This week we’re publishing our TWO HUNDREDTH episode of my podcast What Should I Read Next?, where each week we talk all things books and reading and do a little literary matchmaking with each guest. As part of the celebration, today I’m sharing twelve of my favorite episodes from our nearly four years of making the show. We started January 12, 2016, and have only skipped a handful Tuesdays in the intervening years.
Readers, it was so hard to pick favorites, which feels like karmic retribution. Every week I ask a guest to choose three favorite books, and every week, they tell me how hard it was to choose. I reassure them by saying they don’t need to choose their three most-loved books, but simply three books they love—and tell them that most book lovers’ picks vary from year to year, or perhaps day to day. And it’s okay that it’s hard: if they didn’t love books so much, it would be easy.
On that note, if you haven’t yet checked out the corresponding book list I likewise agonized over, click here to review 15 of the most recommended books from 200 episodes of What Should I Read Next?
Now it’s once again my time in the hot seat. Today I’m sharing twelve episodes I love—not necessarily the top twelve, but episodes that I adored, and you did, too. Ask me again in a year—or a day—and my list will look a little different.
The great thing about What Should I Read Next is the episodes stay fresh: you can listen anytime, and jump in anywhere. If you’re a long-time listener, I hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane. If you’re new to the show—or to any podcasts at all—these episodes are great entry points. Hit the blue triangle to play any episode, or search for the episodes you want to download in your favorite podcast app.
I’m sharing these 12 favorites in chronological order.
In this episode I chat with Andrea Griffith, a former medical librarian, mom of two daughters, and independent bookstore owner, and she came to me with a plea: she misses reading at whim, is craving depth, and wants help finding great books that aren’t relentlessly new, new, new. As you can imagine, I resonated so much with this request and was more than happy to help.
I talked to Andrea at the beginning of her bookstore ownership, and it has been a joy to watch her store Browsers Bookshop blossom in the intervening years. And then last fall I finally got to visit for book tour, and meet Andrea in person!
This episode is so fun, I’ve referred to it A TON over the years. Adam reads for a living, literally. When he was a kid and people asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up he’d say read books. But unlike most of us, Adam grew up and turned his theatrical background into a job as a professional audio book narrator.
Adam is also one of the few readers who’s been decisive/brave/committed enough to choose his three all-time favorite books for the show. Most guests limit themselves to titles they’ve read in the past year or two or they say they’ll never be able to narrow it down! Don’t miss the part where I ask him to say “Have a nice day” in a voice that sounds like “velvet dipped in steel.”
This episode with Kathleen Grissom, author of the hugely bestselling books The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything, was meant to be—and when you listen to Kathleen describe the path that led her to WSIRN, you’ll see what I mean.
We discuss hardcovers versus paperbacks, “reading books like popcorn,” historical fiction with a touch of redemption, and we take a deep dive into Kathleen’s fascinating intuitive writing process. But before Kathleen became a writer, she was a reader, so of course we get to dig into what she loves, and hates, and why.
In this episode I chat with Donna Hetchler about her plans for a very special trip she’s taking, involving the road, a milestone birthday, and a whole bunch of independent bookstores.
Donna also had a special request when it came to helping her choose what to read next. I was afraid choosing good books that met her criteria might be impossible, but we work it out—and I am very surprised by her reaction to some of my picks!
I’m talking books with Fiona Thoms, a party-planning, paleo cooking, PTA president mum of three kids who lives in Sydney, Australia. You may recognize Fiona’s voice from Episode 62, because she recommends two books to me in our special What Should ANNE Read Next episode. Fiona and I discuss the pleasures and perils of the Australian literary life, how she loves to read fictional books about the places she travels to, how her life bears an uncanny resemblance to the Liane Moriarty novel Big Little Lies, and more.
Fiona is also a talented paper-crafter: that’s her handiwork in the photograph up top, that she made from an old Australian edition of Harry Potter. I definitely shrieked when I opened that package.
We marked WSIRN’s second anniversary in style, by bringing back our VERY FIRST GUEST, my ever-colorful friend and The Popcast co-host Jamie Golden. In this episode you’ll get to hear some secrets about what I originally had planned for the show (and which of these plans we threw out the window) a totally true bookshop story about Tom Hanks, a literary pop culture lightning round, and Jamie’s pitch for WSIRN: After Dark.
This episode is a FESTIVAL of book recommendations for all ages. You might recognize children’s lit enthusiast Sarah Mackenzie from Episode 49: How To Help Kids Fall In Love With Reading, during our Reading for a Lifetime series, when she came on the show to help me recommend books to some truly adorable bookish kids. In this show we do more of the same, but I’m ALSO going to recommend 3 books that she can incorporate into her adult reading life when she’s not running Read Aloud Revival or sharing books with her kids.
Finding characters to relate to can change the lives of young readers and longtime bookworms alike. Guest Sachi Argabright discovered a rich vein of books by Asian American authors who inspire her, and it’s given her reading life wings! In this episode, I top up her list with unique and soon-to-be-released titles so she can stay in that happy place for a long time to come.
I was so excited about Sachi’s reading goals that I heaped even more titles than usual on her To Be Read list. We also discuss travel, reading goals, book organization (see her gorgeous “favorites bookshelf” pictured in the show notes), and much much more.
My guest Kari Sweeney is a working mom of four who has developed a unique system to keep her reading life running like clockwork. We heard raves from readers who put her tips to work for their own reading lives, with great success!
Kari and I also chat about wishy-washy star ratings, the right season for the right book, how she freed herself from book guilt… and she shares her secret to getting the hottest new books the week they release—for FREE.
Soooo many readers related to this fantastic classics-heavy episode. Shawntaye Hopkins discovered Jane Austen’s books for the first time as an adult—and after that initial discovery, she dove in DEEP. We discuss the magic of immersive literary events that celebrate the classics (not just Jane!) and how they’ve changed the way Shawntaye reads her most beloved books.
We’re also exploring her TEN YEARS of book journaling, the book she’s still hungover from, and my recommendations for her include a book you probably have never heard of.
If you ever dream of taking a fresh approach to your reading life, whether the goal is tackling the classics, beating your Goodreads challenge, or simply finding more joy in your reading life, my guest Jim Mustich shares decades of wisdom to help kickstart your reading life.
In this episode Jim and I chat about his history as a reader and why reading 1000 books might not be as daunting as it first sounds. We also put Jim in the hot seat: I share three of my favorites, and then Jim recommends which of those 1000 books he thinks I should prioritize.
Tara Nichols came to us asking for help with a fun and challenging project. Her mission — which she’s been planning for QUITE a while — was to read one book published each year between 1920 and 2019. The challenge brings with it a lot of important questions… what is worth her time? Is it better to read the big important book from a given year, or the title she thinks she’ll enjoy most? And the question she’s hoping to answer after the year is over… has literature changed in all this time?
We discuss all those things and MORE, before getting to my challenge. I pitch three books worthy of adding to her lineup, including a book that is considered by some to be “the best mystery story ever written.”
Readers, do YOU have a favorite episode of What Should I Read Next? Please tell us all about it in comments! (And stay tuned for our #BookTwin challenge we’re launching tomorrow.)