Handle Your Own Cringe

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Amanda and Jenn discuss books set in Chicago, love-to-hate-them protagonists, magical realism, and more in this week’s episode of Get Booked.

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Coyotes of Carthage by Steven Wright (rec’d by John)

Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages by Phyllis Rose (rec’d by Amanda)

What is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi and Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (rec’d by JB)


1. I would love some recommendations for books set in Chicago. I used to live in the city and have been finding myself missing it lately. Since I won’t be able to travel there anytime soon (thanks, COVID), I’m hoping to read something that will allow me to visit without the actual travel.

I usually prefer to read literary fiction, memoir, historical fiction, and narrative non-fiction, but I’m fairly open in terms of genre (would prefer not to venture too far into SFF though).

The most important thing is that the books that are Chicago-centric and capture the essence of a particular place and/or time in the city.

Books I’ve Already Read Set in Chicago: The Devil in the White City; The Time Traveler’s Wife; Native Son; Divergent; There Are No Children Here; The Warmth of Other Sons; The House on Mango Street; A Raisin in the Sun; Twenty Years at Hull House; Gang Leader for a Day; Never a City So Real; The Good Girl; Becoming; The Story of Jane



2. I have always been the “fall hard, fall fast” types in a relationship. Me and my boyfriend have been together for almost two years now and I have known since the first day that I was completely in love. He’s more of the “take things slow and enjoy the moment” kind of person. We live together and bought a house together last year. We are in a serious relationship and talk about our future as life-partners, but I can’t get over how much I want to get married. I don’t know what it is about this totally antiquated idea, but I think about it all the time. He used to say he wasn’t sure about getting married due to issues in a past relationship and his fear of getting hurt/loss, but over time we’ve moved into talking about marriage as “when we get married.” Even though he’s evolved, I know marriage is still far-off in the cards for him. I’m looking for recommendations, fiction or nonfiction, to help me be patient while waiting for him to get a place where he’s ready or one that shows me that the future I want is possible or even that partnerships don’t have to be defined by marriage. I’m not looking for anything to criticize my desire to be married (because yes, I know the yearning is ludicrous), but something to keep me hopeful about the future. I love most genres, especially mystery, thriller, literary fiction or the ill-named “chick-lit”. Other than Red, White and Royal Blue, I don’t love romance (though I’m tolerant which I know is really silly considering my question) and don’t love what I would consider “foofy” novels that are all rainbows and butterflies and irrational hope or cheeriness. I like serious plots, in-depth stories and am a sucker for a long book.

Hope this isn’t too difficult considering all my caveats and that you don’t take too long, because I’m clearly impatient. (Lol, just kidding.)

You guys are amazing and I’m so grateful for your podcast.


3. I’m re-watching the TV show House, and Gregory House is one of my favourite characters ever. It got me thinking about how I’d love to read a character like him. An intelligent curmudgeon, sometimes you love him sometimes you hate him and can be humourous and charming. A sidekick like Wilson is a bonus.

What books have a love to hate/hate to love protagonist? The character doesn’t need to be male. And please, no Poirot or Holmes.

Literary fiction, mystery/thriller and light science fiction welcome. No fantasy please.

Thank you and happy reading!


4. Hello Ladies! Thank you for the podcast! I have found so many lovely books from listening to your recommendations.

I was hoping you could help me with finding more memoirs to enjoy. I am not a big nonfiction reader generally, but have really found that memoirs (or essay collections on personal experiences?) really speak to me. Huge bonus if I can get it in audio, especially if it’s read by the author. 

Some that I have read and loved (mostly recommended here or on All the Books) are Black Widow, The Clancys of Queens, You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey, Solutions and Other Problems, Born a Crime, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, Educated, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, A Man Without a Country, Marathon Woman, and Furiously Happy (which is truly what started this).

I am a long-time listener, so show favorites and more recent recommendations are likely on my list. In writing this I’ve realized that my listing is pretty US-centric and mostly Black or White authors. I’m open to more of the same, but if you have any good recs from authors of other backgrounds/countries, that’d be very welcome too.

I am not against graphic novels (I also read and was floored by John Lewis’ March), but I don’t think that’s what I’m looking for. I am also not generally super interested in celebrity memoirs, unless they’re something like Born a Crime which fully stands on its own.

Thank you!


5. I need y’all’s help finding a lush, whimsical magical realism book. I loved Smoke by Dan Vyleta, The Minimalist by Jessie Burton and Things In Jars by Jess Kidd. I love luxurious, rich writing and am always drawn to the Gothic stories where a house, city, place are a character. 

Full high fantasy can be a lot for me, but the fun magic/whimsy/spirits/etc just a touch outside of reality is what I love. I love the show – thanks so much for the help!


6. So I’ve just finished Reverb by Anna Zabo which Jenn recommended in the Handsell a couple of weeks ago. I devoured the first half of the book so fast—the characters’ chemistry and buildup is just so good—however for the latter part, I consciously took my time and savored each page. I was filled with dread while reading the last couple of pages, I just didn’t want to bid goodbye to these endearing characters. But all good things must come to an end, right? Now I don’t think I can ever find something within the genre that’s as good as this.

Those were my running thoughts up until I tuned in to ep 269 today and realised that help is right in front of me, or in my ear or whatever. Just like what you did in the Handsell, I hope you can give me another unproblematic queer contemporary romance fiction that’s as good as Anna Zabo’s or better. Maybe one with loads of angst—the only thing Reverb kinda lacks. 

Bibliotherapy helped (and still helping) me cope with the pandemic and our still ongoing lockdown. I’ve been listening to your past and recent episodes every workday since I discovered your podcast 2 weeks ago, really amazing stuff you’ve got going, Cheers!


7. I retired late summer 2020 from my job of 15 years.  I had not planned to do so, but budget cutbacks related to COVID, and job frustrations sped up the decision.  I now find myself adrift in my personal life and my reading life as well.  I want a book that reflects my stage of life, re-invention, and moving forward.  I also like quirky characters who find happiness and purpose against the odds.   Some favorites in the past few years.  Brit-Marie Was Here, A Gentleman in Moscow, Hamnet, The Dutch House, Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  I really need a book to resonate right now.  Any ideas?  


Books Discussed

Chicago by Alaa Al-Aswany

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes (tw: domestic abuse)

Serena Singh Flips The Script by Sonya Lalli (cw: domestic violence)

The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (tw racism)

The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani (cw: war crimes)

Fairest by Meredith Talusan 

The Magical Language of Others by E.J. Koh (cw: domestic violence, self-harm, violence against women)

What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Small Change by Roan Parrish (cw: discussion of depression and self-harm)

The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward (tw: suicide)

Dakota Blues by Lynn M Speer