Welcome to Advice in The Stacks, a bookish advice column from me, Traci Thomas, the host and creator of The Stacks podcast. My show is all about books and the people who read them, with new episodes out every Wednesday on your favorite podcast platform. Due to the nature of the show I am constantly asked for advice on all things books, so I’m making it formal and bringing my advice to all of you with my monthly column here at SheReads.com.
If you have questions about anything book related, CLICK HERE and submit your question, and then come back the last Thursday of the month to see my advice.
I’m a huge reader, and my partner of several years has never really been that interested in reading. While it doesn’t necessarily both me, I’d love if we could connect on some bookish level at this point in our relationship. Do you have any tips for engaging a partner in a love for books?
Can I ask you a question? Why do you want this? What are you hoping to get out of this? I’m not being a jerk, I think it is important to know why, so you can approach it in a way that will fulfill whatever desire you have for your relationship. I don’t think it is impossible, but I also wonder if you can scratch this itch to connect over books in another way, maybe a book club with some close friends or family, an online community of readers, talking to your local booksellers, etc. If this is about something that is between you and your partner, I respect that too, and have some suggestions below, but as you read them, having your own why will help you figure out what will be best for your relationship.
Let me say, in my experience, making anyone into a reader who is not super keen on that idea is going to be difficult. Again, not impossible but I think it will take a lot of work on your end and theirs. So they have to find a reason to want it, too (this would be a good time to communicate your why to your partner clearly in the hopes that they’d be motivated in some part by that).
I don’t think it would hurt to clearly define what kind of connection you’re looking for, in addition to why. Is it enough for you to have quiet time in the house where you both sit on the couch and read something? Mr. Stacks and I do this often, we don’t talk about what we’re reading, we don’t read the same thing, we don’t always read books. Usually I’m reading a book and he is reading the Atlantic, but we’re together reading and sharing that time simultaneously.
You mentioned “connect on some bookish level”. Is your partner into movies or TV? Would there be a world where you could read a book and they watch the show and you talk about it on that level? It’s a connection over a bookish thing, but it doesn’t mean that they’re reading along with you. You could of course take that a step further and try to both read and watch the thing. It seems this would work best either with a known quantity they already love (let’s say they love The Godfather films, maybe you both read the book and do a marathon screening), or with something that’s coming out soon (there is a book to screen adaptation of Lessons in Chemistry coming soon).
What I’m getting ready to say sounds super duper corny, but Cheryl Strayed mentioned doing it in Tiny Beautiful Things and it has stuck with me, even though Mr. Stacks refuses to do this with me. Could you two agree on a book and read aloud to each other? I know, but it is so out of the box, it might shake the reading up enough to make your partner not feel like it’s a homework assignment.
On a similar note, next time you go on a long drive, why not cue up an audiobook? I think for this, maybe an essay collection would be good (or short stories) so you don’t have to wait for your next long drive to indulge. When Mr. Stacks and I first moved to LA we drove from New York over the course of two weeks. We listened to In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson and Kasher in the Rye by Moshe Kasher(I remember nothing) and it was really fun to have something to return to over the two weeks and something to talk about and think about together.
I think the obvious answer to your question is to start your own two person couple bookclub. Now, I personally think this is my worst suggestion. It feels like a lot of pressure on your partner to do what you want to do. Which is fine, but I don’t know that this will build a connection over reading. If you do go this route, I would suggest you let them take the lead on picking what it is you all read together, and then no matter what they pick, give an enthusiastic affirmation to their choice. You mentioned you’re a big reader, so what’s another book to you? After they pick the book, don’t speed read ahead of them and tell them how much you can’t wait until they finish so you can talk about it. Play it cool. Go at their pace. You want to show them that you are interested in having a communal reading practice based on examining a text together, and not just showing off how much you love reading and how fast you are at it.
This book club isn’t about what you’re reading, it is about the potential for deepening your relationship. So approach it with care and enjoy.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, or whatever, and I’m sure they’re right, but if you explain to your partner why this is important to you and try to make this the most enjoyable to them, you might be able to teach an old dog to fake it!
Hi! I’m looking for a book to bring with me to the beach this summer. Something that I won’t want to put down, but not too frivolous. I’m pretty open and usually like all of your recommendations so hoping you can help. Love the pod, thank you!!
I should start here, I believe beach reading is any book you read at the beach. I don’t change my reading habits with the season, but I do love it when I come across a juicy book that I can really dive into especially when the weather is just right and maybe there are some beachy vibes nearby, and hopefully a delicious beverage too! With that being said here are some books that I think you should bring to the beach. And worth noting, I’ve added links to every episode of The Stacks that features one of these books, in case you need something to listen to after reading.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
This book is so good (I liked it a little more than The Vanishing Half). It’s a novel about the relationship between two teenage girls, a pastor’s son, the church mothers, and of course themselves. It’s bittersweet and full of heart.
We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America by Roxanna Asgarian
In this piece of investigative journalism, Asgarian digs into the murder of six Black children by their white adoptive mothers. This story captured the country back in 2018 as a story of overwhelmed mothers who couldn’t handle it any more. Asgarian digs into that narrative and sheds light on the kids, their birth families, and the child welfare system. I get it, this is not an easy read, but the truth is this book is best to devour in one or two sittings because the subject matter is so difficult to sit with for a long time. It is the perfect beach read.
Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now by Jeff Yang, Phil Yu, Philip Wang
Pop culture, illustrations, interviews, essays, playlists, and more. This book has it all. I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading Rise. The authors are smart and thoughtful. They found the right balance between nostalgia and noteworthy. We get to feel the impact of Asian America over the last three decades without feeling lectured to or even worse, like we’re getting the basic stuff everyone already knows. Plus, It’s a good ass time. Did I mention the illustrations? Beautiful.
The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey with Michaela Angela Davis
Nothing says summer to me quite like pop songs, and Mariah Carey owned summer bops for years. In her book she tells you all about her music, her life, and her relationships in this surprisingly readable and juicy celebrity memoir. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies (see what I did there), this book also deals with Carey’s complicated relationship with race, family, and ownership.
Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
If you like a little world building and imagination with your summer reading, this is the book for you. This dystopian satirical novel is set in a not so distant version of the United States where those serving time in prison can opt into a battle to the death competition to earn their freedom, oh and the brawls are broadcast as part of the most popular reality TV show. The book has been compared to Hunger Games and that is 100% the vibe (except maybe a little darker and more mature).
Alive at the End of the World by Saeed Jones
Yes, poetry. Times have been feeling extremely dark and bleak, and this poetry collection perfectly captures the feeling of being alive and also feeling like everything around you is ending. Here is a sample from the collection, if you love that poem you’ll love the whole thing. I think poems are great for the beach as you can read them in little digestible chunks before cooling off in the ocean.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward has a new novel coming out later this year, and honestly now is the perfect time to revisit her masterful memoir. The jacket copy explains this book best: “In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life–to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men.” This book is incredibly powerful and moving and so well written, good luck putting it down.
There There by Tommy Orange
This Pulitzer finalist of a novel follows twelve characters from Native communities as they travel to The Big Oakland Powowow. As the book unfolds the reader must put the pieces together (and I suggest you make your own character map as you go) to see where their stories converge and how they’ve been wedged apart. This book will get your blood pumping.