Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next is my comfort podcast. For two years now, I’ve had my Tuesday morning routine set: wake up and get ready for work; download the new episode; and enjoy an hour of peaceful book talk on my drive to work. Guests share three books they love, one book that wasn’t for them, what they’re reading now, and what they’d like to be different about their reading lives, and then Anne recommends three books to them. I thought we could try a little literary matchmaking ourselves today. I’d love to know what you think I should read next, and if you tell me three books you love, I’ll try to recommend something for you too.
Three Books You Love:
I decided to limit myself to books read in the last year or two, and only fiction since that’s what I want more of.
A Gentleman in Moscow is a book that was recommended to a guest on What Should I Read Next. Much as I love the podcast and Anne’s blog, her favorites are really hit or miss for me. But I did love this one, and it has some relevancy to our current moment. Count Rostov is sentenced to house arrest and lives for thirty years without stepping foot outside his hotel in Moscow. Slowly his life becomes interwoven with the lives of the staff and guests and the hotel itself. It’s a book that leaves you (I cannot improve upon these words written by Heather, a Goodreads reader) “feeling expansive and engaged in life.” It feels like a worthy pastiche of Russian novels, but a bit happier. And it has a great deal to say about novels themselves and what it means to read and love them.
I finally got around to reading The Nickel Boys after listening to Traci Thomas’s chat with Jason Reynolds on her excellent book podcast, The Stacks. (I should probably read more of Traci’s recommendations, because I have loved every book she loves.) Even though there’s the whole house arrest and life under those nutty Bolsheviks plotline in A Gentleman in Moscow, it’s still a book you can imagine wanting to live in. The Nickel Boys, on the other hand, is a book that you really want to get out of–even though you also can’t put it down. It’s an intense and absolutely necessary read–and also pertinent to this moment, even though it, too, is historical fiction. (Hmmm, just realizing that two of the three books I chose today are historical fiction, which I always say I don’t like. But maybe I really do!) It’s short enough to read in a day, though you may need to put it down a few times to gather yourself before continuing to read. It’s also a novel of people trapped against their will–in this case, boys at an abusive reform school in the Jim Crow south. I knew this book was not going to have a happy ending, even though I really really wanted it to. It does have a surprise twisty ending that made me want to turn to page one and begin rereading immediately.
Gideon the Ninth was a recommendation from Scott Day, a friend who never steers me wrong with his book recommendations. (Which means I should read the two other books he recommended at the same time as Gideon: Underland and Cry Pilot.) It is, incredibly, a first novel–so confident and so ambitious, packed with dazzling sentences and rich world-building and flawed characters who make you fall hard in love with them. It’s about a necromancer and her rather unwilling servant who are invited to compete in a trial to see which of the Emperor’s houses can maybe win immortality. But the plot is really beside the point. Read this one for the voice and the characters and the sentence pyrotechnics.
One Book That Wasn’t For Me:
From the Corner of the Oval is a memoir of the time Beck Dorey Stein spent as a stenographer to Barack Obama. I understand why readers enjoy it (“Bridget Jones goes to the White House” isn’t far off as a tagline), but I found it self-absorbed and tedious and tiresome (not entirely unlike Bridget Jones herself, though Helen Fielding’s book is saved by some pretty funny writing.) I spent the book wanting to yell at Beck or take her straight to therapy (or both). STOP getting drunk, STOP sleeping with that toxic jerk, HAVE SOME SELF-RESPECT AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF and also ISN’T THIS BOOK SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT YOUR JOB AND NOT ABOUT YET ANOTHER DRUNKEN HOOK-UP?
What You’re Reading Now:
I don’t even know. I can’t seem to read anything except the Internet these days. And I don’t like any of the books I’m reading. I’m far enough into several books that I want to finish just so I can add them to my list, but I am finding little pleasure or purpose in reading them. So let’s not talk about it.
One Thing You’d Like to Change in Your Reading Life:
More novels! Now that I am dependent on my own shelves rather than my library for reading material, I’m noticing just how unbalanced my book purchasing is. I read plenty of fiction–but unless it is middle-grade or children’s novels that I will add to my lending library, I check out almost all of it from the library. I buy a lot of books–but I buy almost exclusively nonfiction. Shelf after shelf of history, essays, biography, memoir, manuals, guides. Which is lovely. But right now, I need fiction.
What does your reading life look like right now? And what should I read next??