WSIRN Ep 47: Needing books, with a capital “N”

Your Tuesday book fix has arrived! Settle in for a fresh episode of What Should I Read Next.

Today’s guest is Erin Swann. Erin is an attorney who lives in Greenville, South Carolina with her family. Erin’s always been a reader, but when she went through a major transition a few years back she rediscovered the value of bibliotherapy. In this episode we dive into reading as healthy escape, and as therapy, and armchair travel.

What Should I Read Next #47: Needing books, with a capital "N" with Erin Swann

You can become reading buddies with Erin on Goodreads and Instagram.

Books discussed in this episode: 

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• A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L’Engle
• A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
• Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell
• The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
• Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín
• Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
• The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, by Helene Hanff
• Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
• Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld
• Emma: A Modern Retelling, by Alexander McCall Smith
• Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
• Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith
• Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, By Leonard S. Marcus
• My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story, by Luisa Weiss
• My Life in France, by Julia Child
• 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff

Also mentioned: 

Brooklyn (movie adaptation)


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  1. Rachael says:

    I loved your choices for Erin, particularly 84, Charing Cross Road. For an armchair traveler, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is a fantastic follow-up. Helene Hanff’s giddiness over experiencing her beloved London is contagious, and she writes with the same joy and enthusiasm as in 84.

    • Erin Swann says:

      Thanks for the recommendation, Rachael! The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is on my TBR list. But now that I know that it is about Helen Hanff finally visiting London, I need to move it up the list. 😉

    • Erin Swann says:

      I love hearing that Madeline L’Engle is one of your favorites, Sarah! I can’t wait to read Anne’s recommendation. I suspect it will be the first of many L’Engle books for me. I have waited too long to give her a try.

      • Sarah M says:

        Erin, I am in the middle of her Crosswicks Journals (#3 out of 4) and I can barely stand reading them (wait for it…) because I don’t want them to ever end! I read them sparingly because I know when they’re done, I won’t ever get to read it again for the first time. Does that sound weird? Well. That’s what a huge fan of hers I am. I homeschool and I’m practically giddy that in a few years I can share her Time Quintet with my kids.
        If you have any ‘art’ inklings, definitely check out her book Walking on Water,it’s one of my favorites.

        • Sarah M says:

          Also, I should mention that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my highest recs for friends and family. I *loved* that book. I also now feel good about my choice to have only read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. 🙂

        • Laura says:

          I hear you! I’ve read the first and 4th maybe? (Summer of the great-grandmother) and am pacing myself on the other 2. Walking on Water is one of my favorites too.

        • Erin Swann says:

          I totally get that, Sarah! And slowing down to savor an author’s work seems like the highest praise. Thanks for the endorsement!

  2. Deb Watley says:

    I loved this episode! Many of the books you and Erin talked about sound wonderful to me, and a couple have been on my TBR list for a while. In fact, I almost ordered 84, Charing Cross Road yesterday, but had to pare down my cart a bit. Next time! But, now I know there is a sequel, too!

    • Erin Swann says:

      Isn’t it great to have a kindred book spirit, Deb? I am happy to share that I did read 84, Charing Cross Road based on Anne’s recommendation, and it was lovely. I hope it finds its way into your hands soon and that you enjoy it also!

  3. Lauren says:

    I loved this episode. I felt like my taste is very similar to Erin’s. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is my favorite book, or at least in my top 5. I didn’t realize there was a sequel to it, and now I will definitely have to check that one out. I’ve also been meaning to read 84 Charing Cross Road, too! Thanks for the suggestions!

    • Erin Swann says:

      It’s fun to know that another reader shares my taste in books, Lauren! My understanding about Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith is that it is not a “sequel” about Francie Nolan. Rather, it is a “sequel” to the extent that it is based on Betty Smith’s life after she got married and left Brooklyn for the Midwest. I am looking forward to reading it one day!

    • Lauren says:

      Erin, speaking the of Jane Austen Project. Have you ever read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society? That’s definitely in my top 5.

  4. Jacelyn says:

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is also one of my all-time favorite books, and I’ve had 84, Charring Cross Road on by TBR for a while. Since you mentioned it is so short, maybe I should move it up the list.

    So, I really enjoyed Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I liked it even better than Eleanor & Park. However, I cheated and did not read the fan-fiction parts. I could not get into that. I know that made up a large portion of Fangirl, but I probably would have quit the book, too, if I read the fan-fiction parts.

    Thanks, again, for another fun episode!

  5. Colette says:

    Joy in the Morning is one of my all-time favorites, and one of the very few books I have read more than once. I’m so glad it was mentioned. I have to add, though, that it is not a sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

  6. Mary says:

    Your discussion of My Berlin Kitchen reminded me of “Paris Letters” by Janice MacLeod. Have you heard of it? It is a memoir, filled with lovely illustrations, of a young woman who quits her job and travels to Paris. From her blog: “Successful, but on the verge of burnout, Janice MacLeod saved enough money to buy herself two years of freedom in Europe. Days into her stop in Paris, she met Christophe, and her fate was sealed. Forced to find a way to fund her expat future, Janice created a painted letter subscription service, sending out thousands of letters to people who are hungry to receive something beautiful.”

    • Erin Swann says:

      Oops! My earlier effort to say “thanks” posted below instead of as a reply to you, Mary. Thank you for this recommendation! Paris Letters sounds like the kind of travel memoir that I enjoy. I have officially added it to my Goodreads list.

      • Mary says:

        Anne and Erin, I think this is one of my favorite WSIRNs! Delightful!
        Erin, the author of Paris Letters has a blog. I loved her memoir and sketches because my daughter is a Francophile, goes there as often as possible and loves to sketch. Common interests…and I like fo discover new things to share with my daughter so I do not appear too old. Lol. The book describes and illustrates places I knew my Angie would like.

  7. Susan in TX says:

    I was driving while listening (have GOT to quit doing this as I can’t make notes!), but Erin said something along the lines of appreciating books where you want to be friends with the characters/want the story to just keep going, etc. When she said that, I thought of the Mitford Books by Jan Karon. Those books feel like real people, and always make me want to move to Mitford when I read them (very sink-down-in-a-comfy-chair-and-relax reads). Also, definitely read the book first, but after you read it, try watching the film version of 84 Charing Cross Road. Anthony Hopkins does a great job as Frank Doel and Anne Bancroft plays Helene. It’s a great film for the holiday season with the Christmas parcels that arrive during WW2 and post WW2 when things were still scarce in England. Ah, such a good book/film! (And the film actually does a good job of capturing the book.)
    Not being able to take notes, I can’t remember what else I was going to recommend, but if it comes to me, I’ll come back. 🙂 Happy reading! Oh, and yes, the whole L’Engle quartet that Anne recommended are great reads. I didn’t know that L’Engle’s husband was a long-running character on a soap opera, and for some reason I still find that oddly fascinating.

    • Erin Swann says:

      Susan, I love the Mitford series! And would you believe that I have been thinking of re-reading them this Fall? It has been many, many years since I first read them, but I completely agree that those characters become friends in the coziest way. Now that I have read 84, Charing Cross Road, I am intrigued to know it is also a movie. I will certainly check it out during the holidays. Thanks for that tip!

      • Susan in TX says:

        If you love Mitford, have you tried the Miss Read books? I describe them as British Mitford with a slight edge to them. 🙂 Miss Read is the author (it’s a pseudonym) and there are two different “series,” one is in Fairacre and the other in Thrush Green. I believe the first one is Village School and it starts the Fairacre series. (They are also older – maybe written in the 50s and ff?) For a more modern series where you feel like you get to know the characters, I also like Alexander M. Smith’s 44 Scotland Street books or his Isabel Dalhousie series. He just has a way with different character voices that I really appreciate. Of course, his Detective series with Mma Ramatswe is better known, but it would fall into this category as well, as it doesn’t take too many books for them to become more about the people and less about the “mysteries.”

        • Erin Swann says:

          Susan, you had me at “British Mitford!” I have never heard of the Miss Read books but they sound like a series that I would love to curl up with. I have read quite a few in the Alexander McCall Smith series you mention — and I’ve always enjoyed them. Your recommendation reminds me to finish up each of those series. Thanks again for these great tips!

  8. Erin Swann says:

    Thank you for the recommendation, Mary! Paris Letters sounds like the kind of travel memoir that I enjoy. I have officially added it to my Goodreads list.

  9. Danielle says:

    It seems like Erin enjoys books with likable characters. One of my favorite recent books with the most wonderful characters is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. It’s a great audiobook if you’re into that!

  10. Gretchen Stroud says:

    Enchanted April by Elisabeth von Arnim might possibly be of interest. This is a novel about four British ladies who rent a house in Italy in the spring. But really it is about the power of love and beauty to change relationships. Wonderful on audio.

  11. Erin, hands down, my favorite modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen is “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” an Emmy-award-winning webseries that is of course an adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice.” It that came out a few years ago on YouTube, in installments over the course of a year. Not a book, but it is so clever, well-acted, poignant, and feels so real because the videos are posted in world (it makes sense when you watch it), that I had to recommend it. It has spoiled me for other modern-day Austen adaptations, but totally worth it.

    • Erin Swann says:

      Thank you, Lizzie! I have heard of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries but have not made time to watch them . . . yet. This is a great reminder to do that! I should add that I ended up really NOT enjoying Eligible (retelling of Pride & Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld). This was the book I was reading when Anne & I spoke, but it quickly took turns that I found “sacrilegious” to Jane Austen’s original. Sigh. I look forward to checking out The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Thanks again!

  12. Elizabeth Brink says:

    I loved this episode! I have read two of the three books Anne chose for Erin, and I think they’re great choices. I just finished a lovely food memoir called Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard. It’s the second of two memoirs. I haven’t read her first, Lunch in Paris, but I plan to soon. The second memoir stood on its own. I also take every opportunity I can to recommend Angela Thirkell and D.E. Stevenson, two British writers from the early to mid 20th century. Delightful books! Thirkell’s first in a long series is called ‘High Rising’ and the books I’ve loved best of Stevenson’s so far have been The Young Clementina and Listening Valley.

    • Erin Swann says:

      Thanks so much for these recommendations, Elizabeth! I thought my TBR list blew up after the average WSIRN episode. But this has been wonderful!

  13. Annie says:

    I love your show and “Circle of Quiet” is such a wonderful book. But, L’Engle does not coin the phrase “tired thirties.” She is quoting Sloan Wilson’s book, “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.” (Also a good read!)

  14. Girl in Boston says:

    Oh glad that you didn’t like Eligible after all – I was trying to understand how that fit in with your other likes. I did enjoy Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler which is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series and is based on Taming of the Shrew. It was light and quick. You might also like the Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain.

    • Erin Swann says:

      Girl in Boston, I was not far into Eligible when Anne & I spoke. I did not have to read much further before I was appalled at the “modern” twists Sittenfeld used. (Ugh.) Thanks for these other recommendations!

  15. Chrissie says:

    Loved this episode – both A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Book Thief are two of my favorite novels as well (the kind that make my heart swell just to think of them), and I am the same when it comes to reading as an escape. I related a lot, and really enjoyed listening. Oh and I’ve also got 84, Charing Cross Road on my TBR; perhaps I need to move it up the list!

    Erin, because you love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I think you’d also enjoy The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. It’s got some similarities in era and tone, and it’s another coming of age story filled with strife, but heart-warming at the same time. I loved it.

  16. Susan says:

    Loved this episode! I recently read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and also fell in love with the setting, characters, everything, but didn’t realize there was a sequel. And I love a good foodie memoir. One of my all time “comfort food” books is An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. It’s more foodie than memoir, but the writing is so thoughtful and beautiful that you don’t miss a story. I also got a kick out of hearing a fellow Greenvillian on the podcast. Let me know if you need a bookish friend to hash these books out with, Erin! ?

    • Erin Swann says:

      Thanks, Susan! And hello from Greenville! I have heard other good things about An Everlasting Meal & I need to add this to my TBR. Many thanks!

  17. Judy H. says:

    So enjoyable! Loved your stories, Erin. My best friend was born and raised in Greenville, SC, so I’m quite familiar with your hometown. Madeleine L’Engle has been my “friend”, my place to escape, my comforter and entertainer since I read “A Wrinkle In Time” in 1970. I was in the 7th grade. She has been a major player in much of my reading over the years. She is a true inspiration, always full of surprises, sentimentality, whimsy and wisdom. Now, at 58 years old, I make it a priority to read “A Wrinkle In Time” every two years. It takes me back, centers me and keeps me feeling a sense of wonder in the world.

    • Erin Swann says:

      Oh, Judy! I can’t imagine higher praise for any author! I am embarrassed that it has taken me so long to make L’Engle a priority. But I am going to remedy that ASAP! Thanks for sharing this!

  18. Jana says:

    Erin, this is probably obvious, but “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg sounds as if it is just up your alley. It is a foodie memoir based in Paris, complete with recipes.

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