WSIRN Ep 91: The books you can’t stop recommending.

Today’s guest is Bethany Armstrong, a lifelong reader who describes herself as the kind of kid who always had a book in her hand. After studying literature in college, Bethany suffered through a period of bookish burnout. (The worst, right?) But a surprising thing re-invigorated Bethany’s reading experience… you’ll have to listen to find out what it was. ?


Today Bethany’s reading life is thriving, and in this episode we dive into the specifics—we talk about how it’s alllllll about the story, and why it’s important for her to keep the balance in her reading life. When she shares the book she hates … well, and I understand why she thinks some of you will want to come after her with pitchforks when you find out what it is.

Housekeeping announcement: there will be no WSIRN episode on August 15th. As you know, my book Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything is coming out on September 19, but what you probably don’t know is that I have another book due soon! This one is scheduled to come out in 2018. Books don’t write themselves, and we’re taking a week off to make sure book #2 actually gets turned in on time. We’ll be back on August 22 with your regularly scheduled Tuesday morning episode.

What Should I Read Next #91: The books you can't stop recommending with Bethany Armstrong

Connect with Bethany Armstrong: 

Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

• The Polygamist’s Daughter, by Anna LeBaron
• 100 Cupboards, by N.D. Wilson
• I Got This: To Gold & Beyond, by Laurie Hernandez
• The Crowns of Croswald, by D.E. Night
• The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, by Kathleen Flinn
• When Crickets Cry, by Charles Martin
• The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows
• The Truth According To Us, by Annie Barrows
• The Ivy & Bean series, by Annie Barrows
• To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
• Go Set A Watchman, by Harper Lee
• 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff
• Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey
• Walk on Water: The Miracle of Saving Children’s Lives, by Michael Ruhlman
• The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, by Michael Ruhlman
• The French Laundry Cookbook, by Thomas Keller
• The Nightingale, by Kristen Hannah
• All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
• The Girl You Left Behind, by JoJo Moyes
• Magic Hour, by Kristin Hannah
• Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah

Also mentioned:

• “The Courthouse Ring: Atticus Finch & the limits of Southern liberalism”, by Malcolm Gladwell via The New Yorker
• Malcom Gladwell interviewed on KET

What do YOU think Bethany should read next? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. Camille says:

    When Bethany asked if “All the Light We Cannot See” is similar to “The Nightingale” I started yelling “no no no!” I absolutely loved “All the Light We Cannot See” and I felt very luke warm about “The Nightingale.” There are so many WWII books and I feel like if an author is going to go there, the book needs to be a grand slam. I didn’t feel that way about “The Nightingale.”

    • Fran says:

      I completely agree with you about The Nightingale and had the same “no no no!” reaction when it was brought up on the podcast, haha. The characters just felt so flat to me. I loved Guernsey so much, and another WWII book that I recently read and loved was Between Shades of Gray by Rutka Sepetys (I think it’s technically YA, but it doesn’t really feel like it).

    • Lynn says:

      I completely agree! I unfortunately read these two back to back but read ALTWCS first. It’s probably unfair to read anything after a book that wins the Pulitzer, but it just wasn’t as good to me. I think I would have enjoyed the Nightingale much more if it wasn’t proceeded by All the Light.

    • Megan says:

      I felt the complete opposite! I was yelling “no, no, no!!” But because I though All the Light was just lukewarm for me and I LOVED The Nightengale.

  2. Kari says:

    Oh my goodness, my WSIRN list has grown incredibly after this episode! So many books that were discussed that I added. Great episode. I am in the final chapters of The Nightengale and have loved it, anxious to try “All The Light We Cannot See”, but think I will try “When Crickets Cry” next.

  3. Phaedra says:

    What I loved most? Thank you for being a fellow extrovert Bethany! YAY! I feel the same, so many times people expect bookish people to be introverted and that’s not always the case. Also I loved that you just threw a classic under the bus as your hated book and didn’t bow to what people think. woot woot! Sometimes we just don’t connect. I have several books that everyone loved and my response was ‘hmm. really? this? this is AWFUL’ I don’t have a recommendation, but I do want to chime in that I enjoyed The Nightingale and loved ATLWCS- they aren’t that similar other than time frame.

  4. Elise says:

    Wait wait…she kept saying that she didn’t like “how to kill a mockingbird” because it was too boring, so maybe she was reading some kind of bird hunting manual in which case I would completely understand being bored by it.

  5. Christine says:

    Hi Bethany,
    I’m an English professor, and a lot of people assume that I have read all the “classics” (there is a lot of debate about what is considered a classic, hence the quotes) and that I have loved every one. Of course, I have not read every “classic,” and second, I haven’t loved every one that I have read. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the books that I had to read and did not like at all.
    Now, I notice that many of the guests qualify their “hate” book, but reading is such a personal thing that there is no way we will all love the same books. I love literature because there are sooooo many books out there that touch sooooooo many different people. Or, there is the situation where a group of people all read the same book at the same time, like in a book club or class, and all have very different reactions to the book. Great conversations ensue and that is what makes it fun! That is also what has so many of us coming to websites (and podcasts) like this: to see and hear what others like or don’t and why. Then, we get to add to our ever-growing TBR lists!

  6. Mary Kay Huck says:

    I wonder if Bethany has read The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride? The sub-title doesn’t mention that’s she’s also Jewish…oh, and raises her 12 children in New York City…all of them becoming professionals! It’s one of my favorites about a personal story.

  7. I don’t hate To Kill a Mockingbird, but I also have never understood why people lose their minds over it. As Bryan Stevenson points out in Just Mercy, people forget that the defendant is found guilty — Atticus doesn’t save him. When I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I thought, Why isn’t this the definitive book read in schools about historical racism in the American South? It has many of the same elements as To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s about a black family and the black father is the hero.

    When I heard PBS was going to try to find “America’s favorite book” in 2018, I immediately thought, “Oh, it’s going to be To Kill a Mockingbird” and rolled my eyes a little bit.

  8. Wendy Derechin says:

    What a great episode! I added many of the titles to my TBR list. Based on the conversation and list of Bethany’s favorites, I think she may like The End Of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.

  9. Lisa says:

    Totally off topic but I can’t stop crushing on the notebooks in the photo with Reading People (which I pre-ordered!). Could you please share the source for those gorgeous notebooks? Thanks!L

    • Anne says:

      Those are Reader’s Digest condensed editions, which I was very happy to score off the $1 used book table at the library, then promptly through away the terrible jackets with zero qualms. My friend has some of these beauties in her house, otherwise my eyes wouldn’t have paused for a moment on the condensed versions!

  10. Courtney says:

    Once again, my TBR list is expanding after listening to this episode!

    I just want to echo Bethany’s love for “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. It is so charming and lovely despite delving into difficult topics like war, loss, fear, the separation of families, and the recovery from all of that trauma. It takes a deft author (or authors, I guess) to touch on all of that without making a reader feel emotionally overburdened. What’s really impressive to me is that the epistolary framework didn’t diminish how richly drawn and endearing the characters were. It’s definitely a book I recommend too.

    Thanks, as ever, for a great podcast, Anne!

  11. Bethany, I support your right to say you hate TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I love the movie, mostly because Gregory Peck played Atticus Finch, and because of the way he interacts with his children. It’s very much the way my father interacted with us. He was willing to answer any questions we had. However, I had not read the book until a few years ago. I can see why people say that Atticus is not a nice guy. It wasn’t until I read Harper Lee’s second book GO SET A WATCHMAN, that I understood just how complicated race relations are not only in the South, but in the entire country. In the second book Jean Louise goes ballistic when she finds out that her father is a Klan member. But as her uncle and Henry, the young man she loves but can’t marry because he’s from the wrong side of the tracks, tell her, “… your daddy did and still does get mighty uncomfortable around folks who cover up their faces. He had to know who he’d be fighting if the time ever came to – he had to find out who they were …” I have to say that reading GO SET A WATCHMAN was not a comfortable reading experience. But what I finally understood by reading it was that TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is about how judgmental humans can be. People judged Boo Radley, they judged the Ewells for being poor and ignorant, they judged the Finch children for not having a mother, but most of all they judged the black people of the community. Most of the characters want to increase their standing in the community by hating others they think are inferior. I think the two books should be read together to get the big picture of what Harper Lee was trying to get us to understand. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and these two books were eye opening to me, though not necessarily easy to read, or even understand. To me the bottom line of both books is that Jean Louise learns to begin to let go of judgment. And that’s a really big thing. Man if we could all do that, we’d change the world.

    • Kim says:

      In Go Set a Watchman, Atticus is not a Klan member. He simply attended one Klan meeting. That’s why they tell Jean Louise that “He had to know who he’d be fighting if the time ever came to – he had to find out who they were.”

  12. Jill W. says:

    If you like a story you can really connect to and characters that stay with you, then I would recommend The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere. The audio book is wonderful (fair warning, there are some traumatic things that happen, but it is so redemptive, it’s worth getting through those). I would also recommend Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. The other books I cannot stop recommending are anything by Joshilyn Jackson (Between Georgia is my favorite) and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. The narrative structure of that last one takes a minute to get used to, but once you get the rhythm of it, it is so great. One of the best books I have ever read.

  13. Kari Ann says:

    If you loved ‘The Polygamist’s Daughter’ I would recommend The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. She is the cousin of Anna LeBaron.

  14. Funny story. I just yesterday submitted my own request to be a guest on WSIRN and listed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society as one of my three favorite books. It’s one I recommend all the time to people I know like quirky kinds of characters and/or a unique take on a story. So imagine my surprise as I was listening to the podcast on my walk this morning and heard Bethany list it as one of her favorites!!

  15. Jennifer Miller says:

    I just wanted to give a shout out to 84, Charing Cross Road! It’s one of my favorite books. And if you love it, then definitely read The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and Q’s Legacy. They aren’t sequels, exactly, but the books all go together. I hope you enjoy it.

  16. Shelley says:

    Bethany, here I am, coming out of the woodwork, and it’s not with a pitchfork! I have only read To Kill A Mockingbird once, when it was assigned reading in high school. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t like it, I think I enjoyed it well enough… however, what resounds most of all is that it was my GUARANTEED nap book. If I felt like I wanted a nap, I would pick up that baby and get snoozing. So, when I heard you say it was too boring for you to read, I needed to affirm you: YES! It could be subtitled TKAMB: The Nap Whisperer.

  17. Sarah K says:

    I just want to clarify to Bethany that To Kill a Mockingbird is not Harper Lee’s first book, but her second; Go Set a Watchman is her first and was rejected for publication because it wasn’t good enough. When it was finally published, imperfections and all, many readers hated it because they found it so inferior to TKAM. TKAM is actually the polished Harper Lee at the top of her form.

    As for the episode in which the teacher is unfair to Scout, I think Harper Lee intended that to infuriate us so that we would understand the difficulty of the lesson that Atticus is trying to teach his children–to consider things from another person’s point of view. This is the foundation of compassion, and the children receive more and more serious lessons in it as the book progresses–until they make the leap that the poison of racism forbids, which is to put yourself in the shoes of a person of a different color. By the end of the book, Scout understands that what she experienced in school was a small injustice marring an otherwise highly privileged life, while there are people around her who experience profound injustice every day.

    I have no objection to your disliking the book; I just didn’t want that dislike to be based on misunderstandings. 🙂 I do love the book and think you are missing out–but I know not every book is for everyone!

  18. Jamie says:

    Not sure if Bethany is interested in reading more about polygamy (since she mentioned The Polygamist Daughter as a recent favorite), but two books that wrestle with that theme AND draw you into the story is The Sound of Gravel and Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk.

    • Jamie says:

      Chiming back in to say that I loved Winter Garden even more than The Nightingale. The historical setting of Winter Garden is not the ‘typical’ one of many of the WW2 books that have come out over the past few years – Germany, Poland, France, England. It tells the story of the siege on Russia and eastward which is something I had not been exposed at such an intimate level until I read this novel.

  19. Rebecca Keyser says:

    OH MY GOODNESS! Thank you so much Anne for your comment about Atticus Finch! It’s so true, he is not the good guy he seems to be and the story has no happy ending in any way. The case was lost- justice not serviced for anyone.

  20. Amanda says:

    Hi Bethany, I haven’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird” since high school (I didn’t have any feelings about it then except it was required), but I re-read “The Great Gatsby” last week and I felt sort of the same “meh” that you felt about Mockingbird. I was bored by it, it felt flat and since I’ve read so many awesome books written in that era, that fell flat on its face. So maybe your dislike for it has to do with knowing there are other, better classics out there that do not get the attention it deserves.
    If you want a great classic I suggest “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton.

  21. karen says:

    My TBR list has blown up once again after this episode. THANKS! I was also thrilled to hear Charles Martin finally mentioned. I LOVE HIS BOOKS…well, all but Unwritten. Now to go write all these titles down!
    I would HIGHLY recommend Beartown and anything by Fredrick Backman.

  22. Ellie Harte says:

    I couldn’t believe Bethany said To Kill a Mockingbird was her hated book, mostly because five minutes before she said that I was imagining myself on WSIRN and that was the first favorite book that came to mind! I’ve loved it ever since I read it in 7th grade. It’s been years since then and I’d love to read it again and see if it’s a favorite based on nostalgia, or if I still love it. But sometimes doing that can ruin a book, so I’m a bit hesitant!

  23. Elizabeth Lloyd says:

    Hi Anne, I soooo enjoyed listening to this podcast, as I always do. Anyway, when it came to your recommendations (my favourite part) I was so excited to hear you recommend ‘The Nightingale’ by Kristin Hannah. One of my friends had also recommended this book and I had just collected it from the library the day before. What an amazing book! I am a sucker for WWII novels and this book really grabbed me and I ached for both Isabelle and Vianne to have their happiness. I hope that Bethany enjoys this book as much as I did. You also mentioned ’84 Charing Cross Road’ another book I just loved and I watched the film the other day. Not quite as good as the book but superb nonetheless. Thank you for your wonderful podcast, I really love it and can’t wait for it to download each week.:)

  24. Kris says:

    Great podcast. Really enjoyed the topic and the recommendations all around.

    For Bethany I recommend “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury.

    I must say I was sad to hear she hates “To Kill A Mockingbird”. It truly is a book you need to finish to understand. And even re-read. That being said, I hope it finds her again at the right time.

    I also must say I *CRINGED* when she said she was happy that “Go Set a Watchman” bombed. Well of course it did. It was never meant to be published. It is not a sequel or prequel to TKAM, nor is it a standalone book. It was simply a FIRST DRAFT draft that was originally, and rightfully, rejected. Only when Harper Lee lost her protective (lawyer) sister, and became elderly and senile, did her greedy family swoop in and make the push. I never read it and never will. It breaks my heart they tarnished her legacy.

  25. Toni K says:

    I’ve just discovered this podcast, thank you so much! I’ve gotten stuck in the Swedish detective noir and need to escape that rut. I recommend the Gormenghast (Mervyn Peake) fantasy series, have read over and over again, and I’m not a huge fantasy fan.

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