It’s been a long time since we’ve had a teenager on What Should I Read Next?—and today’s guest isn’t here to talk about YA. Katie Guenthner has long been reading classics, historical nonfiction, and the most formidable books she can find at the library in order to uphold her status as an “advanced reader.”
After listening to countless readers wax poetic about reading for escape on WSIRN, Katie realized what’s missing in her reading life—and now she’s ready to trade Charles Dickens for the lighthearted stories she’s been eschewing for too long.
I’m here to recommend books that will help Katie take herself less seriously as a reader and help her welcome more fun reads to her library holds list. And I guarantee that today’s conversation takes some turns you are NOT expecting, that you’re really gonna enjoy.
KATIE: I can find the tough themes plenty well on my own apparently. [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 294.
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.
Readers, my new book journal called My Reading Life comes out September 21—and it’s available for preorder right now. Preorder your copy wherever new books are sold, then visit modernmrsdarcy.com/journal to claim your preorder bonuses today. Preorder your copy now and visit modernmrsdarcy.com/journal to claim your preorder bonuses—including entrance in the giveaway to win five books that I hand-select for you based on your reading tastes. Preorder today, and visit modernmrsdarcy.com/journal to claim your bonuses. Happy journaling, and happy reading!
It has been a long time since we’ve had a teenager on the show—and today’s guest isn’t here to talk about YA. Katie Guenther has long been reading classics, historical nonfiction, and the most formidable books she can find at the library in order to uphold her status as an “advanced reader.”
After listening to countless readers wax poetic about reading for escape on What Should I Read Next, Katie realized what’s missing in her reading life—and now she’s ready to trade Charles Dickens for the lighthearted stories she’s been eschewing for too long.
I’m here to recommend books that will help Katie take herself less seriously as a reader and help her welcome more fun reads to her library holds list. And I guarantee that today’s conversation takes some turns you are not expecting and that you’re really gonna enjoy. Let’s get to it.
Katie, welcome to the show.
KATIE: Hi, Anne. It’s so nice to be on here.
ANNE: Oh, well, this is a pleasure. You are our first teen guest that we have had in ages, and I so appreciate you coming on.
KATIE: Well, I’m super excited to represent.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Katie, tell me a little bit about your life right now.
KATIE: Well right now, I’m a rising senior, so that is a lot of college preparation, and reading I like to be an escape from that and just in general high school life, so I love things that are taking me away from what I experience and like even looking to the future, like what could I be?
ANNE: How has your high school experience been so far?
KATIE: Pretty good. I generally do well in school. Actually a big problem for me has been reading during school, especially online school. I am often reading a book instead of paying attention to what the teachers are doing, [ANNE LAUGHS] which has been a problem, but I hope that in person school is coming back, that won’t be such a big problem for me.
ANNE: I hope so. Where are you in the world?
KATIE: I’m in the Atlanta area.
ANNE: You are very close to a lot of literary landmarks and places I was so eager to get to on my cancelled book tour for 2020, including the Decatur Book Festival which I have heard amazing things about and have never been.
KATIE: It is so fun. The idea of just being, like, able to walk around and look at books. Every time I go, I get stuck at one stall or another, and then just [ANNE LAUGHS] I stay there for the rest of the day.
ANNE: Now, Katie, tell me a little bit about your reading life. What is that like right now?
KATIE: I’ve been trying to take myself less seriously as a reader. A lot of times when I was young because I was labelled as an advanced reader, I thought I had to read classics and really hard books for no reason. I actually miss a lot of YA books and children’s books, so I’m even going back and reading those. Also reading lighthearted adult books which I find a lot more fun and interesting than something like, oh no, Charles Dickens.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] So weird.
ANNE: That’s so interesting that you said that being labelled as an advanced reader, I could imagine that adults thought that they were bestowing a blessing upon you, but it sounds like it didn’t actually work out that way in your reading life.
KATIE: Yeah, my friends and I talk about this all the time because most of them had the same sorta issue with like math or reading. It makes you think that you have to act better than you are, and it makes you try to conform to some definition of better. And for me, that was reading, like if I’m not reading serious books, quote-unquote “serious” [ANNE LAUGHS] then I’m not a serious reader.
ANNE: What you said reminds me of how something we talk about a lot on the show is that readers get themselves into trouble or at least lose enjoyment in their reading lives when they’re choosing to please someone else, and not choosing to please themselves. Is that something that resonates with you?
KATIE: Definitely. And I’ve gotten better at not conforming to the standards set by schools about what good reading is, but I still do it with recommendations from like my family. Like I feel obligated to read books that they recommend to me even though I know going into it [ANNE LAUGHS] I’m not going to like it.
ANNE: What’s their track record with recommending books for you?
KATIE: Sometimes it’s really good, like my mom got me to read Memoirs Of a Geisha when I was nine, and that was my favorite book for the longest time. My sister got me to read … Her recommendations are very hit and miss, but they definitely shape me as a reader. They’ve made me try like different forms for reading, like there’s a short series called Bear. It’s a really short novel, but it was definitely very different from anything I’ve ever read, so I had her to thank for that.
She’s seven years older than me, which means that in pretty much everything, including my reading life, she’s passed down information for me to consume and then test that out for myself. That has been interesting sometimes ’cause often I don’t tell her when I don’t like her recommendations [ANNE LAUGHS] so she actually doesn’t know how to recommend stuff to me. Recently she recommended The Kingkiller Chronicles to me, one of her favorite fantasy books, and I hated it, and I told her so for once. It actually caused her to rethink it. So for the first time, I’m actually starting to talk to her about the books instead of just reading what she gives me.
ANNE: Yeah. How was that conversation?
KATIE: At first she defended the book, but more recently she was actually disappointed because I pointed out some things she hadn’t noticed like weaker female characters and a kinda perfect main character who never does anything wrong, and that made her rethink the series a little bit.
ANNE: Now you said that she recommended the series to you. Did you read the series, or just the first book?
KATIE: I read just the first book.
ANNE: That has actually been a guest favorite on What Should I Read Next. I had to consult our spreadsheet. I’ve not read it myself, but Jamie Wright chose it as a favorite back in episode 228 if listeners wanna go listen to her take on that.
Something I’m thinking of now is you’re saying that your sister has always recommended various things to you, including books, is that my youngest child, who’s only 11, is like watching Parks and Rec with us right now, which is nothing … Like we never would have sat down and been like hello, oldest child. Let’s watch a family show together. We would have waited until he went to bed, but now we [LAUGHS] we do things as a family and he’s exposed to his siblings’, you know, music and books and other interests in ways that I think really benefit him, but it’s a totally different experience than my oldest child got as a kid.
KATIE: Yeah, I think that’s definitely been true for me too. I feel like my sister got to carve her own way in the world a bit more and try out things for herself. I think like maybe my mom gave her some recommendations, but probably she got less of that just by virtue of not having an older sibling, whereas when I was growing up, there was always somebody who was like a few steps ahead of me in terms of development, so I’d always be looking at her and thinking oh, this is what I’m going to do next, or this is what I should be next. I’m still doing it. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: But you’re growing up in a home where the bookshelves are already full to some extent. Not that there’s not room for your own selections, but I do imagine that’s a different experience.
KATIE: Oh, that’s absolutely true. There’s a bookshelf in the living room with my parents’ books, there’s my own bookshelf, and then there’s my sister’s bookshelf, and they are all three very different tastes.
ANNE: It sounds like you are part of a family of readers.
KATIE: Yeah, definitely. My family is pretty literary, especially my sister.
ANNE: Katie, tell me about reading in Spanish. I was floored by that on the submission you sent in.
KATIE: Oh, yeah. It’s actually kinda a funny story. When I started middle school, they give you a placement test in my school, in elementary school, if you should be in higher or lower level Spanish, and I placed in lower level. My parents could probably tell that my ego was hurt by that [ANNE LAUGHS] so one day my dad bought me at the time my favorite book series, the first Harry Potter in Spanish, and he gave it to me and I read the books side by side and I actually started to get better, and then by the second book, I just read it on its own, and I got through the whole series by the end of like seventh grade. I had the bright idea of showing up to class with the books until I got moved up to higher level Spanish, and since then it’s kinda been a hobby of for me finding books that are in different language.
ANNE: How do you seek those out right now?
KATIE: That’s pretty difficult because I started with books that were translations of English literature, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to learn about other cultures. However the books that are available are not great. Like I’ll go to Barnes and Noble and it’ll be like weight loss recipes and bibles and Gabriel García Márquez, and that’s it.
ANNE: That’s …. disappointing. And I suppose an actual trip to Spain is out of the question right now because I took German as a student and so I remember going in high school and just buying a variety of anything I could at the German bookstore. Like I came home with like little not quite board books, but little small children’s books of Bouvier, but in German, which was honestly about on my reading level the first time I went, but also coming home with Bridget Jones’ Diary, you know, and a whole host of books in between. So how do you – how do you decide what to read in Spanish?
KATIE: Well before Corona, my dad works for an airline so he would go to Latin America and bring me back books. He would talk to the booksellers and be like what are kids reading? And bring that back.
ANNE: Oh. Oh, that’s amazing.
KATIE: Yeah. That was fun. I have actually been slacking off on it now because he has been traveling less. He was mainly my big source for literature.
ANNE: And it sounds like he knows how to pick them, or how to ask people to pick them for you.
ANNE: How was his track record?
KATIE: It was pretty good. So Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
KATIE: Also The Secret History of the Mapuche, who are an Indigenous people. So those are both things that are very me. I really enjoy them.
ANNE: When your dad’s not able to pick for you in a Latin American bookstore, how do you identify what books you’d like to read in Spanish? Or do you?
KATIE: I don’t really because most of what is offered is magical realism, which is not a genre I normally pick in English. So I read that, but I don’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy my English books.
ANNE: Okay, interesting. Listeners, if you have any great [LAUGHS] Spanish book blogs or bookstores you follow that put out book lists, Katie, would that be a good idea?
KATIE: That would be awesome.
ANNE: Please put them in our show notes at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com. I know that with a site like Book Depository, you could order whatever Spanish original language title you wanted to, but you would need to know what you were looking for, and I was just thinking how can you replicate the experience of just seeing what’s on offer at the local bookstore?
ANNE: Listeners, we’d love your help there. Katie, we were honored to read on your submission that What Should I Read Next helped your reading life recently. Would you tell us about that a little more?
KATIE: Well I put in my submission right after I started listening to What Should I Read Next sometime in like the fall, it really helped me to stop taking myself so seriously. It made me realize more than I had before what I’d been doing in trying to pursue only classics and also history. I was reading a lot of nonfiction history. I don’t know why. Maybe it was ‘cause the history books in the adult section looked really formidable? [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: So obviously they were in the ones you were going to reach for. I love it.
KATIE: [LAUGHS] But What Should I Read Next, a lot of the guests will come on and say that they don’t feel like real readers for some sorta reason, and then you’d be like no, no, you definitely are a real reader, so I was like oh. Maybe there’s other things i can read and it’s not a big deal.
ANNE: Well I’m so glad to hear it. I think it’s easier to analyze a reading life that’s not our own, and I’m really glad that listening to other people talk about their experience has really helped you reflect on your own.
KATIE: That is absolutely true. I must have listened to like 50 episodes before I sent in my submission. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Well we are so glad you did, and thank you for that. I’m so curious to hear not only what you chose but how you chose it.
KATIE: So it was hard because I don’t really believe in favorite books. But these books represent different aspects of what I enjoy to read, so I hope it reaches a spectrum. There’s not a lighthearted comedy on there, and I wish there were, but I couldn’t think of a perfect example because it’s just like in general lighthearted comedies.
ANNE: So that’s a future favorite that you’re hoping for, except you just said you don’t believe in favorites, so tell me more about that please.
KATIE: People’s opinions change over time and there’s different favorites for different reasons, so I guess there are favorites, it’s just hard to pick one. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Completely concur.
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ANNE: Katie, you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you’ve loved, one book you don’t, and what you’ve been reading lately and we will talk about what you may enjoy reading next. So what’s book one?
KATIE: Book number one is Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. This is probably the first memoir I ever read. This is from my sister. Again, her broadening my horizons. I must have picked it up when I was like nine or ten. Really serious book in some aspects. I don’t know if you’ve read it.
ANNE: Yeah. I have. The first time I actually was introduced to this book was by a What Should I Read Next guest, is Laura Summerhill who talked about rebuilding her life and her library after Hurricane Harvey swept through the Houston area and she chose it as a favorite back on episode 148.
KATIE: Oh wow.
ANNE: But it was new to me then. I think that’s amazing that your sister introduced it to you at such an early age and that it stuck with you for so long.
KATIE: Yeah, definitely. I haven’t listened to that episode but I can sorta see why that listener might have been interested in that book.
ANNE: Tell me more about your reading experience with it.
KATIE: Well, at the time since I was really young the idea of real people’s lives being difficult wasn’t really real to me, so I would read a lot of history books and be like oh, in the Middle Ages, these things happened. But this happened to a woman who was my mother’s age. A bunch of traumatic war experiences, figuring out her identity. In the end I think some of the most traumatic things weren’t war, but her relationships to other people, and I thought that was raw of her to share. I suppose you could say it made me realize that adult life isn’t as straight and narrow as I thought it was at the time.
ANNE: And this happens to be a graphic memoir.
KATIE: Yeah. Another reason why I picked it is because I wanted to represent that I do like graphic memoirs, or graphic novels in general.
ANNE: Ooh, we will keep that in mind. [KATIE LAUGHS] Katie, what did you choose for book two?
KATIE: Book two came from What Should I Read Next. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab.
ANNE: Oh, that makes me happy.
KATIE: I love this book because it’s kinda magical realism now that I’m thinking about it in a way, which I normally don’t like, but I just really loved how in-depth this writer got with her character, and her character wasn’t all good or all bad. She just made decisions and lived with the consequences. And there wasn’t a magical solution ending either. There wasn’t a fairytale ending. Also I thought the romances in it were very, very good.
ANNE: So it sounds like you really loved well developed, realistic characters with a fantastical element that really worked for you.
KATIE: So I do love those aspects. I also picked it because Persepolis was more of a representation of how I’ve been shaped as a reader, and this one represents what I’ve been drifting towards recently.
ANNE: What is book three represent?
KATIE: Book three represents that I really love exploring other cultures. I love it especially when I can relate to the character, but they’re in a completely different situation from me. That is so fascinating to me. It’s a fantasy book set in Nigeria and the character is an Albino teenage girl who learns how to navigate her magical abilities with the help of a strong friend group and mentors. So I really loved the adventure in it. I love how the magic works because it’s very different from Harry Potter, which at the time was the only other fantasy book I have read. And it’s also another recommendation from my sister, so more evidence of how she gets me to read authors that are from other cultures like authors that I wouldn’t have encountered in the school library.
ANNE: That is such a great way to put it. Tell me more about your interest in exploring other cultures.
KATIE: So I think I’m so interested in it because I don’t like reading books that are too close to my own experience, like high school or privileged white people. I do enjoy reading books with white characters, but just like, people who have the exact same experience as me is a bit boring. But I do also like being able to relate to the characters, especially if they’re my own age, so removing it and putting it in a different culture lets me see a person who’s like me, but living a different life.
ANNE: Now, Katie, how did you choose the book that wasn’t right for you?
KATIE: [LAUGHS] So the book that wasn’t right for me is The Glass Castle, and I feel like that one might be controversial because I think it was a very popular book at a certain time. I read this in middle school for a book club and a lot of people in that book club liked it a lot. They thought it was really interesting depiction of a sorta different lifestyle, but I didn’t like it because I felt like the author should’ve written the memoir ten years later. I feel like she was exploring a lot of her childhood trauma. I feel like her parents were genuinely abusive, and she kinda wrote it off, like she gaslit her own feelings in the situation.
ANNE: I wanna start by saying a book can be very popular and you could still not enjoy the reading experience. That happens all the time, and it is okay.
KATIE: Thank you. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: It doesn’t have to be controversial. I mean, in fact, I think for many readers it can be a lot of fun to have that experience of going oh I didn’t like that either, and it felt like everybody else did. That’s really interesting though. That’s not what I expected you to say, which was some version of what a difficult childhood. That was painful to read about, like that’s what I expected, but I hadn’t heard the take that a little more perspective might have served the story well.
KATIE: Yeah, it was hard to read about her childhood. That’s for sure, but I do not mind reading books that are about difficult topics. I find it interesting sometimes. I had noticed though that as the older I get, the more difficult it is for me to read about people’s experiences that were difficult. I think that I read a lot of books too soon when I was a child, and I think that I’m starting to develop more empathy and that is making it more difficult for me to read certain topics.
ANNE: Tell me more about reading books too soon.
KATIE: Well another interesting thing about having a much older sibling is that you get stuff really early. Parental controls that your older sibling might have had, you don’t have anymore because the older sister has it, so you know, why not just share it anyway. I’ve never been banned from reading books. I’ve been banned from reading two books actually, but I read them anyway, so it hardly counts. [BOTH LAUGH] I think it was Orange is the New Black, which I did not like as much as I thought I would, and Hyperbole and a Half, which I almost included as one of my favorites ’cause that book is amazing.
ANNE: You said something interesting on your submission actually about Hyperbole and a Half. At the time, there were themes that were difficult for you to grasp, and then when you came back to them a little later, here, I’ll let you take over.
KATIE: So the reason I wasn’t allowed to read Hyperbole and a Half wasn’t dirty jokes or anything like that. I don’t think my parents really ever cared about that. They figured if I’m old enough to look at the page and read it, I could read the book. But the depression. There was some descriptions of her depression in there that my parents thought would negatively affect me. They didn’t at the time, but only because I did not get it. There’s one scene where she’s lying on the floor of her kitchen, like staring at a piece of corn under her fridge or something and I just remember reading that and being like this isn’t very funny anymore, but I finished the chapter and just moved on.
In retrospect, I can definitely see why my parents didn’t want me to read it. I think actually if I read it now for the first time, then I would have understood it and it would have made me more sad. Recently I read Solutions and Other Problems, her follow up, and I asked some context of events that have happened in her life. That was definitely darker, but I still enjoyed it.
ANNE: Katie, what have you been reading lately?
KATIE: I go through books pretty quickly, but right now I’m reading The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, and I am really enjoying it. I was talking to Brenna on the test call yesterday about it and I mentioned I hadn’t really been able to get into it, but then she told me that one of your guests I think was like a geologist or something, and he said that the author uses a lot of inside jokes about rocks, and I thought that was so funny, I went up and picked it [ANNE LAUGHS] and now I’m almost done.
ANNE: Oh, wow. Oh, I’m so glad. It seems like N. K. Jemisin would be a really great fit for you based on what you enjoy, and I’m so glad it’s working out that way.
KATIE: I read How Long Til Black Future Month about a month ago and that’s what got me to pick up the series ’cause I was like wow, these are really good examples of writing, just the way she writes. She leaves breadcrumbs for the reader. She doesn’t tell you everything all out, and she doesn’t hold your hand, but you get it in the end, which I really enjoy that.
ANNE: I know that you have just begun a trilogy; however, have you read her work The City We Became?
KATIE: I haven’t.
ANNE: Okay. The seeds of that book are in How Long Til Black Future Month. I’m just saying, if you want more N. K. Jemisin in your life, you could roll right into The City We Became which is the first in a planned trilogy. It came out last summer. I think it could be a great fit for you, especially if you did love How Long Til Black Future Month because that was the germ of this trilogy that’s rolling out now.
KATIE: That’s so fascinating. I’ll be sure to check that out.
ANNE: Okay. Katie, we’ve touched a little bit on what you’re looking for right now in your reading life, but let’s come back to it for a moment. I’m especially curious to hear you say more about the balance of wanting to read books that are fun and also hearing you describe your favorites now, which are all not light reading.
KATIE: Yeah, I know, that’s so funny, isn’t it?
ANNE: We’re readers. We contain multitudes. It’s fine but I’d love to hear you explore that attention a little bit before we choose books for you.
KATIE: Here’s the thing. My favorites are books that I feel like have profoundly impacted me and represent a lot of the elements and writing that I like, but I like lighthearted books a lot. None of them stand out enough to me to be a favorite if that makes any sense.
ANNE: But that’s still something you want in rotation in your reading life because you enjoy the experience even if you’re not going to point back and say yes, that was the best book I read in 2021, bar none, the end.
KATIE: Yeah. Exactly. If I could use a school metaphor here, it’s kinda like my favorites are A+s, and then generally that style of writing is like a B or an A-, whereas lighthearted books would be an A. There’s just not as many A+s there.
ANNE: Fun and lighthearted. At what point did you realize this is … Is it fair to say a gap you wanted to fill in a bit in your reading life?
KATIE: It might have been last September when I started listening to your podcast. I realized all these adult women who were reading these fun lighthearted books, stuff like I don’t know, Bridget Jones’ Diary, stuff that I would have considered not serious, not real books at the time.
ANNE: And then therefore maybe like not worth your time, like oh, serious readers wouldn’t deign to read like that kinda thing?
KATIE: Yeah, exactly, and since then I’ve been trying to … I’ve been using your blog posts on Modern Mrs Darcy as well as other blogs to like pick out good books and I put them on my Storygraph and that way I can like crowdsource to get lighthearted books. So that could be anything that explores like cute love stories or big life changes. One of my favorite lighthearted series has been The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan, I think?
KATIE: Like I really loved that because it’s like you know how it’s going to end. You know how it’s going to come together, and you’re just along for the ride, and it’s really fun.
ANNE: Okay. It’s interesting how you add one book to your whiteboard and it totally changes the connections you can make between the titles.
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ANNE: Okay, Katie, let’s recap. Your favorites are Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, and Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. Not for you, the very popular, but not right The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, and currently you are reading The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. And you want some books that are fun and don’t take themselves super seriously, not necessarily packed with tough themes.
KATIE: I can find the tough themes plenty well on my own apparently. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Okay. Let’s see what we can do here. I noticed that you really loved graphic memoirs and novels even though you maybe don’t read as many of them as you might were your library situation a little bit different. The first book that comes to mind when I think of something that’s just fun and delightful is a graphic novel by Ngozi Ukazu called Check, Please! Have you read this?
KATIE: No, I haven’t. I’ve never even heard of it.
ANNE: Oh, that makes me so happy. Well it was first put on my radar I believe by podcast guest Liberty Hardy, the Book Riot podcaster who reads 600+ books a year because it is her job to do so, and our producer Brenna heard the cut from the episode and said Anne, you have to read that book. And I did and it’s so much fun.
This is a graphic memoir set in the world of hockey. Check, Please! is referring to like the physical contact in hockey where you check somebody. If you actually play hockey and are listening right now, I’m sure you’re cringing at the way I’m describing this. I clear … I’ve been to a hockey game. Maybe even two hockey games [KATIE LAUGHS] but that’s about it, but you do not have to be a hockey lover by any means to enjoy this.
So this is actually about a college hockey team and the protagonist is named Eric Bittle, and he is a Georgia hockey player who graduates high school and becomes a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team. And he’s a figure skating champion. He has a vlog that comes into the action of the book. He’s a baker. This book has so much pie in it, Katie, and that could be a really fun.
But this has been described as a coming of age and coming out of the closet story where everything goes right. He goes to school. He’s starting this new life in this new place and he’s gotta figure some stuff out, how to be a person and how to create life for himself and how to be as a freshman like how to become an integral part of a well formed team where, you know, he’s new and he’s small and he’s inexperienced in the world of college hockey. But he, you know, wins everybody over with pie and friendship and it’s just a really fun story, and a backstory here is that it was originally published as a webcomic.
The illustrations add a lot to the story, like most of the meaning is carried in like the expressions on the faces and there’s some hockey hijinks and pranks to add even more of a comedic factor and I know you said that you don’t need funny novels to bring that lightheartedness that you’re looking for, and I wouldn’t describe this as a comedy, but it certainly has funny elements that I think could bring some of that levity that you’re looking for to your reading life. How does that sound?
KATIE: That sounds perfect. Well the lightheartedness sounds awesome, but especially the fact that it’s taking place at the beginning of college, like that’s just enough escapism for me. Like that’s the future. I love that.
ANNE: That’s the future. And I didn’t even realize the Georgia connection until [LAUGHS] until I opened my mouth and went wait.
KATIE: I thought that was funny that he’s a hockey player and he’s from Georgia. That is not a very common sport here.
ANNE: No, the ice melts pretty quick down south.
KATIE: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. So that was Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu. I hope there are more books coming out in this series. Right now there’s a one and a two that I got my bound together when I checked my version out at the library, but I would really love some more or some more work by Ukazu. Next I’m thinking of a series that takes classic very serious works of literature, turns them on their head and has a lot of fun with them. Does that sound promising?
KATIE: That sounds very promising.
ANNE: So the series I’m thinking of is The Lady Janies. It’s by three authors, which is really actually funny. It’s Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows. I believe they are all YA novelists in their own right, and they have this really funny story in their acknowledgments that says yup, we were unconnected. We had different agents, different publishers, and we said hey folks, we want to write a book together. Can we make that happen? And everybody had a huge collective groan and headache, and then they did.
So it’s called The Lady Janies because in this series they’re writing about the Janes of literature and of history. So far the series is My Lady Jane, which is about Jane Grey, the Queen of England who reigned for something like nine days. Jane Eyre, I’m sure you know Jane Eyre, and My Calamity Jane is the third book in the series. So here’s what they do with history.
So in My Lady Jane, Jane Grey is cousins to the King of England, Edward. He’s dying but not for quite historically accurate reasons. He’s sixteen at the beginning [LAUGHS] of the book. He’s just really upset that he’s dying because like he hasn’t even been kissed yet, and they make all these kissing jokes in the book. But Jane gets married at her cousin’s request only to find out that her new husband is a horse. He’s an E∂ian. These E∂ians turn into animals at various times to power what they have. Sometimes they can control it. Sometimes they can’t. Jane is desperate to become an E∂ian. Her husband doesn’t want her to know that he’s a horse.
Very real history. Completely ridiculous element, and also all these inside jokes like somebody will sit in a chair that’s very uncomfortable, and the authors will like step in for a second and be like oh, we researched all the chairs of history and yes, this is in fact the most uncomfortable. She’s not messing around. It’s just this delightfully silly and yet also really smart and savvy. Because in order to do what these authors are doing with history, and with literature, you gotta know it inside out. You gotta trust your reader to like get the huge winks they’re throwing your way. How does that sound?
KATIE: That sounds so good. All of it. There’s no way you could have known this but I actually, especially when I was little, was super interested in Tudor history.
KATIE: So this is right up my alley. Yeah. It’s also fun to see a book that’s not historical enough, like it changes what happened, and it’s doing it on purpose, so that will be super fun.
ANNE: I am thrilled to hear it. There’s all kinds of little like Easter eggs for the reader, like in My Plain Jane, the one about Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre can see ghosts because of course she can and there’s a whole society for the relocation of wayward spirits that’s trying to recruit her because of her special skill set, but there’s all kinds of movie jokes and references, like there’s so many Princess Bride jokes throughout the book.
KATIE: Oh, that’s perfect.
ANNE: Okay. So that was My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. Three books to the series so far. I say so far because I don’t … I don’t know how many Janes there are, but I hope they find some more to write about. And then let’s go along the lines of Addie LaRue. How does that sound?
KATIE: That sounds great.
ANNE: The book I’m thinking of is How To Stop Time by Matt Haig. Is this one you’ve read?
KATIE: No it isn’t.
ANNE: Okay, so here’s the premise of this book and you’ll see why it’s vaguely Addie LaRue-ish. This is the story of a man who doesn’t age exactly. His name is Tom Hazard which I have to say [KATIE LAUGHS] is just an awesome name for a protagonist in a story like this. But he was born in 1581. In the present day he looks like he’s just a 40 year old teacher in London. Haig is a British author. But that’s because he has this rare genetic disorder that means for every year he lives, you or I would live like 14. In 1581, he’s only racked up the equivalent of 41 years on this earth. And of course is mostly a curse and not a blessing because just like Addie LaRue, he’s always lonely.
You know, when he gets to know people, he sees them grow old and die, or terrible things happen to him. But he knows that only he can die in one of two ways. He’s either going to [LAUGHS] reach the age of 950 and die in his sleep, or he’s going to die in some act of violence that … In the prose, it’s like the story’s heart or brain, or causes a profound loss of blood. And those are the only things that can kill …. They call them albatrosses in the book. The long lived humans. They have immunity from so much human pain but because of that, they’re also isolated from it and the people who experience it.
Two things that are really fun in this book. One while is he is alone, he is not the only one who has this rare genetic disorder. So throughout the book, he’s crossing paths with people having the same experience he does, and they get to compare notes in a way that’s really a lot of fun, but also he gets to meet all these characters of history. So you see him like drinking ale with Shakespeare, and you know, living it up. So it’s got that fun, historical element. Or he’s meeting like Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. Or Lillian Gish. And these little vignettes of his life across centuries but the same person is a little headspinny, but also really fun.
So you’re looking for something that is fun. How many times have I said fun now, Katie? But his themes are very serious, like he’s writing about time and love and what binds us together as people and humanity, but he’s doing it in a way that’s really clever and different enough to make you go like oh, I didn’t know this is what I needed on my bookshelf.
I remember you saying also that you really enjoyed well written, like self-help and nonfiction. You mentioned Allie Brosh and Hyperbole and a Half. He’s written extensively about his experience with suicidal depression, and he’s done that in … I wouldn’t call them self-help books, but he has definitely done them in a nonfiction, personal growth kind of way in books like Reasons to Stay Alive and he has a new one out summer 2021 called The Comfort Book. And I think this book, How to Stop Time, might be a nice introduction to Haig for you, but you may also enjoy his nonfiction writing as well. Maybe we can make this a twofer for you.
KATIE: [LAUGHS] Yes. I can include that. It sounds like he is a guy who would have like the human experience and depiction of characters down really well in his fiction writing.
ANNE: I hope that’s how you experience this book. [KATIE LAUGHS] I think these are great books for older or more mature teen readers to read. So the books we talked about were Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu, My Plain Jane and the whole Lady Janies series, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, and How to Stop Time by Matt Haig. Of those books, what do you think you’ll enjoy reading next?
KATIE: My 17th birthday is coming up so I know that I’m getting all three of them as a present very soon from my parents.
ANNE: Aww. Thanks, Mom and Dad. That’s so nice.
KATIE: Yeah, I know. I’m very happy about that, but I do have to pick one to pick up physically first. I think I’m going to read My Lady Jane first. I think I’ll save the graphic novel. I want to be able to like take my time with that ’cause it’s so easy to breeze through a graphic novel.
ANNE: I hope that’s a wonderful reading experience and I can’t wait to hear what you think. Katie, this has been a delight. Thanks so much for talking books with me.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Katie, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/294 and it’s where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
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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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•Charles Dickens (try Great Expectations)
•Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
•Charles Dickens (try Great Expectations)
•Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
•The Bear by Andrew Krivak
•The Kingkiller Chronicles (#1 The Name of the Wind) by Patrick Rothfuss
•Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (Spanish edition)
•Gabriel Garcia Marquez (try One Hundred Years of Solitude)
•Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding (German edition)
•Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Spanish edition)
•The Secret History of the Mapuche by Pedro Cayuqueo
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
△The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wells
•Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
•Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
•Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
•The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
•How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin
•The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
•The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
•Check, Please! (#Hockey series) by Ngozi Ukazu
•My Lady Jane (The Lady Janies series) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
•How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
•Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
•The Comfort Book by Matt Haig
•The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
•WSIRN Episode 228: Help! I can’t stop quitting books with Jamie Wright
•WSIRN Episode 148: Rebuilding your life (and your library) with Laura Summerhill
•WSIRN Episode 180: Rearranging your life to read 600 books a year with Liberty Hardy
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