I am a fairly recent convert to the wonderful world of podcasts. For the longest time, it was a highly curated iTunes playlist that powered me through my pre-dawn workout time. But about a year ago, I found that no matter how many times I skipped a song or pressed shuffle on my music, the music was not pushing me through the way I needed it to push me through. About that same time, a friend mentioned listening to a podcast that they thought I would enjoy. So one morning, instead of turning on my music, I downloaded an episode of that specific podcast and discovered my morning miles happened much quicker as I was captivated by the conversation on the podcast. I was hooked.
So from that day, I have had an ever-increasing line up of podcasts set to automatically download when new episodes are available. One of that list is What Should I Read Next from Anne Bogel. I already knew of Anne from her website Modern Mrs. Darcy, and had picked up a few books based on recommendations on her website. So when I discovered she had a weekly podcast devoted to making book recommendations to people based on their likes and dislikes, I knew I would love it. I was right. I do. I listen every Tuesday morning when new episodes are released, and my TBR (to be read) list has grown in leaps and bounds in the time I have been a regular listener of the podcast.
One of my favorite things about What Should I Read Next, is that Anne is talking to “real people” about their reading lives – what they read, why they read, when they read, how they read – and how the reading life weaves in and around the rest of life. Time and time again, I find myself laughing, smiling, and nodding emphatically because the personal stories of the guests on the podcast resonate with me strongly. While the reading tastes may be different and the personal experiences and stories are wide-ranging, the guests are all serious readers and I have found something in each episode that rings true to my own life as a reader. On the podcast, each guest tells Anne three books they love, one book they “hate”, and what they are reading currently – along with some background information about their life, family, interests, etc. Anne takes all of that information and makes 3 (or more) book recommendations that she thinks the reader will enjoy.
I’d have been happy to go on for as long as the podcast runs, listening each week and adding titles to my TBR. But something wonderful happened. Back in the late summer, I was part of a launch team for Anne Bogel’s first book, Reading People. Toward the end of the book launch, I was delighted to be invited to be a guest on What Should I Read Next. So it was that on a morning this past November, I found myself telling my daughter to make sure she left for school on time, closing myself in my bedroom with my headset and laptop, and recording a truly fun, funny, and lovely conversation with Anne that would eventually become episode 118, of the podcast.
My episode is titled “The Rhythm of a Reading Family”. Anne and I talked about everything from me being an early reader (in a time where kids weren’t “supposed” to enter kindergarten already knowing how to read), to fitting in the time to read in the present day, to parenting a dyslexic child and how to grow a reader. We laughed a ton during our conversation. I came away with not just new titles to add to my list, but also feeling like I had just had a long talk with an old friend.
When we recorded the conversation back in November, they weren’t sure when the episode would air. As it happens, almost 3 months passed between when we chatted and the episode aired – which means I actually read the three books Anne recommended to me before the episode went live. I had hoped to write this blog post and hit publish on it the same day the podcast aired, but life…
So what did I think of the books Anne recommended? For starters, I really, really enjoyed all three books. I don’t know that I found any new favorites among the titles, but they were all really excellent recommendations for me.
The first book I chose to read was Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell. If you listen to the podcast, you will actually hear me tell Anne that this is what I plan to pick up first, and she chuckles a little. The chuckle is deserved. In addition to asking about three books they love, one book they “hate”, and what they are reading currently, Anne also asks if there is anything about their reading life that the guest would like to be different. In response to this question, I talked about how I would like a little bit of light and joy in my next few books to balance out a pretty heavy real life and a recent tendency to choose books that were also pretty heavy. And while Instructions for a Heatwave is absolutely a type of book I read and love – family story, unfolding over time, in diverse locations, with interesting characters, multiple points of view, and not a predictable ending – it isn’t exactly a book that would be described as being light or joyful. But it was really good. I enjoyed the characters and their diverse points of view and the family dynamic was believable – even though the central plot was far from ordinary. In addition to encompassing much of what I love in a book, Anne made this specific recommendation because one of the main characters is dyslexic. Anne and I spent quite a bit of time talking about the fact that my daughter is dyslexic, what that means for her, what that means for me, and how we are still helping her love books even though reading is exhausting. While the character in the book is described as having a version of dyslexia which is much more pervasive and debilitating than what my daughter struggles with, (in the book, Aoife is functionally illiterate) I could definitely recognize parts of my daughter’s own story in some of Aoife’s story and it added a depth of personal interest and investment in the book.
I followed up that definitely not light and joyful (but still completely enjoyable and satisfying) read with The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. This recommendation came as a result of my life long love of the Anne of Green Gables books and the fact that I had recently reread them as read alouds with my daughter in an attempt to make sure she is exposed to childhood classics even if she won’t read them herself. I didn’t love The Blue Castle the way I loooooooove the Anne books, but I did enjoy every word of the book. In true L.M. Montgomery style, the book is full of humor, romance, quirky characters, and a heroine who is full of spunk and moxie – all things that tend to add up to a great read for me. All in all, The Blue Castle did not disappoint. It was a read that transported me to another time and place and made me smile and laugh from beginning to end.
The final of book of Anne’s recommendations was The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy – another book meant to help bring some light and joy to my reading life, and again it did not disappoint. In the podcast episode, you will hear Anne and I discuss a mutual teenage affinity for Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (in my case it is a life long affinity – Les Miserables is one of the few novels I have reread over and over, and the musical is my all time favorite). So while I am no stranger to fictional accounts set in the context of the French Revolution, The Scarlett Pimpernel fills a space completely different from than the heftier and deeper Les Mis. With a cast of characters who span from quirky and lovable to creepy and detestable, The Scarlet Pimpernel is a fast read that hooked me from the start and was hard to put down.
Three for three on the book recommendations! And now that the episode has aired, I am adding even more titles to my TBR from the recommendations that listeners of the podcast are leaving in the comments on the website. So my TBR is growing longer by the day – what a good and fun “problem” to have!