We’re all mood readers

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A recent career shift has opened up more reading time for today’s guest, and she’s looking to make the most of this abundance by exploring new-to-her genres and overlooked backlist […]

The post We’re all mood readers appeared first on Modern Mrs Darcy.

an open book with glasses resting on top of the pages and a coffee cup in the background

A recent career shift has opened up more reading time for today’s guest, and she’s looking to make the most of this abundance by exploring new-to-her genres and overlooked backlist titles.

Tara Bañuelos lives and practices law in Washington, D.C.. In the past, she’s relied on reading as her preferred form of stress management. But with her recent career shift, Tara’s finally able to read for pleasure again, and not just anxiety relief.

Tara’s been loving what this has meant for her reading selections, and she’s not suffering for choice: Tara’s access to the regional library system in her area means she has a whopping total of 15 library cards, which she primarily uses for ebook access. Tara’s not sad about this, but she needs a better system to manage her multiple library holds that often come in all at once. Today, we’ll identify patterns, hone in on her reading taste and create a plan for moving forward.

Share your recommendations for Tara by leaving a comment below.

What Should I Read Next #425: We're all mood readers, with Tara Bañuelos
"I use fiction as a way to be more empathetic and understand the world around me."

Connect with Tara at her Substack.

It’s almost Summer Reading Guide season

We are counting down to our 13th annual Summer Reading Guide! This is our team’s marquee event for the year, and we are so excited for what’s in store for 2024. We celebrate the start of the season with a huge book party, and you’re invited. Learn more, save your seat, and pre-order your guide at our Summer Reading Guide page.

[00:00:00] TARA BAÑUELOS: I will say, you know, even though I’m not the reader I once was, and I chose Idea of You to represent who I was, I still love that book. And if you told me that I should go run off and reread it this afternoon with a glass of crisp white wine, I would say, “Absolutely, sure. Happy to do it.”

ANNE BOGEL: “Just for you, Anne.”

TARA: Yes, just because you asked.

ANNE: 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 this 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.

We typically plan and record our episodes well in advance, but this year because of personal stuff in my life, we have been running behind. Because of that, we reached out to our Patreon community with a few invitations for last-minute recording spots that came available because we used up all the margin we had over my absences this winter.

[00:01:13] We received so many incredible submissions. And I really wish I could talk to each and every one of our readers on the show, not to mention all of you who send in your submissions each and every day at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/guest.

Thank you for taking the time to share your reading lives and your reading woes with us. We can’t talk to everyone on the podcast, there’s just not time, but members of our team read and appreciate each and every submission. Thank you. And thank you to our patrons for stepping up to fill in the gaps.

And readers, we are fresh back from a spring break trip, we being the Bogels, and now that we’re on the other side of it, my kids can tell you exactly how many days until summer vacation.

But do you know what we are counting down to at What Should I Read Next? HQ? I imagine you do. It is our 13th annual Summer Reading Guide. This is our team’s marquee event for the year, and we are so excited for what’s in store for 2024. This is the book list of the year, 42 fabulous reads for wherever your summer adventures will take you.

[00:02:15] Not only is the guide a useful and beautiful tool to help you pick your summer reads all season long or around the year, but we celebrate the start of the season with a huge book party. It is such a nerdy good time, and you are invited.

Go to modernmrsdarcy.com/srg, that’s for Summer Reading Guide, to save your seat, pre-order your guide, and get in on the action for the best time of the year. That’s at modernmrsdarcy.com/srg.

Now for today’s conversation. Cultivating a to-be-read list is an art unique to each reader. Today’s guest is looking for supportive strategies to deal with the age-old struggle of too many books, too little time.

Tara Bañuelos lives in Washington, D.C., where she practices law. In the past, she’s turned to books as her preferred form of stress management as she’s navigated a busy and ultra-demanding career. But recently, Tara’s gone through a welcome career shift that’s delivered the unexpected benefit of doubling her reading time and finally allowing her to read for pleasure again.

[00:03:17] Being able to read for enjoyment and not just anxiety relief was unexpected, most welcome, and has opened up whole sections of the bookstore to Tara. She’s been loving what this has meant for her reading selections and has really reveled in exploring new-to-her genres and discovering backlist titles she missed out on over the past decade and a half or so.

Tara’s access to the regional library system in her area means she has a whopping total of 15 library cards that are getting her primarily Kindle access. And if your jaw dropped when you heard that, mine did too.

Look, Tara is not sad about this. But it does mean, or rather, it is one contributing factor that’s making her feel overwhelmed by the choices available to her right now.

Today, I’m gonna help Tara really identify patterns, hone in on her reading taste and create a plan for moving forward so she doesn’t end up with hundreds of library holds coming in all at once while still not knowing what to read next.

Readers, let’s get to it.

Tara, welcome to the show.

TARA: Thank you so much, Anne. Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here.

[00:04:18] ANNE: Oh, well, thank you for answering our call in Patreon. So, readers, this isn’t the only episode we’ll have like this. But I’ve had a lot going on personally that has pulled me away this winter, and so we don’t have our usual six-week margin in the episode banks. So Tara was kind enough to say, “I can record on short notice.” So thank you for doing so.

TARA: I’m happy to. I think I’m always having an internal dialogue when I’m listening to the podcast of, Well, if I was going to submit, I would do these things. And then I saw that on Patreon, I was like, “Well, I think this is serendipity. This is the moment to submit.” And so I did. And I picked totally different things than I thought I would. But here I am.

ANNE: Well, that is my great hope for the show. So I’m really glad that that’s been a script you’ve been running in your head the whole time. And I’m so glad we get to talk now.

And we’re finding you at a moment of just great change and transition in your life. You’re in D.C. The cherry blossoms are blooming. You just celebrated a birthday. All these things, though maybe not so much the birthday, have really impacted your reading life. And I’m excited to hear more today.

[00:05:20] TARA: That’s exactly right. I am a spring baby in more ways than one. And it’s interesting to be in spring and also sort of undertaking and parsing my way through a professional transition that I thought maybe naively at spring of last year that in one year my life’s going to be totally different. And it is. But I also thought maybe that I would have figured out everything including my reading life. And I haven’t. So I’m really glad to be here and to be getting your guidance and advice.

ANNE: Well, Tara, I’m so glad that we can talk about your reading life in this moment. As we get started today, I’d love to hear a little more about, I mean, what you’re typically doing on a Tuesday morning. Give our readers a glimpse of who you are.

TARA: Oh, this is going to sound so trite, but Tuesday mornings I am typically listening to your podcast while I’m getting my son off to school and cleaning the kitchen and all of that.

[00:06:19] But zooming out a little bit, I grew up in seven different countries, and that is one of the more interesting facts about me. I came to the States for high school and I met my husband there, although we didn’t start dating till much later.

I live in DC now, and what feels like 95.6% of the city, or maybe 99.9%. I’m a practicing attorney. I have a four-year-old son who is incredibly precocious and hilarious in the light of our lives.

Last spring, I was debating whether to leave private practice and pivot slightly in my legal career. And I took the leap. I made the decision to leave my old firm right around this time last year and I started my new job in June.

[00:07:14] So now I’m in this new job, which I have to say is delightful. I’m one of the rare attorneys that I know that really actually quite likes being an attorney now. And as a part of all of that, my relationship to reading has really changed.

I really love cooking and traveling, which is perhaps not that surprising given the way that I grew up. I speak French.

I’m always looking to improve my French. So when you are giving sort of recommendations for books in translation, I try to get the French version, and I’ve had mixed results. Reading them is sometimes difficult, but listening to them in audio is actually quite doable for me.

ANNE: Tara, you’re in our Patreon community, and something that I found really interesting just in talking to so many readers right now is how many people are identifying as being in a time of great transition. Sometimes that’s about relationships. Sometimes it’s about finishing a degree program or starting a degree program. Sometimes it’s purely seasonal, time of year, like life feels different in a different season. Lots of people having job transitions.

[00:08:19] Recently in our Patreon community I asked readers to tell me their books for potential inclusion in a mini-matchmaking episode. And listeners, that’s when I ask our patrons to tell me three books they love, one book they don’t, and what they’ve been reading lately. And I recommend, in a bonus episode, I usually answer six to eight queries about what readers should read next.

But I really noticed last time we did this how many readers said, “I’ve had a big transition, it’s affecting my reading life, and help me. Now I need audiobooks. Now I don’t read audiobooks. Now I’m reading on Kindle. Now I’m reading in print. Now I have lots more reading time. Now I don’t have as much reading time.”

I love that we can talk about your transition in more detail on the podcast, just because I know so many listeners are going through that experience themselves right now.

That being said, I’d love to hear more about your particular transition, which I was happy to read in your submission, really feels like it’s going from constrained to spacious. We’d love to hear the details.

[00:09:15] TARA: Capacious even, if you don’t mind that.

ANNE: Oh, I love it.

TARA: No, it’s a very happy transition. I’m going to take it all the way back actually to childhood and say that when I was young, because I moved around so much, and I was an only child, I would say I was fairly lonely, and so I turned to books, which is, you know, not that unusual.

Then I came to high school for boarding school. I love boarding school tales because they’re always so ridiculous. I’m sad to say that I didn’t have such a ridiculous boarding school experience. But nevertheless, you know, it was a great school. I read so much for school that my leisure reading sort of dropped off. I think that kind of held through college.

And then between college and law school, I read a ton, but I actually had a totally different career. I worked in foreign policy. So a lot of what I read, I literally had to write book reports for famous people. So I would get an advanced copy of some diplomacy tome, and I would take it home and read it overnight and then write a book report about it the next morning. So it wasn’t exactly the most pleasurable of reading.

[00:10:29] Then law school you read all the time and I think it might, you know, kind of vacuum out some of the joy of reading, to be honest. But I would read on breaks. And then I moved back to DC to be with my husband and I just had, you know, a very stressful job. I think that was a stressful transition.

I finally decided the way that I was going to sort of come back to reading was I was just going to do it. And I did. And I started reading like… this is maybe 2018. I started reading like 50 books a year, approximately. But because of the stress and anxiety around my job… and you have so many amazing podcast episodes on how people use reading to help with their anxiety, so I won’t go too much into that, but I wanted to read things that were really comforting.

So I would just sort of read a lot of romance, a lot of cozy mysteries, and some literary fiction but I needed it to have sort of a clear resolution, if not a happy one.

[00:11:38] Then, as I mentioned, last March, I, you know, started mulling over the idea of leaving my old job and it was like a weight lifted. I could read, watch, listen to everything. Not everything needed to be tied up neatly with a happy resolution. And that just opened my world back up.

I now would describe myself much more as the type of reader as when I was a child, which is extremely voracious or voracious since that’s sort of hyperbole. But now I read everything, which sounds amazing, and it is not really a problem at all. So you might be wondering, okay, where can I advise you here?

And it’s just sort of maybe trying to find some patterns in everything that I’m reading this year so I’m not so completely overwhelmed about what to read next.

For example, my husband and I, we attend all of the book previews that are available to us through Patreon, and we have a glass of wine, and we cast it on our TV, and it’s like the perfect date night. And I’m always adding every single book you talk about, which is great.

[00:12:51] But I think it was Oliver Berkman who said, If you have, on average, this is sort of depressing, but 50 books to read in a year, and I’m going to live for another 40 or 50 years optimistically, that’s a finite number of books that I have to read. So I think I’d like to hone in a little bit better and understand who I am as a reader.

ANNE: That totally makes sense to me. And don’t worry, we’re not thinking, “Oh, poor Tara. She can read whatever she wants.” We all know that it’s really a journey to hone in on your own taste and understand why you love what you love and what that means for choosing what to read next. Because even 50 books a year, like you were just saying, that is nowhere close to limitless. There’s still lots of decisions to make.

You mentioned in your submission that you were really experiencing overwhelm in some specific areas of your reading life.

TARA: I’m probably averaging closer to 100 books now. And if I count it, I haven’t bothered to count up books between birthdays of last year to this year, but it’s probably well over 100.

[00:13:57] To your point about space and capacity, there is this extra space in my reading life because I’ve literally doubled what I’m reading. A huge part of that is I didn’t used to listen to audiobooks that were fiction. And really through you and your team, I’ve learned that I actually really like fiction on audio. So that’s opened up a whole new world.

Going from someone who needed a tidy, happy ending to going to someone who’s like, “Yes, give me the gory murder mystery. Maybe I like horror,” it’s very startling and confusing. In one way, it’s a return to myself. But in another way, I’m game for everything. And that is what I would say is overwhelming, is just not having a direction, when previously I had such a clear and tight list of requirements in the book that I was going to pick up next.

ANNE: We’re going to talk about that more. But Tara, that’s something we’re definitely going to think about and address today. I’d love to get into your books before we get any further into the particulars.

Tara, you know how this works. You’re going to tell me three books you love, one book you don’t, and what you’ve been reading lately, and we will continue to explore how to hone in on what you may enjoy reading next. Now, how did you choose these for today?

[00:15:13] TARA: Okay, so every time I listen to the podcast, people say, “I think I’m cheating.” And I’m always like, “There’s no cheating.” But I’m about to find myself saying the same thing. I cheated by kind of giving myself strict parameters. So I picked one book from the quote-unquote, old me, or the person I was from 2018 to 2023 spring, and then two books that I think represent the direction I’m headed in.

The first book I picked is The Idea of You by Robinne Lee. It sort of represents who I was in that five-year period in that it’s an extremely glitzy and glamorous romance. While I’m sure there are people listening right now who are like, but that is not a tidy ending-

ANNE: I was thinking it, I’ll confess.

TARA: Yeah. I would say this. I would say that, without spoiling anything, it’s an unusual ending for a romance novel or maybe even a literary novel that’s romance-inclined. But everyone’s okay, right? It’s not the ending you were hoping for, but you know, No one is like dead on the side of the road. There isn’t six more in the series that you have to buy and read to find out what happens next.

[00:16:28] There is sort of a resolution and I think it represents sort of the outer limits of untidy endings that I was able to tolerate in my old life. I also think it represents romance and glitz and drama and pop culture. There’s all of that in that book.

But also, interestingly, it’s quite well-written. Previously, I had these type parameters. I wanted cozy mystery, romance, easy to read, unputdownable, and also decently well-written sentence to sentence. So it made it easy to pick my next book.

ANNE: You’re right. This would not be a romance novel, though there is definitely a love story at the heart of the plot. Actually, it was because of our podcast guest, Claire, that this was on my radar and I got to read it winter before last, I think, and really enjoyed it.

Okay, Tara, let’s think about why you enjoy this. So everybody was more or less physically okay at the end. Not more or less. Everybody was physically okay on the end. Nobody died. You said glamorous and glitzy. Like those are things that are fun for you.

[00:17:33] TARA: Yes. I think it spoke to the part of me that was formerly a junior associate in New York City in Manhattan. I remember first I was a summer associate. I probably didn’t know how to dot an I on a legal document. I got to go to Shakespeare in the Park and I sat down and Meryl Streep was on my right side. And then I sat down for dinner and I was next to like Pedro Pascal or something crazy like that.

My life is not like that anymore. It is nowhere close to that glamorous. But I think this book spoke to the part of me and the part of most of us who kind of want to be young forever and what it’s like to be young for a moment. So I did. Yes, the glamor and the glitz and all of that did speak to me.

ANNE: And this book was very emotional.

TARA: It was, but I think it was emotional in a way that I could navigate. You know, in my day-to-day at the time, I worked with pretty heavy… you know, I worked with crime, whether civil or otherwise and I worked with sort of heavy topics.

[00:18:44] This was definitely an emotional and heavy topic kind of from a place of privilege. Everyone was not only physically safe at the end, they were probably financially secure, had jobs they liked. You know, the problems were the nature of the heart rather than sort of basic needs.

ANNE: And this definitely didn’t feel like taking the problems of your profession home with you?

TARA: Not at all. No. It felt so far removed at that point from what I did day to day.

ANNE: Fair to call it escapist?

TARA: Yes. Yes. I think so. I think at one point, without giving too much away, they’re in Saint-Tropez and then they’re in Paris or whatnot. It sounds great to me.

ANNE: Okay, so that’s The Idea of You by Robinne Lee. Tara, what’s the second book you chose, as a love, that is?

TARA: I will say, even though I’m not the reader I once was and I chose Idea of You to represent who I was, I still love that book. And if you told me that I should go run off and reread it this afternoon with a glass of crisp white wine, I would say, “Absolutely. Sure. Happy to do it.”

ANNE: “Just for you, Anne.”

[00:19:46] TARA: Yes, just because you asked. The second book I picked is Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor. Again, I’m very bad at describing and setting up books without giving too much away. So I will go with the less is more approach and say that the Washington Post referred to Deepti Kapoor as the Mario Puzo of India or the next Mario Puzo.

It is a crime novel, sort of an organized crime novel in parts set in India and kind of where India is today in terms of its development and sort of a power on the rise. I, myself, am Indian. I became American two years ago when I chose to naturalize.

But for all of those countries and all of those international experiences, I’ve remained proudly Indian. So I love reading novels by Indians, but also the Indian diaspora. And I like own voices writing. So I think this is true of lots of people but I appreciate when authors are writing about a culture that they are in some way a part of.

[00:20:57] I think I’ve now listened to countless interviews with this author because I’m fascinated by her. But I understand that this story is sort of loosely based on a true story, very loosely based, and also that she was somehow tangentially a part of that story. So she might have dated someone in this organized crime/political family.

The other thing that I really enjoyed about the book was it was well-written, and it was pacey and plotty and it was just you sort of wanted to keep turning the pages. I picked it also because I felt very strongly about it.

I was listening to a different bookish podcast and one of the reviewers had originally given it five stars, but then downgraded it to three because I think she was criticizing it for being sort of complex and hard to follow. And I felt extremely upset by this to the point where I think I had to stop listening to the podcast for several weeks. I think having that strong emotion about a book that I read well over a year ago now is telling.

[00:22:06] I’ll just add that it is the polar opposite of Idea of You in terms of it’s got three sort of main characters. And one of them is very much, you know, fighting for survival on a very base level. Like, food, insecurity, and then also safe, you know, insecurity as to their safety. So yeah, it felt like a good emblem of the shift that I’ve made.

ANNE: I’m curious about that strong reaction. I imagine we’re going to explore that more in just a moment. Tara, what’s the third book you love?

TARA: The third book I love is Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton. I imagine that this is popular among many. What this shares with Age of Vice is that it’s sort of bonkers storytelling. When you start it, you have no idea where it’s going, and there’s twists and turns and it’s quite pulpy in a way that you just wouldn’t expect.

But what this has that Age of Vice didn’t was I found the humor to be quite cutting and observational. The story was propulsive, and I was completely immersed in it. And I was empathizing with a lot of the characters, but I was also laughing out loud, because a lot of the ways in which she described people is so universal.

[00:23:24] And I think she would occasionally sort of couch that, you know, it was a key way. I should step back and say that the book is about a nonprofit organization in New Zealand that’s focused on the environment and an American billionaire and what happens when they sort of collide and then potentially combust.

Eleanor Catton in part sort of ascribes certain behavior to being Kiwi, but I think there’s other parts that are incredibly universal and sharply observed. And it was just a delight to read.

ANNE: That sounds like a perfect reading experience for you. Now Tara, tell me about a book that was not a good fit.

TARA: I am very bad at not finishing books. I struggled to find a book to bring for this category because so often when I don’t like a book, it’s just because it’s very poorly written in a way that is somewhat accepted. So I’ll read something and I don’t like and I’ll go on Goodreads and it has like outrageously low reviews. So I tried to bring something here where I might have diverged a little bit from everyone else’s thinking.

[00:24:36] I have If We’re Being Honest by Cat Shook. I think you might have recommended this at one point.

ANNE: I did. This is in the Summer Reading Guide.

TARA: Okay.

ANNE: I really enjoyed it. And that doesn’t mean you did too. Let’s hear more.

TARA: So the book itself is about a family and they’re sort of right at the beginning, a secret is on… you know, at the funeral of their grandfather, a secret is shared. That is a very poor setup, but hopefully, you can save me from that in a minute, Anne.

What did I not like about it? One, I know one of the books that you loved is, I think it’s called The Rachel Incident, a book by Caroline O’Donoghue. I haven’t read that yet, but it’s on my list. The author is actually a podcaster and her podcast is called Sentimental Garbage and it’s one of my favorites.

And in it, she talks about something that her editor always gets on her for, which is head-hopping. This idea that you should be able to show sometimes how characters are feeling. Well, I don’t really know what her version of head-hopping is, but what I took it to mean was that it’s annoying for a reader to have to like jump from person to person and sometimes you need to be able to sort of put something forth in a single point of view.

[00:26:00] It’s really ironic that I picked this book and I didn’t like it for the head-hopping because the other two of the three books that I loved are also told from several perspectives. So I can’t quite identify why I didn’t enjoy that about this except that, first of all, I didn’t, and perhaps this is cultural, I didn’t find the secret to be that explosive. And then I just got tired of switching from character to character to character.

Even though their perspectives were different, there just wasn’t enough time to sort of settle in with any of them long enough to empathize or sort of grow to have any