Reading outside of America

As usually happens when I stray from a routine, my reading for Andrea Reads America has been derailed. It started with The Shipping News¹. I skipped my annual reading of it last winter because I had just started this project, but I couldn’t go another winter without reading Proulx’s masterpiece. So in November, I left the United States to read Newfoundland. I was only going to be gone a few days.

shipping newsAnd I was, really. I vacationed in the bracing northern winter for a weekish, then came back to the US. But instead of picking up with Florida, which was next up after finishing my District of Columbia reads, I decided to skip ahead to Hawaii. I was preparing for travel to Kauai, and I really wanted to read some Hawaiian fiction as I awaited my vacation work trip.

I read two or three books set in Hawaii, but as you can imagine, since I escaped to those mystic islands in real life and not just in fiction, I didn’t take many any notes. I read on the beach. By the pool. I made no records. I did not write.

My reading project fell apart.

frenchman's creek 2When I returned home to the cold brittleness of winter, I wasn’t in the mood for Florida. I was in the mood for something more… moody. We talked books in Hawaii, and my friend Ben recommended I try Daphne du Maurier. I had heard her name before on The Readers podcast — Simon Savidge loves Rebecca and it is entirely possible that he mentions that title in every episode of the podcast — and the English countryside sounded exactly like what I wanted.

So instead of reading Florida, I read England. I read My Cousin Rachel. It gave me what I was craving: suspense, mood, landscape, romance, and skilled storytelling. Within minutes of finishing My Cousin Rachel, I started Frenchman’s Creek, which I enjoyed even more (there are pirates!). I would have started a third du Maurier except that I want to save her for those times when I hunger for that type of setting. When a certain mood and a certain landscape are the only thing that will sate a literary craving. You know the feeling.

master and margaritaI was so far gone after du Maurier, I decided what the hell. I’ll read this Russian novel my Secret Santa gave me. I have yet to complete a Russian work, unless Lolita counts. I tried to read The Brothers Karamazov, I really did. I couldn’t keep track of the characters and all their nicknames, and I just wasn’t into it. So I abandoned. But this new book, The Master and Margarita, it was a gift. And I read it.

long quiet highwayNow, I’m slowly making my way back to Andrea Reads America. I’m rereading Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway, which at least takes place in the United States, even if it travels from New York to New Mexico to Colorado to Minnesota. This is the book that gave me permission to write, even if what I write is crap, and when I finished The Master and Margarita, I craved both the vibrance and the solitude of Goldberg’s prose.

When I’m done with this, with Goldberg’s quiet book, then, THEN, I swear I’m coming back. I’ll get back on track. I’ll read in order. I’ll begin with Florida and I’ll try not to stray.

At least not for a state or two.

¹ This review by Krista Stevens of The Shipping News gave me goosebumps. It’s so good.

8 Great Literary, Book Nerd, and Storytelling Podcasts

I am a huge fan of the podcast medium. I listen while I clean, while I walk, while I cook, while I dress after my shower. I do not subscribe to print periodicals that run book reviews, I am not a librarian, and I no longer work in a book store, but I am a reader who is interested in what’s going on in the book world, in reading culture, and who loves a well-told story. With limited time to consume print media, but with ample time to listen, I have become an avid fan of podcasts, and my hungry mind devours the bookish and storytelling podcasts below. These shows provide the literary fix I need as a word nerd. I plan special walks or add extra chores to my list when any of these drop new episodes. I hope you enjoy them, too.

The New Yorker Fiction Podcast icon on iTunesThe New Yorker Fiction Podcast: Hosted by New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman, this podcast highlights the best of the best of the short story. Each month an esteemed writer chooses a story from the archives of The New Yorker, reads it aloud, and then discusses it with editor Deborah Triesman. Many of the stories are classics, like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” and the discussions are every book-lover’s book-club dream: Triesman and the reading-writer discuss what makes it a good story, they discuss craftsmanship, they attempt to tease out meaning, and – most importantly for any listeners who might one day hope to be published in The New Yorker – the discussions provide insight into the personality and inclinations of a high-quality fiction editor. My favorite episodes include David Sedaris reading Miranda July, Tessa Hadley reading Nadine Gordimer,  and Karen Russell reading Carson McCullers. Follow New Yorker Fiction on Twitter @NYerFiction.

book riot podcast iconBook Riot Podcast: Described in their intro as “A weekly news and talk show about what’s new, cool, and worth talking about in the world of books and reading,” this, along with The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, is my favorite podcast. Hosts Jeff O’Neal and Rebecca Schinsky are the editors of Book Riot, and I like hanging out with them: they’re smart and they make me laugh. On the podcast, they don’t just talk about new releases or prize winners or good books that will make your to-be-read pile even more overwhelming (though that does happen), they cover news that is of interest to readers: new technology in the reading world, the latest research on how reading affects human behavior, notes from backstage in the publishing world, and encouragement for diversifying our reading lives to include authors and characters who don’t look like us. If you like books and you’re fun and you’re looking for a podcast that isn’t simply reviews or more talk about the latest NYT bestsellers, start with Book Riot. Follow Book Riot on Twitter at @BookRiot.

The Moth icon from iTunesThe Moth: True Stories Told Live The Moth is true stories told live on a stage, and the first time I listened, I was so inspired I paused the episode, leaned on my mop, and recorded a 15 minute story of my own onto my phone’s voice recorder. Since I first began listening I’ve heard Moth stories featured elsewhere, most notably on NPR’s This American Life and as inspiration for a Radiolab story about a man who forgave his daughter’s murderer via letters sent to and from the killer in jail. Moth stories are quality live storytelling, without notes. Most stories include comedic elements but they are all powerful (and true) narratives, often told by renowned storytellers or comedians, and sometimes told by regular people. I eagerly await every new episode. My favorite recent stories are Simon Noonan’s Every Expense Was Spared and Elise Hunter’s story about dumpster diving.  Follow The Moth on Twitter at @TheMoth.

Selected Shorts from PRI iconSelected Shorts: Let Us Tell You a Story I only recently found this storytelling podcast, and I am already in love with it. Kind of a mashup between The Moth and The New Yorker Fiction podcast, Selected Shorts are performed live as on The Moth. Unlike The Moth, though, where the storyteller tells his or her own true story, Selected Shorts are actors and performers reading others’ short fiction, as on The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. There is no discussion of the work as there is with The New Yorker, but each episode contains several quality works. The one I listened to today, Romantic Disasters, had a wonderful story from Miranda July (I seem to be a Miranda July fan) read by Parker Posey, in which the main character coaches an octogenarian swim team – without a body of water to instruct in. Follow Selected Shorts on Twitter @SelectedShorts.

Books on the Nightstand iconBooks on the Nightstand: Hosts Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman, who seem to have read everything and who also work in the publishing industry, give book recommendations and talk about the behind-the-scenes world of the book industry. They are friendly, funny, knowledgeable, and approachable, and I’ve read several of their recommendations, including A Compendium of Collective Nouns which Kindness talked about in Episode 251: Books, Words, and Punctuation. I have not been disappointed by any of their suggestions. Plus Ann loves Pat Conroy, and The Prince of Tides is one of my favorite books of all time, so that gives her a special place in my heart. Follow Books on the Nightstand on Twitter at @BksOnNightstand.

Bookrageous podcast iconBookrageous: a podcast about books and why they’re awesome: Bookrageous is like sitting around with friends and talking books. When I listen to this one, I often find myself opening my mouth to chime in, then realizing Josh, Jenn, and Rebecca are not sitting on my bathroom counter. They can’t hear me. It’s just my phone. But its fun to pretend. Follow Bookrageous on Twitter at @bookrageous.


The Readers Book Based Banter podcastThe Readers: This podcast’s tagline is “Book Based Banter,” which captures its charm brilliantly: the hosts are an Englishman and an American, and their exchanges tickle me. Every time Simon chuckles, which is often, I smile. I particularly loved episode 85: Your Country in Ten (or Eleven) books, in which they each selected ten books from their home country in an effort to showcase the culture and sense of place of the US and UK. My TBR list grew by 15 books that day. Follow The Readers on Twitter at @BookBasedBanter.

Dear Book Nerd podcast iconDear Book Nerd: Hosted by librarian Rita Meade, Dear Book Nerd is a podcast that grew out of Meade’s “Dear Book Nerd” advice column on Book Riot in which she answers questions like “What’s the Best Pickup Line to use on a Librarian?” The podcast is relatively new – 7 episodes as of this writing – and she has tackled questions ranging from how to not feel defensive about not reading literary fiction to the risky business of lending books. You can follow Rita Meade on Twitter @ScrewyDecimal.

Books are not enough

Big Sur Cliffs McWay Falls oil on canvas by Rose L. Nash at rosenash.blogspot.comt
Artwork credit: Rose L. Nash at

For the first time on my literary tour of the US, reading about a state isn’t enough for me. With Alabama the accents entertained me; with Alaska the winter enchanted me; with Arizona the desert parched me; and with Arkansas the juxtaposition of Frontier and Southern cultures fascinated me. With all of those states, I was satisfied to read words on a page; I did not need to hop in a car or jump on a plane and visit them in real life.

With California, though, words on a page don’t sate me. They sing, they lure, they tantalize and tease me. After all those weeks reading Arizona and Arkansas, where I was landlocked in the dusty dry desert, or sweating and swatting gnats on sultry summer days at a muddy swimming hole, the sea spray of Island of the Blue Dolphins was so refreshing I thought I might cry.

The morning was fresh from the rain. The smell of the tide pools was strong. Sweet odors came from the wild grasses in the ravines and from the sand plants on the dunes.

I drank that book like a canteen of cold water. I finished The Island of the Blue Dolphins in a day and a half and wanted more: more surf, more Pacific ocean, more California. So I picked up a The Dawn Patrol, a mystery-thriller set on Pacific Beach, where the P.I. is a surfer, and within the first ten pages one of the characters used the term party wave; I think I might have squealed. The Dawn Patrol was everything I wanted: waves, surfer lingo, California girls, fish tacos, and characters with names like Hang Twelve and Sunny Day. From there I moved up the coast to San Francisco with Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, where they climb the Matterhorn and descend in moonlight.

We could hear creeks rushing coldly below on cold starlit rocks.

And this was all before I even started the books I intended to read for Andrea Reads America.

Maybe it was kismet, maybe it was my subconscious, but I began reading California six weeks ago, when I launched this website and took on the task of moving all of my Andrea Reads America posts from my Butterfly Mind blog to here. As I transferred all my writing, I did not want to get too far ahead in my reading – I did not want the blog to be in Alabama when I was reading Connecticut – so I gladly parked myself on the west coast for a month and a half; I read California during the entire transfer.

In addition to the books above, I read three others, and it still wasn’t enough. Six weeks, six books, and I don’t want to leave The Golden State. It fills me with a longing that, for once, words cannot assuage. I want to go there. I want to smell the kelp and explore the tide pools; I want to drive the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down; I want to listen to barrel waves crash; I want to sit on the floor of the redwood forest. I want to be there. I don’t want to just read it.