not going to love?

SAADIA: Yeah, because I don't know if I'm going to like them until I read them. I can pretty much guarantee that I don't have any books I'm going to hate or dislike because I wouldn't have picked it up if there wasn't some form of interest in it. But I imagine that a portion of those books will end up as three stars. And I don't think I want to be an owner of three-star books anymore. I want to be owner of four and five-star books.

ANNE: Yeah, that makes sense. Moving books is hard. Moving books down the street is hard. I imagine moving books to France is harder. If they were beautiful and I had space, I would totally move three-star books.

SAADIA: I agree.

ANNE: I don't know. Ask me after I packed the first box and maybe I changed my mind. So I am looking at the list of books you love. And you also have quite a long list of books that you want to read. Does that bring any angst into your life or do you have like a neutral or even pleasurable relationship with your good reads to be read list?


SAADIA: No, I have a pretty pleasurable relationship with that. I know I'll never run out of something to read. I know that I cannot read all the books in my lifetime. I'm okay with that. I love adding books to my TBR list. That does not overwhelm me.

ANNE: Oh my gosh, I noticed because you sent me your Goodreads want-to-read list. [CHUCKLES] It made me laugh. Saadia, okay, let me see. I made some notes.

So one week ago today you added 25 books to your want-to-read list. Does that surprise you?

SAADIA: It does not.

ANNE: And the day before that you added in one go 76 books to your Goodreads want-to-read list. And then I noticed there are times you just added like a whole series or everything written by one author. [SAADIA LAUGHS] Okay, if that's not stressing you out, then we can just love and admire that together.

SAADIA: Yeah, none of that stresses me out. [LAUGHS]

ANNE: I think you have lots of good stuff waiting for you that you are going to love. I think that past Saadia knew what she was doing when she was reaching for certain titles wherever you got them. Like you just added Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Based on what you've said, the immediacy atmosphere, evocative, like, mm, as long as you're cool with short stories, I think that sounds really good for you. There are so many France books. I know how you feel about France. I think you're really going to enjoy those.

So I'm scrolling here. I see Paula McLain, Jodi Picoult. I see the word "French" in quite a few titles. One More Croissant for the Road.

SAADIA: I love books about food. [ANNE LAUGHS, SAADIA CHUCKLES]

ANNE: I see. The Honeybus by Meredith May, Interactive Guide to Life-Changing Books. The Call me Ishmael phone book. Where the Wild Ladies Are. That sounds fun. I see a lot of good stuff here.

Oh, a jellyfish book. Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish: And Other Self-Care Rituals from Nature. That sounds like the kind of book you're describing you like. But today we're gonna zone in on a few specific titles. And I've got some in mind. Are you ready?

SAADIA: I'm so ready.

ANNE: So I think no matter what, we really need some France for you because you said... obsessed. Was that the word you used?


ANNE: Okay, so we need some France. I think some other travel would be really great for you as well. And then a book where you learn something or a book about books. I think either of those could be really great.


SAADIA: Those are all the things I love. That's perfect.

ANNE: First, I just grabbed this off my shelf where it was handy. I want to start with a book I was so excited to see on your list because I already thought it'd be great for you. Not on your list, on your shelf. And that is Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating. The subtitle is From Paris Bistros to Farmhouse Kitchens, Lessons in Food and Love.

She actually came and talked to Modern Mrs. Darcy book club about this book when we read it I think about a year ago. So she was spending the early COVID months, I think, in Vietnam at the time.

But the setup for the story is Ann Mah is a journalist. She can work from anywhere. And her husband is a diplomat. So he gets this assignment in Paris, which is a place that Ann Mah, who is a lifelong foodie, and also lover of all things France, much like you, thrilled to find out that she gets to live there and explore the country with in the city with the husband she loves who is moving there for work. And we'll have all kinds of support and connections because of that.

Right after they arrive, she finds out that because of what's happening in the world, he's being reassigned to Iraq for a year and she can't go. She's going to stay in Paris. So all of a sudden she realizes, "I'm in Paris for a year by myself." And all of a sudden she ends up in the city she couldn't wait to get to but completely by herself and feeling a little bit adrift.

So in the story, you may... It's called Mastering the Art of French Eating. It's no coincidence that sounds so similar to Julia Child's cookbook title. Julia Child was also the wife of a diplomat, and she really takes child as a role model and just starts setting out to see what's in Paris, what's in the surrounding regions.

And she's a journalist, she decides she's really going to dig into the food and culture not just of Paris, but also of the surrounding regions. And she shares all kinds of stories and recipes along the way. And I think this book is tailor made for you. How does that sound?

SAADIA: Oh my god, it sounds so amazing. I can totally remember why I picked this book up.

ANNE: Okay, there's a couple travel books that I noticed were there. And we're not going to dive deep, but I noticed that you have the graphic novel Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley, who is amazing. That one is so sweet and so sad.

She goes on a Caribbean cruise with her 91 and 93-year-old grandparents and writes about it. It's really touching and poignant. And wasn't surprised to see that on your shelf.

I noticed that you have a lot of Peter Mayle on your shelves, including A Year in Provence. I see what [inaudible 00:41:23] that. That is a great book for you. Highly recommend you read that.

You have lots of Bill Bryson, an amazing travel writer who often narrates his own audiobooks that I think you'll really enjoy in that format. He's insightful. He's funny. He drops all these tidbits about things you didn't know you wanted to know about the region or about like light bulbs depending on what book you're reading. I think you could really enjoy that.

But we're going to skip ahead a little bit to a different kind of travel not really book. And that is The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. Because you are about to visit your 50th state in the US. What can you tell me about your trip to Kentucky that's coming up this year?


SAADIA: I'm actually going to be visiting the National Park there, Mammoth Cave.

ANNE: Which my kids went on field trips too, but my mom and dad had to take me.

SAADIA: I love national parks. And that's one of the other things I kind of check off my list. I like to visit national parks. And this is like perfect because it's two for one, I'm getting the final state and I'm getting a national park. So that's what I'm going to be visiting with my friend.

ANNE: Well, I hope you have a wonderful trip, even if you're a long way from Louisville and all the culture and restaurants and bourbon tasting we have here. But that's fine. You can save that for your second trip to Kentucky.

SAADIA: Yeah, exactly. [BOTH LAUGHS]

ANNE: That might be the old me trip that I'm qualified to curate like you do for your clients. But because you need a reason to read a certain book right now and because The Giver of Stars is on your shelves, I think this is the right time for you.

Do you remember how and when you picked up this book?

SAADIA: A long time ago. I'm trying to remember. I read one of her other books... Actually, this might have been a Book of the Month subscription. There was a whole time period where I would just keep selecting books from Book of the Month even though I wouldn't be able to read them as fast as I was getting them. And this is one of those books I picked up and didn't read.

ANNE: Well, it came out on October 2019. So yeah, I was thinking you couldn't have had it a long time. But actually yes, it has been a few years at this point.

So this is really not going to inform your visit to Mammoth Cave much. Although my husband Will read a fascinating book about mapmaking and slavery and mapping the actual caves and mammoth caves. This sounds like a bonus episode waiting to happen in our Patreon community because I have no idea what this book is off the top of my head but I remember him reading portions of it aloud to me.

But The Giver of Stars is set in the Appalachian region of Kentucky. It's set in the depression era in the 30s. There are really vivid descriptions of daily life in this small and remote 1930s coal mining community. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.

Let's talk about the heart of the story. There's a young woman named Alice who falls in love, and she gets married. And I'm sorry that's part of the story. But you already bought this. You're on the hook for this.

So she is really excited about living in a city in America, which she thinks, you know, "I live in England, it's boring, blah, blah, blah, let's go to America where life is happening."

But then she gets to Baileyville, Kentucky, which is nothing like she envisioned. She feels isolated and she is lonely and she does not know what to do next. And before she realizes what she is doing, she volunteers for the new Baileyville packhorse library even though the people running this don't have the best reputation though, of course, you just gossip about that with the fellow community people, you don't say that out loud to anybody's face.

So she ends up taking books on a pack mule into the people who don't have access to libraries in rural Kentucky in the 1930s. This is a book about books. This is a book that has a very distinctive setting, time, and place. Just really lush... lots of really vivid descriptions of what life was like then, of what it was like to visit these homes and how difficult it was to reach people who wanted books with these books.

And I think perhaps it's on your shelf for a reason. And I think the reason to read this now is you are coming to Kentucky and soon. How does that sound?

SAADIA: That sounds great. And I definitely will read it before I get there.


ANNE: This final book we're going to talk about today. This is one that is now 10 years old. It doesn't feel that old, which isn't that old. It just means it's not all over Bookstagram. This is a good thing. I'm thinking of Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club. Do you remember how this one ended up on yourself?

SAADIA: Have you recommended this book? Because I have to tell you a lot of my bookshelf books end up there from the podcast.

ANNE: Definitely maybe. But also I know he's been on the show. So Will was our guest. Oh my goodness. This is so fitting. He was on the show Episode 184. It's called You'll never conquer your TBR—and that's a good thing. You all are kindred spirits.

SAADIA: Oh my god, I bet you that's where I got it.

ANNE: Well, regardless of how it ended up there, I'm glad it did and I'm glad we're talking about it now. So Will works in publishing and he talks a little bit about that in that episode. So by all means, listeners, go back and listen.

He's so much fun. You will really enjoy that conversation whether you're listening for the first time or again. It's such a delightful episode. And we know you love that delight in your reading life.

So, Saadia, this is a book about a two-person book club. Does that sound familiar? So Will works in publishing, his New Yorker mom they've always enjoyed talking about books together. And then she's diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

They decide that they're going to form a two-person book club and make their way through as many books as they can that they've been meaning to read together. And they have these really meaningful conversations because we know how books can lead to those. And they talk about all kinds of books.

The thing I'm most scared about for this book, is you're going to read it and you're going to have all the titles talked about in the book ringing around your head, and then you're going to go into a bookstore in Kentucky or St. Lucia, or California, or Italy, and you're just gonna be like, "Yes, I need this. Yes, I need this. I'm going to take it home." And all of a sudden... yeah. That's the thing I'm most scared about for you.

But the way that this book shows real people—This is a memoir. This is not fiction—coming together. And they're two-person book club, like you have, learning more about each other through the lens of books and reading. There's never a bad time to read this book. And yet, I also think the time for you to read this book is real soon.

SAADIA: That sounds like a really amazing book to read.

ANNE: Well, you're the one who picked it actually in the beginning. So I would expect you to think as much.

SAADIA: Look at me, I have such great books on my bookshelf. [CHUCKLES]

ANNE: Yeah, you do. We will not fault you for bragging about that. I do think a victory lap might be entirely in order here.

So, Saadia, the books we talked about today. Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah, The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, oh, with an audiobook read by a recent guest Julia Whalen because I know you love your audiobooks. And then The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.

Of those books, which are literally at your fingertips, what do you think you'll read next?


SAADIA: Oh, this is hard. I am going to read them all and I'm going to read The Giver of Stars last right before I go to Kentucky. I think I will start with Mastering the Art of French Eating, and then read The End of Your Life Book Club.

ANNE: I love those choices for you. I hope you really enjoy them. I hope they're five-star reads. But regardless, I expect you to feel the satisfaction that comes from doing this thing in your reading life you've been meaning to do a really long time. And we want to hear how it goes.

SAADIA: Thank you so much. I already have a giant smile on my face. [BOTH LAUGHS] As soon as we're done, I'm gonna go to my bookshelf, pull out those three books so that they're right in front of my face.

ANNE: Well, I hope sometime soon you can set that timer for 20 minutes. Saadia, this was a pleasure. Thank you so much for talking books with me today.

SAADIA: Thank you so much for having me, Anne. I had the best time. Thank you.



ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Saadia and I'd love to hear what you think she should read next. Connect with Saadia on Instagram @whatithinkisay.

Find the full list of titles from today's show at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/346. That's also where to send your reader recommendation requests for upcoming holiday gifting episodes. Whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/346.

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter with updates on the show, links to bookish news, and snapshots of what I'm reading lately. Sign up at what shouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter.

Share the book Love by leaving a review on Apple podcasts. Your five-star review fills our bookish hearts with joy and helps book lovers find the show. Follow us on Instagram. We are there @whatshouldireadnext.

Sharing our posts in your stories is a great way to share the show with your book-loving friends. Connect with me on Instagram @annbogel where I enjoy sharing favorite shots from bookstores and book sales and library trips, all the good books stuff, and occasionally Daisy the lab.

Thanks to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next? is produced by Brenna Frederick, with production assistance 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!

Books mentioned in this episode:

I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
• Miss Marple mysteries by Agatha Christie (try A Murder Is Announced)
• Hercule Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie (try Hallowe’en Party)
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Audio narration by Dan Stevens)
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (Audio narration by Dan Stevens)
Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up by Alexandra Potter
• Mindy Kaling ( try Why Not Me?)
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The Guide by Peter Heller
The River by Peter Heller
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore by Patric Richardson and Karin B. Miller
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
• Paula McLain (try Circling the Sun)
• Jodi Picault (try Small Great Things)
One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake
The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees by Meredith May
The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book: An Interactive Guide to Life-Changing Books by Logan Smalley and Stephanie Kent
Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda
Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish: And Other Self-Care Rituals from Nature by Rani Shah
Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah
Displacement: A travelogue by Lucy Knisley 
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
• Bill Bryson (try Notes from a Small Island) (Audio edition)
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Also mentioned in this episode:

Participate in our gift recommendation episode
WSIRN Ep 265: 10 questions to ask yourself about your reading life
Modern Mrs Darcy book club
WSIRN Ep 184: You’ll never conquer your TBR—and that’s a good thing


Leave A Comment
  1. Kate says:

    This episode was so much fun! Saadia and I have very similar reading tastes. I, too, have a whole bookshelf of books about France and love Peter Mayle’s books. While they are all funny and evoke a sense of Provence, my favorite is Hotel Pastis. The characters are so endearing, and I laugh with delight every time I read it. I also share your feelings about current mysteries and thrillers – they are disappointing because I can guess “who done it”. Agatha Christie’s books thrilled me when I was in my teens and twenties, and I love that you are becoming a completist. I think I’ll go back and reread those that I loved, starting with And Then There Were None – this time on audio!

  2. Lisa says:

    Loved this episode! Saadia, if you have never read Ellen Meloy, I think you would love her work. She was a nature writer who focused largely on the desert Southwest, though her travels inform some of her writing as well. Start with “The Anthropology of Turquoise” — it’s gorgeous.

  3. Mary says:

    This episode sounds great! I never miss a week, however it is not showing up today on Spotify. Is anyone else having this issue?

  4. Debra McGuire says:

    I think Saadia might enjoy A Fatal Inversion by Ruth Rendell. It’s a great mystery. She also wrote as Barbara Vine, so sometimes this title is listed under that name.

  5. mae says:

    I noticed you completely redesigned your homepage/website and I am having some issues accessing content from your menu (read/listen/shop/join) but only when I am not directly on your homepage. For example, when I am on this specific page/post, there are issues with your drop down menus. The three options under the read’ menu mostly display just fine. However, only the first clickable options under the listen/shop/join display because all the widgets (starting with the ‘for young readers’ in the right hand sidebar cover up the other ones.

  6. Beth Wallen says:

    Oh, I felt so seen with this episode. I was on the phone with my local indie bookstore ordering books while I looked guiltily at my bookshelves full of my TBR selections. I have no business buying any more books. It’s a curse. I have one huge book case of books not yet read. Don’t make me count them. Maybe that will be next year’s New Year’s Resolution, no new books until I make a serious dent in this stack. Nah…..never happen.

  7. Lauren says:

    Saadia may like Ruth Reichl if she likes books about food! I’m currently reading and loving Save Me the Plums, and have heard wonderful things about her others.

  8. Kalli Moon says:

    Is this where we leave requests to be answered for the gifting episode?
    I have 3.5 year old boy who LOVES to know how things work (bodies, anything with pipes, machines, etc.). We can barely keep up with him. I’m having a hard time finding books that are age appropriate but still stimulating enough for his young engineer brain.
    We’ve read and loved all the Little Blue Truck books and the Construction Site books. He’s also enjoys books where people are doing silly things and repetition within a story seems to be a winner. Any suggestions for books he may enjoy?

  9. J says:

    I might recommend “City of Girls” by Elizabeth Gilbert for Saadia. I also am bored senseless by books that center on domesticity (i.e., marriage/kid as the center of meaning), and this novel stood out to me for stories of women pursuing their lives on their terms, not convention. And it’s set in NYC from the 40s through the 70s or 80s; and from that, it brought a similar sense of place as “Rules of Civility” in a lot of ways.

  10. Kate says:

    I completely related to Saadia’s feelings about loving mysteries but having a hard time finding 5 star reads in that genre. If she hasn’t read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, I HIGHLY recommend it. Though it begins as more of a love story, it evolves into a mystery and I did not see the twists and turns coming. It delighted me in the same way Agatha Christie novels often do, and the setting at Manderley is dreamy and very atmospheric.

  11. Joanne Booy says:

    Just finishing Ann Patchett’s new book of short stories and essays called These Precious Days which includes a piece about her decision not to have children. I wonder if Saadia might enjoy reading that. The whole book is delightful on a whole range of topics and stories and I would highly recommend it.

  12. Sue capinjola says:

    I listen to you always
    You mentioned one of my favorite books of all time THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB I had the pleasure of meeting Will in Judy Blume bookstore in key west. He is wonderful and I too love books about books. Unfortunately years later I lost my love to this horrific disease so it was almost a life lesson

  13. Sharon says:

    Oh. I just got brave enough to read Agatha Christie. And Then There Were None was required reading when I was in 7th grade and the premise totally freaked me out. I don’t want to give a spoiler, but I’ll just say I would stand at the door crying for my mother to not go out to and leave me in charge of my brother for an hour in the afternoon! I guess I was too young and innocent and my mom didn’t know what the book was like so couldn’t ask for an alternative for me.
    Having said that I love mysteries and especially books about places I’m going to visit. Kentucky was the last of my 48 states way back in 1981, but don’t worry, since then I’ve added over 70 countries!

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