ANNE: Well, you know, fine-free is the new trend.
JOANNE: They actually are fine-free, but they've lost a few books. [BOTH LAUGH]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 324.
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, when you pre-order my new kids’ book journal, My Reading Adventures, before the book comes out on August 2, you and your 8-12 year old readers will receive bonus gifts! We’ll send you custom stickers to enjoy now, an exclusive reading list featuring my top series to read with kids (just in time for spring break!), and a downloadable guide for parents with tips to encourage young readers.
Plus, when you pre-order My Reading Adventures now, you’ll know the journal will show up at your door in the midst of that hectic, end-of-summer, back-to-school season when your kids need some extra delight and you need a break! It’s a gift for your young reader and your future self.
Learn more and pre-order your copy at modernmrsdarcy.com/kidsjournal.
Readers, our guest last week started a lifelong library love affair thanks to her grandmother, and today I’m talking to a grandmother who is nurturing the next generation of readers!
Joanne Booy has lived around the world in the midst of diverse peoples and cultures, but one thing’s always been the same: her love of reading. Whether she was making a pilgrimage to the nearest bookstore in Kenya or working as a teacher librarian in Canada (where she now lives), she’s always turned to reading as both a diversion and a way to create connection.
When her community was faced with Covid lockdowns, Joanne took on the role of book genie to her four grandchildren, ensuring they received a steady supply of library deliveries when they couldn’t leave the house. Joanne and I chat today about the art of finding the right books for eager young readers, and how curating her grandkid’s reading selections gave her an enjoyable window into their world and helped strengthen their connection during a difficult time.
And we dig into Joanne’s own reading life, her search for titles that are well-written and life-affirming, and why she HATED a book written by one of her favorite authors. I leave her with recommendations for reading gems that I think she’ll connect with across a variety of genres.
Let’s get to it!
Joanne, welcome to the show.
JOANNE: Hi, Anne. It's great to be here.
ANNE: Joanne, what brings you to What Should I Read Next today?
JOANNE: I thought about it over the years. I've listened to your podcast for quite some time. I just never thought I was interesting enough, but then [ANNE LAUGHS] when I started doing a new bookish project during the pandemic I thought oh, that might be kinda timely.
ANNE: Well I am looking forward to hearing more about that. Joanne, what are you typically doing on a Tuesday morning when the show comes out?
JOANNE: I'm usually sewing. I listen to the podcast while I'm sewing. I'm a quilter and I have to say that your voice is probably stitched into quite a few quilts.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I am honored. Thank you very much. And where are you in the world?
JOANNE: Well, I live in Canada. Just outside of Toronto, but we lived many years overseas. My husband's an international development worker, humanitarian aid worker, and we're retired now, but we lived for 20 years in two different countries in Africa and six years in the U.K.. Through my life I've had to adapt to change and challenges and it's kinda been a theme in my life, so I've been thrown out of my comfort zone quite a few times. [LAUGHS] But I've always managed to keep books as part of the journey.
ANNE: Could you tell us a little more about the different places you've lived, and especially how your reading life has followed you around the globe.
JOANNE: So when we were first married, we moved to Sierra Leone and we lived in a tiny remote village. We had no electricity. No running water. This is of course before cell phones and internet, so even though I didn't read much as a child. My reading really got rooted in those six years because it was actually our default form of evening entertainment. The sun would go down at 6:30 and we'd sit by buggy kerosene lamps and read our books. [LAUGHS]
So books were very precious. We didn't have many of them, so when a book arrived, we all read it and even our project colleagues read it and we would have impromptu book club conversations when we saw each other. Those six years were really foundational for my husband and I, and living with scarcity for six years really made me learn not to take things for granted.
After that we moved to Tanzania. We lived for 13 years. Then we lived in a city with more infrastructure and an international school, but still no libraries or bookstores in English language and no TV at first for quite a few years. My sister-in-law actually gave me three of the first Harry Potter books and I didn't know what they were. I put them aside for Christmas. Then my son had malaria and he was recovering and really bored, and so I pulled those books out and gave them to him. Well he just ripped through them. Loved them. We all ended up reading them and after that we were very excited to, you know, make our annual trip to Nairobi to get another installment. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Tell me about the bookstore in Nairobi.
JOANNE: Well it was nice. It wasn't Disneyland. [LAUGHS] We had -- you know, they had the latest, then you know, Arusha is also the doorstep to the Serengeti, another game parks with African wildlife and, you know, for most people going on a Safari or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, which is very near to us too is a trip of a lifetime and when our kids were little, they thought it was perfectly normal to go to see elephants and giraffes and zebras on the weekends. In fact, when our oldest daughter was very little, she misnamed one of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles The Lion, The Witch, and the Warthog. [ANNE LAUGHS]
So yeah, my bookish pursuit there in Arusha was actually building a used book library. Our church had a book cart with a few books on it and I asked people to donate more and it grew to a wall and a number of shelves, and then the Church built a new building and I got a purpose built room, so that library in that church is still functioning to this day.
ANNE: Joanne, how did you happen to settle in Canada?
JOANNE: When the kids were 14, 16, and 18, we actually moved back to Canada. I thought I might go back and get a library science degree, but I got offered by a weird set of circumstances, my dream job. I became a teacher librarian for eight years in a private high school where our two younger kids attended and I just loved sharing the joy of reading and helping students find good information.
And then the school built a brand new library and I got to help design it, so that was amazing. They gave me this gorgeous atrium space where I helped build an open concept, multi-purpose space with group work and computers and lots of books of course and window seats. So that made the job even better. Settled into the new space and I love the job even more, but you can probably guess what happened next. We had to move again.
Happily we moved – our kids were grown up now – but we moved to England, which was amazing. It was an opportunity of a lifetime to be there. We lived there for six years. We lived in the cutest little historic town that you've ever seen. It was called Eton. It was right across the river from Windsor Castle. I could open my bedroom curtains in the morning and see Windsor Castle tower and the Royal Standard would be flying and I would know the Queen was in.
A fantastic place to live for a while, but I was still really sad and a little bit grumpy about losing my library job that I loved so much, but you know, such is the love of books. So I have a reading log. My husband suggested that I turn the log into a blog, and so that's when Joanne's Reading Blog was born, and eleven years later it's still growing strong.
ANNE: Well congratulations. But now you're back in Canada.
JOANNE: We are, and we moved back to Canada again when the grandchildren started to arrive, and then a couple of years later the pandemic hit and we were in to lockdown. Libraries were closed. We couldn't see our children, even though they lived right across town. Our poor kids were going crazy. They were trying to work from home and they were you know, taking care of their kids. It was really frustrating for me as an Oma – I'm an Oma because I'm Dutch – I couldn't go over and help like I used to, and so I had to get creative and I came up with an idea.
I got their library login and started putting picture books on hold for them to collect curbside. It was really fun for me. It was fun for my librarian heart and healing for my Oma heart and it was something they had no time for, so I actually – I'm still doing it. You know, the libraries are open now, but I'm still doing it because it really was a lot of fun and it is still a lot of fun.
Our daughter jokes that she can tell what's happening in the family by the books that I order, so you know, Berenstain Bears Go Camping or Toilet Tales or Very Cranky Bear [ANNE LAUGHS] or whatever, so ... So I actually – it's a little bit nerdy – but I do have to check in regularly with their account and I do their renewals, but I do draw the line at paying overdue fines, so.
ANNE: Well, you know, fine-free is the new trend.
JOANNE: They actually are fine-free, but they've lost a few books. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Okay. It's still very expensive to lose books. Joanne, how old are your grandchildren now?
JOANNE: They're ... Actually, well the oldest one just turned five today, and then there's ...
ANNE: Aw. Happy birthday.
JOANNE: One was born in December and there's a two year old and a three year old. Four grandchildren under the age of five, so family dinners are chaotic, but it's lovely. They're lovely.
ANNE: I'm glad to hear it. Last week I talked to Houston Luke who talked about how her grandmother gave her good books to read and that was absolutely formative in her reading life and now it's so wonderful to get to talk to the grandmother who's doing the formation in her young people's reading lives. So your grandchildren already love books, but you and I both know how difficult it can be to keep a child who loves to read surrounded by good books because they go through them so quickly. Even if they do love to read the same ones over and over again, they go through them so quickly.
You have a lot of familiarity with this from many different roles you've filled in your life. Tell me a little bit about what's so tricky about matching up great books with kids who want to read, but don't necessarily know what they want to read? I think a lot of young parents or educators or childcare providers are really surprised to realize you can't just walk into a library and grab a stack and go, and I just remember when my children were young – I was pretty young when I had my children – I remember going into the library and looking at the thousands of books surrounding me in the children's section and thinking I have no idea how to tell what's good. Like if I know what I am looking for I can find it on the shelf but I don't know what I'm looking for and I don't know how to know.
JOANNE: And it's actually particularly difficult with picture books because they will have some on display in the library, but most of them are spine facing out and there's no way you can figure out ,you know, which books they are on the shelf. It's very difficult with picture books.
ANNE: Mmhm. And you can pull them off the shelf one at a time, but that is very time consuming, especially if there isn't a pandemic on and you have said children with you who don't necessarily [LAUGHS] want to watch you vet all the titles they might take on with them.
JOANNE: That's right. They may not pick the books that you may want them to pick, right? [LAUGHS] That's the other option. It's good if they can pick some of their own, of course, but this way I can really target authors that I know they like and good authors and I keep a spreadsheet so, you know, I track a little bit. I talk to them. I find out what they like. I think about what's going on in their life and what they might like to read about and it's worked really well. It's actually just a nice project for me. I enjoy it a lot.
ANNE: I think we find, especially during the pandemic, that so many people are reading and looking for books not just for themselves but for others in their lives. Do you have any tips for those who are looking for books for the young readers in their lives?
JOANNE: I think it's just being aware of authors to, you know, research that online. Go to your favorite bookstore online and look at their staff picks. Look at book lists. I'm sure there's other blogs that focus on children's books. I just zoom around a bit on [LAUGHS] Google and look at what the latest greatest is. I also have ... There's a bookstore in Michigan that has great recommendations, so I get their newsletter. Brilliant Books.
ANNE: Who are your grandchildrens' favorite authors?
JOANNE: The two year old loves singing along with Raffi's songs for a while. The five year old loves dinosaurs and rockets and beginning to get ready to read, so Pete the Cat [ANNE LAUGHS] is a favorite and I actually scored and by accident got a read along that he was amazed with. He thought it was magic, right, that the book was reading to him. [LAUGHS] All by itself. And his sister loved that too, so yeah, it's a little bit luck, you know, and it's a little bit just trying different things and I'm sure there's a lot of things that don't resonate with them, but that's where communication helps and I read to them when they come over so I kinda know what they like.
ANNE: So it sounds like you are an avid user of the holds system.
JOANNE: Yes. I keep my list, my TBR list on Goodreads and I work the list from both ends. [BOTH LAUGH] So I get the older books from the library print copy and that way I can keep them for a long time. I can keep renewing them, and then the latest greatest I put on my ebook and I can just have them all suspended and let them go one at a time, and then I also listen to audiobooks, nonfiction while I'm sewing along with your podcast. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: So latest and greatest. That's a phrase you've used a few times. What do you have in mind when you say that?
JOANNE: I guess the recommendations I hear on your podcast, book lists that I look at, new books that have come out.
ANNE: New, promising titles. Okay. Joanne, we're going to get into your reading life. How did you choose the books that you're going to talk about today?
JOANNE: Well generally the books I picked represent the type of gems that I'm always looking for, so this is really hard because there's a lot of them because I am always looking for those gems that are well written, wise, life affirming, you know, reveal a slice of humanity, have a bit of humor, good pacing, plotting, surprising in some way. I like a straightforward style in a book.
I guess the authors that I'm thinking of with these types of books are William Kent Kruger, Mary Lawson, Matt Haig, TJ Klune. Across the genres you can find books with a perspective that you appreciate. Kent Haruf is another one. And so that's generally what I'm always looking for and so that's what I look for to choose my books, but specifically I picked one African connection, one U.K. connection, and a picture book.
ANNE: Well, Joanne, 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 we will talk about what you may enjoy reading next that will … That was quite a robust list you have of what you're looking for in a book. I think I'm really getting a picture already of what you're looking for, and I can't wait to see how that's represented in these actual titles.
JOANNE: Great, I'm excited.
ANNE: Tell me about your first favorite.
JOANNE: Okay, my first favorite is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. That's my African connection, which might be a little confusing since it's set in North Carolina, but I'll get to that in a minute. I love this book because it focused on Kya, who was abandoned by her whole family and she had to survive all by herself in an isolated situation. She grew up in the marsh and it's fascinating how the marsh became her emotional and physical sustenance. The town people just didn't understand her and she was very marginalized by them and they were I think they didn't understand her, so they were afraid of her and called her the marsh girl.
Now the beginning of the book there's a murder of course becuase of who she is, the town thinks that she did it, and there's a court case and I won't say more about what happens in the book, but there's some beautiful surprises at the end. The writing is beautiful and it's just one of these immersive stories that just carried me along.
The African connection is this is Delia's first novel, but when she was younger, she and her husband were wildlife photographers in Africa, and so she experienced isolation there and also a real connectedness with nature that Delia was able to bring to a different – totally different context in Where the Crawdads Sing in North Carolina. So I thought that was very clever and I really thought she wrote the isolation really well. I've experienced isolation myself and I think that really came through well.
ANNE: That is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Joanne, what did you choose for your second favorite book?
JOANNE: Okay, my second book is the U.K. connection, so it's The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. This book is funny. [SIGHS] Quirky. Charming. It has deep and sharp insights into human behavior, so it's set in a small town England. It's part whodunit, part coming of age about the secrets behind every door and it captures British suburban life so well. The story is during a heat wave on a small British culdesac in 1976, a woman goes missing, and two young girls decide to investigate. The girls tackle both simple logistics but also be existential questions while they search and investigate to find out what happened to Mrs. Creasy.
And so this book put me right back on our little street in Eton where we lived. It's just a very quirky, charming, beautifully written. There were so many sentences that were really about ordinary stuff, but I wrote them down because they were just so well crafted and showed such an insight into humanity. The author is a British psychiatrist and so she brings a really neat element to the book that way.
She's written another book that did exactly the same thing called Three Things About Elsie, which is about a seniors home and so she brought a lot of deep insights into that experience with that, so the book is also completely funny. There's hilarious situational comedy, but also it features classic British quick wit, you know. The British have a great sense of humor and that just shines through in this book, so it's a neat combination of funny and serious because Joanna Cannon also has a memoir about her own story of burnout as a healthcare worker called Breaking and Mending, which I haven't read yet but I want to because I think it's hugely relevant right now.
ANNE: That's so interesting. I didn't know about her memoir. Another book with a connection to a place you've lived. That is The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. And Joanne, what did you choose to complete your favorites list?
JOANNE: I chose a picture book. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Charlie Mackesy himself says that the story is for eight or eighty. Sometimes I feel I am both. [ANNE LAUGHS] It has exquisite illustrations. They're just simple sketches really but they're accompanied by some really simple words to live by and yet even though everything is super simple and sorta looks unfinished, there's a beautiful perspective that's communicated. A bravery, acceptance, friendship, kindness, resilience. It's – it's really life affirming and very real. It doesn't … It's not like a hallmark card, and the sketches are like I said a bit unfinished and imperfect, which is kinda like us all, you know. We're all a work in progress and we all get scared. We all are unsure about things and we're all in need of a bit of kindness and I just – I just love the book for that. I bought many copies and given them to people I love because it's just a book that you will pick up often in your life.
ANNE: Yes, I've heard so many people say that that one was ... I don't know if fun for the whole family is the word, but yes that eight to eighty is actually quite an adept description that people are finding to be true in their own reading lives. Oh, what led you to pick that one up?
JOANNE: I don't actually know how this came across. I should keep better notes of where I find books. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I don't know. Sometimes it's nice to feel like the right book just dropped out of the sky for you.
JOANNE: It's true. Books have a way of finding us at just the right time. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: That was The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Now, Joanne, tell me about a book that didn't land right for you.
JOANNE: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, and you know, it had all the elements. It should have been a favorite of mine. I bought it because of all the elements that I thought I would connect with and I just didn't. Patchett is a favorite author of mine. I love Bel Canto. State of Wonder has the best snake story I've ever read.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I have to say that's not a category I keep in my reading log. [LAUGHS]
JOANNE: Well you haven't lived in Africa, right? [LAUGHS] I'm Dutch. I love books with houses that are a character in the story. I love that Patchett has a bookstore. I love family sagas. I should have liked this book and I just didn't connect with it. I don't know why. I - I think I might try to listen to it in audiobook form. I mean Tom Hanks might raise it up a level for me. We'll see. I think also the obsessiveness of Danny and Maeve sitting in the car so much just began to annoy me and bore me. [ANNE LAUGHS] You know, maybe it was just because I had no patience with them after all the houses I've won and lost in my life. [LAUGHS] I don't know.
ANNE: Tell me about the importance of connecting with a book for you as a reader. What does that feel like to you?
JOANNE: Honestly, I think it's a bit magical. My disappointment might have been my expectation, you know. You kinda expect all authors to give you the same perspective or the same feeling when you read the book and that's not always the case, so I think my expectations may have been unfair in this case. I don't know what the connection is but I know when I read it and I have this feeling like I can relax and be ... I'm in the hands of a good author. I know that the story will keep me going and I have that early on, so if I'm not feeling that connection, I usually often don't finish the book, but The Dutch House I had bought, so I finished it. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: So does it have to do with the characters themselves? Is it more about a feel from the story?
JOANNE: I think it's a gut thing. There are authors that have a perspective and it maybe points to something beyond the story. That may be what I'm looking for is some kind of meaning or wisdom or something beyond the story itself. That helps.
ANNE: Joanne, that's so interesting and I think you really have an opportunity here to learn more about yourself as a reader because you know that you've loved Ann Patchett in the past and have really connected with at least two of her previous books. You mentioned Bel Canto and State of Wonder. I'd really be interested in hearing what comes up for you were you to reflect upon why this one lacked that when the other two hadn't because clearly it's more than just an author whose work you feel you can really relax in and sink yourself into, and that's one of the nice things about reading books that are about similar topics or that have similar themes or that are written by the same person because it really gives you an opportunity to say okay, it's not the author. It's not the style. There's something in the story that either really works for me or doesn't, and so this is your opportunity to see what that could be.
One of my reading intentions for this year is to become more of a completist. I know I've talked about this on the podcast, but Maggie O'Farrell is one of my favorite authors and in the fall, I read every one of her books and it really let me understand how her style developed, but also I would tell you I really like her style, but now that I've read her work, especially her earlier work, I can say ooh, this is where it worked for me, but this is where it didn't and why it didn't, like what was missing, maybe it was a character.
Maybe it was an idea, like she has one story that's kinda a ghost story and I really wanted her to lean all the way into that, and she didn't. She let it go. The book may be exactly what the author wanted it to be, but not what I was interested in the author exploring. So just noticing like well what did I really want the author to explore and why? And how is the actual story different? Like that really gives me insight into myself as a person too, but also really as a reader, so I do think you've given yourself an opening to find out more about what you enjoy.
ANNE: Because sometimes it can be something as simple as like I just didn't like that character and I didn't like spending time with them. The end. Easy, easy. Or the subject matter made me squidgy. It was either too close to home or it was completely unrelatable and I just wasn't ready to go that far yet. There's no right or wrong answer but I think you have the possibility of some answers.
JOANNE: It could be different for every book too, and every genre.
ANNE: Oh, absolutely.
JOANNE: You know. Perhaps I need to examine that a little bit more, but also like The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, I actually started that book and bailed on it, and I left it at the cottage and a year later it was still at the cottage, so I picked it up again and I loved it.
ANNE: It's so interesting how that happens.
JOANNE: You know, how do you account for that? It happens all the time.
ANNE: Well we're talking in early 2022. I feel like every book that I have disliked in the past [LAUGHS] in the past two years, I've just stopped and asked myself, was this not right for me, or was it not right for me right now? Was this book hard to follow, or is my poor overtaxed brain not able to follow a perfectly well written story right now? That is a real question.
JOANNE: And sometimes you're dealing with a book hangover, so, you know. [ANNE LAUGHS] That's why ... You know, when I get a really great book that I love, I have trouble picking up another one, and what I do then is I read another one from a series that I'm in and that really helps me to reset and is good medicine for a book hangover.
ANNE: I just want to read another great book. [JOANNE LAUGHS] Sometimes it's great to sit with a book we enjoyed. I'm glad you found something that works for you. Okay, so not right for you, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Joanne, what are you reading right now?
JOANNE: Well, right now in Canada we have Canada Reads coming up and I always read the five books that are on the shortlist and put them on my blog and give the readers a little bit of a foretaste of what's coming. Canada Reads is a nationwide book debate and I'm really proud that Canada does this. So five celebrities choose five books that they champion. They sit around the table in four days and debate which books should be the book that all Canadians should read. And at first it's very polite, you know, Canadians are pretty polite. [ANNE LAUGHS] But by the end of the week it gets pretty heated. [LAUGHS] Because people are passionate about their books and there's often the books that are chosen for Canada Reads often celebrate diversity, cultural diversity, Indigenous stories, refugee stories, so these are important books, LGBTQ stories. It's a wide range usually, so it's very hard to decide sometimes which story matters more than another story, but it's the annual battle of the books and we love it.
ANNE: Now I think the Canadians are really doing something right here because I know so many readers who are Canadian and even plenty who aren't who make it a practice to read all five Canada Reads picks every year. That's just a good number. That is completely doable. A little bit of a challenge, but completely doable. And I think it's so interesting that you mentioned that celebrities pick the books, and I know that that is very much on purpose because they wanted it to feel accessible. It's not literary scholars who are picking the books.
JOANNE: Right. Right. Right.
ANNE: But people, I mean, as much as you may or may not feel like you relate to, you know, some of the celebrities who are choosing books, perhaps more so than the literature scholar who uses big words when you're just like I – it was a great story. [LAUGHS] What else can I say? What is it that you love about the Canada Reads process? What do you think that they're doing really right that gets so many people excited about books that they might not pick up otherwise?
JOANNE: Well I think just the fact that this is aired nationally and it really promotes reading. It highlights a number of books that otherwise wouldn't get read. It's just a great conversation and it's a national conversation and it makes me really proud actually. You know, it's like a literary survivor. One book wins, but all five books are well promoted and I think read more in Canada because of it and it's just a very exciting thing to be a part of. When it's not pandemic, our daughter and I go and get free tickets and go to the studio audience to listen to the debate, and it's just a great experience.
ANNE: Oh, that sounds so fun. So what books have you read so far from the 2022 shortlist?
JOANNE: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan is on the list. I've read Five Little Indians by Michelle Good. Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez, which is a neighbor in Toronto. There's two – I have one more to go. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Oh, great. So I have What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad on my list.
ANNE: And then I - I am not familiar with Life in the City of Dirty Water. At least not yet by Clayton Thomas-Müller.
JOANNE: That's the city of Winnipeg and that's a memoir. That's a story of his life in a memoir. He's Indigenous and it's his journey, so it's a bit similar to Michelle Good's book, but her book is fiction and his is memoir, and that makes it very challenging too for the celebrities because some of the books are fiction, some are memoir, and it's not a level playing field always when you're debating, you know, someone's lifestyle as opposed to someone's imagined story, even though of course there's truth. We know there's truth in fiction. [LAUGHS] Lots of it, but yeah, it makes it quite challenging for the debate.
ANNE: Well luckily, it doesn't have to be easy to get lots of people excited about reading these books. If you were a judge and you had to choose today, and I know you haven't read them all, which one would you pick?
JOANNE: It would be between two. I really enjoyed ... [ANNE LAUGHS] Yeah, I know. [LAUGHS] I'm not following the rules. I think Five Little Indians might have squeaked a little bit past Scarborough for me, but both of them were very well done. You know, I feel like I'm a better person after reading it and maybe that's a benchmark of a good book.
ANNE: Perhaps it is. Joanne, what do you want more of out of your reading life right now? What are you on the lookout for?
JOANNE: I'm quite happy with the way I'm choosing books to read, although you know, having a reading blog, I'd like to think that I'm not pressured by that in terms of what I chose to read next. But I think I am, if I'm honest, and to me, you can't read fourteen books in a series when you have a blog because everyone would be terribly bored and you know, sometimes you're posting a lot and people are saying oh, you know, you're posting a lot. Aren't you doing anything else? Or you know, you're down the rabbit hole with a backlist and you're not really posting very often, so all, those factors are perhaps weighing on me a little bit more than I thought they were, so yeah. I'm always just looking for gems across all genres.
ANNE: Well I would invite you to consider what's the point of the blog, who is it for, why did you start it. I can't tell you what the answers to those questions are because this is your creation. I love you, listeners, but if I felt beholden to the podcast in that it dictated everything I was reading and then I don't think this podcast would nearly be as interesting or joyful to listen to, so it's your reading life. You are the boss of it and however that comes across on the blog I think people could learn to live with.
JOANNE: That's very helpful and I do think that's true for me. I don't generally recommend books. I just post on books I'm reading and give my opinion and it's up to the other person to read it or not. I'm not – you know, I will say I love this book. Maybe you will too. I won't ever say you will love this book.
ANNE: Wait. Hold on a second. Let's go back to the origin story here. You said that it was a reading log that turned into a reading blog.
JOANNE: That's right.
ANNE: You write seven book reviews in a series in a row if you want to. [BOTH LAUGHS]
Okay, Joanne, so let's take a look at what we've got. You loved Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, The Troubles with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon, and The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Not for you, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, despite having the best snake story you have ever read. You didn't feel a connection to it. And maybe – maybe you'll think about why after we hang up.
Currently you're reading the Canada Reads picks, and you are always on the lookout for well written, wise and life affirming, unsentimental, surprising. They reveal a slice of humanity. They often have some humor, and page turning is also a plus. And gems of all genres will always be welcomed on your library holds list. [BOTH LAUGH] We could go so many different directions but I think I want to start with a picture book. Can we do that?
JOANNE: Oh. Yeah, for sure. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay.[LAUGHS] And I know you read widely, which means maybe you've read all of these. Maybe you haven't, but I think it's worth finding out.
JOANNE: So many books. There's so many books, you know, you can't read it all. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Okay. Now this is a picture book for grownups. It is not for kids, and that could be confusing, readers, because a lot of times you see a picture book at the bookstore and you think oh, you know, I know who these books are for, but this is not for your grandchildren. This is for you. It's actually a whole series at this point. I think there's seven books. A seven book series. The book I have in mind is by Nick Bantock. It's called Griffin and Sabine. Subtitle: An Extraordinary Correspondence. And it came out in the early '90s. Is this a series you're familiar with?
JOANNE: No, I have never heard of it.
ANNE: Oh, I'm so glad to hear it. [JOANNE LAUGHS] Okay. This is … I think the publisher says at the beginning that it's partly a romance, partly a mystery, and completely a work of art, and it is completely beautiful. The illustrations are really striking, but you can see that for yourself. Let's talk about the story.
The whole story is told as correspondence on a series of postcards. This is how it begins. This postcard is addressed to Griffin Moss. He's an illustrator in London, and it's from a woman named Sabine. She lives on an island far, far away. So she writes, Griffin, it's good to get in touch with you at last. Could I have one of your fish postcards? I think you were right, the wine glass has more impact than the cup. Signed, Sabine in the South Pacific. Now, Joanne, I know this doesn't mean anything to you, but it means a lot to Griffin who's going I work alone in my studio in London illustrating these postcards. How in the world does this woman know that I toyed around with a different version of it that did have a cup and not a wine glass? Like nobody sees me, right? What in the world?
So he writes back to her and they strike up a correspondence and in the course of this discover that they share some kind of magical bond and Sabine has been able to follow his creative process inside his studio for quite some time now and so as they exchange these – I keep wanting to call them letters – as they exchange these postcards, they get to know each other and you can see the love look intimacy increasing and you get these beautiful illustrations like the one with the wine glass. It looks like a goldfish has just leapt straight through a glass and left it shattered. It's just beautiful, but they develop a friendship, and then you hold your breath as you find out what's going to happen next.
As they make plans to take it deeper and perhaps off the what, off the postcard? How do we say that? [JOANNE LAUGHS] But this is a small – I mean, it's just like 50 pages and Bantock wrote follow ups that came out every few years until just in the late 2010s so you will be able to see more of their relationship continue. You get your answer to what happens next. But these are so easy to read so quickly. Life affirming, surprising, slice of humanity, some humor, page turning. You can turn these pages so fast, although I'll imagine you'll want to stare at the postcards for a good long while.
JOANNE: Mm. Yeah.
ANNE: I think this could be a lot of fun for you. What do you think?
JOANNE: It sounds great! Yeah, it reminds me a little bit actually of The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. Have you read that?
ANNE: No, but my kids love that series.
JOANNE: Yeah. I mean, all of the things that you've mentioned are kinda like that one too and I think you know anything with beautiful illustrations and a great story, I'm in for it. That sounds great.
ANNE: I'm so glad. I do want to be clear though. Don't read this to your five year old. This is a picture book for grownups.
JOANNE: Okay. Got it. [BOTH LAUGHS]
ANNE: [SIGHS] I want to try one. It's a past Canada reads selection, which makes me think the odds of you having read it are strong, but it's The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline.
JOANNE: I have not read it. I think that was done before I started reading all five on the shortlist. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I am not sad to hear that. This came out in 2017. This book has elements of hope and joy and humor, but they are not the leading adjectives I would use to describe this book. This is by Dimaline, another Indigenous writer. So this is sometimes called a Clive Hyde book as well, so this is YA. It's a dystopian story and it's about a group of young Indigenous teenagers who are fleeing for their lives in what are often like [LAUGHS] hard stuff in scenes. In this fantasy and dystopian I think as I said world. They are sought after so that their dream-carrying bone marrow can be harvested and used for ill.
So Frenchie has learned how to survive in the wild, and he is part of a band of teens who are attempting to move north in order to survive, but climate change has caused absolute chaos around the world, collapse of civilizations itself and also obviously the physical landscape, but they have to press on because they have to evade the recruiters who make your loved ones disappear forever.
This is a rough story. These teenagers are not in a good place and yet Dimaline has spoken eloquently about how there is certainly light through the bleakness and the dystopian landscape she has created and like there's still a community and there's still teens who see themselves as the future and they're still teens and adults reading this book who can see themselves as part of the future we're creating together and of course the dreams are so symbolic in this book. I'll leave that to you to discover, but there is certainly hope throughout, and if you enjoy this, Dimaline's follow up, Empire of Wild, just came out in the fall. I haven't read my copy yet. It's on my bookshelf, but I'm really looking forward to it.
JOANNE: Sounds great. I love YA and I think, you know, I love the idea of a Canadian book. You're recommending a Canadian book to me that I haven't read. That's amazing. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I am thrilled to hear it. That was The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. And now I'd like to try a book that I didn't envision talking about today, but I think could be a really good fit for you because as you were describing The Trouble with Goats and Sheep that it is set in England, reminded you of your time in Eton. You described it as quirky and charming and funny and serious at the same time and being very wise and life affirming. It made me wonder if you have read Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.
JOANNE: No. I have not.
ANNE: Okay. I am glad to hear it. It came out I believe in early 2021. It came out about a year ago. On the surface, it doesn't sound like this book would be anything other than emotionally crushing. This is a story of 40 year old Martha. She talks about the time a bomb went off in her brain when she was a teenager and ever since that time she's been coping with an unnamed mental illness and it appears with a ... I can't remember if it's a blank line or if it's just called X in the novel. The illness is never named and if you read it and you think, that's so interesting. I wonder why she made that choice. You can look up interviews with the author Meg Mason and she speaks about it at length. It's extremely interesting.
Martha is not necessarily an always likable protagonist. She completely lacks a filter. She can be cutting and super rude, just creating emotional havoc on those around her, but Mason really does a beautiful job in this book of avoiding a heavy tone and through Martha's perspective, just exploring the nuances of severe mental illness, and she gives you this interior perspective of how it might feel like it to live within the grasp of one.
So the subject matter is often bleak, but Martha's inner narrative is so often just hilarious. Also she has just a really spunky saucy sister whose name is Ingrid and when they get together they are hysterical. I also really appreciated that the ending is really poignant and hopeful. It's a beautiful book. It's pink and red. It's really striking and it looks almost cheerful. It doesn't really indicate some of what can be really triggering content for some readers, so please be mindful, Joanne and everyone, when you pick this one up, but gems across all genres, quirky and charming, funny and serious at the same time, wise and life affirming. I think this could be a good selection for you. How does that sound?
JOANNE: That sounds great. I actually like unlikeable characters. [LAUGHS] And I'm okay with a little dark. Things shine through when there's a serious subject and you know, I love … I think humor helps us to be able to tolerate dark subjects in a way. I think Matt Haig does that really well in his books. If you have a bit of humor, we can kinda take a distance in a way and it helps us keep things in perspective, so it sounds great.
ANNE: Yes, I think the comparison to Matt Haig is a good one. I don't want to be too hard on our Martha though. She can certainly be unlikeable, like sometimes you'll go Martha! How could you?
JOANNE: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: And you know she's coping with this unnamed mental illness, but even though she can be, as she would describe it, just awful to those around her, oh, your heart just goes out to her, but that is not the core of her personality, so even though she doesn't always behave in unlikeable ways, you are rooting for her in this book.
JOANNE: That sounds great. I think Martha sounds like a character I might like to get to know.
ANNE: I hope so. Joanne, of those books we discussed, they were Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, and Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. Of those books, what do you think you'll pick up next?
JOANNE: Well they all sound great, but I think I might start with Sorrow and Bliss.
ANNE: Well I'm excited to hear it. I hope you feel a real connection with that story and I look forward to hearing how it goes for you.
JOANNE: Great. Thanks, Anne.
ANNE: Oh, Joanne. This has been a delight. Thanks so much for talking books with me today.
JOANNE: Well thank you. I really enjoyed it.
[CHEERFUL EXIT MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Joanne, and I’d love to hear what YOU think she should read next. Do that at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/324, where we’ll also share the full list of titles we discussed today.
Readers, I talked with Joanne today about how she keeps track of what she’s reading (and the books she’s sending to her grandkids), and if you’re looking for a system to keep track of your own reads, I’ve got the solution for you! I mentioned my new reading journal for kids earlier in the show, and my reading journal for adults is designed to support your reading adventures and help you discover something new about your own reading life. Learn more at my website, modernmrsdarcy.com
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Make sure you’re following us on Instagram, too! We’re at whatshouldireadnext, and see what I’m up to at annebogel. That’s Anne with an E, B as in books, O-G-E-L.
Make sure you’re following us in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast and more. We’ll be taking a break next week, but we’ll be back the first week of April, when I’ll be chatting with a reader embarking on a special new reading project and looking for some books that will break her out of her comfort zone.
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.
Readers, 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.