Fri. Mar 24th, 2023

Anne Bogel [00:00:00] Okay, now I really want to go historical for you. I want to go to World War II. I mean, can we do this?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:00:06] I’m taking a deep breath, preparing myself. Yes, I trust you. I trust you.

Anne Bogel [00:00:17] Hey readers, I’m Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next?. 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 the 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.

[00:00:49] Readers, this is a fun time of year for our team. We are deep in summer reading guide prep, but it’s not yet crunch time. Right now in winter, I still have the thrill of discovering great new books, but don’t yet have to make agonizing decisions about what fits and what doesn’t.

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[00:02:08] Today I’m talking with Mollie Hedgecock, a North Carolina-based Child and Family therapist who doesn’t know who she is as a reader. Mollie’s reading life has always been highly influenced by what other people are reading. She’s gotten her book recommendations from friends and sometimes from Instagram, but so many times when she finishes them or sometimes doesn’t finish them, she’s left thinking, “Hmm, that really didn’t do anything for me.” But she doesn’t always know why.

Mollie wants to feel confident in the reading path she’s on and in the book, she’s choosing because they write for her, not for somebody else. And to do that she needs to know what to look for in books, and what to listen for in others’ recommendations so she can decide whether the books her friends are loving are ones she might actually enjoy.

Today, we’re going to help Mollie identify her own reading personality. She doesn’t want to be swayed so much by others’ reading, and that will be so much easier for her when she knows what she wants and who she is as a reader. I can’t wait to talk more about this with Mollie. Let’s get to it.

[00:03:08] Mollie, welcome to the show.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:03:11] I’m so excited. Thank you for having me, Anne.

Anne Bogel [00:03:13] It’s mutual. I’m so glad you come on. I’d love to jump right in. Tell me a little more about what your reading life is like these days.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:03:21] Yeah. So I started reading more in 2020. I’m sure, like a lot of people, I have kind of put it down for a while because I was in school and then grad school but I started reading more during the pandemic because I had all this free time. And since then, it’s just been a hobby that I’ve picked up and just something that I have really enjoyed doing.

I typically read in the mornings for about 20 minutes, some kind of nonfiction spiritual book, and then I read fiction the majority of the time outside of that.

Anne Bogel [00:03:59] That sounds good right now. And yes, I hear that you’re well aware you’re not the only one whose reading life significantly changed, for better or worse, in 2020. Would you say that was an improvement for the better for you? I hear you saying you’re reading more but that doesn’t necessarily mean you would call that an improvement.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:04:15] Right. No. I would definitely say it’s changed my life. It’s given me just so much joy and so much escape from, you know, the pandemic, but also my job can be hard sometimes, emotionally draining. So being able to read and kind of escape into a different world has been life-changing. That doesn’t feel dramatic for me to say.

Anne Bogel [00:04:43] I’m so glad to hear it. Are you able to put your finger on what it was about the pandemic that sent you to books instead of to the woods or TV or I don’t know, to crochet books?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:04:56] Right. Yes. Well, I did go through a crochet phase actually.

Anne Bogel [00:05:01] There’s a heavy crochet stage going on in my household right now, and I’m really enjoying it. But also I’m not the one doing it. But for you it was books.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:05:08] Yes, it was books. Yeah. So we lived in a really small apartment. Woods was not an option. We were kind of in the middle of the city, not a lot of parks around or anything like that. So a lot of times I would walk around our apartment complex. But outside of that, I was just really bored.

So we have an awesome used bookstore in my town, and every time I would go I would pick out books hoping that I would read them and I never would. So you know, I’m sitting in the apartment, I am tired of walking around our apartment complex, then I noticed these books on my shelf that I have picked up, honestly, through the years from this used bookstore and just never read.

One of them was The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg, which I’d never heard of Fannie Flagg, never heard of this book. I just picked it up on a whim. And I was like, “Well, might as well.” So I read it and didn’t know that it was the fourth book in the series or anything like that.

Anne Bogel [00:06:11] Wait, is it really? Because I think that was my first Fannie Flagg novel too.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:06:14] Oh, really? I think it is but—

Anne Bogel [00:06:16] Many years ago, like six or seven.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:06:17] Yeah, I think it’s part of a series, which I didn’t know. But I was immersed. Like I really enjoyed it. And I was like, “Oh, this is fun. This can take me somewhere else.” It was almost like making new friends during the pandemic, like getting to know, you know, these characters and this life. I just loved it.

Anne Bogel [00:06:40] Well, I’m thrilled to hear that. I’m glad that past Mollie had stored up all these books that pandemic Mollie would need one day.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:06:45] Yes, me too. My husband didn’t understand at the time why I kept buying books from this used bookstore that I never read. But it was all leading up to this. So…

Anne Bogel [00:06:55] I’m glad it did. Mollie, at what point did you realize that your idea of who you are as a reader is still in development?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:07:02] Uh, yes, I guess that would be more 2022. I think for a while I read those books that I had picked up from the used bookstore and then I ran out of them. So I started looking on Goodreads for recommendations, your podcast has been a big one for me, friends. But I couldn’t figure out… I would just pick up a book based on a recommendation not because I was like, “Oh, this sounds like something I would like.” It was very much because, you know, this friend recommended it or it’s really heavy on Instagram right now.

So I would read it and then I would just think, “Oh, I didn’t like that. Reading that was not a good experience for me. I didn’t enjoy the process of reading that book.” So I think last year, I felt more and more of that. It was like I just kept reading books that I did not like and that I didn’t enjoy reading.

So that’s when I filled out the application to be on your show because I was like, “Anne, please help me!” Because this thing that I loved, you know, had kind of turned into this chore and had kind of turned into this guessing game. And I just felt like I kept guessing the wrong kind of book for me.

Anne Bogel [00:08:28] Mollie, I have to tell you how relatable your current dilemma feels to past Anne. It took me so, so long to realize. And I understand that this says a lot about me and my personality, some of you listeners will completely relate and some will be like, “You poor child. I didn’t know people felt that way.”

But it took me a long time to realize that hearing someone else say, “This book is amazing,” does not at all mean that I will find it to be amazing. Because reading is personal and we all bring our own experience and expectations and taste to the books worth reading, and we don’t all enjoy the same thing, which is such a blessing and also can really send us in the wrong direction if we’re not aware of this and don’t constantly take that into consideration.

I mean, eventually, Mollie, we’re gonna get you running a program in the back of your brain that helps you listen without even realizing it’s other people talking about books, thinking at the same time, “Yes, but is it right for me?” This is not black and white. We’re not going to say, Mollie, you should never try a book that doesn’t sound right for you. But what we want to do is really help you realize what you enjoy in the reading life so you can branch out from there, instead of having your starting point be other people’s taste.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:09:45] Yes, that is what I need. Yes.

Anne Bogel [00:09:47] Does it seem to you, Mollie, that other people have their own strong reading identities? In other words, do you feel alone in this struggle you’re experiencing?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:09:56] I do sometimes. I think especially on Instagram. So I kind of followed a lot of book accounts on Instagram for a while and it just seemed like everybody was always reading the same books. I would try these books and these big-name authors that, you know, it seemed like everybody was reading, and then I was like, “Okay, something must be wrong with me, because I really don’t understand why this is, you know, just what everybody is talking about.”

So I think I felt like the odd one out. Like it was me with a problem because it just felt like everybody else was reading and enjoying the same kinds of books to the point where I could not even find other books, it felt like, to read because the only books that I could find were the ones that everybody seemed to be talking about. So it became this difficult search for, Okay, well, I kno, I don’t like this author, I know I don’t really like this genre that everybody is talking about, but I don’t know where to find books outside of that. So yeah, it is still difficult.

Anne Bogel [00:11:06] I would like to reassure you that it is not just you. And also by helping you articulate why you don’t enjoy that genre, why you don’t gravitate towards that particular author, identify what you don’t like and also what you do. But you’re on a path to finding books that maybe aren’t necessarily filling your Bookstagram feed, but I bet are at that used bookstore and could bring you a lot of joy in your reading life.

And also, Mollie, I want to say this is something every reader needs to do at some point. This is a process we all go through if we’re happy with the kinds of books we’re picking up. And some of us do it very explicitly. Like, we feel like we need to sit down with a checklist, or we need to sit down and talk to Anne and figure out, okay, what works for us in our reading lives.

And some of us kind of automatically do it piecemeal over the years. We don’t even realize we’re doing it but we are constantly assessing what was good about that, what didn’t work about that, what does that mean for what I want to read next? But we all have to do it some way somehow. And you’re doing it now and that’s great.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:12:05] I also asked for My Reading Life for Christmas in hopes that having your reading life journal would help me kind of be able to identify what those things are that I do like and what I don’t enjoy to kind of do exactly what you’re talking about, and embark on this journey to figure out, you know, what kind of books I do gravitate towards based on that. So that’s been a really helpful tool, and I’ve enjoyed using that this year so far.

Anne Bogel [00:12:33] Oh, that’s wonderful. Okay, so especially realizing that you have that data, you know what books you have read, and you know what you’ve thought about them, what I’d really love to do is share some questions that you can answer now but also you can take to that reading journal and look at the books and say, okay, why did this work for me or why did it not? Can I share some of those questions with you?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:12:54] Please.

Anne Bogel [00:12:55] Okay, so an obvious starting point would be to ask, what genres do you especially enjoy?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:13:02] I would say fiction, like contemporary fiction, and romance.

Anne Bogel [00:13:11] That’s interesting, Mollie, because looking at your submission, there’s a certain kind of historical novel that I think might be completely up your alley. We’re just gonna tuck that away.

Another question I would ask is, do you really enjoy character-driven stories or plot-driven stories? “Both” is completely an answer. But what I mean is, do you enjoy a quieter kind of interior exploration of what is happening in a character’s mind and heart or do you want action? Like, do you want them to be doing something? Some stories give you both, but some readers categorically find that they don’t tend to enjoy one or the other kind of story.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:13:48] Yes. And I think that’s what’s hard is because I do feel like I need both because I really enjoy connecting with characters. My favorite part, a lot of the time in the book, is really understanding what the character is feeling, thinking. But it also needs that action part, that plot part because if it’s just this inner monologue all the time from the character, I get very bored and like, “Okay, time to move along.” So I really do feel like it’s both but I know that I need characters that I can connect to.

Anne Bogel [00:14:28] Oh, that’s good to know. So if you like character-driven, you would want to be able to articulate what draws you to a character, what interests you about them. Do you need them to be likeable? Honestly, Mollie, it sounds like you do.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:14:39] Yeah.

Anne Bogel [00:14:39] Some readers can read a story about bad people behaving badly and love it. Others need at least one character they can root for. Another question would be, what kind of pacing do you most appreciate? Do you have patience to let a story develop on a long slow arc or do you want strong narrative drive, something that feels more page-turnery?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:15:01] I would say more page-turnery in general. It’s just hard because if I’m really invested in the characters, then I’m willing to wait for, you know, the plot to kind of pick up a little bit. Like if it’s going slowly, but I’m really invested in the characters, I’m okay with that. Does that make sense?

Anne Bogel [00:15:21] It does make sense. And I want to pause here to say that a place that it’s very easy for readers to get tripped up, this happened to me for a long time, is that when we ask ourselves questions about our reading lives, it’s easy to answer aspirationally about the kind of reader that we wish we were or that we dream of becoming, as opposed to practically like, no, no, seriously, no, seriously, Anne, no, seriously, Mollie, what do you actually enjoy? Sometimes there can be a gap between those two things.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:15:48] Yes, yes.

Anne Bogel [00:15:50] I think it does make sense. Another thing to consider is, how much do you care about the prose? Which do you value more? A really strong plot or beautiful writing?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:15:59] Most definitely, really strong plot. I feel like I really could care less about the prose, to be honest with you. Like, if it’s super flowery, fluttery language, I do think I start to disconnect a little bit and to start maybe skimming until the plot picks up a bit.

Anne Bogel [00:16:20] Okay. Again, I want to say I’m introducing this as either/or. You don’t have to make these choices in your reading life necessarily, but it just draws attention to the spectrum.

Another question is, what topics do you find especially interesting or what places do you want to visit in fiction, or nonfiction, or memoir? And also, what are your deal breakers? Like we all have topics that we don’t want to read about. And this is important to know, because one of the things I’m going to encourage you to do is to try new things in your reading life. That’s how we find out what we like. That’s how we find out what we don’t like. And that’s very helpful too.

So identifying your deal breakers is both a helpful way of narrowing down your options and it can also make it more likely you’re not going to read something that totally ruins your day. You’re a child and family therapist, you know that it’s easy to take work home with you, to take the emotional load of work home with you. Is that resonating?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:17:14] Oh yes, definitely.

Anne Bogel [00:17:16] Okay. So we know that that’s a factor that you take into consideration when you’re choosing your books. So I imagine that you have specific things that you feel like you deal with at work you don’t want to deal with in your reading life. And that’s fine. We want to identify those things for you.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:17:28] Yes. I am not a fan of the family drama books. Those are not for me because I feel like I get those enough in day-to-day work life.

Anne Bogel [00:17:40] Mollie, something you said is that in your fiction, you enjoy escaping into other worlds. So what we want you to be able to identify is, what kind of worlds do you find inviting to escape into.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:17:52] Yes. And I think that’s why I started to read romance so much. Especially after I kind of ran out of books during the pandemic, I just started gravitating towards romance was because I felt like it was very predictable. And I could escape into a story that I knew was going to have a happy ending and knew was going to make me feel good.

And then the romance books started to dwindle for me. And what I mean by that is, I would finish them and just feel like it was lacking something. Like the character development wasn’t really there, just felt like it was missing something when I would finish. That’s where I feel like I’ve kind of hit this wall where I just need a little bit more.

Anne Bogel [00:18:38] That makes sense. And something I want to notice here is that it sounds like romance is a genre you have especially enjoyed. But even within that genre, there is so much variety in plot and pacing, and characterization. You’re not going to love every book in a particular genre. What we want to help you do is to be able to identify the specific books and a variety of genres that sound promising for you.

And as we talk about books you may enjoy today, I really want to encourage you upfront to keep an ear open for books, not just that sound like you but that are outside your lane. As we try and pull up the threads that represent those things you truly love to find in the books you read, I really want to keep in mind that sometimes the things we love are different. And we love them because they’re different because they are noteworthy, they feel new and fresh and not like a book that we’ve read a version of 100 times before. Mollie, with that as our backdrop, are you ready to dig into the books that you’ve loved?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:19:35] Yes, I am.

Anne Bogel [00:19:38] I can’t wait to hear. How did you choose these?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:19:41] So I looked back at what I have read over the past year or so and just picked the ones that have really stood out to me and that I still think about, that I still recommend to friends, family. So that’s how I chose them.

Anne Bogel [00:19:59] That sounds great. Tell me about the first book you’ve loved.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:20:01] The first book is called The Kitchen Front. It takes place in World War II, which if you told me a year ago that I would be reading a historical fiction World War II book, I would just laugh at you because I never thought that I would gravitate towards historical fiction. And to be honest, I don’t really gravitate towards historical fiction or at least I don’t pick up a lot of them.

So this follows four women who are competing for a spot on a cooking program called The Kitchen Front. And this program is designed to help women at home who are dealing with the food rationing that’s taking place. So the four women, you have two strange sisters, one lost her husband, and one has a husband who really is just horrible. You also have a cook who has some big life decisions to make and also a kitchen maid who wants to leave her life as a servant.

So they’re competing in this competition to hopefully win the spot. All of them want it for different reasons. You have the dynamic of the sisters. There’s also this really sweet romance with one of the characters. It’s just very tender. And yes, it’s about the competing, but what I loved about this is the way that the women come together and the way that their relationships shift throughout the book.

Anne Bogel [00:21:39] That sounds so interesting. Mollie, I’d love to hear more about historical fiction feeling like a genre that’s not for you.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:21:45] I think maybe when I’ve thought about it in the past it just seems like boring. That seems horrible to say. But I think that when I thought about reading historical fiction, it just sounds like I might be bored. I don’t know that much about history. I mean, I studied it obviously in high school, but that’s kind of the extent of it. And it’s not something that necessarily I have loved studying or jumping back into. So the idea of reading books about history has never really appealed to me.

Anne Bogel [00:22:25] I’m wondering if it seems to you that historical fiction might feel boring, might feel like work, like school in the unpleasant sense.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:22:34] Yes.

Anne Bogel [00:22:34] And I wonder if also there’s a fear that the characters won’t feel relatable.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:22:37] Yes, yes, that’s exactly it. Yes.

Anne Bogel [00:22:40] That’s interesting. I’m going to keep those things in mind. Tell me about the next book you loved.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:22:44] The next book that I loved is called Love & Saffron by Kim Fay.

Anne Bogel [00:22:53] Oh, it’s another historical, Mollie.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:22:54] Uh, don’t tell me that, Anne. I’m scared. Okay. So this takes place in the 1960s, which to me was not a big part of the book. You know, it didn’t feel obviously like this was taking place in the 1960s.

But it follows two women, Joan and Imogen. Imogen writes a food column for a newspaper based in near Seattle in the Pacific Northwest, and Joan writes a fan letter to Imogen and includes a bit of saffron. This begins a letter exchange between Joan and Imogen.

The whole book is written through these letters and the intimacy that is in this book, just… it was so beautiful. It follows how their friendship develops but also the things that are going on in the world around them, and also the things that are going on in their personal lives. And them sharing themselves with each other, it was so beautiful.

I don’t like books that make me cry, or make me sad, at least that’s what I have been telling myself, but I saw sobbed at the ending of this book. Like have never cried so hard. That was for multiple reasons, which I’m not going to get into. But I think the biggest one was their friendship—just this beautiful friendship that you had gotten to witness throughout their letter exchange and then it was over. I was sad because I was not ready for the book to end. I was not ready for their friendship to draw to a close via the book. And dang. It was beautiful. I loved it so much.

I read it in a day. It had me laughing, crying, it had me hungry, like there’s this food part to the book where they share recipes and their cooking. Yeah, I just was completely smitten with the characters in this book and I loved it so much.

Anne Bogel [00:25:13] That sounds like a great fit for you. Also, I really admire the self-awareness you’re bringing to the conversation. Like, “The story I told myself was, and yet what I’m noticing is…” So high fives, Mollie.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:25:24] Thank you.

Anne Bogel [00:25:25] So there’s something I’m wondering. You know how we just talked about how it’s easy for us to be aspirational when we’re answering questions about our reading life and we answer questions in the way that we wish our reading life was, but not in the way it actually is. I do wonder if the word “aspirational” could have a different meaning for your reading life.

Because what I’m wondering, listening to you discuss the characters in The Kitchen Front and now Love & Saffron is if you don’t enjoy reading books that portray the kind of life that you want to lead… And I’m not saying you want to go back to World War II Britain, but the kinds of relationships, the kind of experiences, the kind of meaning that you see on the page. I mean, I guess that’s what you said—you want to find worlds that you want to escape into. And I really see that on display here with these first two. Does that sound true to you? Like, does that make you nod or go mm?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:26:11] No, it definitely does. Again, with what I do for work, I just think that getting to slip into a story with beautiful people who love each other and care about each other and want the best for each other: I think that is what I need a lot of times when I sink into a book.

Anne Bogel [00:26:33] Okay. I actually didn’t expect my thoughts to go this direction but I’m thinking of Louise Penny when she describes the world she creates in Three Pines in her murder mysteries where terrible things happen. But she says that she writes to create a kind of emotional safety with the community. And I wonder if emotional safety is something that appeals to you and the books that you know you really enjoy.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:26:53] It sounds like it probably does. And I didn’t even realize that until you said it.

Anne Bogel [00:26:57] Well, that’s why we’re talking. Tell me about the final book you loved.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:27:01] Yes! The final book, which it’s interesting that we’re talking about emotional safety as I transitioned into this book, because this book was a roller coaster for me. But it is Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy.

I have never read a book like this. It was recommended to me by a family member. She just talked about how beautiful the book was and how much she thought about the book. And I was like, “Well, that doesn’t really sound like a book that I would like.” But I ended up picking it up and then it sat on my shelf for a really long time. And then I didn’t have any book to read so I finally picked it up.

It is about this woman named Inti, who leads a team of biologists into the Highlands of Scotland, rural Scotland, where they are introducing wolves back into the highlands. The idea of reintroducing the wolves is to help the dying landscape. Okay, so let me pause and just tell you that I have recommended this book to so many people. And when I start describing it, I see their eyes glaze over and I am like, “Wait, no, stay with me. It really is such a good book.”

But I think when you start talking about reintroducing wolves into Scotland I just think you lose a lot of people. And that’s probably how I felt and why I didn’t start this book. But not only are you dealing with that, but you are dealing with this incredible depth to the main character Inti and you’re also dealing with these relationships with the farmers in the community who are very resistant to wolves being reintroduced because this is how they make their money and their livelihood by, you know, farming, sheep, cattle. So they are very resistant and scared about the reintroduction of wolves.

So it actually goes really well and people begin to adjust and relax to the idea of the wolves being there until something happens and a farmer turns up dead and Inti is devastated because all things point to the wolves have killed this farmer. And she sets out to try to determine if that is the case or not. She’s getting so much backlash from the residents of this community.

There’s also this romance part where you have this mysterious hunky Scottish sheriff, which what is not to like about, you know, a mysterious Scottish sheriff? So there’s that dynamic too. There just was so much going on in this book I felt like very character-driven, but also plot-driven. There was a lot happening. But I just was very invested in this story. For me, it was a total page-turner. I just loved it.

Anne Bogel [00:30:28] I’m so glad. So you weren’t really into the wolves, at first, at first. That wasn’t the hook for you. I imagine you came to care deeply about what was happening with the wolves. But an eco thriller, set in the quiet community with long-held secrets, where you introduce an apex predator and everything comes rushing to the surface, that turned out to be a great fit for you.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:30:49] Yes, which I never would have guessed. But yes, I loved it.

Anne Bogel [00:30:53] I’m so glad you took a chance on this book, Mollie.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:30:56] Me too.

Anne Bogel [00:30:57] Now, tell me about a book that wasn’t a good fit for you.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:31:01] Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen. This follows two women who are trying to make money by selling inauthentic handbags. This was one that I picked up I believe on recommendation from… I think maybe it was like a blog post from you. And I just did not find it interesting. I did not find it to be very entertaining. The characters were not enjoyable or likable.

It just didn’t feel like it was for me. It felt like I was following them in this story that I really didn’t care about and in relationships that were not very caring or authentic. It just, it wasn’t for me. I think that’s just why I didn’t like it was because it wasn’t for me. I don’t think it was a bad book or anything like that. I just don’t think it was a good fit for me.

Anne Bogel [00:32:08] Now, I am certain that I did talk about this on the blog back in the fall because I listened to this audiobook in one day—you were just talking about reading Love & Saffron in one day—on a drive from North Carolina actually back home to Louisville. And I really enjoyed this story.

On the surface it almost had a heist kind of vibe to it. It had a clever structure. And it took me a little while to figure out, it crept up on me slowly, that this wasn’t just about women figuring out how to knock off excellent counterfeit handbags that then sell for $10,000 on eBay. But it snuck up on me, this, like, surreptitious critique of the American dream. I really enjoyed the details of the fashion industry and those handbags in particular. It felt really smart to me.

But not everybody would want to root for these characters. And did this feel like an emotionally safe story? No. I was on edge and most of the time because the question is, will they get caught? How bad will the consequences be, as the stakes keep ratcheting up? It was emotionally scary. And that’s not a place you want to go in your fiction, right?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:33:12] Right. That’s correct.

Anne Bogel [00:33:14] Okay, so here’s what we want to do, Mollie. Now knowing, massive caveat, that of course you want to try books that are off your beaten path, because that has rewarded you in the past, like, Once There Were Wolves is an excellent example. But what we want to do is help you listen to my description of the reading experience.

Hey, these are two women who are trying to get away with something big, high stakes, feels really tenuous, your heart will be beating fast as you’re trying to figure out, are they gonna pull it off. We want to get your inner thought process going, but is that for me? Does that feel right for me? Is that a world I want to pop into for 300 pages?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:33:50] Yes.

Anne Bogel [00:33:51] Because in hindsight, you would say no, the answer is no.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:33:53] Right.

Anne Bogel [00:33:54] …for this book. But we want to get you thinking like that as someone is telling you, “Hey, Mollie, listen to this fabulous book I just finished.” We want to get you where you’re listening to them describe their experience and ask yourself, “Okay, what would my reading experience be like? Is that a place I want to go? Considering all the factors happening in my life and my reading life, is that a place I want to go right now?”

Mollie Hedgecock [00:34:16] Yes.

Anne Bogel [00:34:16] Awesome. What are you reading right now, Mollie?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:34:19] I am reading The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley. Again, I’ve been in this funk, trying to figure out what to read that I would like and so I read The Guest List by Lucy Foley last year, and I didn’t like it.

Anne Bogel [00:34:37] I know. Of course, you didn’t like it.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:34:41] I did not like it.

Anne Bogel [00:34:43] I was about to think, Do I have to rework all my theories if you told me you adored that book?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:34:47] No.

Anne Bogel [00:34:47] Okay.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:34:48] I didn’t like it but it was like a page-turner for me, and I did have to find out what happened. And I have thought about it a weird amount since then, but not in a good way. Just in an icky way, honestly. So I don’t know why I picked up The Paris Apartment except for that I knew I had read The Guest List and at least, the story was somewhat entertaining. Even if it did leave me feeling icky, it was a story that I could stick with. So that was my thinking in picking up The Paris Apartment.

Anne Bogel [00:35:27] And I imagine when you say “it left me feeling icky,” you’re thinking murder mystery, grim things happen, motivations that you didn’t really feel, you know, warm and fuzzy about. This is the kind of space we’re operating in?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:35:39] Yes. And you know, you follow in that book, and this book too so far, in The Paris Apartment, you follow all of these different characters and their perspectives of what’s happening. And when you don’t like a single one of them and you think that all of their motives, you know, are not good, then it just doesn’t make it something that feels good to read, at least for me.

Anne Bogel [00:36:05] For you.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:36:05] Yeah.

Anne Bogel [00:36:05] For you. And you know what, Mollie, I want to hold open the possibility for you. And I’d like you to hold your taste loosely right now. It’s good to know what is working for you right now. Maybe one day you’re going to take a month off work and read on the beach, and that’s all you’re going to do, and maybe that is going to be your Lucy Foley moment. But I don’t think that’s what you want to read on a Tuesday night when you come home from work right now.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:36:26] Yes, probably not.

Anne Bogel [00:36:28] Mollie, when we asked you on your submission what kinds of recommendations you’re looking for, your answer makes me question whether you really don’t know your own reading identity, because it tracks so much with what I would expect after our conversation. You say that you’re open to surprises, but you do enjoy comfort reads, your job can be emotionally draining so books with lots of difficult subject matter can be hard to get into. And you specifically say, “I would love some books with likeable characters, tender endings, and a bit of overall angst. I hope that’s not too much to ask for.” How do you feel about that request from past Mollie right now?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:37:01] It feels like my same request from current Mollie. It still rings true.

Anne Bogel [00:37:08] When you’re scanning the literary landscape, is that the kind of thing you’re keeping an eye out for?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:37:12] No. And it goes back to: what are people talking about? I think I just see these books that everybody seems to be reading and I think, “Oh, I should try that” regardless of what I just asked you for in my submission and what I’m still looking for. It’s like, oh, well, I guess I should try this because everybody is trying it.

So I guess I don’t think about my reading identity in those moments, like who I am as a reader. I think I just maybe want to go along with what other people are reading or I just lose sight of my own identity and get caught up in, you know, the book craze.

Anne Bogel [00:37:55] As an Enneagram type nine, I don’t know if that means anything to you or not.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:37:59] It does.

Anne Bogel [00:38:00] I hear this so much.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:38:03] Yes, yes.

Anne Bogel [00:38:04] But you love what you love, and that’s great and we’re going to help you keep an eye out for it. And also, might I just encourage you to write likeable characters tender and things a bit—what I hear is a smidge of overall angst—on a bookmark or Post It by your computer or a note on your phone, or wherever it is that you are looking at the Library app or that you might look at when you walk into an independent bookstore or the used bookstore you love so much. And just remind yourself, This is what I love.

[00:38:31] And I mean, by all means, branch out from there. But maybe for the next month or two just experiment within those parameters and see how that feels to you.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:38:39] Yes, that sounds like a really good idea.

Anne Bogel [00:38:41] Branching out is great. But when we talk about branching out, you’re doing it from a foundation. A trunk actually, I believe is the analogy here. But it’s not scattershot. You’re starting from a place that feels great to you and then going from there. So let’s get you back to that safe space.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:38:59] Yes, please.

Anne Bogel [00:39:00] Just for a little while to see how it feels.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:39:02] Yes, that sounds great.

Anne Bogel [00:39:05] Okay, Mollie, I feel like there’s so many books we could talk about that feel good for you right now that I’m not quite sure where to jump in. I gotta tell you several historical novels that seem right up your alley. I know that you love romance and you have mentioned previously that you wouldn’t mind a romance suggestion. An epistolary novel is coming… Two. Actually two. Two epistolary novels are coming to mind, because you really enjoy that letter format with Love & Saffron.

But I was really surprised to hear you mention the Fannie Flagg novel The Whole Town’s Talking. There’s a contemporary novel that came out a year ago by Annie Hartnett. And this book put me so firmly in mind of that Fannie Flagg novel that I hadn’t read for years and I don’t think about ever in my reading life, but it reminded me so much that I feel like I have to tell you about it, Mollie.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:39:58] Yes, please.

Anne Bogel [00:39:59] It’s called Unlikely Animals. It came out last spring. So, at the heart of this story is a young woman named Emma Starling. She has made her family proud by leaving small town New Hampshire and going to med school far far away where she’s going to do great things and become a physician.

Oh, she has an unusual gift that has long been presumed she could use to heal people. And through this story, we, I think, root for her, Mollie, as she wrestles with, “Well, yeah, but is it really a gift for good? And does it really mean I should be a physician? And aren’t there other things I could be doing in the world?” She’s very conflicted.

But she comes back home to care for her father who has developed this rare brain condition that began manifesting by him seeing animals where there were no animals. He was a professor and the story may begin on that note, something like he knew his time had come when he saw cats in the back of the classroom. It’s something like that.

But Emma with all her baggage that she’s dealing with, that she doesn’t feel like she can tell anybody about, she comes back home. She started substitute teaching in her old fifth grade classroom, and she just gets swept back up into the small-town orbit, including the old boyfriend that she was part of all those years ago.

There’s several threads going on here. So we have her father’s illness. We have her missing best friend. Some people think she just ran off to live her own life. Some people think something sinister has happened. And through all this, we have the ghosts in the cemetery of dead townspeople just commenting on all the happenings just like they do in The Whole Town’s Talking.

I want readers to know that there are some hard things in this book. But Hartnett has such a light touch. You may remember her from Rabbit Cake. I know some of you read that. She’s absurd and funny and endearing. Whimsical, I think, would be a good description here. I just love that connection to Fannie Flagg. I think it may be a good adjacent pick for you. How does that sound, Mollie?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:41:56] It sounds interesting. And yeah, very compelling. I’m excited to pick it up.

Anne Bogel [00:42:02] I’m happy to hear it. Okay, now I really want to go historical for you. I want to go to World War II. I mean, can we do this?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:42:10] I’m taking a deep breath preparing myself but yes. I trust you. I trust you.

Anne Bogel [00:42:17] You don’t have to read it. This is a debut novel I have in mind, Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce. This came out about five years ago, because I don’t want to just give you the latest because that’s not been working out for you.

And Mollie, I love this story behind the story here. So A.J. Pearce stumbled upon a British women’s magazine from 1939 and the Problems Page hosted by this magazine where women wrote in and said, “Hey, here’s what I’m dealing with.” And an editor at the newspaper would write back and address her situation. So this debut follows friends, Emmeline and Bunty, as they try to stay cheerful during the war despite having to give up on their dreams and deal with the nightly raids.

What happens is Emmy answers a job advertisement and suddenly finds herself typing letters for Henrietta Bird, the advice columnist for… I think it’s called Woman’s Friend Magazine in the book. So Mrs. Bird’s rules are that if the problem is unpleasant, it goes straight in the bin. But Emmy thinks that’s cruel because these women are seeking help and nobody else is going to give it to them. So she begins writing those women back.

I think this story has so much of what you loved from Love & Saffron and The Kitchen Front, both historical novels, in that you see likable characters coming together, forming community, seeking to help each other. Despite it being set in wartime London, I think this is a world that you will enjoy escaping to. How does that sound?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:43:50] It sounds fun. I love female characters and strong female characters. So yeah, I think this could be good.

Anne Bogel [00:43:59] Oh, gosh, I just realized what I did was set myself up for sharing another historical novel. But this one is back and forth in time. Does that help to have the contemporary grounding?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:44:08] A bit. Yes.

Anne Bogel [00:44:10] Okay. The book I have in mind is The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah. I’m certain that we have talked about Mastering the Art of French Eating on the podcast before. Mah is a journalist and food writer, and this is her novel from about five years ago.

And it’s about a young woman named Kate. And I’m just realizing Kate is dealing with some stuff where the stakes feel pretty high for her. She needs to head back to her family’s vineyard estate in Burgundy to rest up and study hard because she has failed her Master of Wine examination twice, and she cannot feel it a third time or she will be out. So she is feeling some pressure.

But that’s not the only reason she’s going back to Burgundy. She really hopes that she’ll be able to reconnect with her family while she’s studying up on the wine that she really needs to have down pat. In the process of helping her family clear out some old things, she stumbled across a diary and also a whole bunch of really good, really treasured, really expensive wine made on the family vineyard many years ago.

The diaries from her great aunt who was a teen during World War II, but it’s not clear where her loyalties lay back then or what happened. And then there’s several bottles of wine missing from the sellers’ collection. And so what we have here is a family story, not like a complicated family, you know. I think this is gonna be okay with you. But we have this mystery of the diary entries and what do they reveal about the family. And we also have her needing to overcome this obstacle in her current life and professional career.

One of the questions that we asked when we talked about finding your reading identity was what topics do you enjoy reading about, what kind of worlds do you want to escape to. There is so much food and wine knowledge and lore and trivia in details that just feels very visceral, like you’re standing there looking over the vineyard. Like picking up the dusty bottles. That will be a strong selling point for a lot of readers. I’m not sure if it’s one for you, though, Mollie. How does that sound?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:46:10] It sounds intriguing and sounds exciting. Would you say the main character is pretty likable?

Anne Bogel [00:46:17] I would. And I also think it would be remiss not to mention that there’s a romance thread through here that is not the dominant one. But I’ve noticed that you enjoy that in your stories.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:46:26] I do. Yes. Okay. That makes me feel better about it.

Anne Bogel [00:46:30] That’s The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah. I do want to put in two plugs. I know you love stories with well-developed and likable characters. It sounds like you feel like romance has let you down a little bit recently.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:46:41] Yes, definitely.

Anne Bogel [00:46:43] Okay. I wanted to put in a plug for Abby Jimenez. If you have not read her yet, or recently.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:46:48] I have read her, yes. I really enjoy her books.

Anne Bogel [00:46:52] Okay. She has a new one coming out called Yours Truly that I think is her best yet. It comes out in April. It’s called Yours Truly because the characters don’t initially connect in person but establish a meaningful relationship by writing actual letters to each other. This is also a workplace romance.

It’s set in a hospital where they both work as big-shot physicians. It’s really great. And I think if you’ve read her before and really liked her that this one is worth just penciling in on your calendar. Keep an eye out for it when it comes out in April.

And then Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson is an epistolary novel, which means it’s a novel in letters. The two characters accidentally strike up a correspondence. We have a British farmwife who writes a Danish museum inquiring about something. And the Danish museum curator writes back to answer her question which he can’t do to his or her satisfaction, so he apologizes and includes some details, and they strike up a correspondence. And I think because of your love for Love & Saffron that this really belongs on your reading radar.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:47:54] That sounds great. And for some reason, that one sounds like I’m super excited to pick it up. Yeah, that one sounds great.

Anne Bogel [00:48:02] I said the least about that one. Is that the secret?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:48:04] I don’t know. But that one just sounds very sweet.

Anne Bogel [00:48:09] I’m glad it sounds good to you because I think it’s gonna be a good fit. Mollie, of the books we talked about today… Now, apparently, I need to include Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez and Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson. We also talked about Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett, Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce, and The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah. Of those books, what do you think you’ll read next?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:48:31] Well, I just feel so lucky because I got the two plugs, the extra. So I would definitely say Meet Me at the Museum and Unlikely Animals are the two that I feel most excited to pick up.

Anne Bogel [00:48:45] And how are you feeling about your identity as a reader?

Mollie Hedgecock [00:48:48] I feel like you have really given me the permission that I needed to just kind of sink into where I’m at right now and really develop roots in this identity before I start branching out, which I really appreciate.

Anne Bogel [00:49:03] I’m happy to hear it, and I’m really excited for you picking up those books. Mollie, thanks so much for talking with me today. It’s been a pleasure.

Mollie Hedgecock [00:49:09] Yes. Thank you so much.

Anne Bogel [00:49:15] Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Mollie, and I’d love to hear what you think she should read next. See the full list of titles we talked about today at Bookstagram can feel like a lot sometimes, we get it, so we keep it casual and fun on our shows page at @whatshouldireadnext. We share picks of our weekly episodes and talk about what’s happening here at What Should I Read Next? HQ.

Follow us today to connect with your fellow book lovers and stay up to date with what’s happening on the show. You’ll find me there too @AnneBogel. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and you’ll always be first to know all our news. I’d love to add you to the list. Sign up at Make sure you’re following in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:50:04] Thanks to the people who make this show happen. What Should I Read Next? is created each week by Will Bogel, Holly Wielkoszewski, and Studio D Podcast Production. Thanks to our community manager, Sara Aeder. 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.

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