What Should I Read Next Ep 39: Judging a book by its first sentence

Guest and journalist Melody Warnick has been tracking what she reads in an excel spreadsheet since 2004. If you find that intimidating, don’t worry—Melody’s much less analytical when choosing what to read next. In fact, her method of sorting through library books is downright whimsical. 

In today’s episode, Melody and I are chatting about how reading defines her identity, the writing project that changed her perspective on what home means, the convenience of a great audiobook, and so much more. Let’s get to it! 

What Should I Read Next #39: Judging a book by its first sentence


You can check out Melody Warnick’s new book on her website, and follow her journalism on Psychology Today. See what she’s up to on social media via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Become a supporter on Patreon for exclusive livestreams, bonus episodes, printables, and booklists!

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here. If you’d like to support your local indie, check out Indiebound.com.

This is Where You Belong: The Art & Science of Loving the Place You Live, by Melody Warnick
Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey
Still Alice, by Lisa Genova
The Golem & The Jinni, by Helene Wecker
The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, by William Kamkwamba
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure The world, by Tracy Kidder
The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert
The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, by Alan Bradley
A Night To Remember, by Walter Lord
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia
The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama
I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh
Miller’s Valley, Anna Quindlen
The Excellent Lombards, by Jane Hamilton
The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay
All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

What do YOU think Melody should read next?


Leave A Comment
  1. Veronica says:

    Since Melody enjoys magical realism I would recommend both The Snow Child and To the Bright Edge of the World, both by Eowyn Ivey. Both are so good! I really liked The Golem and the Jinni, too.

  2. Holly Ferrero says:

    I didn’t finish The Goldfinch. I didn’t like it at all, but it could have just been my mood at the time I was trying to read it. I might pick it back up again someday.

    I LOVE Flavia de Luce 🙂

    • Laura says:

      I Love Flavia too!! That series would be on my favorites. I’m reading the guest’s book right now, so it was fun to hear her interviewed. But Flavia is a keeper! Curious if she’s read The Bartimaus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud? The narrator on audio (Simon Jones) is awesome. It might be too similar to her pick because it also involves golems and djinni, but is based in London and has an excellent narrative arch.

        • Laura says:

          Your book is so great! I picked it up at the library planning to skim it for ideas (as I often do with nonfiction), but have been reading straight through because it’s so well done. I’ve been working on buying local in particular.

  3. Gina Woolbright says:

    I’m looking forward to the new Flavia book! And I appreciate a good spreadsheet – I’ve been tracking my reading in Excel since 2005!

  4. Tammy says:

    Loved this episode! What else I love is Melody’s book! I have already been to her website…downloaded the sample and am now deciding whether I want a hard copy or Kindle so I can start reading it all tonight! Such a long list of books discussed makes it a happy day.

    For magical realism have you read The Night Circus? LOVE that book too…I have heard it is great on audio as well.

    • Melody says:

      YES! The Night Circus is SO good. I gave it to my 14-year-old to read not long ago and now she’s always like, “I need something that’s like the Night Circus.” So if anyone has any YA/clean adult recommendations in that vein, I’d love it.

  5. Kari Ann says:

    I hated The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie for the same reason as Melody. But I thought I’d try the next in the series to see if it would improve. Nope- still not a fan. Thank goodness there are so many other options to read.

  6. Linda says:

    This is the first episode I’ve listened to and I found it very enjoyable. I completely agree with Melody about Elizabeth is Missing. The book really gave me more insight into what it must be like to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

    I confess, however, to be somewhat disappointed. I kept waiting to hear about books with great first sentences and to be inspired to read those. I love an intriguing first line.

  7. Kandi West says:

    I was thrilled to hear you recommend The Power of One to Melody! It is definitely on my list of favorite books ever, yet I rarely find someone else who has read it. I also love the sequel Tandia.

  8. Lisa says:

    Based on Melody’s interest in communities and how we live, I suggest Ryan Gravel’s Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities. This book is about more than just the Atlanta Beltline Project. Ryan travels throughout the world to consult with other cities on how to make communities more livable. I was so excited to learn of Melody’s book and it will be in my hands on Thursday!

  9. Sara K says:

    Melody, I am your neighbor to the northeast. I live outside Roanoke! It was fun to see someone from this area on the podcast this week!

    I have no specific recommendation for you, but your discussion with Anne sure did add to my TBR. And I may have to agree with you about Flavia. I’m halfway through the book and not loving it. It’s for a reading challenge, though, so I need to power through!

  10. Angela says:

    Can’t believe that two of my loves just collided – your podcast & the book I’m reading “This is Where You Belong” by Melody Warnick (which I was literally just reading). As soon as I saw “Blacksburg” in your post, I had to run to the other room to see if your Melody and the book’s Melody were the same person. Yes! Can’t wait to listen to this episode!

  11. Marvin says:

    What an interesting and fantastic discussion! Melody seems like a kind and genuine person that would help people she meets love where they live. ;). Love to Q and the girls.

  12. Cami says:

    So glad to see that I’m not the only person who doesn’t love the Flavia de Luce books; completely contrived and unrealistic. This was a great discussion! I will definitely be reading Melody’s book. I also have an obsession with urban planning, which is why I work in that discipline 😉

  13. I would love to recommend to Melody THE HOUSE AT THE END OF HOPE STREET by Menna Von Prag. It has magical realism, set in England, and features appearances by favorite authors from the past. It really is delightful!

  14. Since Melody enjoys mysteries by British authors, I recommend the Shetland series by Ann Cleeve. Talk about a sense of place! The Shetland Islands (north of Scotland) are like an additional character in the novels. And then, after you read the series, watch the TV adaptation. The scenery is breathtaking. Because of these books, travel to Shetland is on my bucket list.

  15. Laura Schwartz says:

    Great episode!
    I keep wanting to start my own book catalogue but I keep thinking of all the books already behind me that I’d want to include and wonder if I’m up to that task!

    Anne, I started Calamity Physics and couldn’t get into it, I’m not sure why as it sounded so interesting. I think it’s one of those not the right book, right now, but I’ll be trying again soon, I am sure!

    I’m adding Miller’s Valley to my TBR. I have Still Life already in it and wonder which I should try first if I’ve never read her.

    • Melody says:

      Here’s my advice about making a book list. Just start where you are, right now, with September 2016. And then make another list called “Before Septemer 2016” and add books as you remember them. No pressure. Easy-peasy.

  16. Hilary says:

    Hi Anne
    I’m not sure if you included this in other comments (I admit that I did not read through all of them) but you excluded the book Walkable City in your list of books discussed during this podcast.
    I *loved* this podcast. Melody sounded like my reading clone the way she approaches books . My friends give me a hard time for rating so many books so high but it isn’t that I am *that* indiscriminate with my ranking, it’s just that I choose not to finish books that don’t really capture me.

  17. Louise Fenton says:

    Hi Anne,
    Just wanted to say my reaction to ‘I Let You Go’ by Clare Mackintosh was exactly the same as yours. I got to the end of the first part and immediately had to go back and re-read the start. Such a cleverly written book. Love your podcast and look forward to each new episode.

  18. Kirstin Rich says:

    I had to laugh when I heard the two of you discuss the competitive side of reading – – – reading longer books means you don’t read “as many” books. I have thought this way myself, and wonder that I can “balance” out long books I’ve read, with adding a childrens book! For example, I just put the new book, “Good bye Summer, Hello autumn” by author/illustrator Kenard Pak on hold at the library because I was enamored with the review I read recently. And, I am seriously considering adding it to my “books raed” list for 2016. why not?! – This episode also made me consider keeping a log of books started and intentionally not finished. That was a new idea to me! – –
    Love your podcast. Hearing you and a lucky guest discuss books makes my heart happy!

  19. Diane says:

    Hi Anne!
    Just finished listening to this episode and felt the need to write to say thank you. My daughter found your podcast and suggested it to me and now…..I read more! I think I always wanted to, but just didn’t know what to read. Now I am highly susceptible to books I hear about on the podcast – especially if I can get them by digital download from my library!

    I never thought much about what it is that makes me like a book. One day my mother-in-law handed me a book and said, “Here, Diane. You like books where not too much happens”. At first I laughed, but then I realized that it was true! I love a good plot-driven novel, but I am also very inclined to fall in love with characters and that is enough to make me love a book.

    Well, thank you so much for doing what you do! I will keep listening!

  20. Raelene says:

    I’m the one, Anne! I’m the one who HATES The Goldfinch. And I’ve just been waiting for someone on the podcast to talk about it. I even yelled out loud when I heard that segment: “I do! I hate it! I’m the one!” (It only sounds embarrassing now that I’ve written it down – yeesh). I’ve been reading your blog for years and often used the “three books you love, one you hate” as a great conversation starter (it’s played a role in many a date-night), but I never had a satisfactory answer for the one I hated. Oh, there were lots of books I didn’t love and a few that were unimpressive, but hate’s a pretty strong label. And then I read The Goldfinch, and at half-way through, I knew it was THE ONE. But we were reading it for book club, so I powered through and its status was solidified. And it won the Pulitzer Prize! For heaven’s sake, All The Light We Cannot See won the Pulitzer and it’s at the top of the books I love list. I still feel betrayed about that dichotomy. So – it’s a thing. Someone does hate The Goldfinch.

    Sorry, Melody. I was right in line with so many of the other books you discussed – we could totally be book nerd friends! And since you’ve already bought it, I say give it a valiant try. But if you hadn’t, I’d have staged an intervention. Ha!

  21. Sheryl Esau says:

    Oh good grief I just wrote my comment on the wrong episode, but I hated The Sweetness of the Bottom of the Pie, too! And The Goldfinch was a close 2nd in my hated list. In fact, they are the only 2 I’ve hated in the last couple years. Again, I have more wonderful books to add to my reading list. Thank you again!

  22. Meg Longley says:

    Hi Anne! Love the podcast.
    One suggestion for Melody in the British mystery category–anything by Josephine Tey. I especially love “Brat Farrar.”

  23. Nicole says:

    Anne, this might be cheating, but what book were you thinking of when you said that you were going to recommend a fantasy pick, but then you went with the other third pick?! 🙂

  24. Cori says:

    First, I must tell you that this is the first podcast I have ever listened to! Anne – I love your blog and needed something to listen to while doing some house cleaning. I am totally hooked!!! This was a great one to start on, but I also expected to hear more about books with first great lines. I also wanted to suggest The Bicycle Diaries to both you and Melody as a book about planning and place. It is written about David Byrne from the Talking Heads and it is his account of bicycling in different cities around the world.

  25. Britany says:

    I keep an excel sheet of everything I’ve read with ratings, and I use my GR shelves to keep track of what I want to read and when.

  26. Catie says:

    Loved this episode! I wanted to mention that I’m one of the few(?) who HATED The Goldfinch. I loved the first almost-half of it; after that it just got worse and WORSE and WORSE!!! Ugh. 32 hours of my life I’m never going to get back. *sigh*

    None of the characters were likeable (except the antique store owner, I guess.) and the ENDING?! Ugh.

    This is one of my favorite, favorite podcasts. You can never stop. ;o)

    • Linda says:

      I just listened to this episode and almost shouted, “Me! Me! I’m the one who HATED “The Goldfinch”!” It just went ON AND ON with NOTHING happening. I’m so glad to see there are others in the comments who also hated it.

  27. Donna D'Angelo Struck says:

    Hi Anne and Melody,
    I so enjoyed this podcast and nearly gasped when you mention the “spreadsheet tracking since 2004” as I knew immediately I was in the presence of a kindred spirit. My spreadsheet tracking began in earnest in 2003 when I left work in the financial industry and took a temporary position at my local library (total joy). I was reading so voraciously that it game me such a sense of accomplishment I needed to record it! I now am a voracious goodreads.com tracker (both read and to-be-read) but will admit to having my spreadsheet still alive in the background. 🙂
    Thank you Anne for this wonderful podcast that I wholeheartedly enjoy and also for your guests who I learn from every time. Happy Reading All!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.