Some of our favorite (and liveliest) episodes over the past two years as Women Who Travel hosts have been our book reviews. (You can find past episodes here, here, and here). This week’s episode is no different. Being on vacation and flying to get to vacation—whether you’re going to laze on the beach for days or zip around Southeast Asia on the back of a moped—are some of the only long, interrupted times we have these days to read. So, as you prep for your OOO for 2020, we tapped Jynne Dilling Martin, Riverhead Books’ associate publisher, and Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, to give you a rundown of the best books they read in 2019 for a little literary packing list info.
All of our picks are written by women, of course, and most of them were read on vacation and work trips of our own. They run the gamut, from a must-read nonfiction epic that intertwines the history of New Orleans with that of the author to a Nobel prize-winning fictional murder mystery set in the depths of Poland. While many other books were discussed, here are the 11 favorites we suggested in this episode:
Thanks to Jynne and Lisa for joining us this week. And thanks as always to Brett Fuchs for engineering and mixing. To keep up with our podcast each week, subscribe to Women Who Travel on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. And, if you have a minute to spare, leave a review. We’d love to hear from you. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter to keep up to date with our live episodes, meetups, and trips, too.
All products featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Read a full transcript of the episode below.
Meredith Carey: Hi everyone, you’re listening to Women Who Travel, a podcast from Condé Nast Traveler. I’m Meredith Carey and with me as always is my co-host Lale Arikoglu.
Lale Arikoglu: Hello.
MC: Vacation and flying to get to vacation are some of the best times to read, and so this episode we are giving you a rundown of the best books we read in 2019—written by women of course—to give you a bit of inspiration on what to pick up before your next trip. As is tradition our book-themed podcasts, which I think this is number four, we are joined by Riverhead Books’ associate publisher, Jynne Dilling Martin, who has previously suggested that you pack the 1,224 page, The Tale of Genji. I cannot wait to hear what you brought us this time, Jynne.
Jynne Dilling Martin: I bring the authenticity is what I bring, I bring true recommendations from the heart. That is-
LA: And luggage fees.
MC: Yes, that is for the Kindle. And joining us for the first time is Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation. Since you are our latest rookie Lisa, do you want to start with one of your favorite books from this year?
Lisa Lucas: God, it was a good year, it was a really, really good year. Well, this was a late one, I always say her name incorrectly so I’m going to try but Virginie Despentes, who wrote a book called Vernon Subutex 1, it’s part of a trilogy. I think it’s been released in French, and FSG put it out this year and it was just the most extraordinary read. And I was really excited because I was reading it in Paris and-
MC: Oh my gosh, perfect confluence of-
LL: And it felt really cute, and it hadn’t come out here yet, but I found it online from a UK online seller.
JDM: Set the scene, are you at a café?
LL: I was, I was having a café crème and I was like-
JDM: Everyone’s so hot.
LL: Everybody was really good looking. Well, actually all of the women were really good looking. All the men were sort of schlubby French men, I don’t know.
JDM: They’re okay.
LA: Well, when you think of famous French men, I think the standards have been set slightly differently from famous French women.
LL: So I was wandering around Paris for the few days that I was there, and I was reading this book. And I feel like people kept being like, oh, that’s so good, that’s such a good book. And they were making it into a film and it was just … But this book was incredible.
It was about this guy who used to own a record shop. He was probably very attractive and had lots and lots of girlfriends and never really settled down. And he’s this 45-year-old aging hipster whose record store has closed down and he’s confronting middle age. And this group of friends that he has known for all of these years are all moving on in their lives. They’re having children, or they’re having loneliness, or they’re having trouble, and one of their friends has died. And it’s just sort of like this incredible exploration of what happens after being a hip young person if you don’t really get it together.
JDM: So it’s a trilogy, not in a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy way. It’s a trilogy in a Ferrante series kind of …
LL: Right, or a Durrell you know, the quartet. It should’ve been four, because I feel like quartets are more escalated, elevated.
JDM: It’s true. Dance to the Music of Time.
LL: But I haven’t read the other two because they hadn’t been translated and my French reading skills are poor, but it was just so good. And it also manages to be fun while saying something. I mean, I’m on the cusp of 40—I have a week left. But it was really, I think a good time in my life to read it. And then she’s also like, just as she’s this hard… In her picture, she’s just smoking a cigarette and she’s got this grimace on her face. She’s just this incredible feminist French Raider and she just does not care.
LA: What’s her story for people who might not be familiar with her as an author?
LL: I mean, I don’t know an enormous about her other than she’s not shy and so she will often write things that I suppose over time you would not expect a woman to write. I think now that’s loosening up. And so it’s she’s just an awesome writer. Right. But she’s pretty bold. I think she can be a touch vulgar and she just doesn’t really take any prisoners. But I don’t know a ton about her other than that somebody recommended this book to me and I picked it up and I was like, “This is amazing.” The Feminist Press was her publisher in the U.S. for a long time. So she’s always been kind of indie and edgy. This is I think a more mainstream push because that book did so well, I think they’re making into a big French series, but it’s great. It’s great and it’s also just good fun.
MC: So you can find a link to this book and every other book that is mentioned in this episode in the show notes, so be sure to check those out if you want to pick any up. Jynne, what is your first pick?
JDM: Okay, so for my first pick, I’m going to do my favorite book that I read this year and I just read it on my travels in Southeast Asia and I was in Laos and Cambodia and I share this only to say this is how committed I was to continuing to read this book because it’s a big hardcover—and not as bad as the other ones. I know you guys, but normally I bring paperbacks on backpacking-style trips. But I was so hooked on this and I carried it all around with me. It is called The Yellow House by a woman, Sarah Broom, and it actually won the National Book Award for Nonfiction this year. Yes. Which is why I picked it up. It won right before I was leaving for the trip and I was like, “Crap, I really, I need to check this out. It has won so many prizes, gotten so many great reviews. I want to see what this is all about.”
And from page one, I was just so pulled into the story. I’m not normally a big nonfiction reader either, so I say this is a book that if you need to get a gift or take a book on a trip for anyone who even loves novels and mostly reads fiction, it reads like that because it’s this woman’s family history and personal story, but she tells it in a way about her family and her family’s history in New Orleans, that ends up being one of those books that pools in history and culture and politics and class and economic systems, and you learn so much by just starting with her personal story. And she’s from a part of New Orleans that for years didn’t even have an official area name to it and she has this amazing line on one of the first pages that “namelessness is a form of naming.”
And she’s basically writing in a history that has not been told and stories and people that haven’t been part of the narrative that we’ve received. And she is just a … Her writing is on fire. So I’m very strict about weight. I only bring even two pairs of underwear on these kinds of backpacking trips. My poor partner, I make him eliminate so many different things from the bag. I pack so strictly. But this was absolutely worth lugging around. It just is a fantastic read.
LA: And so it’s centered around New Orleans then?
JDM: Yes. It’s fully set there and her family’s history there all the way back generations.
LA: And so you chose to read a book about New Orleans backpacking in Southeast Asia.
JDM: I know I usually do thematic, but I felt they’re both hot. They’re steamy.
MC: They’re a very similar climate. Yes.
LA: Would you recommend someone who’s going to New Orleans to read it?
JDM: Oh, it is mandatory to read it if you’re going. No one should be allowed off the plane.
LL: I don’t think you should be able to go to New Orleans without reading it.
JDM: At gate check, at security check, they should have a little quiz and if you can’t get three questions right about The Yellow House, you’re not allowed into New Orleans.
LA: It’s like showing a passport, but you have to show a copy of the book to get in.
LL: It’s kind of like Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, you’re not allowed to go [to Antigua], unless you’ve read it.
LA: Lisa, you almost jumped out of your chair when you heard the name of this book.
LL: Oh my gosh. Sarah Broom is incredible. She’s like a poet. It’s this big, beautiful, thoughtful cultural and political history of a city that’s told through this family’s house and stories of acquisition and loss of wealth, as a stand in for this whole thing. But it’s a poem. It’s her language is so gorgeous. I never underlined books. I never underline books because it makes me so mad. And then 10 years later you’re like, “Why did I underline stupid thing, you idiot.” But I could not stop myself from writing in the margins and underlining because it was just like, it wasn’t trying to be pithy, but it was. She’s a beautiful writer. And it’s a debut book, which is …
JDM: She spent something 10 years working on this book. This is one of those life project books and it shows.
LL: Incredible though. When she won—you fall in love with every single book that’s nominated, you want them all to win—but it was still like, yes.
JDM: Meredith, I would have thought maybe you would have read it. You’re always, like, up on these things.
MC: I was just in New Orleans, so now I feel really horrible. Yes. I was just there and now I know that I need to read it.
JDM: It’ll be that much more meaningful now when you read it.
MC: I love it. Do you feel like now you have to plan a trip to New Orleans? I mean you’ve basically just gotten back from a crazy amount of travel.
JDM: I’ve just come back from a ton of travel. Also, as you guys know, I like cold places and I don’t normally go to hot places, so I’ve done one hot place.
JDM: Yes, Lisa. I love the cold.
LL: I am not down with it.
JDM: But yeah, maybe it’ll be my hot place of 2020. I can only do one a year.
LA: We had Blair Braverman who is an amazing adventurer, dog musher, writer, author, wears many, many hats. We had her on the podcast and she wrote an essay for us a few years ago about an experience she had traveling to an incredibly hot country as someone who thrives in the cold. And she wrote so beautifully about that experience and the thing that really struck me was how she described how when you’re in a icy, freezing cold place—she spends a lot of time in Alaska and stuff that—it’s empty. There’s vast emptiness in that space. Whereas when you go to a hot place, the air is a buzz. It’s very full. Everything is full and alive. And that was the thing that she really struggled with. Would you agree? You look you agree.
JDM: Oh my God, my joke the whole time is that there’s a biodiversity problem in Laos and Cambodia. There are way too many animals. I saw snakes, you know, that’s a red line for me, snakes.
LL: I hate snakes but I hate the cold more. I do not like to be cold. Let me tell you all what, that’s not for me. Nope.
LA: You’re like, “I’ll take a snake.”
JDM: That’s a good quiz though: snakes or cold. That clearly divides people.
LL: I’d rather have snakes on the plane than cold on the plane.
MC: Yeah, I think I’m snakes as well.
LL: Yeah, because the cold is horrible Jynne.
MC: Because the snakes aren’t all poisonous.
JDM: Oh my God, you guys.
MC: Cold will kill you.
LL: It actually will. That’s true. You know what poisonous or non-poisonous, cold will just take you out.
MC: Lale what’s your first pick?
LA: So I’m going to talk about a book called Severance by Ling Ma, which I read a few months ago and cannot stop thinking about. I feel like it got a bit of buzz when it came out. I think it came out in hardcover last year and then was soft cover this year. And this was her first book and it’s sort of being hailed as sort of the first millennial novel and it sort of set in this slightly post-apocalyptic New York where everyone in America but sort of you assume the rest of the world has been struck down by this flu and people have been rapidly dying and the population drops. And the central character is a young woman who works in New York City and she keeps going to work and she ends up being the last person in her office.
LL: She works for this global conglomerate and she can’t reach her colleagues and her boyfriend is terrible.
LA: Oh so terrible and we’ve all met him.
LL: I haven’t finished it, I’ve actually read half of that so I’m taking the other half. This is my holiday reading. It’s so good.
LA: I could not put it down. And I mean I think if you live in New York, there are descriptions of New York and also a specific time in Brooklyn that will really resonate with people. But if you haven’t lived in New York, if you’ve never been to New York, I think there is so much that you will find in that book to relate to. And also it is a story as much about immigration as it is about urban life and work/life. Oh, you could just pick so much apart.
LL: And destruction of the planet.
LA: And you know, at the end of the world. I could not put it down. It was great and I was depressed but not too depressed.
MC: Okay, great. And do you read it at the beach?
LA: No, I read it… Where did I read it?
MC: By a pool, always.
LA: No this one was not by a pool. This one was in my own home.
LL: I read the first half by a pool.
MC: You can usually count on Lale’s suggestions being read by a pool.
LA: [inaudible 00:12:33] By pool. That’s on my list, which are definitely not your classic pool reading.
MC: My first suggestion is a book that I did not read by a pool. I finished it in part on Lale and Megan and my trip to Portland. Usually our Women Who Travel trips to go to meetups and live podcasts are super packed, but this year we had this absolutely incredible Airbnb. You can find it on the site and we’ll link it in the show notes, too. But it was so stunning. I mean, it had this record player and as much as we could, we just sat in silence in this Airbnb together and it was so lovely and it gave me the time to finish The Library Book by Susan Orlean, which I had been reading on the subway, which is not the time. A fragmented reading of this book will get you nowhere.
And so it took me a couple times to start, to actually get into it, but it’s about this library fire in L.A. in 1986 and if you’ve ever listened to the book episodes of this podcast, you will know that I read a book about jellyfish a couple of years ago that I still love so much called Spineless because it was about so many things other than jellyfish and was just a really wonderful, interesting nonfiction. And this had a very similar vibe in that it was about crime and arson and fires and also the history of libraries and books in general. And it was super detailed and nitty-gritty, but also felt there were enough people in it that you actually enjoyed reading it. And I loved it. And I had this very distinct memory of listening to Emmylou Harris in our Airbnb and finishing the book.
LA: Yeah, I discovered, which shouldn’t be a surprise, because as everyone who listens to this podcast knows Meredith is from Texas and revealed her extensive country music knowledge to me and gave me a short education.
MC: The Airbnb host had all of these crates of records and there were two huge country record boxes and I was like, “I’m in heaven.”
LA: I also just want to say shout out to that Airbnb host. We rocked up with our little wheely suitcases to check in and she had literally broken up with her boyfriend the day before and he had moved out that day and we were on the doorstep being like, “We’re so excited to come to Portland. Where should we eat?”
MC: Props or her, she was handling it as well as to be expected.
LA: She was an amazing host.
MC: Yes and to her friend who hosted her in the meantime so that she could get a break, you also deserve props. Lisa, we’re going to get back to you.
LL: Yeah. I feel like this book has gotten so much love, but I was reading it on a good trip. Sally Rooney’s Normal People. So, everybody was freaking out about it and I was sort of like, my instinct when people are freaking out about books is to be like, whatever. I’m going to hate read it just so I know what everybody’s talking about. And I really, really liked that book. I was like, I was in Bali and I was sitting by a pool and I was very happy and it was just kind of a perfect vacation read. And it was smart. I think she’s quite smart, but again, it’s really hard to push past the hype machine sometimes when things are just getting so much love and then you get the pushback and it’s like, is this person any good? And then the person’s four years old and you’re like, “I don’t know, I’m almost 40 do I even believe that this is something realistically good?”
And I thought it was actually very exciting. I’d read Conversations With Friends, which I thought was fine. It’s not my recommendation of the thing to read this year. And I really loved Normal People. I thought it was smart about relationships. I thought it was smart about power and the dynamics between men and women when they’re coming of age in a way that like, I was sad to see such a young woman writing about the same things that I might’ve remembered when I was young and in college. I don’t know. I saw something of the world that I inhabit inside of these Irish people’s lives, which I thought was a job well done. Given that I’m a black woman living in New York and I’m way older.
MC: Was Normal People on a previous episode?
JDM: It was back in June.
MC: Because I read it after.
JDM: Lale and I were on team Rooney.
MC: There was a lot of shouting that happened.
LL: I’m super, super, super into her. I think she’s smart. And the thing about her is, I don’t know if Normal People or Conversations With Friends are the best books ever, but I think that young woman has a lot more to say and is clearly actually a proper writer and not a person with a properly good idea that turned into a book. And so I am super excited about reading whatever she’s writing in 15 years, because I think that that’s going to be, not just the origin point but the sort of mature view of the world that I think is pretty valuable.
But I thought it was also just like, fast and readable and the kind of thing that is not too heavy when you carry it in your bag. Like, and I just felt it was like, it was a little too hot on my trip, which is not a thing that I usually say. And it was just sort of these lazy, kind of lethargic days and it was just kind of the perfect thing to just be like, I don’t want to move, I just want to read.
MC: And you can really move through that book, at such a fast pace that it maybe feels the things around you are moving a little faster than they probably were.
LL: And I’m always like, a sign of a good book for me is something that I want to throw across the room, because I’m angry at something that somebody did. And it definitely gave me those vibes, which apparently I like to feel rage when I’m reading. It’s like TV shows when you have to just pause and you’re like: I cannot, I need to walk away, I need to walk away, I can’t believe this person’s about to do something that’s stressing me all the way out or this is horrible. It’s like whenever you get that with a book, I feel like The Days of Abandonment was the best one ever for throwing it across the room. Because you just cannot believe what just happened.
JDM: The only book I’ve ever thrown is A Little Life, which is a bad one to throw, I could’ve killed my cat. I’m just saying it was a dangerous book to throw because the consequences could have been pet fatal.
LL: I did not expect to recommend Sally Rooney by the way. But I just kept thinking about the trip and the reading experience and it was very good. There were so many great books this year and I feel like people have given her so much play that it’s like, I’m sorry to use yet another moment.
MC: It’s another reason to read the book.
LL: I just was really into it. So yeah.
LA: And I agree that Normal People I prefer to Conversation With Friends, which I was sort of relieved by, because I was like, “Okay so this is her second book. So hopefully this means that her third one will be even more interesting.”
MC: Jynne, how about you?
JDM: Well, let us return to cold places, everyone so that I can feel in my safe space again. So I am just freshly back from Stockholm where I had the experience of a lifetime, which was attending the Nobel prizes. It was just the most nuts thing that has ever happened in my life.
And it’s because our writer Olga Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was telling these guys, Nordic Rich is different rich. They are rich in a way that I had never been up close to before. And it’s out of an Ingmar Bergman film. It’s understated, restrained, but everything is made of a really nice sadana velvet and swishes very quietly. And there’s a lot of thick carpeting. It’s like that. But so I just wanted for people, we’ve gotten a lot of questions of where to start with Olga Tokarczuk’s work because it’s intimidating. Every single book is so different than every other book and it’s hard to find a way in. So my favorite is the shortest one, so it’s easier than the things I’m usually on here recommending.
It’s called Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. It’s her murder mystery. But it goes where no murder mystery has ever gone before. It has astrology and star charts and William Blake and a dead neighbor named Big Foot and this nutty detective/heroine, who’s this old woman living alone in the cabin in the woods of Poland, who goes on to investigate what she perceives to be crimes happening in her woods. And it is so funny. I mean, I dare you to read this and not just be cracking up on every couple of pages. It’s such a fun book.
LA: This is the book I was teasing.
MC: We both were like, we know Jynne will bring this so we don’t even need to say it.
LL: Also, thank you for a second National Book Awards title because it was longlisted for translated literature. And I’m also taking that one with me too. Two books mentioned that I’m taking it with me for vacation.
JDM: What can I say? Your judges have great taste.
LA: And that is a book I read by a pool.
JDM: But so do you agree now? Now I’m nervous.
LA: I do agree. I absolutely loved it. I mean, I will say I think the first 50 pages I was like, “I sort of have no idea what I’m reading. What is this book? Who is this woman who lives alone in the cabin that I identify with more than I think I expected to.” I absolutely loved it.
JDM: I mean pro tips from the heroine of this novel, always have on clean underwear in case you end up being found dead in your cabin and you don’t want someone finding you not in clean underwear. Let’s face it, everyone.
LA: You don’t want anyone having to…
LL: You don’t even really want to live in not clean underwear. Here’s the thing, everybody always says to make sure you have on clean underpants. And I’m like, “I don’t know. I try to just keep it tidy all the time.”
LA: Who has got the dirty ones?
LL: It was something I don’t know about.
MC: There’s good life advice in this novel, let’s say that.
LA: Do other people only have two pairs?
MC: No. So Lale was reading it by the pool at the same time I was in the desert in Namibia also reading this book. It is such a delight and it’s just like you’re in her brain and it’s a really weird place.
JD.M: It is a weird brain.
MC: It is a weird brain, but it’s so fascinating. And then you get sucked in and you’re like, “Well I physically cannot stop reading because I have to find out what frick is going on.”
JDM: Oh this makes me so happy you guys. I’m so glad to hear this.
LL: She’s the best. She’s also extremely stylish. Just to say that she rolled up, she wrapped up at the National Book Awards last year because she was also a finalist and I was like, “Excuse me, Olga.” And then she won the Nobel, but I called it, I called that she was going to win the Nobel, literally in my office. I walked into every single person in my office said, “Tomorrow when Olga wins, I would like you to acknowledge that I said it first.”
JDM: She is the progressive, socialist, feminist Nobel winner that the world needed.
LL: Flights is amazing, too. It’s longer, but Flights is great.
LA: I wanted to ask about Flights because Bones of the Dead was the first book by her that I read. So I was wondering what I should go to next and obviously Flights is the one that I know of the most, but is that the next one I should go to?
JDM.: Yeah, So try Flights next. It’s more a assemblage of writing that she resists even calling fiction or nonfiction. So it is diaristic. It’s associated. It’s eccentric. And what’s kind of nice is that it’s almost like short stories. You could hop around. You could read different individual pieces. There’s a two-pager in the middle that’s just about language that is so spectacular. It’s one of my favorite two pages in any book we’ve ever published. And it’s her in Polish—oObviously it’s been translated—writing about how, sorry she feels for people for whom English is their first language because they’re stuck speaking such a public language and they have no private language of their own to switch back into that most of the world doesn’t know. And again, it’s her brain. It’s funny and sharp and and acerbic and well observed.
LL: I love that you can dip it in and out of that book.
JDM: Yeah. So yeah. Yeah, hop around in it. See if-
LA: I’m going to be thinking about that language thing for a while.
MC: Yeah, it feels like a good actual flight book because then you’re never like, you can just move around and you aren’t like, “Oh I’m getting tired of this thing. I’m going to watch TV just because I’m going to watch TV.”
JDM: And it is extensively just generally about being in transit and between borders and boundaries or what those even means. So it’s a very good one to read on a plane because you’re like, “Yeah, where am I?”
MC: So after I read Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, I read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, which was published in 2017 and also has a kind of unreliable narrator. You’re in someone’s brain. Nothing is as it seems. And I would say that’s kind of my perfect beach read for this past year because it’s interesting and fascinating and fast and it’s also going to be made into a movie produced by Reese Witherspoon.
JDM: Oh, nice.
MC: And I feel like because it is about this woman who is very socially inept, who meets someone at work, who kind of opens her eyes to the world around her and the situation she’s just been perfectly complacent in and completely fine in for years. It was really interesting to see her discover London where she lives as she expands her horizons and her borders of what she does in her life. And it made me be like, “I should explore New York, what am I missing by not taking the bus?”
LA: Well, and I think that talking about that sort of narrator who doesn’t quite see things the way that you-
MC.: Everyone else in the book sees.
LA: Yeah. And I definitely felt the same thing with Bones Of The Dead. And at the beginning I always found myself getting quite frustrated with her because I was just like, “Well, why can’t you just see things this way?” And then I was like, “Well, maybe I’m seeing it wrong.” And then you realize that everyone else in the book is seeing it the wrong way. Oh God, I loved it.
MC: It’s fascinating. And I feel like I came to work and was just second guessing everything that I was doing because I’m too stuck in these two books with these ladies who are fully losing their minds. Amazing.
JDM: Or are you losing it?
MC: I mean, I felt like it really.
MC: Lale, now that Jynne has offered Olga up, what is your next suggestion?
LA: I am going to—partly because I’m interested to hear what everyone at this table thought of it because it was such a big book of the summer—suggest Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. I know both me and Meredith kind of flew through it in the summer right when it came out. I was wondering if the two of you had read it.
JDM: I have not read it. And I love Taffy’s profiles for the Times Magazine so much. She is just the dream journalist and dream profiler. And so I’ve been meaning to read this and I have to admit I’ve not gotten to read it.
LL: And I definitely will. She was longlisted. Again, I’m loving these selections because they’re all long listed for the National Book Award but she was long-listed for the National Book Award. A lot of people in my office have read it. Everybody has just thought it was such an interesting book about divorce and about, men and women and where we are right now. And she’s so funny and generous and interesting. I’ve given that book so many times already just because it’s I’m kind of like, “I know that people are going to think this is both smart and really fun, but I have to read it still.” We get 50 books all at one time.
MC: Well, I think that this kind of falls into that like, a hype machine that you were talking about where a book is everywhere, especially in New York. And then I have friends who are like, “I’m not reading it because everyone else has already read it.” And the conversation is over and I’m like, “No, you have to read this book.”
LL: That’s not how books work.
MC: Exactly. You don’t have to read them the moment they come out you can read them thousands of years later.
LL: They don’t go bad is the thing. I mean, unless they’re written by a man in 1965. Then sometimes they do.
MC: That is the most amazing thing anyone has ever said on this podcast.
LA: And fair, very fair.
MC: I really liked it. When you said it was really interesting. I think that’s super true. It is a book about a man and then later a woman who are going through a divorce/midlife crisis, just a generally unnerving time in their lives. As somebody who has tons of friends who are getting married and also friends who are getting divorced and just kind of being on the outside of that thing, itt was fascinating to me to be inside this very toxic, bizarre relationship.
LL: I’m like, “Bring me all your middle age woes.” I just want to read them all.
MC: I’m like, I want to be prepared.
LA: It did very much feel like I am also at the point in my life where all my friends are getting married, I’ve gotten married and now the really scary part is that some friends are starting to have kids. And it felt like this sort of terrifying look forward into this is where you’re all going to be in 10 years time. Buckle up because it’s going to be a ride.
LL: It’s not not true.
LA: And I think one of the things that really struck me, and I think it was probably because it tapped into my own personal anxieties, was everything that comes with having children, especially for women. And I think one of the things that I’m very scared about is losing my sense of self and becoming somewhat invisible. I think that book explores it a lot in the latter half. And I did sort of close it… I remember finishing reading it sort of midnight and I just closed it and looked around and I was like, “I need to talk to someone about this book and there’s no one around to talk to about it. What do I do?” And then I just lay in the dark with my eyes open.
MC: I think it’s another, there’s the last bit of the book, I don’t want to give too much away, but the last bit of the book has kind of a similar sort of feeling to Olga’s book because you are feeling because of the writing style exactly what the narrator of that section is feeling and you feel a little loopy and I had the same thing. I ended it and was like, “My heart is beating so fast and I don’t know what to do.”
LL: Now I can’t wait to read it.
MC: Delightful. It wasn’t necessarily a good feeling, but it was a feeling.
LL: I like feeling things. It’s like I don’t even need it to be the best feeling in the world. That is what I like from a book to feel something. Because that’s the books you remember, right? The things that stay with you that kind of implant in your brain. Or the ones that made you feel something meaningful or different.
LA: Exactly. If you closed every book and just thought, “Well that’s nice.” And then just put it back on the shelf, you wouldn’t get anywhere.
MC: The one group of people that I would not recommend reading that specific book on vacation is honeymooners, because our boss Stephanie Wu read it shortly after she had gotten married and was like, “This is super depressing.” So just give yourself a little time …
LL: You just annul at that point.
MC: Like, get in the groove of your marriage before you read this book.
LL: I’m so sorry, I’ve made a terrible mistake. Please enjoy the vacation and read this book to understand why I’ve done what I’ve done. Goodbye.
MC: Is there anything else you guys super, super, super want to scream out about?
LL: Super fast, Julia Phillips’ Disappearing Earth.
LA: I have seen people tweeting about that and sharing it on their year-end round-ups.
JDM: Agreed, that’s on my holiday pile today.
LL: I mean, you get a book and it’s about a remote part of Russia, and the people that live there and you’re like, “Okay welcome to the National Book Awards family.” And then you pick it up because you’re kind of like, “This seems like the outlier in my interests.” And I swear to God, I did not put it down until I was done. I mean she’s such a beautiful writer and it’s such a fascinating tale. And it’s just sort of all of these different people and it revolves around the kidnapping of these two girls, but it’s really not about the kidnapping of these girls. It’s about a place.
JDM: A cold place.
LL: A very cold place that I am unlikely to visit.
JDM: That’s why it’s on my winter pile.
LL: So no, this is why I liked it because I never have to go there and be freezing cold. But I feel that I’ve been there because Julia Phillips is such a stunning writer, but it’s sort of been vignette-y but beautiful. I highly recommended it. It was not the most come hither book to me when I picked it up and was just like, “Oh.” And then I was absolutely just blown away.
MC: See I have the opposite feeling about that book. When we were in Powell’s in Portland, I saw it on the display. And it’s a pink and blue and white mountain scene on the cover. And I was like, “What is this book?” And I haven’t read it yet, but I immediately put it on my Goodreads because I was like, “Something about this is calling to me.”
LL: I just don’t love purple. I mean it might have really been a color issue that I was like, “This is not in a mountain.” I was just sort of like, “I don’t know, this looks it’s going to be like a …” I don’t know what it was. There was no reason for me to react the way that I did. But it was stunning and I was wrong. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
MC: Or do.
JDM: Or do. Can I recommend a book coming up in 2020?
LA: Yes please.
JDM: Oh my God. So we have this debut novel coming in April called, How Much of These Hills Is Gold by this young woman, C Pam Zhang. And it is such a stunner and everyone should go Goodreads “add to shelf” it. It is a story of two siblings on the run. I always love survival narratives. First of all,that’s always my wheelhouse. So they’re on the run in the deserts of California, but it’s set during the 1800s gold rush, and their family had come over as immigrants to work in the mines, and they end up being orphaned and left. And there’s tigers and dead bodies and crazy sex and a weird time of America but told in a direction that you’ve never read it before.
LA: This is sounding very similar to Inland, which you recommended in the last books episode.
JDM: I know. It’s totally different than that. But it’s interesting that different women writers now are sort of reclaiming the idea of the American West as their territory to write about, which I think is something we’re seeing in a larger way. But this space that normally was just like, cowboys and Indians and white men riding around on horses. Now we’re getting this, guess what, there had to be other people there. Who were those people and what was going on with them? And we’re starting to get stories filling in that space.
MC: Lisa, what would be your 2020 pick?
LL: I loved Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which was just the stunning linked story collection/novel about sort of these twin histories of American slaves and folks in Ghana. And it was beautiful. And I will read anything that she writes and she’s got a novel coming up this summer and I think that that’s probably going to be one of the most exciting things that I’ll read and I have not yet read, but I will follow her where she walks. That was just also a stunning debut.
You know when somebody has a debut and it feels like it might just be the one thing. That book didn’t feel like the one thing. There was a passing narrative in Homegoing, that was I think the best writing about somebody trying to pass for white and the complications of sort of relationships with your people that I had ever read or ever seen, like Imitation of Life or even Passing, the Nella Larsen book. There’s a lot of writing and I think that this young writer, first time, did the best work in that space that I had ever read and so again, I will follow her and I’ll read all that she writes before she’s done with it all.
MC: Homegoing was amazing, absolutely amazing.
LL: The new one’s called, what is it called? Transcendent Kingdom.
MC: That’s right. Perfect. Pre-order link will be in the show notes as will be your social media handles. Where can people find you on the internet Lisa?
MC: And Jynne, if people want follow your insane adventures?
JDM: It is Jynne with four Ns on Twitter and three Ns on Instagram. And really I’ve never met another Jynne with J-Y-N-N-E, and yet they have schnorred all of the social handles before I could get there. Sometimes life’s not fair.
LL: I love the number of Ns in your Instagram.
JDM: Let’s forget how many there are in the different ones.
LA: Catch people out. And I’m @LaleHannah on Instagram.
MC: I’m @Ohheytheremere. Thanks everyone for joining us. You can find more book suggestions along with some incredible stories on womenwhotravel.com follow us on Instagram also @womenwhotravel and be sure to sign up for the newsletter to keep up to date with our live episodes, meetups, and trips. That link will be in the show notes too—so much in the show notes today. Lastly, you can listen to new episodes of Women Who Travel every Tuesday. We will talk to you next week.