WSIRN Ep 45: Heartwarming books for dire situations

WSIRN Ep 45: Heartwarming books for dire situations

Your Tuesday fix is here – a brand new episode of What Should I Read Next!

Today’s guest is Ana Salazar. Ana is a Colombian who’s now living in Peru, and she’s been, as she says, “absolutely obsessed” with reading for her whole life, so much so that her parents had to physically drag her away from bookstores when she was growing up. We talk about the joys and challenges of reading across borders, unpack her love for the genre she’s been loving recently, and explore why her Kindle is an absolutely magical device.

What Should I Read Next #45: Heartwarming books for dire situations


You can connect with Ana on her blog, Twitter, and Instagram.

Books discussed in this episode: 

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Harry potter series, by J.K. Rowling
Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein
The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Díaz
The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey
Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling &
Rich & Pretty, by Rumaan Alam
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin
Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat
Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
1984, by George Orwell
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Also mentioned: 

•Junot Díaz’ critique of liberal arts programs:
MFA vs. POC (via The New Yorker)
Junot Díaz’s Syllabi & Reading List for His MIT Writing Class (via Open Culture)

more posts you might enjoy

55 comments | Comment


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  1. Noel Ferre says:

    Loved this podcast as I can totally relate to Ana. Although I was born in Chile, by the time I was a year old I was living in the US, so English was sort of my first language. I was back in Chile by 7th grade and had to learn Spanish and of course, my classes were in Spanish. I found I could read Spanish literature better if I read aloud; we read Cervantes and all the hispanic classics. I pined for English books and read what was in my parent’s library – and I’m dating myself here – Aku-Aku, The Rise and Fall of the 3rd Reich, Jacqueline Susann (hiding with a flashlight in the closet) and many others. When I ran out, I bought boxes of English books at auctions and read more age appropriate books. When I came back to the States at age 23, I had not been exposed to the English classics and found them very difficult. For Jane Austin, I had to watch the movies first to get the gist of the novels. For Shakespeare, I had to read them aloud (with a fake British accent).
    I would suggest getting the kindle and the audio versions of some of these books. The intonation of a particular sentence will help with comprehension and getting through the nuances of sarcasm that might not be immediately apparent when eye reading.

      • Wyndi says:

        If you’re interested in a classic with a GREAT audiobook, David Copperfield read by Richard Armitage is FANTASTIC. It’s definitely a commitment because it’s 36 hours long, but THAT VOICE!!! It’s such a beautiful, rich, British accent, and he adds depth to the characters with the voices he creates for them. Other than the strange names of people, I don’t think the vocabulary is as complex as some other writers. Since it was originally published over more than a year in a newspaper, there is also some repetition, which means if it’s important, he’ll say it more than once 😉 LOVED listening to your episode. Good Luck!!!

  2. Alex says:

    Ummm… with much love and appreciation: It´s Colombia, not Columbia. (This is kind of a big deal – if you google images for “It´s Colombia, not Columbia” you´ll see). 🙂

  3. Veronica says:

    I loved this episode. I lived in Latin America many years ago and traveled to Colombia. I admire reading the books in the language they were written. When I lived in Panama I tried to read One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish at the recommendation of a coworker. (I did end up reading in English). A Tree Grows in Brooklyn might be a very accessible classic.

  4. Lori says:

    Anne, In regards to Ana’s comment that your Kindle Deals are mostly available in Peru; I wanted to let you know that they often translate to the Kobo e-book shop in Canada, too. Not always, but most of the time, I can get the same deals in Canada, on my non Kindle e-reader. Thought you might be interested, and maybe this will be helpful for other readers as well.

  5. Sara Kilpatrick says:

    This was a fun episode! Ana, your passion for reading shone through every word as you discussed your favorite books 🙂

    I’m not all that good at book recommendations (like Anne is), but one book (series, actually) did pop into my head while I was listening: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. For classics, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is my favorite.

  6. Ginger says:

    For the last couple months, EVERY episode lately, I’ve been like “That’s the best episode yet.” And then they just get better and better.

  7. Dawn says:

    This was my favorite episode yet because Ana was a complete delight!! I felt like I knew her…we have so much in common. I am obsessed with reading as well!! What a joy this was to listen to!! Great work Anne!!!

  8. Sarah says:

    Really loved this episode! So fun to get some new recommendations and talk about some books that are a little out of mainstream reading right now. Thanks Ana!

  9. Julie says:

    I loved this episode. Ana, I can’t wait to read some of the books you talked about! I have been wanting to read more classics as well and I wanted to share a recent classic I “read” via audio books. It is actually Anna Karenina in English read by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I got it on sale at Audible. It is not currently on sale but I would strongly recommend this version and listening to classics as a way to “read” them for non-native speakers. It did take me a long time to get through it (35 hours) and I was worried that it might be hard to follow but it actually wasn’t. I listened to it in the car for my commute and while I cooked, sewed etc. While I might someday go back and read the written version (my daughter loves Russian novels and tells me that there is a particular translation that is very good) I am so glad I took the plunge and listened to this. I generally always have at least one audio book going along with the books I read on my kindle and this was a good one! Happy reading!

    • Ana Salazar says:

      Julie thanks! that is a great recommendation, I will definitely try it, I think audiobooks might actually be a better way for me to enjoy the classics since a good narrator should be able to convey subtle nuances through their voice much better… and given that I have a girl-crush on Maggie Gyllenhaal, your suggestion is spot on!

    • Deborah says:

      Yes! I just came here to recommend that audio version of Anna Karenina. I had a teacher (science!) who raved about it when I was in eighth grade and it took me 37 years, and this audiobook, to get over the intimidation factor! It worked; I loved it.

  10. Vegyogini says:

    What a treat to listen to Ana on today’s episode!

    Re: the podcast on the whole, I have to say I much preferred when you listed the book titles in order of mention. Normally it wouldn’t be an issue that you’ve started listing them alphabetically, but because I listen at my desk, I don’t always hear every word and if I miss a title, I now how to figure out how far back to rewind in order to hear it. It used to be that if I missed a title, I could simply look at the list and see what it is based on where I knew we were in the episode. Please consider reverting to how it used to be!

  11. Susan says:

    I was wondering if Ana has read Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon? A little magic, a lot of books, and originally in Spanish.

    • Ana Salazar says:

      Susan, I actually haven´t! the book was everywhere in Latin America a couple of years ago and for some reason I never got around to reading it, but your description has made me curious, so I will most definitely add it to my TBR list, thanks for the suggestion!

  12. Tuija says:

    Thanks for this episode!
    Ana, I completely relate to the trouble of reading the classics in translation, especially when the translation is not in my mother tongue. I’ve been learning English for nearly forty years now, I even studied it at the university and all that, but I’d really hesitate to try for example a Russian classic in an English translation. However, I’ve read plenty of those classics translated into my mother tongue. (There are ways to research whether a translation is good – sometimes I get recommendations for other readers, sometimes I go into a public library and take a look at the text myself or compare versions if possible.) Knowing that I can’t learn all the languages of the world means I need to trust translators if I want to read more widely than just books written in the languages I know well. And somehow, when it’s in my mother tongue, I can more easily ignore the fact that it’s translated and enter into the heart of the story.

    Another thing: I love Jane Austen. My own experience of reading Austen has been that I’ve always loved the books, and I have not had so much trouble with the language (even way back when I was a lot younger and knew a lot less). Even so, every time I read an Austen novel again, I discover something that I haven’t noticed before, a subtle comment making fun of something, etc. I guess I’m trying to say that you don’t need to ‘get’ everything all at once in order to enjoy the book. From the way you speak English in the podcast and from the wide variety of books you already read in English, I’d guess you are well capable of enjoying Austen and other English classics, too, so I want to encourage you to give them a try 🙂

    • Ana Salazar says:

      Thank so much for your encouraging words! I’ve actually just received a call from a dear friend along the same lines, she was very surprised that I was afraid of Austen and actually recommended a good translation, however given all the nice words I’ve received here, I feel ready to tackle it in english straight away… wish me luck!

  13. Marné says:

    I really enjoyed this episode, and Ana’s passion for reading! Like most of us here, I, too, always had my head in a book growing up. I also love my Kindle! I love always having so many books with me, and being able to get the next book in a series right when I finish the previous book, even if it’s 1:00 am 🙂

    I recently “read” Sense and Sensibility on audio, and really enjoyed it. It was easier to hear the nuances, and I got a lot more out of it than when I read the paper book. I would recommend trying an audio version of a classic, and following along on your Kindle. That way you can also easily look up words that you don’t know (I love that feature! Even as a native English speaker, classics sometimes have older words that I don’t know).

    • Ana says:

      Marnè I love the idea of listening while following along on the kindle! I will definitely try that and let you know how it goes, thanks so much for the suggestion

  14. Melanie says:

    Wow, finally someone else who didn’t like The Alchemist! Like Ana, I also felt that what the author was saying was pretty obvious. It seems like everyone else finds this book to be super profound, but it just didn’t strike me as such.

    Ana if you like magical realism I’d suggest The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. The magical realism element is subtle, but the writing is gorgeous.

    • Ana says:

      Thank you so much for your recommendation Melanie, I’ve just downloaded it, looks right up my alley. You know, I was actually quite afraid of criticising the Alchemist, I thought there were too many superfans out there :S.

  15. Kate says:

    Great episode! As Ana was describing her favorites, especially The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, I was reminded of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which I read a few years back and really enjoyed. It has that same mix of magical realism and family saga set against historical national tumult, and the sly writing style felt a bit like Dickens to me. I also recently finished The Sparrow, a WSIRN pick that fuses near future fantasy with a very human story. I’m still sorting out my feelings, but it’s a beautifully written story with wonderfully realized characters and highly recommended!

    • Ana says:

      Kate, I’ve actually read and enjoyed Rushdie in the past, but I’ve never read Midnight Children, thanks so much for the recommendation!. I am also very intrigued by the sparrow since it was mentioned a couple of weeks ago, now that you’ve also recommended it, I must give it a try

  16. Lesa says:

    I absolutely LOVED this episode Anne – I think it is my favourite episode so far! I could relate so much to how passionate Ana is about reading – she is such a delight to listen to. I only wish that Ana lived in my hometown so I could be in a book club with her!

  17. tricia culp says:

    I loved this episode! Ana, you just felt like a book-kindred-spirit! I added a couple of your recommendations to my TBR, and that’s a big deal for me because I’m very selective 🙂 I was wondering if you might enjoy A Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Francis Hogston Burnett. They are 2 of my all-time favorites – classics that are sometimes categorized as middle-grade books, but are so deep and wonderful. But at the same time the classic English is a little simpler. You are going to have a TBR list for years after this!! Sending warm wishes!

  18. Julie says:

    This was such a wonderful episode! And Ana, I totally agree with your love for kindle. I am from the states but have lived in other countries for the last 13 years. I do prefer a book in my hand but I love the ease of my kindle, especially because I don’t have access to libraries with English books. And thanks to emails with kindle sales, I also probably have 50 or 60 unread books on my kindle, even though I’m constantly reading. I kind of view it like my own little library. 🙂 Have you tried It’s from the UK and they ship free to many countries, so when I really want to get the actual book, I order from them. Happy reading!

  19. Tam says:

    I read _Who Fears Death_ recently! Very interesting.

    I think anyone who enjoyed it would also enjoy Octavia Butler. She has more than one series with similar themes. _Wild Seed_ stands out because it begins in Africa and ranges over the ocean and into colonial America over many years.

  20. jennifer pemberton says:

    I loved Ana! She has such a beautiful accent and absolutely delightful personality! Anne, I love you too. Thank so much for your wonderful podcasts! I enjoy them so very much and look forward to your recommendations.

  21. Laura Schwartz says:

    Ana, I think yours was possibly my favorite episode so far! I’m a Brazilian living in the US for the past 6 years, love reading fantasy, and read all across the board! I related so much with your episode! I can’t wait to read some of the books discussed in this episode!

  22. Cheralaine Cole-Johnson says:

    I’m just catching up on the podcasts and listened today. I loved listening to Ana and hearing about your reading. If you love fantasy as much as I do, you should try The Lumatere Chronicles by Australian author Melina Marchetta. In order:
    Finnikin of the Rock
    Froi of the Exiles
    Quintana of Charyn
    They are beautiful tales with very subtle magic. With her books it is all about the relationships and she writes them better than most.

  23. Barbara says:

    Ana, I enjoyed your podcast and I felt like I was listening to a friend talking. I also grew up in a Spanish speaking country (Spain) and always try to read books in their original language. When reading something in other non-Spanish, non-English books I always have to decide which version would be better. Oh, and my favorite book growing up was Never Ending Story…hearing you say the same made me laugh.
    Have you read the Anne of Green Gables books? Give them a try!

  24. Deborah says:


    I’m late to the party, having recently discovered WSIRN I am bingeing on them in order. Love. I have found my reader tribe!

    I think this is my favorite episode yet, because Ana and I have so much in common as readers. I too really enjoyed The Interestings; may I also recommend The Ten Year Nap, also by Wolitzer? It’s about a similarly specific group (of New York City stay-home moms), so well-rendered that you don’t have to have much in common to be drawn in.

    And I too HATE (loathe!) The Alchemist. My sister was just raving about it and I was biting my tongue so hard. It reminds me of Who Moved My Cheese. Bottom line, I think the world divides into those who appreciate fables and those who don’t. And I am allergic. Ugh. I want those hours of my life back.

    Finally, Ana, I’m an avid vegan cook (and sometimes chef) so have hustled over to your blog to subscribe. I can read a bit of Spanish so hope to be able to follow!

    Sending love and appreciation to both of you. Thanks for putting good stuff out into the world!


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