195: Unexpected Joy - Books that Surprised Us in Excellent Ways
In this Unabridged episode, Jen, Sara, and Ashley share book recommendations for book picks that surprised us and brought unexpected joy. Our recommendations, including Rebecca Stead’s The List of Things that Will Not Change (Amazon | Bookshop.org), Patrik Svensson’s The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World (Amazon | Bookshop.org), and Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn (Amazon | Bookshop.org), are very different from each other, but they were all books that turned out to be more than what we expected.
Ashley - Elizabeth Lim’s Six Crimson Cranes (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
Jen - Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon’s Blackout (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
Sara - Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
Our Recs for Books that Brought Unexpected Joy
Ashley - Rebecca Stead’s The List of Things that Will Not Change (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
Jen- Patrik Svensson's The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World - Check out our Discussion Guide for this one! (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
Sara - Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
Colin Jost’s A Very Punchable Face (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
Kevin Hart’s I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer's To Night Owl from Dogfish (Amazon | Bookshop.org)
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Ashley said, "One of the books I'm reading right now, that I'm almost finished with, is Elizabeth Lim's Six Crimson Cranes. This one just came out in July. And I was fortunate to get an early copy from Netgalley. And I was excited about it before I started it. I knew that it was a blend of "The Wild Swan," a fairy tale, and also several East Asian tales, and that all of that would be part of the story. So, it had caught my attention. I mean, I requested it on Netgalley. I have loved it so much. So, Shiori is the main character. And early on, she gets cursed, and it affects her and her six brothers. So, she is a princess. There are the princes, all six of them. She's the only princess and all six of them are affected by this curse. But for her part-- the effect is that she cannot speak at all. And it's also that she can't speak but she still has her voice. And if she talks, one sound will kill one of her brothers. So, it's very high stakes. But it also requires a lot of willpower for her to navigate this aspect of the curse. I love the way that we see Shiori right away wind up in this horrible situation, and yet she is just really a remarkable character. I just really love her. I love going on the adventure with her, and I really appreciate the way that she navigates her resourcefulness and her determination. And in despite horrendous circumstances and a lot of setbacks, she it finds a way to continue to connect with people and to remain hopeful and to not give up in the face of really, really terrible odds. And she is in a hard situation that there doesn't seem to be a solution to, but she never loses sight of wanting to reconnect with her brothers. And she also just meets so many people along the way, who turned out to be different than what she expects. And so I have absolutely loved it. It's been quite a while since I read a fantasy book. And I have enjoyed every bit of it. I haven't wanted to put it down and I can't wait to see what happens at the end. So it's a great one. I highly recommend it. I'm not quite finished yet, but I feel sure that the last 10 or 15% is is not going to alter my feelings that it's really great. I do believe it's going to be a duology. So I don't think that it's going to be a huge series, but I am not expecting everything to entirely get resolved at the end of this one. So again, that's Elizabeth Lim's Six Crimson Cranes, and I think it's great.
Sara shared, "Well, I am going to cheat a little bit. I just finished this-- Zakiya Dalila Harris's The Other Black Girl, and I loved it. I thought it was great. This book follows Nella, the only Black young woman working at Wagner Books. And she's been working there about two years. And then one day a new Black girl about her age comes and starts working there. Her name is Hazel. And she's really excited because there's so much not represented at Wagner Books. So she's really excited to have an ally and someone who is also Black to help her with the things she thinks need to change at Wagner. She has started some diversity campaigns and different things at Wagner Books. There is also the perspective of three other Black women sprinkled throughout the book. One is Diana. One is Shawnee, and one is Kendra Ray. They're not really in the narrative of Nella and Hazel, but they are providing background information. And I really don't want to give too much away because it is fantastic. It is compelling. If you've watched the movie Get Out, there is a little bit of a similar type feeling that you get in that movie. It is not gory at all, but it just it has a little bit of a similarity to that movie. Oh, it's so good. I just loved it. So, I wanted to cheat because I just really want to promote it because I thought it was excellent. It gives you so much to think about and I really liked the way that the author examined these young Black women and kind of their experience in the workforce. And it was great. It was just great. So, definitely read it. It would be a great book club book and I think it is excellent. So that is Zakiya Dalila Harris's The Other Black Girl.
Jen stated, "So this book has a lot of authors, so get ready. So this is Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon's Blackout. If you are a fan of YA novels, you are pricking your ears right up, because that is such an amazing slate of authors. And Blackout is-- oh my goodness--I'm loving it, so, so much. So, it's a short story collection. Tiffany D. Jackson starts off the collection. And her short story, I'm assuming, is going to go through the whole thing. So, she has a story about two exes who are thrown together by circumstances that does not reach resolution at the beginning. It's sort of broken up through the book. And then each of the other authors has a short story. And each short story focuses on teenagers. Most of the characters in the book are Black, but not all. And it's just this variety of romances, all of which are precipitated by this blackout in New York City. So, there's a blackout in New York. And that is causing characters to be in proximity who maybe otherwise wouldn't be or is causing them to reveal things that maybe they wouldn't otherwise have revealed. It's really cool, because each time we move from one short story to another, there's some connection. So, maybe the next short story focuses on the sister of someone from the short story before. And they are different ages. So, some of these teenagers have just graduated from high school. Some are still young teenagers. It's just great. I don't want to summarize each short story, but they are such great writers. They are so clearly having a blast. If you've seen the publicity about this book, they had a blast writing together and collaborating. And the book is just phenomenal. And it's this great balance of serious content and fun content. There's humor. They all have different styles even though it is all contemporary realistic. Within the pages, they have such different voices and different writing styles, which is perfect for short stories that are connected. So yeah, I just am really looking forward to seeing how the one story that's broken up through the book wraps up, but I cannot recommend Blackout enough. And I'll read the list of authors one more time because they're so good. So it's Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon."
Main Discussion--Unexpected Joy:
Sara said, "When I was thinking about this category, I thought about way back, when we read The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish. And the reason I thought about that is because I downloaded the audio book and listen to it and Tiffany Haddish reads it. And what brought me unexpected joy was that I did not realize how much I was going to just adore listening to the first (to me) of a celebrity memoir and listening to the author read them it in her own voice. So, I listened to Tiffany Haddish in this book and I adored it, and I adored her telling the stories. I should say... I will say that book has some things that made me blush wildly and made me uncomfortable. But her reading was this total unexpected joy that I didn't realize I was missing when I was reading paper copies of nonfiction books by people who are not necessarily writers, but who have great stories to tell. So after I read her book, I read Kevin Hart's book on audio, which was amazing and hilarious and also really poignant at times. In the last year, one of my favorite books of the year was Colin Jost's book A Very Punchable Face. I listened to him read it, and I was laughing so much. I laughed and I cried and I just thought, wow, these comedians who are writing non-fiction books, and and aren't known for writing narratives, they are telling these amazing stories about their life and, and hearing them talk about it with their own voice. I just like all that. I guess what I'm trying to say is when I read Tiffany Haddish's book for the podcast, it opened up this whole new realm of things I found so much joy in when listening to these authors tell their stories. So, that's mine. That was my unexpected joy. "
Ashley shared, "So, this is one I read really recently. And I wanted to share it because I had an ambassador who said how much she loved it. And so that brought it to my attention. And I'd seen some good things about it. And it was available on audiobook at the library. And so I just kind of stumbled across it. I didn't know much going into it. And I just really found it to be so much more than what I expected it to be. And so that's why I chose it. So this is Rebecca Stead's The List of Things That Will Not Change. And I talked about this a little bit on a bookish check-in. And when I shared about it, I was pretty early on. But I was seeing that it had caught my attention. I enjoyed it. But I think what I love is that this one is for pretty young readers. It's middle grade, but I think even upper elementary appropriate. And what I love about it is it addresses some really important things in what I felt was a really authentic and whole way. And so some of those things are that Bea is the main character. And she is sweet and fun and lovable, and she loves her family. But she also has a lot of anxiety. She also has eczema. And for people who don't know a lot about eczema, eczema itches. I had terrible eczema when I lived in Japan, but mine's a lot better now. But anyway, it itches like really, really, really badly. But of course, anxiety and itching can also go together. And so she's navigating that. And then early on in the story--she's about 12 when she's telling the story--but you get the backstory of a lot of what leads up to where she is as a 12 year old. And that goes back to around when she's eight. So, it goes back to when her mom and her dad are divorcing. And when they divorce, they want to make sure that she understands that each of them loves her very much, and that they love each other but in a different way than they did. And that their love for each other will not change and that they will not move far away from each other. And so they make this list. And that's the title of the book-- it is the list of things that will not change. And the list is quite short when they first create it. But it says the most important things. And her parents use that as a way to talk to her about their divorce and when they get divorced or are divorcing, because her dad is gay. And so they also talked with her about how their love is different. And because of that they still can be friends with each other. But her mom and dad are going to go in different directions. So, that happened. And when around the time that that happens, they also get be involved in therapy. And she gets to know Miriam, who is her therapist. And at first she does not like anything about that. But she develops this great relationship with Miriam. And so then later on when we're getting to the point where she's 12, a lot of what she's working through as a 12 year old, she works through not only with her parents, but also with Miriam. And I think what I really loved is the way that Stead shows what therapy can do for a child and how powerful that can be, and also how I think there's a lot of normalization of that and how it's just great to have someone to talk to. And it's great to have coping mechanisms. And one of the things I loved about this story is that I think it's really powerful. And there are some really practical things that kids can immediately do that I got from the story. So we are in transit and my six year old is experiencing a fair bit of anxiety related to that. And so one of the things I love is the way that Bea is taught to have a time that she sets aside to worry every day. And so she's encouraged to set a five minute timer and to worry during worry time and so every time it's not worry time, the adults in her life help her work through this like mental training and basically say-- it's not worry time. So, I'm going to save those worries for my worry time tomorrow. I'm not going to worry about them right now. So, that has been very effective for me to use with my child. So I think, because she has a lot of worries, and a lot of them have developed as I mean, we are overseas, and she's having a great time. But she also is experiencing a lot of anxiety. And some of it I think, is directly related to age. She's like just now around seven. So, I think she's starting to understand things that that are more abstract that she didn't understand so well before. So, I think that's part of it. But I think part of it too, is that, you know, there's a lot of turmoil involved in long term travel. And so even though she's really having fun, she also has started to have these kind of perpetual worries that she didn't have before. And so what I loved is just how I felt like the book is this great story. But it also helps kids navigate and helped me as a mom, and as a reader navigate this thing and help me feel like number one, it's normal. And number two, there are things to do about it. And I just think that's really great. "
Jen stated, "This was a book that I had not really heard of, and I just ended up loving it. So the title is Patrik Svensson's The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World. And I have no problem with nonfiction. So, I opened the book--and I loved this book so much-- I could not put it down. It's not all that long. It is a science book. A nature book. I'm actually thinking about using it in my classroom. But it is also a really moving memoir in which Svensson is delving into his relationship with his father and his childhood. And it is just beautiful. It is beautifully written. It's really interesting because he alternates between really studying the European eel, which is this mysterious species. We really don't know a lot about it. Still, people for a long time, had never seen both sexes. They had no idea where they bred. There were all these mysteries around eels and just their life cycle. And they completely change appearance and biology in the different stages of their lives. So he goes through all of that. He talks about how Freud had this weird experience with the eels. Before he was a psychologist, he was going to be a scientist, and he's in there. He talks about eels and literature and what they've come to symbolize. He talks about the way that eels can reveal a lot about our approach to the environment, about different communities who depend on fishing for eels to support their economy, and what happens when they become endangered. So he has all of that. Then he just has-- I fished with my dad a lot and so I have very fond memories of fishing with my dad, and that meant a lot to me. And so those chapters about his father fishing for eels, and trying all of these different methods, and what those times meant to him. I cried more than once in this book, which I definitely did not expect, when I opened it up. It just was this reading experience-- it just reminded me that I don't know about all the books, and that I need to be open to books that other people have heard of that I haven't. And so, it really was an unexpected joy to read this one I, I just could not have loved it more every time I think about it, I kind of get moved all over again. I think it's a really beautiful book that has a lot of depth. And again, it's really not very long, but it covers so much ground. And it's almost like this web with threads reaching out into so many realms of human existence, all grounded with this very personal relationship. So, I just loved it."
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