WSIRN Ep. 38: Secrets, cheap tricks, and paradigm-shifting books

Happy Tuesday everyone! It’s time for a new episode of What Should I Read Next.

Today’s guest is Anissa Davis, a family physician who lives with her family in California. She likes smart, funny, contemporary fiction with diverse protagonists, and she wants to be blown away by more books.

I think many of you will relate when Anissa says sometimes finding great fiction feels like kissing a lot of frogs before you find your prince. Anissa says she has Very High Standards, so recommending books to her was a privilege—and also kind of terrifying.

What Should I Read Next #38: Secrets, cheap tricks, and paradigm-shifting books

Books discussed in this episode: 

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler
Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler
Breathing Lessons, by Anne Tyler
Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer
Missoula, by John Krakauer
SuperBetter, by Jane McGonigal
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes
Before The Fall, by Noah Hawley
The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez
How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon
Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering & Organizing, by Marie Kondo
Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple
Be Frank With Me, by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

Jane McGonigal TEDTalks: 
The game that can give you 10 extra years of life
Gaming can make a better world


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  1. Carolyn says:

    If Anissa hasn’t read it yet I recommend The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. She has created some strong characters the reader will really want to “root” for. Narrative shifts between the 1940’s and ’80’s I really think this could meet her high expectations.

  2. Susan Todd says:

    Two books that come to mind after hearing what appeals to Anissa: Tell the Wolves I’m Home (for diversity of characters) and A Man Called Ove (because she obviously likes a little comedy in her novels, but wants it to be smart comedy – as in Accidental Tourist.)
    Such a fun podcast today; really enjoyed it!

  3. angelle says:

    This is my favorite podcast yet. Annisa and I need to have tea! Other books for her: Tortilla curtain by T.C. boyle, A little Life, Fates and Furies, Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. I think she would love them all. Diversity in some and character driven. (last one is for her new job!!)

    • laura shook says:

      I will always remember The Tortilla Curtain – T.C. Boyle’s sense of place and his characters are unforgettable. Also recommend When The Killing’s Done – historical fiction.
      Thanks for a really great podcast Anne! I look forward to each episode and have been recommending your podcast to everyone who will listen!

  4. Anissa, If you haven’t read it, I adore The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore. It’s about three African-American women and their families from the 60s to the present day, and it’s both funny and thought-provoking.

  5. Anissa says:

    I loved Saint Maybe too. Really, I could have talked the whole podcast just about Anne Tyler. Usually I go through phases with authors, like Stephen King in my junior high years and Terry McMillan in my early 20’s, and then I guess my tastes change or something and I move to someone else. But Tyler is one of the rare authors that I’ve literally been reading since I was in high school, and I’m still so happy when a new one comes out. Even Vinegar Girl, which wasn’t a favorite, still gave me joy just to be reading it.

  6. LizThiel says:

    This was my favorite podcast of all 38! Anissa and I have very similar tastes and I loved her way of describing her reading life. I’ve never been brave enough to read a book at a party but may just have to try it! Such a great way to start my day! Best of luck in your public health adventure.

    • Anissa says:

      Thank you, Liz! I figured people read their phones all the time and no one seems to care, so I’d give it a try! It starts lots of great book conversations actually.

    • Lori McKee says:

      I was thinking the same thing! So much of what Anissa said sounded like things I would say – although I don’t think I’d be brave enough to read a book at a party! You’re right though – smart phone reading is very similar. For all I know, they’re reading a book!

      I did have a question about “narrative non-fiction”. I’m not sure I know what that means. I thought it was a nonfiction story – which would include memoirs and stories of things that happened in history – no? Self-help would NOT be narrative, to my way of thinking. Do I have this backward or maybe I heard it wrong?

      I’m so glad I found the place to talk about the podcasts!

      • Lori McKee says:

        As I read others’ comments, I’m remembering what resonated with me here. One thing is that I read less fiction than I did when I was younger, partly BECAUSE it’s so hard to find stuff I really like. Nonfiction is MUCH easier to predict and I would never have guessed, as a young person, how much I would enjoy it.

      • Anissa says:

        Here’s what I googled:
        Narrative nonfiction, often also referred to as creative nonfiction, is a literary term for a text that presents a true story written in a style more closely associated with fiction. The writer pays close attention to elements of plot structure, character development and themes to make the story as compelling as possible.

    • Anissa says:

      I’m kind of done with reading about slavery right now, so that’s why I haven’t picked up Invention of Wings. It makes me feel too sad.

  7. Girl in Boston says:

    I haven’t read Accidental Tourist yet, but the way she describes it reminds me of One in a Million Boy. Also thinking of Cutting for Stone – good audio but it is probably too long?

    • Anissa says:

      by Monica Wood? I just looked it up in Goodreads: looks interesting. I have a hard copy of Cutting for Stone sitting on my shelf–I know I need to read it. Audio would be too long for me–I can only take about a 10hr audiobook.

  8. Shar says:

    I found myself saying, “YES!”, twice in this episode. First, when the guest talks about books being frogs and princes, this is exactly how my reading goes. Second, Anne when you mentioned the cheap literary device of characters not saying what they mean to say and the plot moves forward, this is a million times yes. Goodness, how much more would I have enjoyed The Storied Life of AJ Fikry and Everything I Never Told You?! And I think I struggled with it so much in those two particular books because it seemed like every character had that flaw, not just one. Thanks for another great episode!!

    • Anissa says:

      If I really like the book and am invested in the characters and the story, I can forgive the “cheap literary devices.” I really liked Everything I Never Told You. I felt like I could understand or buy why everyone was being so withholding. AJ Fikry I really enjoyed, but it broke my only one death per book rule. I forgave it because I thought it was cute and sweet.

      • Shar says:

        Anissa, I can see that you could make an allowance for Everything I Never Told You. The only book that I have read in the recent past that I allowed that as a character flaw was in the Rosie Project. I attributed it as part of other characters’reactions to his Asberger’s Syndrome. The “one death per book rule”, that might make finding books to read really hard or limit your genres of interest pretty severely. Even the Bible doesn’t fit that rule, haha. So can you not read a book like Everyone Brave is Forgiven and enjoy it? Or can you read that one with the backdrop of war knowing that multiple deaths are inevitable, and therefore, an acceptable read because you know it will happen before you even start reading?

        • Anissa says:

          I should clarify: more than one untimely or unexpected (or unnecessary?) deaths I find to be potentially a cheap literary device. Sometimes I buy it, but I always notice it. AJ Fikrey I thought the 2nd was unnecessary. The Art of Racing in the Rain had more than one, but IT WAS SO GOOD, and I could buy the it. In a Spool of Blue Thread (Anne Tyler) I remember more than one, and I wish the second one wouldn’t have happened. Under a Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass had more than one and I thought the second one was superfluous. Etc., etc. Just depends.

          • Anissa says:

            Sorry, I can’t edit my last post. War books I have no problem with, because I expect deaths, it’s part of the story. It’s when it feels thrown in to elicit feels or without a clear reason I don’t like.

  9. Wendy says:

    Hi – I loved this podcast! Since Anissa and I have very similar taste in books (my whole family has read all the Anne Tyler books – love her!), I thought I would recommend or see if she has read the following that are some of my top favorites:
    1. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
    2. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
    3. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
    4. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
    5. Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish
    6. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (nonfiction)
    7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (nonfiction)

    • Anissa says:

      Ok, here’s my comments on your list:
      1. Here Comes the Sun–looked it up on Goodreads right now. Sounds interesting and deep
      2. The Round House-is on my TBR; I’m sure I’m going to like it
      3. A Tale for the Time Being–I really liked it. 4* on goodreads
      4. Olive Kitteredge–on my TBR; I read The Burgess Boys by her which was great!
      5. Preparation for the Next Life–just read about it on goodreads; sounds interesting
      6. The End of Your Life Book Club–loved it! combines my love of books about books and books about people fighting serious illness/challenges, and books about families; One True Thing by Anna Quindlen is also in this vein
      7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks–this was very good too!
      I added the ones I hadn’t heard of yet, thanks!

  10. Wendy says:

    Thanks for the reply, Anissa. I love goodreads! I just ordered SuperBetter per your recommendation! After you read Olive Kitteridge – be sure to watch the movie – it’s incredible! I read her book, The Burgess Boys, also and, while I really liked it, I thought Olive Kitteridge was better and deserving of the Pulitzer. Happy Reading! PS if you want to connect on goodreads, I’m under Wendy Lessler-Derechin

      • Anissa says:

        Yes, I’ve read when Breath Becomes Air. It was a great depiction of dealing with one’s mortality with grace, but I can’t say it was one of my favorites. I think I was most moved by his relationship with his daughter and by the part that his wife wrote. I just added you as a friend on goodreads. Fun!

  11. Erin in CA says:

    Anne, I’m one of those who hates the spoiler of having all the books you talk about in the podcast listed in the blog post. As I was listening to the podcast today (while walking the dog!), I wondered — what if you listed in the books in alphabetical order in blog post? That way it would be more difficult to slot them into the “books they loved, books they hate, what you recommend” categories. Loved this episode, thanks!

  12. Kate says:

    Audiobooks are the answer to reading AND getting your chores done!!! Dishes, laundry, vacuuming, gardening…I listen to books while doing all of these and it’s wonderful 🙂

    This episode added some totally new to me books to my TBR list! Thanks, ladies!

    • Anissa says:

      I love audiobooks too! Any particular ones that you would recommend? I just finished The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I would highly recommend on audio. She narrates is herself and she’s so funny! And lots of food for thought. Be Frank With Me (mentioned on the podcast) is good on audio too. I like the narrator.

      • Kate says:

        I love mysteries, but it sounds like those aren’t really your favorites…
        Here are some other great audiobooks (I like all kinds of books so maybe some of these will be of interest to you!):
        Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
        any by Brene Brown
        Bossypants by Tina Fey
        The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
        Walkable City by Jeff Speck
        Uprooted by Naomi Novik

        It’s hard to narrow it down!

      • Katie says:

        Rules of Civility is great on audio, also the Fredrick Backman books – A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. I am listening to The Year of Yes now and am loving it – she is so honest and funny! I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast. I especially related to your description of your reading life. At the end of a busy day I am content to do the basics in the house to get us through the next day and then sit down with my books. Into Thin Air has long been a favorite of mine – and I never would have picked it up on my own. We read it in book club several years ago and it has stayed with me. Happy reading!

        • Anissa says:

          Thanks for the suggestions. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who negotiates all of her “to do’s” vs. taking more time to read!

      • Anne says:

        Jumping in to say I just started another Joshilyn Jackson book on audio. My new listen is Gods in Alabama, but I’ve listened to some of her more recent work previously and I think it’s even better on audio.

  13. Paige Evers says:

    Hi Anissa! I enjoyed your episode so much. I felt like you are my reading doppelgänger! How you describe certain kinds of fiction as “catnip” is spot-on! I feel like that about deep, meaningful stories, too. Have you read All the Light We Cannot See or Let The Great World Spin? Those are two of my favorites in the style of novel you like to read. I also second Americanah as an amazing book. The One in a Million Boy is another one of my very recent favorites. It has an ending that will not disappoint you. I was so delighted to hear you mention Anne Tyler. I just finished an oldie but goodie of hers, The Ladder of Years. I used to work in Baltimore in the neighborhoods where most of her stories are set, so I can picture the atmosphere so clearly. Happy reading and thanks for your great reflections on your literary likes and dislikes!

    • Anissa says:

      Oooo, I’m so jealous you’ve been to Anne Tyler’s neighborhoods! I loved Ladder of Years. I’ve read it at least a couple of times. I should read it again now that I’m a mom myself. I’ll put the other ones on my list. I haven’t read any of them!

  14. Laura Schwartz says:

    Loved the episode! “Into Thin Air” propelled me into a world of books about Everest, including the different points of view of this same tragedy.

    Like you, I seem to be drawn by accounts of tragedy and success in harsh conditions, before finding these mountaineering (Into the Void is another amazing book) books I remember reading quite a few sailing books, like sailing around the world by oneself and such (Amyr Klink’s “Between Two Poles” is a great example).

    As for finding compelling fiction, ever read Noah Gordon’s “The Physician”? Amazing!

  15. Laura says:

    One more suggestion for you – The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob. It’s about an Indian-American family and a daughter grappling with life between two worlds while also trying to figure out what’s wrong with her father who’s conversing with his dead family members. It goes back and forth in time and between India and the US in a way that doesn’t feel gimicky at all (at least it didn’t to me). This was one of those books I could not put down and I definitely put it in the smart and funny category, though it also has some emotional heft.

    • Anissa says:

      The Sleepwalker’s Guide sounds just right. Adding to TBR. The Physician sounds interesting (long!). Couldn’t find Into The Void on goodreads (weird), but added Between Two Poles. Thanks!

      • Lori McKee says:

        TOUCHING the Void was also a great independent FILM. I saw the film, never read the book. (Note the correct title, which I found on Good Reads). I kept forgetting the actors in the film were not the real people. I think they switched back and forth between interviewing and reenactments? It’s been over 10 years since I saw it.

        I’m another who loves reading about people in extreme situations, in most of which I can be careful to never find myself (Hiking Everest, etc…) – I get an almost perverse thrill out of reading about them from my comfy couch, all the while admiring the heck out of people who DO seek out that kind of adventure.

        • Laura Schwartz says:

          You’re absolutely right, I didn’t double check the name, but it is “Touching the Void” and the movie was indeed great but the book (as usual) delves much deeper into his odyssey and it’s incredible. And I also forgot to say the author is Joe Simpson.

      • Laura Schwartz says:

        “The Physician” is indeed long but although it’s been many years since I read it I remember not being able to put it down, and like you, I tend to make time to read wherever, which means on books I get hooked on I do my dishes while reading a book propped on the sink, I do groceries with a book propped on the shopping cart, I fold laundry while reading, etc.

        And my mistake on “Touching the void”, which has been corrected below.

  16. Priyal Jain says:

    Hey, umm, Okay so I may sound a little lame or immature, which I think I am, *winks* anyways, I just want to say I love these podcasts. They are so amazingg!!!! The idea of literary matchmaking is superb! I am a total bibliophile but I feel like such a newbie after hearing your talks. The way you talk about books, it is so tempting. Like really, you have given me a HUGEEEEE TBR listtt!!! I am so looking forward to read all these amazingg books. Currently I am having the “teenage obsession with YA books” phase but I am soo looking forward to explore the worlds of your amazing recommendations.
    Thank you! (Please don’t mind the informal way of writing. I Loveee writing like this.)
    PS. I Love You, Modern Mrs. Darcy.!!!

  17. Emily says:

    Just listened to this episode (I’ve been behind on my podcast listening) and loved it. I thought of Martha Southgate as a possible author for Anissa to explore. I have read both “A Taste of Salt” and “Third Girl from the Left” enjoyed both immensely. It has been years since I read them, but still think about the characters frequently.

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