Readers, our podcast community literally spans the globe, and today I’m chatting with our first Norwegian guest, Lisa Sølvberg!
Lisa’s been a reader her whole life, and as an adult, she’s found particular joy in pairing audiobooks with athletics—you’ll hear about her big bicycling adventure during our conversation today—and in adopting an intentional approach when it comes to selecting her next book.
I loved talking with Lisa about how book journaling has impacted her reading life, and about the type of books she’s realized she loves most: multigenerational family sagas, explorations of big topics like social class and inequality, and complex titles filled with intrigue and nuance. I love talking with all the readers that join me on the show, but I especially enjoyed my chat with Lisa since our reading tastes have a lot in common, and I couldn’t help also sharing a few bonus titles I think Lisa will love.
Lisa (00:00): And I remember some summers that I would bring, I think like 20 or 30 books for two or three weeks.
Anne (00:08): [BOTH LAUGH] Hey readers, I’m Anne Bogel. And this is What Should I Read Next episode 329. Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader, What Should I Read Next? We don’t get bossy on this show. What we will do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read every week. We’ll talk all things books and reading and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest
Anne (00:41): Readers. If you love a good sneak peek, don’t miss our Summer Reading Guide Unboxing! Every year we invite our patrons to our live book party, where I unveil this year’s Summer Reading Guide selections before the guide’s official release date, this event combines the best parts of a surprise party and a book club gathering. That is why we impatiently count down the days to Unboxing every year.
Anne (01:01): This year’s event is on May 19th. I’ll bring along members of the What Should I Read Next team to share the books I chose for this year’s guide. Why I love them for summer and why they might be perfect for you. Plus our patrons. Get our expanded edition. That includes bonus picks from our whole What Should I Read Next team? Consider this your invitation to grab a drink, get comfy and enjoy 90 glorious with a whole bunch of people who love books as much as you do.
Anne (01:25): We have a blast together and we would love to see you there. Get all the details and sign up at patreon.com slash whatshouldireadnext. That’s patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.
Anne (01:36): Readers today I’m joined by our very first guest from Norway. Lisa Sølvberg fell in love with reading as a child. When she take dozens of library books on summer vacation to her family’s cabin today, Lisa lives in a small town in Western Norway with her family, where she loves coupling reading with her favorite athletic pursuits. In fact, Lisa rode her bike across the U.S. in 2015, a journey during which she devoured hours and hours of audiobooks. These days, Lisa puts a lot of effort and research into choosing her next reads. That whole process has been more effective. Thanks to insights. Lisa gained from giving book journaling, a try. She hadn’t tried her reading until recently, and today you’ll hear how, when she began, she gained all kinds of insights into her own reading taste.
Anne (02:19): And now she’s using that new knowledge to inform her choices. Lisa is happiest when she’s reading books that grapple with big topics like social class inequality and family conflict. And she’d love to discover new titles that explore these themes. I was happy to oblige because that’s what we do here and not just because Lisa’s taste closely resembles my own. My recommendations today are filled with the intrigue, complexity and nuance that she’s looking for. And I can’t help also sharing a few bonus titles. I think Lisa will love. Let’s get to it.
Anne (02:51): Lisa, welcome to the show.
Lisa (02:52): Thank you so much for having me
Anne (02:54): Lisa you’re across the globe from where I am. Where are you? Exactly.
Lisa (02:58): I’m in a called Voss. That’s located at the Western part of Norway. So it’s close to Bergen. That’s the second largest city in Norway.
Anne (03:08): And what brought you to Voss?
Lisa (03:10): I was born and raised here. I’ve been living in Bergen for quite some time because that’s where I studied and got my first job. But then I met my now wife and she’s also from this small village.
Anne (03:24): Oh, really
Lisa (03:24): called Voss. And then she had already moved back here. So it’s a really nice place to raise a family. It has a very good small town vibe. It’s surrounded by a lot of mountains and it’s, it also beautiful lakes in the small town here in Voss we have a lot of extreme sports actually. So.
Anne (03:47): Really?
Lisa (03:47): We have, yeah, we’re known for this extreme sport festival. A lot of people from all over the world has ended up moving here and those people have brought with them different culture and different interests. So Voss has evolved a lot in the last couple of decades. So it’s possible to do a lot of different things here, everything from skiing to join our jazz festival, to doing extreme sports. We find that nice
Anne (04:15): When you were a kid, did you ever think you’d fall in love with someone from Voss and end up living there now in your thirties?
Lisa (04:20): Absolutely not. [BOTH LAUGH]
Lisa (04:23): I think like a lot of my friends that grew up here, we all wanted to get out into the world and move anywhere, but here and then like a lot of people, I think you end up seeing the place where you grew in a different lens when you become an adult. And also the place changes. Of course, we have a, a really nice life here.
Anne (04:49): Tell me what Voss is like for a reader.
Lisa (04:51): We have this very beautiful library that has like a lot of glass walls facing the lake. So it’s a very beautiful and relaxing place to read in the library.
Anne (05:03): Oh, that does sound beautiful. Tell me a little bit more about your life when you’re not reading.
Lisa (05:08): I work at the university of Bergen at the department of sociology where I’m doing a PhD. I’ve just started this January. So it’s quite new.
Anne (05:19): Congratulations.
Lisa (05:20): Thank you. It’s very, very exciting. [LAUGH] so I’m studying recruitment and hiring processes in the Norwegian elite. So I’m trying to figure out if and how inequality and social class, and especially connected to culture and lifestyle aspects, influence hiring decisions, of course. And then aside from my academic interests, I’m also very interested in reading, of course,
Anne (05:49): [LAUGH]
Lisa (05:50): I’m also very interested in running and sometimes those two can be combined and I love to go for a long run and put on an audiobook. I feel like I get very deep and focused on the story when I listen to it while on the run and we have two children aged one and three, I think we have the kind of typical family hectic days. So the days go by fast. And I try to just get my work and reading and running into the mix.
Anne (06:23): Well, I can certainly understand that. Lisa, I heard that you planned a challenging adventure in the states a few years back. Would you tell us more?
Lisa (06:32): In the summer of 2014, I had finished my bachelor’s degree and then I was starting to think that I wanted to do something just for fun, something very different than my life in academia before I started on my masters. And originally I wanted to run across the U.S.
Anne (06:54): Oh my gosh.
Lisa (06:55): Yeah, I understand that that was quite a crazy idea.
Anne (06:59): [LAUGH] It’s not impossible. It’s just, wow.
Lisa (07:03): Yeah, a lot of people do it actually, but that’s not for me. But then I decided it was better to just try to bicycle across. Most of the people that I told about the bicycle trip that I was planning, they told me that it was crazy and didn’t sound doable. And then I met this woman called–Jenny she’s now my wife. And she was the first one that said, wow, that sounds so cool. Can I join you? And then I thought she was kidding in the beginning that she wanted to join me.
Anne (07:34): [LAUGH]
Lisa (07:35): She was serious. And we ended up dating and then pretty quickly into our relationship. We had to start bicycling and training for this trip. And then we actually ended up doing it in the summer of 2015. So we started in Virginia, very symbolic act of dipping the, the back wheel of the bicycle in the Atlantic ocean. And then we kind of bicycled almost straight across. So it’s almost in the middle of the country. We ended up in San Francisco and dipped our front wheel [LAUGH] in the Pacific ocean.
Anne (08:13): [LAUGH]
Lisa (08:14): Yeah, it was really amazing. It was an amazing journey. It was so hard, so amazing. And it’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life.
Anne (08:24): Oh, I’m so glad you have those memories. That sounds like an amazing way to experience a country in a country. That’s not your own. Had you visited the United States before?
Lisa (08:33): Yeah, I actually studied at UC Berkeley in 2012 and 2013. So I had been in the U.S. for total one year previously, but mostly in California.
Anne (08:45): What was that trip like as a sociologist and a reader?
Lisa (08:48): Very interesting as a sociologist and especially one that’s focused on social inequalities, it was definitely a trip that let me experience both sides of the spectrum. So to speak.
Anne (09:02): Because of the variety of places that you’d be traveling through on your bike?
Lisa (09:05): Absolutely. So we saw some pretty harsh neighborhoods dominated by a lot of poverty and and we also very affluent neighborhoods. So it was very fascinating to see the inequalities and how the people differed and how the communities differed. So that was very fascinating. As a reader, I think what I remember most is just listening to a lot of audiobooks while bicycling, because it’s a lot of hours on the bike, but then I would, would typically just listen on one ear because it was quite frightening with the cars sometimes. So.
Anne (09:45): That sounds incredible. You know, if this were a different kind of show, I have so many questions about what that was like, [LAUGH] where your, where your favorite places to see. I can’t resist though. What’s, when you think about the middle of America, not dipping your wheels in, in the respective oceans, but what’s a standout memory from the journey.
Lisa (10:03): It has to be the people that we met in general because Americans are, I feel like they’re very generous and they included us in a lot of ways and strangers let us sleep in their houses and they gave us food and they gave us directions and made us meals and they were so kind to us. And the experience wouldn’t have been anything as good as it was if we haven’t met those kind of people. And I remember one day we had a very hard day. It was in the beginning. So I don’t know if we had gotten out of Virginia yet actually. The sun was really hot and we were struggling a bit just by riding the bicycle at eight hours a day. And it was hard and we had a lot of luggage on the bicycle, so it was pretty heavy. And then we had a break outside of a gas station. A guy came over to us and asked, “oh, you look tired. Are you okay? Where are you going?” And we told him like, oh, we’re going to the west coast. And he thought that was funny, of course, because it’s…
Anne (11:12): [LAUGH]
Lisa (11:13): He just felt a bit sorry for us. And he came out of the gas and just gave us each a Snickers, a chocolate. And I remember I’ve never been so glad just by that small act of getting a free chocolate [LAUGH]. So it’s stuff like that that I remember the most
Anne (11:32): Lisa. Okay. So we know you listen to audiobooks on the bike and while you’re running, tell me a little bit more about what your reading life is like.
Lisa (11:39): I like to read a combination of classics and contemporary literary fiction, I would say. So I like to read something that I feel contributes to something in my life. So that doesn’t mean that it can’t be light if that’s what I’m in the mood for. But usually I tend to read for lack of a better word, serious books. I wouldn’t say that I’m the kind of reader that would just pick up a random and unfamiliar book. As the same way as my work in academia, I like to do some research, the books that I’m reading.
Anne (12:12): Tell me more about that.
Lisa (12:14): So the books that I end up reading are usually recommended by someone which I trust their taste in books, classics that I feel are important to read for just general knowledge or books that I have read of and think that are high quality literary fiction. I think I’m not the most spontaneous reader. I do at least very rarely read books that I would give three stars or less on Goodreads.
Anne (12:39): Because it sounds like you do a lot of research so that you can feel pretty confident that you’re reading something that will be worth your time. Is that a good way to put it?
Lisa (12:48): Yeah.
Anne (12:49): I wonder if you’ve always been that way as a reader or I can definitely imagine having small children being in a PhD program, wanting to prioritize time outside. I can definitely see how you would want to make sure that you’re able to make your reading minutes really count right now.
Lisa (13:06): I think it’s become more important for me as the years I’ve gone by and especially after starting to work and also having small children that I don’t want to spend the few hours that I have of free time to read something that I’m not really into. So it’s important for me to read something that attributes something to my life in one way or the other. And I think that I’ve always been a bit like that. So maybe it’s gotten intensified in the last couple of years. I’ve always been quite serious about my reading, I would say. I remember we used to spend the summer vacations when I was a kid at my family cabin in Norway, and then it’s very beautiful there in the mountains, but it’s very quiet. It’s not a lot of things going on there when I was a kid and a tween I would spend a lot of time in the library before we went. And I remember some summers that I would bring, I think like 20 or 30 books for two or three weeks.
Anne (14:15): [LAUGH] I thought you were gonna say days for a second. I was impressed.
Lisa (14:18): Oh no,
Anne (14:19): That’s still pretty serious for two or three weeks.
Lisa (14:22): I would say so.
Anne (14:23): [LAUGH] It’s only a book book and half a day.
Lisa (14:25): Yeah.
Anne (14:26): So you want to make your reading hours count and want to identify in advance books that you feel really pull their weight.
Lisa (14:33): Absolutely.
Anne (14:34): Lisa, I think we’re ready to get specifics of what exactly it is. You enjoy to read.
Anne (14:42): Lisa, you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t and what you’ve been reading lately. And then we’ll talk about books that hopefully you’ll feel will really contribute to your life and your reading life, like you said. How did you choose these books, Lisa?
Lisa (14:56): I was struggling a bit with choosing them, but the way that I tried to go about it was that I chose three different books that I think represented different parts of my reading life. So I chose one class and one contemporary literary fiction and one memoir.
Anne (15:15): I can’t wait to hear. What’s the first book you love?
Lisa (15:17): The first book is The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I read this book during the pandemic and I spent a lot of time on it. And I think that this book is a book that required a lot of time, not necessarily only by the length of it, but also of the themes that the book deals with. You get more out of it. If you spend a long time on it, it’s a book about a father and his three sons. And the father is called Fyodor like Dostoevsky, the author. And he’s a pretty horrible character. He’s mean to most people around him. He’s pretty selfish and has bad temper drinks a lot. And he just in general acts horrible towards his sons. And then the three brothers Demetri and Alexei and Ivan. And they’re pretty different. So Demetri is the unstable one, but also the one that’s most similar to their dad and Ivan is the intellectual one, but also isolated and doubtful one, Alexei he’s the morally good and religious one.
Lisa (16:25): We know from the beginning in this book that the father is going to be murdered, but we do not know which of his sons is going to kill him. I think that this book covers several aspects. It’s a story of a family. It’s a mystery with a murder. And it’s also about jealousy and money. In addition to the general plot line, I think that it has more overarching themes such as the human need for religion and the role of freedom. And what does evil actions entail and also about the legal system and feeling such as guilt and shame and also philosophy. So it’s a lot of [LAUGH] big themes.
Anne (17:05): Lisa, what inspired you to pick this up at that point in your life and at that point in the pandemic? Many of us weren’t reading or were reading very light books and you, you were reading Dostoevsky. I’d love to hear about how that happened.
Lisa (17:19): My impression was actually that a lot of people delved into these long, heavy books during the pandemic, but it sounds right that we should have focused on lighter reading.
Anne (17:30): [LAUGH] There’s no should here. There’s no, should.
Lisa (17:32): No, that’s true. I think that I felt that I had more time and I’ve been thinking for a long time to read this book because seemed to me like an important book to have an opinion about. And just because it’s a classic [LAUGH] and it stood the test of time. I’ve had several people recommend it to me. I also had just discovered a podcast in Norwegian by the national public radio here in Norway, that they started reading the book for each episode. They devoted that episode to one chapter in the book. So they go through it very slowly.
Anne (18:13): [LAUGH] Did that companionship and proffered schedule help help you with your reading?
Lisa (18:19): Absolutely. It attributed a lot to my reading experience and I don’t think I would’ve gotten that much out of the book hadn’t it been for that podcast. So I think they did a really good job and I think it’s a pretty heavy book to get through, but it’s absolutely worth it. In my opinion, I found the characters to be very intriguing. And, uh, also I like the mystery part of the book.
Anne (18:45): I have not read this myself. I’ve read several of Dostoevsky’s works. I’ve picked this up once.
Lisa (18:51): Did you stop reading it?
Anne (18:53): I did. I was in my twenties. This was a while ago now at this point, but it’s one of those books that I keep meaning to go back to. It sounds like you said it’s one that you knew you wanted to read, but hadn’t made it happen yet. I think that’s where I am still. Maybe I need a good podcast. Too bad I can’t listen to the Norwegian one.
Lisa (19:10): No, that’s..
Anne (19:11): [LAUGH]
Lisa (19:12): It is a pretty heavy book and it has some parts on philosophy and religion that are quite heavy, but it’s also quite dramatic. And sometimes it’s kind of a page turner and I think they, the tension builds up throughout the book. And for each chapter I thought, is the dad going to be murdered now? Or what about now?
Anne (19:32): I’m glad to hear that. I mean, not only was it worth your while, but you’ve chosen it as one of three favorites. That’s really saying something about your reading experience.
Lisa (19:40): I think so.
Anne (19:41): What direction do we go in next? What did you choose for your second favorite?
Lisa (19:44): For my second favorite, I chose Educated by Tara Westover. This is a memoir. So it’s her story of overcoming her survivalist Mormon family in order to go to college. And I think this book emphasizes the role of knowledge and education enlarging her world. The memoir is written in three parts and we follow her journey from pretty isolated and brutal life in the mountains of Idaho, until she’s completed a PhD at Cambridge. Tara, she grows up with no formal education and her parents, especially her dad, or he’s quite skeptic of science and the government and hospitals. So if she, or one of her siblings in the memoir gets hurt or get into an accident, they don’t get to go to a hospital in that way. And in other ways that when the story unfolds, you can see that it’s a story of abuse in different forms and also the struggle of overcoming it and living with it. I think that it also deals with the cultural aspects of transitioning from these two very different worlds where they don’t believe in Western medicine and science to this world of higher education.
Anne (21:08): What compelled you to pick this up? I’m wondering if you knew how strongly it would connect to the themes that you’ve spent years studying before you began reading?
Lisa (21:16): I would guess that somebody recommended it to me, but I can’t remember, but I knew that it was gonna resonate with my life or the, the kind of work that I do in some way, but I didn’t know exactly. It was also a hard read, it’s, it’s a pretty brutal book. And I think that it’s told very honestly, quite brutally sometimes, but I like that you get an insight into a very different world and…
Anne (21:43): Yes, it’s harrowing for the reader. And, and yet I can hear how that really would contribute something to, to your life and your reading life.
Lisa (21:50): Yes. I feel like it absolutely did.
Anne (21:53): Okay. That’s Educated by Tara Westover. Lisa, what did you choose to complete your favorites list?
Lisa (21:59): The final book that I chose was Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen.
Anne (22:04): Oh, I’m so curious cuz this one’s on my reading list, but I haven’t read it yet.
Lisa (22:08): Oh, I can absolutely recommend it. [LAUGH] I got really dragged into the story. I got it as a Christmas present from my kids, but they’re obviously three and one years old. So I think they had some help from the other mom [LAUGH] but uh, I got it for Christmas and I read it in a couple of days.
Anne (22:28): Oh wow. That’s a big book. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t read it yet.
Lisa (22:32): Yeah. I think it’s almost 600 pages. I found myself getting this feeling that I can’t remember really having, since I was a kid where I sat up reading way beyond bedtime and so intrigued by the story. But I found myself reading in every chance I had during the Christmas break. And at one point I had my book by the stove while I was cooking dinner for my family.
Anne (22:58): [LAUGH] Now, how unusual is that for you?
Lisa (23:01): It happens periodically, but it’s not usual.
Anne (23:04): Okay.
Lisa (23:05): I would say it happens once or twice a year.
Anne (23:07): [LAUGH] Okay. And it’s not easy to hold like a 600 page book in one hand while you’re stirring the pot.
Lisa (23:12): No, that’s true. I had it on the counter next to me.
Anne (23:15): Oh, okay. I was thinking that’s just really, that really says a lot about your level of motivation
Lisa (23:19): [LAUGH] yeah. So this book came out last year and it’s a family saga set during the 1970s in suburban Chicago. And it’s supposed to be the first in a trilogy . So I’m very excited to read the next ones. We follow the Hildebrandt family. So it’s um, two parents, Russ and Marion, and their marriage is on the verge of collapse, and then their four children. The father Russ is a minister and we learned that he has been forced out of this popular youth group that he has founded at the church. And this youth group is called crossroads like the book title. And a lot of the plot is centered around conflicts and events connected to this group. Each of the chapters in the book is centered on one of them, these family members. I started reading the first chapter, which if I remember correctly is about the dad and I was so intrigued immediately about his life and everything that he was feeling about being forced out of his own youth group when the next chapter came.
Lisa (24:28): And I realized that we’re not gonna read about him anymore, just yet. We’re gonna transition to one of the other family members. I was so disappointed, but then I ended up being fascinated by the other family members. And then I think that the story had quite a few surprises. And one of the characters that I in the beginning thought was gonna be a pretty dull and uninteresting character, which was the mother. I ended up loving her, not necessarily sympathizing with her, but I thought she was very interesting to read about. And I was very fascinated by her. So it was written a very interesting way and that it managed to keep all of his characters complex and interesting all the way through.
Anne (25:15): I’m intrigued. Now this is representing a family saga and we saw in your submission that you’ve really learned something interesting about your reading life this year about yourself.
Lisa (25:24): Yeah. So I started book journaling per your recommendation [LAUGH]
Anne (25:28): Oh, I’m so glad.
Lisa (25:29): That’s when I started to reflect a bit more about my reading life. And then I noticed that I think I really enjoy literary fiction that’s centered around families. I think that it’s something special about family dynamics because compared to other relationships that you have in your life, like friends or acquaintances, you could in theory, remove those relationships or connections, but you cannot just remove the family relations. I think that I like the fact that characters need to face those conflicts that happens in their families. And that can be like parent children relationships and sibling relationships, marriages, and I find it very fascinating.
Anne (26:17): So in the past you would just stumble upon them from time to time, not realizing that that was something that was had a good track record of being satisfying to you as a reader.
Lisa (26:26): Yeah, that’s true. But I still feel like, even though I have realized that I like family sagas, I still feel like I stumble upon them a bit. I haven’t very actively gone about finding family sagas to read.
Anne (26:41): There hasn’t been a family saga research project yet.
Lisa (26:44): There has not. [LAUGH]
Anne (26:46): Okay. Okay.
Lisa (26:46): Maybe it’s for my postdoc. [LAUGH]
Anne (26:48): [LAUGH] Lisa, tell me about a book that wasn’t right for you.
Lisa (26:52): I found this pretty hard as well because usually I end up liking the books that I decide to read. I can’t really think of a book that I have hated because I usually end up finding something that I like about all the books that I read, but a book that I did not enjoy that much was The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald.
Anne (27:17): Oh, I have a high school freshman who’s gonna feel so validated when she hears about this conversation. Oh, she’s got one chapter to go in her high school assigned reading. Okay. Tell me about Gatsby, Gatsby and you.
Lisa (27:29): It’s not that I did not like it at all. I was a bit disappointed because I’ve heard so much about it. I feel like it’s a book that’s very hyped and that’s the Gatsby character is loved. And a lot of people find this character very intriguing. That’s my impression, at least I think I went into reading this book with the anticipation that it’s gonna be a magical experience reading this book. When I actually read it, I was like, is this all? I did not really get engaged by the characters or the story. It was a bit of a let down.
Anne (28:07): I mean, I’ll be candid. I really like this book, but that is because I am a sucker for the wistful first person narrator looking back and seeing what could have been or like telling you how it all went wrong. So that’s something that I appreciate about this story, and he’s so good with the language like Fitzgerald is so good with the language. So that being said, the conversation we had at our dinner table the other night was, is it possible to get out of high school in the United States without reading this book because it is almost universally assigned. And so the question was, is this book really so good everybody should be reading it at this formative age and going through it, you know, slowly chapter by chapter with their teacher to make sure they understand this great American novel, and I imagine that you’re coming to it like that. Like this is a must read. So show me, what’s so essential about it. And going in from that viewpoint, I mean, what we said at the dinner table was like, is it, are there things you can learn here about English and America? Sure. Like, are there plenty of other good books you could read that could accomplish that same end? Like most definitely.
Lisa (29:16): Yeah. That’s a good point. And I’ve been thinking about it these last couple of days, and I think I’m actually gonna go back and reread it because I read it a couple of years ago. [LAUGH] It’s interesting because we kind of have had the same discussion in Norway with just a different type of book. It’s a book by Sigrid Undset, which is a famous Norwegian author mm-hmm and she wrote the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. That’s set in the middle ages in Norway, and it’s supposed to say a lot of things about Norwegian society at that time. In high school, everybody at least watches the, the first movie of the trilogy or reads the first book as well. A lot of people end up not liking this book and they never wanna read anything from her ever again. But I think that if some people read it later in life, they might enjoy it way more.
Anne (30:15): That’s so interesting. I wouldn’t have thought that Gatsby and, uh, Kristin Lavransdatter had a lot in common, but um, kids reading it too young and then hating it forever, like, I can definitely see the parallels there. Something else that we talked about at dinner about The Great Gatsby is when the book first came out, like the critics hated it and it didn’t sell well, like one of the reasons you’re reading it in high school English is because it is short. And there was this program that sent books overseas during World War II to American soldiers, and it was inexpensive to print because it was not long. And so thousands, tens of thousands of copies got printed and put into soldier’s hands and they started reading it and the book spread from there and it became after Fitzgerald’s death, a phenomenon, but it wasn’t when it first came out, all of which we were to say like, you are entitled to your own opinion.
Anne (30:59): You don’t have to think this is worth your while, and even if you see why it’s being taught in school, that doesn’t mean you have to like it. And we are telling this to our, you know, readers who are still in their formative years, but that is very true for adults as well. I think it’s interesting that you wanna revisit it, but I, I wanna make sure you’re spending your reading time carefully, but I think you mentioned before that you just finished rereading the trilogy of Kristin Lavransdatter. And I’d love to hear how that experience went for you.
Lisa (31:26): I read the whole trilogy now and I’ve just finished it and it could have easily been on my favorites list. It was so good. And I think that Sigrid Undset is really a master of describing family dynamics and, um, it deals with a lot of hard emotions in regard to marriages and also between generations. And it was just such an amazing book.
Anne (31:55): I’m so glad that you found that to be worth your while. That is a lot of pages, also, if you just finished the trilogy.
Lisa (32:01): Yes. It’s a lot of pages.
Anne (32:03): [LAUGH] what else have you been reading lately?
Lisa (32:06): I, uh, have my own, uh, book club. I chose the book this month and I chose Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. But after reading about it, the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club and hearing about it on the podcast, I think I actually also just started listening to Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Anne (32:27): Another family saga, but with a totally different tone than the previous ones you’ve mentioned.
Lisa (32:32): I also just recently read The Unseen World. That was part of the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club. So I get a lot of good recommendations from there.
Anne (32:42): Oh, good. I’m glad to hear it. Lisa, what are you looking for in your reading life right now?
Lisa (32:48): I would like to get some recommendations of more stories about families, families sagas or stories that centers on a family and perhaps go between generations.
Anne (33:02): So you’re interested in reads with interesting characters that revolve around families. If they’re multi-generational, that would be welcome as well.
Lisa (33:11): Yeah, absolutely. And if I think about, uh, the feeling that I want to experience, ideally there would be the feeling I had when I read Crossroads and was standing by the stove and just trying to get my minutes of reading time, because I’m so engaged by the family story.
Anne (33:29): [LAUGH] Lisa, what language are you typically reading in?
Lisa (33:32): I listen to audio books on audible so that’s all in English. And then when I read like physical books, it’s mostly in Norwegian, but I don’t have any issue with reading in English.
Anne (33:47): That’s helpful, thank you.
Anne (33:51): Okay, Lisa, let’s take a look back at the books you chose today. So you loved The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. You loved Educated by Tara Westover. And like you said, Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen. Not for you was The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. And you’ve been reading a variety of books recently. Uh, the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, The Unseen World, Crow Lake, Malibu Rising. And you’re especially looking out for novels, hmm, you didn’t say novels, especially looking out for books that have strong family themes and really take a look at those family relationships. Lisa, I love a good family saga and I could give you recommendations all day for the rest of this podcast episode and the next, but I do want to cheat a little bit by just saying that not that long ago on the podcast, we’ve talked about a fair number of books.
Anne (34:45): I feel like I’ve talked about them maybe too much already that I do think would be really promising reads for you. The first ones that are coming to mind are The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili the German author. This is an international bestseller, but it tracks a hundred years in the life of a family living in the country of Georgia. And the telling is very interesting. It’s written as a letter from an older woman in the family to a younger generation, and you forget that it’s being written that way until she interrupts herself occasionally and says, now Brilka, what you need to know is, uh, but I think that could be a really phenomenal pick for you for all the reasons you said, complex family relationships. Um, but also set against the backdrop of earth moving historical events in the past hundred years. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher also has an interesting setting.
Anne (35:34): I think there’s something like 14 chapters. Each has a different point of view where you get like a slightly different angle on the family and the relationships, but it also spans many years. You get to know many generations, you know, 50 years before to the present day decisions that they’re facing. I think it could be really interesting for you. And Jubilee by Margaret Walker, uh, biographical novel based on Margaret Walker’s, I think it’s her great grandmother’s life, really fascinating, uh, family history. And again, set against the backdrop of these very real historical events, the period before, during and after the American Civil War. Just really interesting. And I think has a lot of the elements you love. I want to put those in front of you without really diving in again.
Lisa (36:22): Thank you so much for those recommendations.
Anne (36:25): Oh, well maybe cuz I just gave you like 2000 pages to read [LAUGH] um, if you, if you did want to visit those cuz especially The Eighth Life, that’s a thousand page book, but I can see by you reading Crossroads and The Brothers Karamazov and the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy that that’s not something that would necessarily stop you, if you feel like the book is going to contribute to your life and your reading life.
Lisa (36:47): Yeah, absolutely.
Anne (36:49): I wanna go in a different direction. The place I wanna start is with a book that I think may be interesting to you for a couple different reasons. First, it’s a historical novel, although it goes back and forth in time from the roughly present day, 2016, to 1973, when the events that have affected these characters’ entire lives all transpired, but I know professionally you’re examining inequality and social class and what that means in various systems, especially in hiring processes. And that is not the only reason I think this might be interesting to you, but I think it’s a big one. And while I wouldn’t call this a family saga, the focus is on the contrast between two different families and not necessarily about like the generational effects in individual families, but I still think it has enough going for it that it might be a good, it fit for you.
Anne (37:40): So this novel is Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez and it’s just out here in the U.S., It’s out April, 2022 where I don’t, I don’t wanna spoil anything about the book for the readers. Some of you will know more than others just because of your knowledge of United States history, but this novel is loosely inspired by the real court case here in the United States of Relf versus Weinberger, uh, Perkins-Valdez wants to make sure the reader knows this is not a retelling, but she did use the, the historical events as inspiration to imagine, like what would it have felt like to live through those events or what would it been like to be a part of that historical moment? Uh, the book is set primarily in Montgomery, Alabama, again in 1973 and the woman we see the most is a young girl. I imagine she’s in her late teens, early twenties.
Anne (38:30): Her name is Civil Townsend. She’s the daughter of a prominent black doctor in her community. Her mother is an artist, but she decides deliberately she wants to be a nurse. And what she decides to do is take her first job after she graduates from her school. Uh, she goes to, um, Tuskegee like her father did. She decides to take her first job out of college as a nurse at the Montgomery family planning clinic where she, she sees because of personal experiences, a straight line connection between empowering women to make choices for their lives and their bodies and living the kind of life that she imagines herself wanting to live, and she wants to help other women live. And remember, this is all set in 1973. Very early in her job, she finds out she’s doing in-home visits and she end up seeing these new patients that she just completely falls in love with they’re two sisters, they’re 11 and 13 years old.
Anne (39:21): So because of her connection to these sisters, she suddenly becomes very intimately involved in a historically significant, I mean still today from 2022, we can see this is incredibly significant historically issue in American history. And these events unfolded right on the heels of the news about the Tuskegee study coming out in the United States, it was a long term study done on African American men in Alabama about the long term effects of syphilis, including what happened when you left it untreated. And the government health agencies experimented on Black people without their knowledge or consent in ways that were just really morally repugnant. So she ends up becoming a key figure in this case as do the girls, which they’re 11 and 13 years old, they don’t wanna be at the, you know, center of this, but it’s too late for Civil Townsend. And she is, uh, it from the beginning of the story in 2016, you know that she grew up, you know that she raised a daughter, you know that she’s telling her daughter her story that has previously gone unspoken because she thinks, um, to become who she needs to be in this world.
Anne (40:26): She has to know where she came from and you know that nobody’s forgotten this and it still has been incredibly significant on everybody’s life. So we go back and forth between 2016 and 1973 to see what unfolded. Dr. Civil Townsend is based on a historical woman who is named in the author’s notes. She talks in the note about the moral and ethical issues that she’s exploring in this book are still, um, issues that matter today. Like we did not solve this. This is still ongoing. This book has a lot to recommend to you. How does that sound, Lisa?
Lisa (41:02): I think it sounds very interesting. I feel like I would want to do some research about [LAUGH].
Anne (41:08): Of course you would.
Anne (41:09): I expect no less.
Lisa (41:10): But it sounds very interesting.
Anne (41:12): I’m glad to hear it. You mentioned how, you’re not sure you would’ve gotten as much out of The Brothers Karamazov as you did, if you hadn’t listened to that podcast, that kind of walked you through it chapter by chapter. And that got me thinking about a book by a Syracuse professor here in the United States called A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. The subtitle is In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life. Again, this isn’t a strict family saga, but there are so many family relationships. So what George Saunders does in this book, now he is a creative writing professor at a New York university, the structure of this book is really interesting. So what he does in this book is he says, Hey, welcome to my English seminar. This is what I teach. This is how I teach. This is how I help students understand the Russians, these stories and why they matter.
Anne (42:07): You know, you’ve got a seat in the back, come on in. And so one story at a time he, he reads in this book and the text is in the book, six stories by some of the Russian greats, there are two Chekhov stories, two Tolstoy stories. And then there’s stories by Nikolai Gogol and Ivan Turgenev. Actually The Singers by Ivan Turgenev kicks this off. In this book, you get a little introduction from Saunders. You read the Russian short story, and then actually, you know what? You don’t always read the story. You read chunks of the story and then Saunders will stop and say, what did you notice? What were you thinking? Here’s what I’d tell my students right now. Here’s what I’d ask them. Did, did you notice he did that? What did you think of the description of the door clanging as the man walked into the Tavern? I wonder if reading this book now, when you have this renewed appreciation for The Brothers Karamazov, in reading it in this format where Saunders is like, come into my classroom and let me walk you through these stories. I wonder if this could be a good format for you and if the timing could be right,
Lisa (43:10): I think the format sounds both intriguing and also like a lot of work because then I feel like I would [LAUGH] I can anticipate that when I read the different stories, I would go back and read the whole story. I’m not usually very good at just reading parts of a story. [LAUGH]
Anne (43:31): Oh, it’s all here. It’s all here.
Lisa (43:32): Okay.
Anne (43:33): Because I definitely can see how, how you would feel compelled to read the rest of this story. It’s all there. It’s just that sometimes Saunders says let’s review that, that first scene, something that I think is so interesting about this is in the introduction. Saunders says that, uh, somehow he ended up having this realization that some of the best moments of his life, like the moments during which he felt like he was really contributing something of value to the world had been spent teaching this Russian class that became this book about Russian short stories. And he says that, uh, and I’m trying to think why he says that. I think because the work matters and like the best fiction does, it points us towards the things that really matter in life. I, since we’ve been talking about contributions, I, I kinda like that connection to this book.
Lisa (44:19): Yeah. It sounds really interesting. And unlike everything I’ve read, I think [LAUGH], so that’s a good thing. It’s nice to explore something new.
Anne (44:28): I hope so. Okay. Well, I’ll be curious to see what you think that is A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders. And, you know, I was thinking about going with a nonfiction book that reads like a novel, but the back of my mind has been working over the idea that really a book like Crossroads would be really welcome. A family saga, spans many years. You get to spend time with people and really get to know them. And I imagine that it’s more incidental than anything that the religious elements were so important in Crossroads. Oh, in all these books, actually, Lisa, I hadn’t quite put that together.
Lisa (45:11): No me neither until like two hours ago. And then I was like, wow, that’s pretty fascinating because I’m an atheist. And it was quite fascinating that religion was a common theme in all these books.
Anne (45:25): Okay. So what could, I mean, it could be coincidence. I’m also wondering if perhaps watching people wrestle with what they considered to be like the underpinnings of their understanding of the world just makes for interesting reading to you.
Lisa (45:37): Yeah, I think so. I’d like to read about philosophical questions.
Anne (45:42): Well, there’s all kinds of family sagas that we could go with. But the one that I’m thinking of for specifically that Crossroads connection is a novel that came out in the U.S., mm, maybe three years ago, it’s called The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. This is the story of two families, two couples primarily, then they, they get older and kids enter the picture, but their names are Charles and Lily and James and Nan and their lives become intimately entwined when actually the two men, Charles and James are candidates for the same job, and that is to be the head pastor at the historic church in Greenwich Village, New York City. Um, it’s called Third Presbyterian Church. 1963 is a turbulent time in the United States in Manhattan. They get interviewed by the church committee and Charles and James are very different personalities and have very different visions for where the church can be.
Anne (46:35): And that’s very evident to the parish and the people interviewing them, the stewards of the church. They think they’re in competition and they are. But what happens is that the, the church decides to call them both. They say, these are, these are times we haven’t seen before, you have radically different approaches, we think we need both of you. And so they’re hired to jointly steward this congregation. The men have very different backgrounds. They have very different wives, very different marriages by virtue of this, church’s completely unexpected and not necessarily welcome decision by these two men, um, who wrestle with it and ultimately decide like, yes, I will give up my belief that I would be the one like the one sole man at the helm, and I’ll become part of this joint effort, but it, it changes all their lives and the lives of those in the parish as well.
Anne (47:21): But this is really a story of the two families first and foremost, especially the four adults, and not as much as what happens to the church itself. So they do, they take the position and they steward the church through the upheaval and change of the decades to come. And they do this despite their personal differences, which are many and get a lot of air time on the page, which is a mixed metaphor. But I hope, you know what I mean? [LAUGH], I think you’ll find it really fascinating to watch these adults, um, these family units struggle with faith and friendship over decades of never-ending change. That’s both change within themselves, change amidst their congregation and change in the city around them. How does that sound to you, Lisa?
Lisa (48:05): That sounds very interesting. I think that it could potentially be a new Crossroads feeling. [LAUGH]
Anne (48:13): Well, it’s not quite as long. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Lisa (48:16): No, that’s not a bad thing. I think that sounds very fascinating.
Anne (48:20): Well, I’m excited to hear what you think! Now, Lisa, of the books we talked about today, Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders and finally The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall, Lisa, of those books, what do you think you may read next?
Lisa (48:37): I think that I’m gonna read all of them. [LAUGH]
Anne (48:41): [LAUGH]
Lisa (48:41): So, I think I’m gonna read a lot the next couple of months, I’m gonna start with The Dearly Beloved. Maybe it could be like almost a fun read, very intriguing and like a page turner. And I think that’s something that I need right now. So I think I’m gonna start with that one and just move down the list from there. [LAUGH]
Anne (49:01): Well, that sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to hear what you think and I so appreciate you talking books with me today.
Lisa (49:07): Thank you so much for having me on your show. It was such honor.
Anne (49:16): Hey readers. I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Lisa and I’d love to hear what you think she should read next. Let her know in the comments of our show notes, where you’ll also find the full list of titles we talked about today. That list is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com slash 329. We cannot wait to share our 2022 summer reading guide and want to make sure you get your very own copy in your inbox on May 23rd. To get that sign up at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com slash newsletter, and you will be on the list. Follow us on Instagram at whatshouldIreadnext to see what else is happening in our world of books and reading and to connect with fellow fans of the show. While you’re there, be sure to follow me too. I am at annebogel. That is Anne with an E, B as in books, O G E L.
Anne (50:00): If you enjoy the show, thank you. Please leave us a five star review on apple podcasts, or star your favorite episode in my favorite app, Overcast. This is a great way to help spread the book love. Make sure you’re following in Apple podcast, Spotify, Overcast and more. Tune in next week, when I’ll be talking with a reader who can’t get enough fascinating biographies, and loves stories with a little bit of mystery. Thanks to the people who make this show happen. What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek. That’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening. And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Educated by Tara Westover
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
△ The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
• Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
• Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
• Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid
• The Unseen World by Liz Moore
• The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili
• The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
• Jubilee by Margaret Walker
• Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
• A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders
• The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall