Ep 95: Really weird stories you should totally read

Readers, when I was a kid my mom really hammered home the importance of always being kind to people, because even though it doesn’t always seem like it, it is a REALLY small world. Well, I have a small world story for you today. Today I’m talking to Nicholas Siegel, who filled out the What Should I Read Next guest submission form. He didn’t know I was in Louisville. Then when I went to mail him a microphone, I found out he lived practically right around the corner from me. And then when we started chatting, we discovered we had ALL KINDS of mutual friends, who—and he doesn’t know this—later said really nice things about him when I shared this small world story with THEM. So basically, my mom is always right.

Today Nicholas and I cover a lot of ground. MFA fiction is a phrase we’ve thrown around on the podcast before; today Nicholas and I dive into what exactly that means. We talk about literary magazines and day jobs and reading as a writer. We cover how to approach a book that intimidates you, and Nicholas’s argument for not giving up on a book that isn’t pushing your buttons. Plus, we talk about a lot of diverse books and stories that are perhaps best described as “just plain weird.”

What Should I Read Next #95: Really weird stories you should totally read with Nicholas Siegel

Connect with Nicholas: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Books mentioned in this episode:

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The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
The Chronicles of Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis
100 Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Get In Trouble, by Kelly Link
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
The Bird Market of Paris, by Nikki Moustaki
NW, by Zadie Smith
The Swimmer Among the Stars, by Kanishk Tharoor
Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich

Also mentioned in this episode:

Heine Brothers’ Coffee in Louisville
Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville
Read Nicholas’s fiction here.

My book Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything is coming this September 19! This is the story of how my long journey digging into 7 popular personality frameworks changed my life for the better, and how you can put those frameworks to work for yourself to make real, lasting change in your life, in your work, and in your relationships without going through quite so many hard knocks yourself.

To get yourself in the mood for all things personality, take our reading personality quiz. it’s fast and free and easy to take, and hopefully a lot of fun as well. And if you want to know even more, I made a class for you! We’ll spend an hour diving deeper into all nine types and give each set of readers their own book recommendations. The class is $15 — OR you can get it for free when you pre-order Reading People! You ALSO get a free audiobook download of the book when it comes out on September 19. This is a terrific deal and a rare opportunity to get the book in two different versions, PLUS my reading personality class at no additional cost.

Help me spread the word? Pre-order that copy for yourself, or a loved one. Ask your library to buy the book, and then check it out. (Circulation numbers matter!) Add Reading People to your to-read shelf on Goodreads, or an Amazon wish list. Recommend it to your fellow readers, and review it on your favorite sites. Thank you!

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


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  1. Ani Tomasic says:

    Oh my gosh! This is my favorite episode to date! I LOVE magical realism and surrealism in books and movies so much as well as all of the books Nicholas mentioned as his favorites (so now I have a few recommendations of my own to share). Nicholas, have you read these? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
    The Wig My Father Wore by Anne Enright – I read this for my final project in my Magical Realism through Irish Literature class in college (loved that class) and I don’t want to say too much about it because I think it’s a great book to just dive into,but angels/Catholicism, family relationships and female author/main character are some key aspects.
    All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – this is one of those Magical Realism books that leans a little more on the magical side, but I really love this one. Science vs Magic at the end of the world in San Francisco. It’s funny and quirky too.

    If you’re a movie person, I recommend Ondine (Neil Jordan) or Phoenix (Christian Petzold) if you haven’t seen them!

  2. Faith says:

    Like Ani, this was my favorite episode to date! Put 100 Years of Solitude on my TBR list.

    Another Louise Erdrich recommendation: I had to read her novel The Antelope Wife for my undergrad English program. It has been several years since I read it, but I kept on to my copy because I wanted to reread it someday. Weird elements but I remember liking it.

  3. Lauren McHugh says:

    Have you read anything by Alice Hoffman? Her magical realism is exactly as you stated, “It just is.” Some of her books are more historical, some magic, some very simple stories that feel profound. She’s my personal favorite author and I don’t think Anne talks/recommends her enough IMHO :).

  4. Amy says:

    I graduated with my MFA in Writing through Spalding, also! In 2011! Such a wonderful program! I’m a fiction writer, too. Short fiction and I’m (still) working on my novel. Have you read anything by Ruth Ozeki? Her novel, A Tale for the Time Being, might interest you.

  5. Allison says:

    I must put in a plug for one of my favorite authors of magical realism: Etgar Keret. He has been compared to Kafka and writes amazing short short stories. If you’ve never read anything he’s written I would start with The
    Girl on the Fridge.
    Wonderful, whimsical and definitely weird.

  6. Em says:

    I would recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern because it literally has magic in it, in the best way.

    I would also recommend Haruki Murakami. He is Japanese, and so his writing is translated from Japanese to English, but the prose ends up very crisp, concise, and powerful. It actually makes me want to learn Japanese. In particular, I recommend The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, a novel, and The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of short stories, .

    • Jill W. says:

      Ooh, great recommendations- The Night Circus is engrossing and wonderful!

      I really liked Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, but I really had to kind of wrestle with it. It was a good challenge.

  7. Lindsay says:

    Loved this episode, as I’d love to read more magical realism and didn’t know where to look! Adding these to my TBR. Nicholas, make sure you read “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid if you haven’t already. Magical realism in such a relevant real world setting & context , and the writing is beyond gorgeous.

  8. Anne and Nicholas,
    I’m with Ani, this was one of my favorite episodes too! It’s so great to find others who love magical realism, and write it too. Sometimes I feel like I’m alone in that. None of the women in my former book club group liked that type of fiction. I write it because I love it. Thanks for all the great suggestions of books to read too. I don’t know if I’ll get to all of them, so I wrote down just a few.
    Nicholas, have you read any Madeleine L’Engle? The Wrinkle in Time series is fantastic. I was introduced to magical realism and fantasy by a friend of my parents when I was in my thirties. She suggested those books to my husband and me. I’ve never looked back. Also, if you like the surreal in movies and TV, I suggest you check out Legion with Dan Stevens in the lead role. It’s a mind trip.

    Thanks, Anne for doing these podcasts. They inspire my writing. I can’t wait to get your book because I love studying personality types.

  9. mayajt says:

    Having not actually listened to the podcast yet, but just guessing what you mean by “magical realism,” I would suggest anything by N.D. Wilson, one of my personal favorite authors. Well, any of his fiction anyway. His nonfiction is more of the theology/theodicy type, and it’s really good as well. I would start with 100 Cupboards, The Legend of Sam Miracle, and The Dragon’s Tooth. Sorry if I’m way off the mark – I’ll have to actually listen to the podcast and then let you know what I really think!

  10. Jill W. says:

    Have you read Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson? It cleverly mixes contemporary elements like computer hacking with old magic (the jinn). It’s very well done.

    • Jill W. says:

      Sorry- I keep popping on because I keep thinking of more books! Have you read Neil Gaiman? I think you would really enjoy The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book, American Gods and Neverwhere. I also completely love Stardust (and, as rarely happens, I also love the movie based on the book). That one tilts more towards straight-up magical, but it is so good. If you like audio books, he reads his himself and he does a wonderful job.

  11. Stephanie S says:

    Great episode! I’ve been teetering on reading 100 Years of Solitude and this tipped me into reading it. I actually headed to the library to pick it up after listening.

    I had another recommendation that immediately popped into my head when Nick was talking about being more intential about reading female authors. Disclaimer, I’m not sure where the line is between fantasy and magical realism so this might lean too far into fantasy to be a consideration, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. It’s by a female African author and came up in another episode of What Should I Read Next, but I can’t find the episode. The book is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a novel set in post-apopcalypic Africa.

  12. Mary Holland says:

    I a not sure if this has been suggested (I am late to the suggestion game), but you might try The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli. I found to be on the weird side. Happy reading!

  13. Paige says:

    Nicholas, please drop everything and read The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. Then come back and let us know what you think of it. It’s a wonderful book with magical realism all the way through. I never hear anyone talking about it (except my Mom because I made her read it!) Thanks for a great episode! I have tried Lincoln in the Bardo but it was tough for me to read as a parent. Now I want to go back and try it again!

    • Nicholas says:

      Paige–I actually read and loved The High Mountains of Portugal. I thought the way he connected the three stories was fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation, you’re right on track!

  14. gremrien says:

    Sorry for a late comment, but I usually listen to podcasts with some delays. The first thing I thought about listening to this episode was An Atlas Traced By the Sky by Goran Petrović, and I kept thinking about it to the very end. Have you ever read it? It looks like a good match for you. It’s a little but very remarkable book. Beautiful, imaginative, quirky, with a deep meaning about the most intimate and complex part of relationship between two people — their dreams and games and the whole perception of the world. I cannot be sure about English translation, of course, as I read it in Russian translation (which might be closer to the original Serbian text than English), but the language of the book is incredibly poetic and magical.

  15. Marion says:

    I missed this episode when it first aired. I just listened to it today. Excellent episode. Nicholas, I agree with you that One Hundred Years of Solitude seems more impenetrable from a distance. However, I found out quite readable despite the family names. But, I liked Love in the Time of Cholera more than One Hundred Years of Solitude.
    I would like to recommend the works of Jonathan Carroll. He is categorized as fantasy but I’ve read 5 of his books and his work is definitely more towards surrealism than traditional fantasy. The Wooden Sea is one of my all time favorite novels. The Land of Laughs is excellent as well. You can start with those if you are interested.
    Also, I will seconded the recommendation for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I read that novel in Oct 2017 and I’m still thinking about it. It is probably the strangest and brilliant novel I have ever read (Even more than Jonathan Carroll’s work). I’m currently reading South of the Border, West of the Sun by Murakami and it is a completely different tone than The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.

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