WSIRN Ep 80: Books that make you want to skip dinner, work, and the rest of your life

Today’s guest is Cori Jara, a case worker in Eureka CA. She’s a lifelong reader, who’s dad read her books like Lord of the Rings as a child, and who loved the written word so much she became a creative writing major. But after college books lost their luster for Cori for a while—reading felt too much like work. But several years ago, she started keeping a detailed spreadsheet about what she was choosing to read. That spreadsheet led to an epiphany: she diagnosed why her reading life had gotten dull, and what she could do about it.

In this episode we talk about the prosaic, like what it’s like to move to a town with a smaller library. We dig into the problematic, like why it can be so hard to describe a book you REALLY LOVED. And we talk about the unforgettable—like a book that makes you want to skip dinner, bedtime, and the rest of your life until you finish it.

What Should I Read Next #80: Books that make you want to skip dinner, work, and the rest of your life with Cori Jara

Connect with Cori on Instagram.

Books mentioned in this episode:

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• Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
• Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
• The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
• Whatever Happened to Interracial Love, by Kathleen Collins
• The Mothers, by Brit Bennett
• Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue
• Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
• Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
• What is Not Yours is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi
• 13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
• The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
• Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann
• We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation, by Jeff Chang
• Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
• American War, by Omar El Akkad
• The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
• The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
• The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
• Under The Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta
• Dreamland Burning, by Jennifer Latham

Also mentioned:

• @WeNeedDiverseBooks on Twitter
• Book of the Month club
• The 2017 Modern Mrs Darcy Summer Reading Guide
The Modern Mrs Darcy Shop


Leave A Comment
  1. Lucille says:

    Cori a book you’d love that was recommended here on WSIRN is The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. There is so much culture in that book. It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.

  2. Stacy in TX says:

    Great episode! Especially love the recommendation for The Refugees as that is one of my favorite books so far for 2017. Cori – have you read anything by Octavia Butler? If not, I’d highly recommend Kindred, it has a time travel element where a modern woman (well, modernish – it’s set in 1976) finds herself transported back in time to the South prior to the Civil War. Really, really good.

    • Cori Jara says:

      Stacy, I just started Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler and it’s my first of that author! Kindred is definitely going on my list! Thank you!

  3. Brandyn says:

    I loved this episode so this is going to be a long comment:)
    In 2015, I finally crossed the 100 book mark and I largely credit this to a huge diversification in my reading choices. That was the year of the first BookRiot Read Harder Challenge and looking for books that fit the categories greatly expanded my reading “range”. Diversity made reading even more exciting and getting to 108 books that year wasn’t difficult. I would have trouble listing a top 10 because so many of them were fabulous. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize what made 2015 so awesome until recently because I slumped hard in 2016. My slump was because I went back to my comfort zones.

    I haven’t read Thirteen Reasons Why, but I read this article on Vox:
    In one study of near-lethal suicide attempt survivors, researchers found that one in four survivors deliberated for less than five minutes before making their attempt. Nearly 90 percent of survivors deliberated for less than eight hours.
    That definitely makes the tapes sound unbelievable.

    I just finished American War and it would totally make my top 3 in a discussion with Anne. I want more people to read it so I can talk about it.

    • Cori Jara says:

      I am glad to hear I’m not the only one! Here’s to leaving behind the boring comfort zone 🙂 Can’t wait to read American War if it’s in your top 3!

  4. Sarah Jane says:

    Loved, loved, loved this one! I’m also a social worker and really resonated with Cori’s desire to read books by authors of color, in particular women. Thanks much!

  5. Really enjoyed this episode! I think it should have been called “Jane Austen is better than Four Square,” though. 😉 Haha.

    Cori, I am a huge fan of magical realism! Have you ever read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez? It fits into the magical realism, generational novel, and non-white author categories! It’s not for everyone, but I loved it and I think you might, too.

  6. Donna says:

    Thanks for the great episode-lots of interesting themes and recommendations. In particular I liked the ‘magical realism’ theme which immediately made me think of 2 books I love:
    1. The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
    2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
    Hopefully those can get added to your growing ‘to be read’ list!

    • Cori Jara says:

      Murakami is on my list but I have yet to get to him. I own IQ84 but think I want to start with a shorter one! Thank you for the recommendation! And I love Allende but haven’t read House of the Spirits yet!

  7. Faith says:

    Cori, have you read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys? It’s full of magical realism. It’s sort of a prequel to Jane Eyre, looking at the marriage of a Caribbean woman to a British man and how things could’ve progressed to the plot details of Jane Eyre.

  8. Holli Petersen says:

    Cori, I am also trying to read more diverse book. It’s something I didn’t really pay attention to for many years, but now I’m always looking into the author and trying to expand my literary horizons.

    Three recs based on your likes:

    1.) Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel – Female, Hispanic author and TONS of magical realism. I LOVE this book. Plus, the version I read was soooooo pretty. It made me want to redo my kitchen in lavender and navy. When you get kitchen design ideas from a fiction novel… that’s a GOOD book.

    2.) The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso. This is a South African female novelist who wrote about the complicated lives of two widowed neighbors post-apartheid. I’ve seen mixed reviews, but I really enjoyed it. It doesn’t just address race, but also our assumptions about people and how our past affects our future in so many ways.

    3.) Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South by Beth Macy. How’s that for a subtitle!?!? The author is white, but she writes so beautifully and sensitively about a really awful time in our nation’s history. She tells the story of two albino African American brothers who were either kidnapped by or “loaned” to the Circus to be freaks in the sideshow. In any event, they’re exploited terribly and their mother goes to great lengths to get them back. It’s heartbreaking and difficult and explores a topic I’ve never, ever read about — early circus life in America. I feel so conflicted about this book, but I’ve enjoyed reading it, learning from it and exploring a very well researched topic that I didn’t know was so interesting!

  9. Leigh Kramer says:

    This was such a wonderful episode! I loved Cori’s thoughts on racial equity and empathy. I wanted her to keep going!

    Cori, because you’re a social worker (I retired my LCSW a few years ago!), I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts about All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood, which was one of my favorites from last year.

    Other recs: The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (super short!), The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang, Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage (my book club had a wonderful discussion about this one), and since I saw above you’re a Jane Eyre fan: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (inspired by the source material) and Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker.

    • Cori Jara says:

      I loved Jane Steele! I have a copy of All the Pretty and Wonderful Things sadly haven’t gotten to it yet! I will let you know when I read it!

  10. Kristin says:

    Pachinko!!! I just finished this last night and loved it. Also check out Gail Tsukiyama. Samurai’s Garden is in my all time top five.

  11. Nicole Contreras says:

    So I have recommendations … my big two are:
    Latin Deli by Judith Ortiz and House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
    Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – Poetry
    American Born Chinese Gene Luen Yang – Graphic Novel
    Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – Graphic Novel
    Color Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa – Graphic Novel
    Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
    Down these Mean Streets by Piri Thomas
    Edwidge Danticat writes a lot about immigration and family, the one I read though I didn’t like as much is Brother I’m Dying
    The Emigrants – W.G.Sebald

    I feel like I have more but those are off the top of my head and from a quick goodreads read scroll. I am sure if I go through my shelves, I will find more. Also…BookRiot. They are pretty great about talking about diverse literature.

  12. Becki says:

    This was a great episode. I have been trying to read more books with diverse themes, and authors that are people of color have a lot of interesting stories to tell. So now I have more books on my reading list!

    I haven’t seen Luis Alberto Urrea recommended. He was born in Tijuana, his father is Mexican and his mother is American. He has written several novels, but my favorite is Hummingbird’s Daughter. His writing is so beautiful, his humor is so sly, and there are magical or supernatural events in the story. My husband and I both loved it.

    I also recommend Sandra Cisneros – I loved Caramelo when it first came out years ago. Beautiful writing, about living in the US and with family in Mexico.

  13. Stacy says:

    Thank you. I’ve loved the recs from this blog but was on the verge of unsubscribing because so many of the recommendations have been different shades of white. I understand that’s due to a combination of factors–issues of underrepresentation and inequity in the publishing world (books by non-white authors being placed in a vague “ethnic” category), the blog readership, etc.–but again, thank you.
    I second Kindred, American Born Chinese (and his other graphic novels), Persepolis, all Cisneros, and all Woodsen! Loving these other recs.
    I recommend Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Saenz, Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert, and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
    Dr. Jeff Chang is near me at Stanford, and my students and I got to hear him speak about his newest book so I’m excited to read it.
    I’m just starting The Sympathizer!
    The more nonwhite authors that are featured here, the more that will be normalized, meaning that their writing will be described in as much nuance and detail as the white-authored books are. Looking forward to that day!

    • Cori Jara says:

      I loved American Born Chinese and Persepolis! And that’s so cool that you heard Jeff Chang speak! He was at a conference that I went to a few weeks ago and I about 2/3’s of the way through We Gon’ Be Alright and it’s really really good.

      I’m looking forward to the day we’re all talking about authors of color with nuance and detail as well. Thank you for all the recommendations!

    • Liz Ekstrom says:

      Are you a member of the MMD Book Club? In May we read Piecing Me Together & Brown Girl Dreaming. Both were amazing middle grade/YA books. We have had more diverse books in the past and there are some that I’m really looking forward to on the Summer Reading Guide. You should join us!

  14. Jennifer O. says:

    As I listened to this I kept thinking, she’s going to say Isabel Allende, right? House of Spirits? Multi-generational, magical realism, Chilean woman author? That was my first thought. But also Jacqueline Woodson, which I think I see already recommended, Jhumpa Lahiri, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (Chinese immigrant in the 70s-ish), Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera (multi-generational, multiple perspectives on the Sri Lankan civil war, also immigrant story), Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee (feels epic), Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (multi-generational Chinese family), and The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht (Balkan, multi-generational, has that magical realism). I also loved Homegoing and The Hate U Give, and liked the Helen Oyeyemi, but I HATED Never Let Me Go. That book traumatized me, but it was a long time ago so I should probably let that go. There’s a movie version if that interests you.

    • Cori Jara says:

      Jennifer, I LOVE Allende. Her YA trilogy and Eva Luna are all I’ve read though so far so I am definitely going to dig further into the backlog. I could definitely see how Never Let Me Go would be traumatizing and I have seen the movie and really enjoyed it. Andrew Garfield’s performance particularly–and I thought it was one of the few adaptations that kept the feeling of the book intact. Adding your recommendations to my list! Thank you!

      • Samantha says:

        Allende’s memoir called Paula is wonderful and heartbreaking. I highly recommend it.

        I enjoyed this episode SO much. It was encouraging to hear about more POC authors and to open up the TBR list even further.

  15. Victoria B. says:

    I’d like to recommend Cane River by Lalita Tademy. It’s a beautifully written, multi-generational, true story of an African-American family in Louisiana. This was an Oprah pick in 2001.

    Also – look into Alexandra Fuller (Don’t Let’s Go Out to the Dogs Tonight, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness). She writes memoirs of her childhood growing up as a white woman in Africa to British parents. Reading these books led me down the rabbit hole of African Colonization by the British and all the ugliness that followed and continues today. After Fuller’s memoirs I read “Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.

  16. Jamie says:

    A few titles for Cori might consider…
    Like Water for Chocolate (Hispanic author, magic realism)
    Soy Sauce for Beginners (Singapore-born author, has a multigenerational, ‘coming home’ theme)
    Underground Airlines (African American author, all sorts of racial equality/injustice focus. I feel like I’ve been recommending this book non-stop this year)
    The Other Wes Moore (African American author, non-fiction memoir)
    In the Country We Love (Hispanic author, non-fiction memoir)
    Outcasts United (while the author is a white male, the focus of the book is an Jordanian-born woman who leads an all-immigrant youth soccer team)
    In Order to Live (North Korean author, non-fiction memoir)
    Yes, I’ve read all these books and yes, I enjoyed every single one. 🙂 Along with the commenter who mentioned Allende, I also thought of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (especially One Hundred Years of Solitude) and Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street), Also, if she hasn’t read In the Time of Butterflies it might be another title to look at. I only read part of it but friends of mine who lived in the Dominican Republic for a few years strongly recommend it.

  17. Margie says:

    This was one of my favorite episodes. I love the reminder to be more intentional about the authors we choose. Thanks for the titles.

  18. Jamie says:

    Zora Neale Hurston!!! Why I didn’t think of her when I made my previous comment is beyond me. :). Especially Their Eyes Were Watching God.

  19. Michelle says:

    I enjoyed this episode SO much. Cori and I seem to have similar reading taste, so I got lots of great suggestions. And I have one suggestion for Cori: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Female voice (check!). Multi-generational (check!). Diverse voice (Japanese + Canadian + immigrant American (check!). A little mysticism (there are ghosts, so check!). One of my favourite books of the last few years. I think of it and its wisdom (especially that of the character of the grandmother, Old Jiko), often. And, if you enjoy Audible, this particular book is narrated by the author herself (and she does a GREAT job), which gives us the double treat of knowing that every bit of emphasis, every bit of pacing, is exactly as the author intends.

  20. Kellee says:

    I’m catching up on the podcast, so I just listened to this episode and enjoyed it very much. I think we might be from the same town in Michigan! I took advantage of the KDL when I lived there, and I moved to a very small town (population about 10,000) a few years ago, so I can relate to having a much smaller library now. I also resonated with the goal to read more women authors and more diverse books. I will definitely give The Mothers a try, and Homegoing is on my TBR list. I also enjoy reading biographies/memoirs by diverse authors, such as Deep Down Dark about the Chilean miners (very well-written), and a book called Kissing Outside the Lines by Diane Farr (funny stories about interracial marriage). Happy reading!

  21. Jean says:

    Cori! The book I think you should read next is a short novel, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. He is a Korean author and the book tells the story of a wife who decides to become a vegetarian in the meat-based tradition of Korean cooking and in a patriarchal society. The story is told from the perspective of the husband, brother-in-law and sister of the wife. It is excellent and one that stays with you in the months after reading.
    I enjoyed the podcast!

  22. Cori — I would love to recommend some female Indian authors. I love Thrity Umrigar. The Weight of Heaven has a bit of that eerie feeling that you mention.

    I also love Shilpa Gowda, both Golden Son and Secret Daughter.

  23. Tammy says:

    Hi Cori, I quickly scanned the other comments to see if someone already recommended Yann Martel the author of Life of Pi. That is a great book, but I think you would love his morst recent book The High Mountains of Portugal. The story spans generations, is magical, and it’s thought-provoking. And if you don’t have enough books yet Ishiguro’s book The Buried Giant is also worth reading. Enjoy! Keep up your compassionate work!

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