Book Club

What Magpies Are Reading Right Now.

By: Jen Shoop

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*Image via.

Are you in a book rut? Or possibly suffering from a book hangover?

I am in a third, equally stymied position: I find myself with less time than usual to read. Or, rather, I am focusing my sparing free pockets of time on other pursuits — namely, fitness, mixed in with extra doses of childcare (we had a half day Friday, no school and no childcare Monday, and a snow day with no school and childcare Tuesday). I have long believed in “the three slot” philosophy, which is basically: I have enough time and focus to give to only three major categories of activity in my life at any given time. Family and writing are my permanent numbers one and two, and the third rotates between fitness, friendship, involvement in the children’s school, reading, culinary adventures, etc. Of course, I dabble in all of these categories all the time, but in fractions rather than whole numbers. The third slot is a big question mark for me, and it alternates with seasons and my fidgety interests, but I do try to be intentional about it: “OK, Jen, this is the season for fitness.” Or, “and now, we read.” Just naming the third slot erases a lot of the guilt that can occasionally accompany doing things for myself, and can also ease decision paralysis/fatigue. For example, if I know fitness is occupying the third slot, I can more readily put off ordering a new book, or saying “yes” to a social engagement that I’m on the fence about.

Anyhow, this is why I am making chelonian progress through The Fourth Wing, which I know many Magpies (and dear friends) loved — in fact, I’ve had several interesting and compelling conversations about it with my sister and a few girlfriends over text in recent weeks that have been more enjoyable than the book itself. (Don’t hate me for saying it!) In the novel’s demerit column: I cannot stand the protagonist, and this likely also explains the drag in my readership. I was reflecting on why as I made the bed this morning. It’s not so much that I find her poorly written or “cringe” (as I first described her via text to my girlfriends), but — the heavy-handed conceit of her using humor to mask insecurity and gravity rubs me the wrong way. I think I am looking for earnestness where I am finding snark, and it feels misplaced in a novel in which we are reading the protagonist’s (teenage!) innermost thoughts. She is performing caustic commentary for an audience of one? (Later, a dragon is able to read her thoughts, and the “conversationality” of her tone makes more sense there, but still: cloying to the point of hackle-raising.)

Maybe I will pause and turn to something else?

I polled my Magpies on their favorite current/recent reads and thought I’d share in case you also need a change in reading scenery. Sharing only the ones with multiple upvotes. Please add to the list / upvote in the comments:

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

Hope by Andrew Ridker

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

The Summer of Songbirds by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt*

*I have to give a little plug for the Van Pelt. This was one of the sleeper hits of 2023 for me — I read it, thought it was lovely and unusual, and wrote a warm review of it here. But it’s one of those books whose images, and characters, linger. I find myself thinking about scenes from that novel more frequently than I’d have expected — they’ve permanently lodged as referent points in my imagination. What a gift Van Pelt has!

Two other book-related mentions: first, if you’re looking for something lighter-weight, and you don’t follow Katie at Beach Reads and Bubbly, you’re missing out. She is charming beyond measure (I am immediately drawn to a woman who a) takes her own joy seriously, and b) does not take herself too seriously, and I deeply enjoy her thoughts and reviews on all things books. Second, I find Ova at Excuse My Reading so fun to follow. Her instagram description is “Half Woman, Half Book,” which — aptly describes another type of woman I immediately love. She’s designing her own cottage library, and I find the entire pursuit sweet and in its own way profound? Virginia Woolf would think well of it.

Post-Scripts: A Lil Shopping.

+The heavy-duty tee we all need. She’s perfect for throwing on over leggings.

+So tempted by one of these hats. Keep imagining how perfect one would look with my Nalida topcoat. (On sale, but still a splurge!)

+Cute rainbow clock for your little one’s room.

+Ladylike textured slingback at a ridiculously good price.

+This sweater-material skirt and matching collarless top are SO good. Street style points: 100000. The cut of the top reminds me of my Kilte set!

+Fun patterned leggings for littles — $13 a pop!

+This ribbed, rainbow striped turtleneck is perfect.

+This blazer!!! (And matching pants!)

+Still in my pursuit of perfect sweats: what do we think of these? Keep hearing good things.

+Handy for organizing tiny parts — Barbie accessories, lego people, etc.

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32 thoughts on “What Magpies Are Reading Right Now.

  1. Always love to see this kind of prompt — Magpies have such interesting literary tastes! I am in a similar phase to you — reading has taken a bit of a backseat for me lately. I finished Tomorrow x 3 in early January and had to take a quick breather, as I loved it so much — I wept for much of the last 100 pages! I also loved referencing your review from almost a year ago (!) — I had been saving it until I finally finished reading it.

    Lately I have been reading It All Comes Down to This by Therese Anne Fowler, which I had had on my radar as a family/sibling inheritance drama is a weakness of mine. It’s OK – slightly better than average writing, but a bit clunky in parts (I wish I had your gift of eloquence in the matter of literary analysis!) … meaning, good enough to keep me reading, but not good enough to run to it each evening. This is a really busy season for me, due to work and wedding planning, so I’m trying to go easy on myself! I always have to remind myself that my reading habit ebbs and flows, and that’s normal for me in this stage of my life.

    Also, I read Hope by Andrew Ridker last year and really enjoyed it — particularly because it’s set close to where I live! But also because it is the perfect blend of wit and a briskly moving plot.


    1. Love this comment, MK: “This is a really busy season for me…so I’m trying to go easy on myself.” Yes! I have been thinking a lot lately about a quote from an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow from maybe a year ago, where she talks about discipline, and asks the question: “But what are we being disciples of?” It sort of transformed the idea of discipline for me. Like why am I forcing myself to do xyz? What is it serving? Some vanity metric on number of books read, pages written, etc?


  2. I have read all of Claire Keegan’s books and I highly recommend her. Sometimes I like to think of what visual artist’s work reminds me of an author’s. I liken her work to the small interiors of Vuillard and Bonnard. Familiar, intimate themes rendered with precise and beautiful detail. Right now I am reading The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia for my bookclub. It takes place during the Mexican Revolution/plague of 1918. The dose of magical realism dovetails nicely with the historical backdrop. I just finished Absolution by Alice McDermott and I highly recommend it for its well-developed female characters and the interesting and new-to-me information on Catholicism and the Vietnamese War. The shifting timeline and narrator changes didn’t always work, but the writing and the delicate poignant observations of the characters made this book a winner for me. I am really enjoying reading all of your posts!!!

    1. Love your description of “Absolution” – I totally agree! Need to clip back in!!

      So glad you’re a part of this community, Sara. Thanks for your readership.


  3. Finished Bad Summer People for a really fun/light book after Wellness in late December, which was long and different than anything I’ve read in a long time. Currently listening to Jeff Tweedy’s newest which is awesome and about to finish Absolution which is a beautiful book. Highly recommend if you liked Tom Lake or a book with a great narrator/voice.

    1. Yes! I’m 1/4th of the way through Absolution and then got stuck. It is gorgeous but required too much of my attention during the frenzied holidays. Will return to that!!


  4. Whenever I feel stagnant in my reading, I turn to books that are literally designed to pique your interest and keep you turning the pages: Murder mysteries! Last August, I started and subsequently finished the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny, and I have loved the Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman! Anthony Horowitz is also having a lot of fun in the genre. If I’m struggling to pick up a more literary/dry/difficult/whatever something, then I pick up a cozy Murder mystery to whet my appetite for the written word. It’s easier to keep reading than to start reading!

    1. Two very well-read girlfriends of mine also love the Louise Penny books, so those are definitely on my list! Thank you for the nudge!


      1. I second all of this!! Osman and Penny are fantastic!! I also have to throw my rec in (again haha) for Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead… the best “a little better than beach read” you’ll love!
        I just finished Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane. NOT a feel good book, but absolutely fantastic. The way he writes dialogue is masterful. Xo .

  5. Our book club just finished Covenant of Water and discussed it last night! So many great conversations and threads that emerged from that 700+ page, multigenerational tale. “Hope” was my contribution to this list (!) – could NOT put it down, so witty, acerbic – it sucks you right into this family’s everyday big and small dramas. It felt Ann Patchett adjacent, but quicker and more pointed, if that makes sense.

  6. Just read The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. As a caveat there is a lot of pain and heartbreak in this story, but overall, I highly recommend! It led me down a rabbit hole of researching the culture of the haenyeo (women free divers in Korea) and even free diving in general (diving down on a single breath, no scuba or other breathing apparatus). I am so amazed by these women and fascinated by their matrifocal culture/society.

    1. This was one of my top reads last year – the storytelling is so beautiful and emotional. I treasured the exposure to a new (to me) history and culture, especially through the lens of women in a largely matriarchal pocket of Asia. I read Pachinko a few years back and the similarities and differences of Korean/Japanese experiences between the two books was really interesting.

    2. I am looking forward to reading this book; it’s my bookclub’s March selection. I mainly read fiction and always enjoy novels where I can enjoy literature and also learning new information.

    3. Oo yes, a few Magpies have raved about this one over the past year. It’s on my list, too. Thanks for the reminder.


  7. What a great way to think about your limits – three categories. So simple and clear! Going to adopt.

    Several friends have recommended Demon Copperhead so that’s on my list. I just finished and thoroughly enjoyed Surprised by Oxford, a memoir by the first female dean of St. Peter’s at Oxford. It reads like a light, easy novel.

    1. Glad the three category concept resonated. It really helps me focus my thinking / decision-making in interesting ways.

      SO many people I respect have raved about Demon. I don’t know why, but I keep putting it off. Maybe this month is the month to start.


  8. I don’t own a set of sweats but am in the market. My friend (who owns my favorite boutique, The Hive in Alexandria!) has a matching set by Isabel Marant that is so chic and recommends the sets by MATE the label.

    1. Ooo will need to look into Isabel Marant! I’ve heard Mate runs very oversized/big which felt like a red flag since I’m petite, but maybe better for taller girlies?


  9. LOVE the perfect English cottage image in this post! I want to be there!!

    I have only read 2 of the books you featured, so lots of material for my tbr! I read about 20 fewer books last year than in the previous few. I think that’s due to reading several very long books (looking at you, London and 11/22/63!), and prioritizing podcasts over audiobooks. And probably less time to listen to audiobooks now that my girls are older and I’m not listening during long stroller walks anymore.

    I just started Tom Lake, so far I’m lukewarm about it (still don’t love books set during Covid). I also just started listening to Fingersmith…and after listening for a while noticed I was only 1% done. I looked closer and finally saw that it is 24 HOURS on audio! Yikes! I might finish it by Easter, ha. I recently finished Death Comes to Marlow which I enjoyed but perhaps not as much as the first book in the series. I have a very loose goal to read one nonfiction book per month this year, so I’m trying to finish Is Atheism Dead? Which I’ve been working on for several months now.

    Can’t wait to hear what everyone else is reading!

    1. I feel the same about Tom Lake, so I put it down in the middle of reading it. The Hollywood story was interesting at first, but I don’t understand why so much of the book was devoted to a fling with a man the protagonist, Lara, didn’t even love. Maybe this is revealed later in the book. I wanted to love it, but didn’t.

      1. Hi Heidi! I ended up loving Tom Lake and do think Patchett makes a powerful point about relationships by comparing Lara’s fling to Lara’s longterm, successful relationship…however! As I get older, I increasingly embrace the “DNF” mentality if something isn’t clicking after 100 pages. Life is too short to think of reading as a chore!!


    2. Fingersmith is a WILD ride – I read the text version and needed to flip back and forth constantly to compare different vantages between the timelines and characters. It goes a bit off the rails at the end, but I still find myself thinking of it, a few years out. Sarah Waters creates such vibrant, unique, often crass historical worlds that sweep you right in!

    3. Hi Stephanie – I love the way you’ve processed / thought about your book reading last year. Not fixated on a number / goal, but accommodating of lengths and intensities of books we’re reading, seasons of life, etc. Just reflects how much grace you afford yourself!!

      Re: Tom Lake. Interesting on the COVID point. I agree – that element felt a little uncomfortable, almost like when a book introduces text communication in an awkward way? Like trying to accept something but it doesn’t quite work? Not sure how I feel about it in Tom Lake. Will need to reflect on that more! I ended up LOVING Tom Lake but I know many people whose tastes I admire (and who generally like Patchett) were lukewarm. IMO, pass on a book that feels like work!


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