In this week's episode of Friends to Lovers, Mackenzie and Lily discuss why Sally Rooney's novel Normal People is so hyped, what makes a true Angsty Youth™ book, why Old Navy's men's section has the best graphic T-shirts, and which "groundbreakingly terrible" piece of fiction they both threw across the room while reading. Major episode timestamps: Introduction (0:00), Housekeeping (1:26), Introduction to Main Discussion (4:11), Introduction to Normal People (5:15), Introduction to Angsty Youth™ Definition (16:22), The Ensemble by Aja Gabel (20:14), The Mothers by Brit Bennett (23:43), Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (27:12), All My Mother's Lovers by Ilana Masad (36:01), Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales (39:13), Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (42:37), Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls (47:02), Bad Bitch Book Club Member Recommendations (47:29), Felix Ever After (47:45), Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (48:48), Emergency Contact and Permanent Record by Mary HK Choi (49:06), Conclusion (49:41). You can get full show notes and episode transcriptions on the Bad Bitch Book Club website: http://badbitchbookclub.com/podcast. Give us a five-star rating wherever you get your podcasts, and say hi to us at @F2LPodcast on Twitter and Instagram. You can also join the private F2L Facebook group.
If you want to support Bad Bitch Book Club's initiatives (including this podcast), become a Patreon member: https://www.patreon.com/badbitchbookclub. Buy all books mentioned on Friends to Lovers: https://bookshop.org/lists/friends-to-lovers-podcast. Friends to Lovers is a Bad Bitch Book Club podcast hosted by BBBC founder Mackenzie Newcomb and writer, editor, and bestie Lily Herman. Each week, they use books as a jumping off point to talk about sex, relationships, dating, love, romance, and more. Podcast logo by MKW Creative Co. (https://mkwcreative.co/) and music by Eliza Rose Vera (http://www.elizarosevera.com).
Normal People by Sally Rooney (5:15)
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (5:15)
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel (20:14)
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (23:43)
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (27:12)
All My Mother's Lovers by Ilana Masad (36:01)
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales (39:13)
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (42:37)
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (47:02)
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (47:45)
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (48:48)
Emergency Contact by Mary HK Choi (49:06)
Permanent Record Mary HK Choi (49:06)
Greeted as the First Great Millennial Author, and Wary of the Attention by Ellen Barry (The New York Times, 2018)
Sally Rooney talks to Kishani Widyaratna about 'Normal People' (London Review Bookshop, 2019)
Author Sally Rooney on 'Conversations with Friends' by Maura M. Lynch (STET, 2018)
A Conversation with Aja Gabel, Debut Author of The Ensemble by Abbe Wright (Read It Forward, 2018)
Lily Herman: Hi, y'all welcome back to Friends, to Lovers, a podcast where we use books as a jumping off point to talk about sex, relationships, dating, love, romance, and more. Friends to Lovers is part of the Bad Bitch Book Club network. And you can learn more at badbitchbookclub.com/podcast. And as always, the "bitch" is spelled B-I-T-C-H.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Yes, we don't censor ourselves over at the Bad Bitch Book Club. I'm Mackenzie and I'm the founder of the Bad Bitch Book Club. I'm an influencer marketing expert and a retired relationship blogger.
Lily Herman: And I'm Lily Herman, a writer, editor, person currently suffering through a Glee rewatch, and one of Mackenzie's best friends.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Wow. What a life choice you've made.
Lily Herman: I know. Well, Kaitlyn, my roommate/friend/friend of the pod is someone who's never seen it before. This show is so fucked up. I just want to let everyone know. And we were already talking about it before unfortunately Naya Rivera passed away in the month of July, but the rewatch is just like...the first episode alone is so hyper-problematic. It's wild. I will let you all know how this goes And onto housekeeping, which I know is everybody's favorite thing to talk about. I have got a couple of things, Mackenzie's got an iced coffee of sorts.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Tea! You know this. You KNOW this!
Lily Herman: You know I don't drink coffee or caffeine, but anyway. I know someone's going to yell at me after this. Like how do you not drink caffeine? It's like, hmm, that's a separate story.
Mackenzie Newcomb: If you really want to talk to me about my stomach issues, it's my DMs, but that's that's why I've got an iced tea.
Mackenzie Newcomb: All right, clean the house, Lily. What do we have?
Lily Herman: Cleaning the house. So a reminder that you can find all of our show notes to every episode, including all of the books we talk, about at badbitchbookclub.com/podcast, and also you should join Bad Bitch Book Club's Patreon, which is at patrion.com/—you guessed it—badbitchcbookclub. There's all sorts of perks, not just in terms of this podcast, but also in terms of the Bad Bitch Book Club in general. You get a discount on merch. You get to vote on books early and help make the decision of what everyone ends up reading. You get a cool community in a patron-only Facebook group. Mackenzie, what else am I missing? Because you're the person who formed the Patreon.
Mackenzie Newcomb: As a lifelong Bachelor fan, it's also riddled with spoilers. So I love to drop hints about what's to come, what I'm currently reading, and with access to the Bad Bitch Book Club close friends list, you get my true hot takes on books. I don't leave public book reviews pretty much anywhere, but the Patreon has the option of viewing them. So it is definitely the tea is hot. Everyone seems to think it's a really good deal, so I'm like, maybe I should offer you people less, but nonetheless, join Patreon and keep us going.
Lily Herman: Excellent. And it's only $7 a month. So definitely cheaper than most other, even a lot of other Patreons.
Mackenzie Newcomb: It's $1 cheaper than any Patreon I was ever in.
Lily Herman: Yeah, so there you go. So join that. And then the last things, quick social media plugs for this podcast and BBBC. You can follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @F2Lpodcast, and that two is the number 2. And you can also join the Friends to Lovers Podcast, Facebook group to talk all things this podcast or our very bad hot takes. And you don't need to be part of Bad Bitch Book Club to join that Facebook group, but I highly recommend it, as does Mackenzie, for obvious reasons. And then you can also follow the Bad Bitch Book Club on Instagram at badbitch.bookclub, and then on Twitter at @badbtchbookclub, but on Twitter for once the "I" in "bitch" is not in there because Twitter is an asshole when it comes to character limits.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Yes, we are not censoring. It is character limits.
Introduction to Main Discussion (4:11-5:15)
Lily Herman:So. Okay Mack, take us through what's in store today, a couple of reminders. Because I know this is only our second episode?
Mackenzie Newcomb: Indeed. So I'm probably going to run through the basics that I ran through last week, just to remind people, especially those who are listening for the first time. So we're splitting this podcast into 10-episode seasons. This season ends mid-November, and then we'll pick back up again in January, assuming that you actually like what we have to say and that we are not experiencing any difficulties. Instead of focusing on one book per episode, each episode has a theme and we'll talk about many books within that theme. Some episodes like one and two may be more recommendation-based while others will be delving into specific concepts we get from books. You'll also hear our Classified episode later this season, where we're going to be ranking all of Taylor Jenkins Reid's books. I'm giving you that update right now. You have about a month and a half to get there. If you care to join us, to yell at us or agree with us, whatever your truth is, be sure to do your research for it. So today we're going to be talking about the topic of Angsty Youths™ and why everybody is so obsessed, particularly my co-host with Angsty Youth™ culture. Lily, tell us, what is an Angsty Youth™? Like, what do we need to know about the background of this episode?
Lily Herman: Literally my favorite topic. And when we say Angsty Youth™, we're saying like capital-A, capital-Y, trademark symbol, Angsty Youth™. So I have to say I was the angstiest of youths growing up. I still am like an Angsty Youth™, I guess, but I'm like getting out of the age demographic, but—.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Now you're just angsty.
Lily Herman: Now I'm just like super angsty and like and yearning all the time. But I went to, like, three-plus All Time, Low concerts. I definitely cut up old t-shirts to, like, prove how edgy I was. There was definitely a raccoon eyeliner phase my sophomore year of high school that is really, really unfortunate and tragic.
Mackenzie Newcomb: She will share it with the Facebook group.
Lily Herman: I should, I have so many photos.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I will too. Good. I'll share my scene pictures with the Facebook group. We promise.
Lily Herman: Oh God. Yes. It's so bad. Oh yeah, I also used to buy graphic tees from the men's section of Old Navy because I thought that, like, that was the epitome of edgy and alt. And I look back and it's just like, no, I was just buying t-shirts. They were just slightly bigger and loose-fitting than typical t-shirts for women. It's a whole thing.
Mackenzie Newcomb: It's funny that you said that, because I think it was a thing. Because I used to shop in the men's section of Hollister for their graphic tees. Obviously on sale, I am not rich. But you'd find cool $12 graphic tee in the men's section. I would wear it. I guess, weirdly we were both into androgynous style and we didn't even recognize what we were doing at the time.
Introduction to Normal People (5:15-16:22)
Lily Herman: I know I was such a trendsetter and didn't realize it. Um, ugh, goodness. So bad. So anyway, we were both angsty for different reasons I feel like, but we were Angsty Youths™, and today though, I guess what spawned this whole episode idea is the popular, but also incredibly polarizing book that people either hate to love or love to hate. And that is Sally Rooney's 2018 book Normal People. So I have a quick lowdown for those who have maybe only heard of Normal People, don't really or are trying to kind of give themselves the context of why we're dedicating an episode to it or like based on it. So essentially, like I said, Normal People came out in 2018 first before being published more widely in 2019. It is Sally Rooney's second of her two books. Her first was Conversations with Friends, which came out in 2017. I think Sally Rooney is also only 29 as of this recording. So she's very young, especially for such a critically acclaimed literary fiction writer. But the book won a shit ton of awards, including the Costa book award, which is the most prestigious UK book award, according to the internet. But it was also nominated for a bunch of other big, important shit that literary folks care about, like the Booker Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Women's Prize for Fiction. Other important thing to note is it's the source material for the television show of the same name that's on Hulu. And I think it's a Hulu BBC production called Normal People, and it stars Daisy Edgar-Jones, Paul Mescal, and a necklace that Paul Mescal's character wears, otherwise known on the internet as Connell's chain. And Connell's chain is in fact the third main character of that series. It must be said.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Oh my god, ain't that the truth.
Lily Herman: It has its own Instagram account.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I will say, the TV show is significantly less polarizing than the book. People who've read the book and watched the TV show are all like, "The TV show's so much better, oh my God." And the people who've read the book and loved it and watched TV show are like, "The TV show is such a good TV show." So no one has a problem with this TV show. The people who read the book still love the TV show, the people who read the book and hated it still love the TV show. So watch it.
Lily Herman: Oh yeah. It's definitely, like, a prestige teen drama. So if that's your shit right now, which I feel like everyone's shit is all over the place in the pandemic, go watch that. Anyway, Mack, do you want to give the rundown, the summary of what Normal People is for folks who have never heard of it or just haven't read it? And this is a spoiler-free summary.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Correct. Yes. I'm happy to Lily. So Normal People is actually one of my personal favorite books, but if you ask someone else, they will probably say it is the most over-hyped book in the entire world. I read it, and I have to be honest about this, because Taylor Swift recommended it in a magazine interview. And I was like, obviously I have to read this book. So Normal People is the story of two Irish teens named Marianne and Connell. Marianne is a social pariah of sorts as a result of her intellectual superiority but also extreme awkwardness. And the book goes into why she is like this. Connell is popular, though he's shy and more studious in a demure way. They begin to get to know each other because Connell's mother is Marianne's housekeeper. And the two of them basically start this never-ending secret love affair that starts off in high school and then moves through university in Dublin. It's basically just a book of miscommunications and hostility. There's also—and this is really important to know—there are no quotation marks in the dialogue, which drives some people absolutely crazy. And I would say is one of the top reasons why it's a polarizing book, which may sound ridiculous now. But if you read it, you probably agree with me. Overall I'd say if you can't relate to the characters in any way, you're not going to like this book. It's kind of one of those books that's just vague enough that you need to place yourselves in the position of the main characters in order to enjoy it. I could go on for days, but I want to hear what you have to say.
Lily Herman: So I like to Normal People because I had an experience—I didn't have a secret love affair with some boy in high school, but definitely had some weird experiences to where I was like, yeah, I can see the weird kind of like secrecy of it all. I can understand the angst of both these people, and they're just an absolute fucking disaster emotionally. So I really enjoyed it. I think Sally Rooney has talked about no quotation marks thing. I think she said to increase the intimacy for the reader. Now again, a very literary thing to say. UI watched a bunch of Sally Rooney interviews and read a bunch too, but I think that's kind of what she was going for. And she's definitely not the first author to just completely do away with quotation marks at all. But that's part of her shtick, I'd say. The other thing too I wanted to point out is the New York Times actually referred to Sally Rooney as the "first great Millennial author." Here's my issue with this—and this, I want to make very clear is not Sally Rooney's fault or problem. She is just a lovely Marxist lady out in Ireland doing her own thing. She did not bequeath this title upon herself. But I just think it's incredibly improbable, considering there are millions of people around the world between the ages of roughly 23 and 40. The idea that she's the first great Millennial writer is just kind of laughable, but it's also not just the Times who said this. It's all these other media outlets, and particularly other pretentious ones, have also kind of given her literary millennial whisperer status. So I think that's again more of a knock on the establishment than it is Sally Rooney. I just think that that's just ridiculous.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I agree with you. And it's also an [erasure] of so many amazing writers who are in their thirties and early forties. I can't remember the exact cutoff for Millennials, but there is definitely a demographic of forgotten Millennials who are like, "Hey, we're here. We got iPhones in college."
Lily Herman: Yeah, the erasure is really apparent. Also, let's be real here, Sally Rooney's characters are, I'm trying to remember from Conversations with Friends, but they're all white people. So this idea that some white folks up in Dublin in two different books is the greatest—I don't know. I have multiple things. It's like, she's only written two books, which is great. Both of them were obviously critically acclaimed. But there's plenty of authors have written a lot more and have obviously sustained longer careers who are also still technically Millennials—.
Mackenzie Newcomb: And still critically acclaimed.
Lily Herman: And then you have the fact that her novels are particular diverse. They're very specific, but again, that's not a knock on Sally Rooney whatsoever. She never claimed otherwise. The erasure is a lot. It's just the quintessential literary fuckery that I just kind of eye roll at because if you truly think that she is the first Millennial author you've read,that was so amazing, I think you just haven't read a lot or you're being very problematic about how you're rating, I don't know, just rating books or thinking about books. So that's my first hot take of this episode is me being annoyed at the literary world for that.
Mackenzie Newcomb: You know, I think maybe one of the reasons she's so hyped because she is the fact that we know Sally Rooney, but we don't really know her. She's very secretive. She's not one of those authors that is posting her shit on Instagram and all up in social media. Does she have an Instagram?
Lily Herman: I don't even—I don't know, but I think I might've looked a while ago when we first started storyboarding this episode, but yeah, she's very much—.
Mackenzie Newcomb: She's private.
Lily Herman: And in interviews she definitely chats, like she's not rude or anything like that, but she's definitely a little distanced. She'll talk about her books, but she's a little quiet. She definitely takes pauses when she needs to think about things. Yeah. She's very different from, I think, what a lot of authors, quite frankly, feel like they have to do nowadays. There's a huge push for authors, especially I'd say more in contemporary or in commercial fiction more than literary fiction, to have these gigantic social media presences and do all this stuff. We see this a lot with romance, either the romance genre and romance authors more than literary fiction authors, but there's a lot more in general, this idea around authors need to be hyper-connected to their audiences, and Sally Rooney is not. But also, quite frankly, when she says she's not, it doesn't bother me. Like, I don't feel like she's doing it to be like a Cool Girl™. It's just kind of not her thing. Like she was just kind of hanging out in Ireland, like I said, and then wrote Conversations with Friends and it was critically acclaimed.
Mackenzie Newcomb: She was probably like, "Whoa! Me?!"
Lily Herman: She sounds really chill and cool. I think it's just a lot of literary folks into their own bullshit.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I would say that if I had to put a word for it, I would say that Sally Rooney feels like a relic of the past, a relic of authors of the past in the way that she promotes herself and stuff. Which again, is not necessarily a good thing, but Sally, we love you, honey girl. I do at least. And I know you're just chilling in Ireland probably writing your next great 250-page book and I will buy it and I can't wait for it.
Lily Herman: We'll both buy it.
Definition of an Angsty Youth™ (16:22-20:14)
Mackenzie Newcomb: So Lil, let's get into the main part. Let's talk about what makes a book an Angsty Youth™ book.
Lily Herman: Okay. So I, of course, being president and CEO of angsty Angsty Youth™, Inc. came up with I would say four major points of Angsty Youth™ books and then like a fifth tangential kind of adjacent important point. So the four major things. One, given the title, these are obviously youngish people, I'd say typically high school or college age. So maybe 14-ish through like 22, 23-ish. And I feel like everyone can, I think, relate to this: When you're in that age demographic, there's a certain way that you think the world revolves around you and only your problems. And so that's definitely a major theme of these books. There's a real self-importance there that exists in a very particular way. And not to say that 30-year-olds or something or 50-year-olds aren't self-important, it's just a very specific type of self-importance. I feel like it's the first time in your lifey ou're really aware and then also feeling really self-important on top of that, if that makes sense.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I would agree with that.
Lily Herman: Second kind of major point of these books: There's always a really messy AF love story And again, love, I'm putting that out as like a really broad idea. It doesn't need to be necessarily sexual. It doesn't need to be romantic even. There's just some kind of thing around feelings and entanglements that just go completely awry and everyone's just kind of bumbling around for some period of time. So that's number two. Number three, I'd say there's like, I didn't even know how to phrase this, but I was like, there's a certain level of like what I would call intangible fuckery, where a person has some sort of character flaw that makes them behave even more brazenly than they would if they were just like a typical hormonal youth. So those character flaws could be just someone who just makes the wrong decision at every turn. They have a short fuse, they just could do any number of things that just make them even worse than the typical teen. They say things that are intentionally hurtful to the characters in the book that are—you're just like, "Why the fuck are you doing this?" And then number four is I feel like all these books, Normal People included, has a general degree of melancholy to it. There's a real pensive sadness that kind of befalls—it's like a fog over the landscape of the narrative or whatever pretentious shit you want to say.
Mackenzie Newcomb: You know that pit in your stomach that you have almost entirely in your youth because something's always going wrong socially? It's like a cloud, just a grey cloud that following them everywhere..
Lily Herman: The grey cloud of youth is happening. So that's number four. And then I'd say adjacent, something important to note is Angsty Youth™ books don't just have to be in the YA genre, like Normal People's not a YA book. It deals with people in their late teens, early twenties, not a young adult book. I think even we had actually asked Bad Bitch Book Club members for their suggestions for Angsty Youth™ books, I think that was a misunderstanding there, because people were suggesting a lot of YA books. And just by nature of who the audience is, the books are angsty, but it's not solely relegated to YA is I think important. For instance, I'd say The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, which is, in American culture, one of the most celebrated Angsty Youth™ books. Like that's not a YA book. I also believe that book is full of shit, and again, that's another conversation for another day. But you don't think The Catcher in the Rye and think, "Hmm. YA genre, one of my favorite YA books."
Mackenzie Newcomb: Totally agree with you. Most of our options, yeah, we have six options we're going to share with you all. And only one of them is YA.
Lily Herman: And then I think we had a couple of suggestions from Bad Bitch Book Club people, and I think a couple of those are YA.
Discussion of The Ensemble by Aja Gabel (20:14-23:43)
Mackenzie Newcomb: All right, Lily, tell me: What is your first recommendation?
Lily Herman: Okay, so this book came out in 2018 and a lot of people have not read it. I have to be completely honest that I picked it out because the cover was gorgeous. And I was in a bookstore and just kind of saw it and, you know, had a yolo moment and just picked it up. And that is The Ensemble by Aja Gabel. So essentially The Ensemble follows a quartet of, you know, obviously four professional musicians as they try to make their way through the cutthroat music world over several decades. What's I think particularly interesting here is that Aja Gabel, the author, was actually a professional cellist for many years. And so of any book I think on this list, she just writes so incredibly exquisitely about music. So if you love prose, like if you're a reader who loves really beautiful mellifluous prose, this is the book to read just for that. I will also add that it is the most melancholy as fuck book. These people are melancholy from the age of 22 until they're, like, four decades older. They just are constantly just kind of sad all the time. Yeah. And Mack, you, you read this book.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I did read this book.
Lily Herman: I think you read my copy of this book.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I did read your copy of this book. And it wasn't necessarily my taste because it was a very much a slow burn and that's not usually my jam. Sometimes it is. It's also very big on character development. And I didn't like a lot of the developments of the characters because they're angsty as shit and they're a bunch of assholes. But I would agree with you mentioning this book because there is no squad angstier than the quartet.
Lily Herman: So angsty, oh my god.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Several people in the book club loved this book. So I think if you are someone who likes melancholy writing, it will totally be your jam.
Lily Herman: So I'd say too one of the reasons I love it is I'm a sucker for any book that takes place over several years or decades and is kind of about how relationships evolve over time. Again, perfectly similar to Normal People, which is over the course of several years. I'm a big fan of Josie Silver's two books, One Day in December and The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, for that reason. I think also the other thing here is on like the messy as fuck love story front we were talking about earlier, you have two characters in particular who have this real will-they-or-won't-they relationship where they kind of have this other worldly connection but just can't get their shit together to actually have an adult conversation about it. But for whatever reason it actually didn't bother me. It made sense that the two of them just have so much shit going on in their own worlds that they just cannot sit down and just be straight up with each other about where they stand. And it feels like at any given point over the course of these several decades, one of them's in, one of them's out. For those reading or have read it, that's the violinist Brit and then the cellist Daniel who, from the get go, are just a mess.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I'd say that that's a really good description. Brit and Daniel really frustrated me. I respect that you were just like, "You know, they just can't do it like Marianne and Connell." But for me, I was like, guys, come on.
Lily Herman: You were like, so help me, God. I think this is the book I'd say is the most like Normal People in a lot of ways to a certain extent.
Mackenzie Newcomb: That's pretty accurate. Yeah.
Lily Herman: Anyway, The Ensemble by Aja Gabel. Great book, came out relatively recently, very Instagrammable coverage for those of you who care.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Gorgeous cover.
Discussion of The Mothers by Brit Bennett (23-43-27:12)
Lily Herman: Gorgeous, gorgeous cover. So pick number one. Mack, your first pick.
Mackenzie Newcomb: My first actually comes from friend of Bad Bitch Book Club Brit Bennett. And this is her first book The Mothers, which really made me a Brit Bennett stan. So this is a story of Nadia Turner, a grief stricken 17-year-old, who is mourning the death of her mother by suicide. She takes up with the preacher's son who is older than her. He is 21 and she becomes pregnant. These are not major spoilers. This is the back of the book. This is a story of relationships, teen pregnancy, and what it means to be ostracized by your community, especially a church community who you think will be there for you through the biggest highs and lows and struggles of your life. I absolutely loved this book. I think Brit painted a really realistic picture of what it would mean to be a pregnant motherless teen. This book it's not written super literary. It is literary fiction, but because of the—Lily, what's the word for it? The choir. Did you read The Mothers?
Lily Herman: Yeah. Well the chorus is the—are you talking about the chorus of like mothers who narrate the book? Yeah. And that's also not a spoiler. That's literally the first page, you find out that there's like this kind of omniscient chorus of well-intentioned mothers who think they know best who are kind of narrating what's happening in the situation.
Mackenzie Newcomb: It's amazing. And I would say this is a really easy read. And even though what Nadia is going through is really, really terrible and there's still times where you want to guide her in a different direction than she's taking herself instead of just feeling complete empathy. You kind of empathize with the mothers sometimes. Who are the chorus and you empathize with Nadia. I read this book a couple of years ago, but it really stuck with me, and I highly recommend it for all of you.
Lily Herman: Yeah. I read it earlier this year actually. And agree. It's got the Angsty Youth™ thing going on. I think it goes deeper than just like, "Oh, the youths are angsty because they're hormonal." It's like, no, you have this young woman, a teenager who dealt with this really traumatic experience of her mom dying by suicide. You have her dad who's just kind of always a little bit aloof. And she never really, I don't know, their bond is not the same like what she had with her mom. You've got this really judgmental religious community that's sort of in the mix. You have the preacher's son who's got his own shit going on, so he's just kind of a disaster anyway. And I think too, for people who are newer to literary fiction, like if you're someone who reads a lot of commercial fiction, I think this is a great crossover book because it's not so heavy on themes and motifs and things that you're like, "Fuck, am I picking up on enough shit? I have no idea." So you'll feel smart reading this book, but you won't, I think, feel like you're kind of being left behind in terms of prose or what's going on.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I agree with that. And also considering the fact that The Vanishing Half is probably the biggest book of 2020, or at least top 10, for sure.
Lily Herman: Definitely of the summer, for sure the summer.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I don't know where it is at this point, but it would be cool of you to have read both of Brit Bennet's books.
Lily Herman: Yes, yes, yes.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Join us. Be cool like Mackenzie and Lily and a lot of the Bad Bitch Book Club.
Lily Herman: Yeah, cause Brit needs our endorsement out of anyone. So yeah.
Discussion of Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (27:12-36:01)
Mackenzie Newcomb: Yeah, Brit's really suffering sitting on The New York Times bestseller list all summer, so she needs your help and you need to buy The Mothers. Okay, Lily, what's your number two?
Lily Herman: Okay.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Oh God. Oh God. That time has come.
Lily Herman: Mackenzie knows what's on the list. The time is here. Okay. I think I need to preface this by saying I have very few hobbies in life other than reading and trying to become a fine cheese aficionado. But one of my other favorite activities on this earth is yelling about Susan Choi's book Trust Exercise. And I feel like I'm recommending it just cause I want a sea of people to also yell about it with me. That's part of this recommendation. So okay. I know Mackenzie has endless thoughts.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I can confirm that Lily turned me on to both truffle Gouda and made me hate-read Trust Exercise. These are number one hobbies.
Lily Herman: My legacy, truly. Am I a legend? Only in these two arenas.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Tell us about Trust Exercise.
Lily Herman: Okay. Okay. Trust Exercise definitely transcends the basic book synopsis. It's really it's that elevated, but basically, okay. It's literary fiction.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Oh it is LITERARY.
Lily Herman: And I feel like though—okay, so basically it's about a group of sophomores at a performing arts high school in Houston, but Susan Choi never says it's Houston, but girl we all know it's Houston. That's a separate thing. But basically these sophomores at this performing arts high school are all about learning their acting craft. They're young, they're trying to be expressive, et cetera. And the two main characters are a couple named Sarah and David. They're on completely polar opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum and then also just are very different from each other. But they go through the stereotypical Angsty Youth™ romantic progression of having a single weird sexual encounter. It turns into hooking up. Then they have this messy breaking off of things cause they're not really official and they're not really—they're a secret, like their friends don't know. So it's this whole thing where they, so they're all angry at each other and all that shit. And I'd say too, on top of that kind of main storyline, you also have their interactions with their really hormonal and bitchy classmates. And then they have, all of them, this really emotionally, ethically, and morally bankrupt drama teacher named M. Kingsley, who is truly the worst of all time. But I feel like Marianne and Connell from Normal People seem like well-adjusted, therapy-attending people compared to Sarah, David, and their classmates.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Oh, ain't it the truth. And I will say, while Lily did just give a really good synopsis, you could read this book and not capture any of that information because the entire book is written like one long stream of a stoned person's consciousness.
Lily Herman: Yeah, I'm not going to lie: I had to look up causeI was like, let me double check that I know what this book is about. Cause like, do I know? Do I? We don't, we don't know. According to multiple sources that I aggregated and synthesized, that is the plot. So here's what's so,—so for those who are like, "I don't get why you two have many feelings on this book," first of all, you just need to read it or just try and even get through like 20 pages and you'll see why I feel like everyone has such a visceral reaction to this book. But I think one, it's capital-L literary. And I think what's so odd about it is people in Goodreads hate it. It's gotten trashed on Goodreads, but then it won the fucking National Book Award. And then Barack Obama aka Barry O. put it on his list of Best Books of 2019. And I feel quite frankly, I feel bamboozled. I feel hoodwinked by the former president. I have many thoughts for our friend Barry because I don't fucking understand why–did he read this book?!
Mackenzie Newcomb: I have some things to say that are going to be really controversial about Barack Obama, specifically about his book recommendations and not his politics. All right. I'm just going to come out and say it: I think that Barry O makes a list of every book he's read during the year and those are his book recommendations and he does not take off books that he didn't like. He just puts every book—.
Lily Herman: So it's not discerning.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Yeah. He has given me some real questionable recommendations over the years. Like Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, he recommended that. He recommended American spy by Laura Wilkinson? Laura or Lauren? It could be there and I'm sorry. It was just a three-star book for me. The only book that Obama has recommended to me that has really held up is Pachinko.
Lily Herman: But also lots of other people really liked Pachinko before Barack claimed or said he liked Pachinko.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Yeah, he's not even the reason I read it; I'd already read it. And I was like, yes, Barry. Yes, me too.
Lily Herman: We were on that same page. I just don't know though how you—so there's a definitive point about halfway through the book, which I had told Mackenzie, "you're gonna get to the halfway point and you're going to get incredibly distressed," but I just feel like if you're not asking yourself, "what in the fuckity fuck?" when you get to that point, I don't believe you've read the book. I remember I told you and you were like, okay. And then you read and you're like, what in the hell is Susan Choi trying?
Mackenzie Newcomb: She crazy. She crazy, but I will say, and this is a hot take, I think that the fact that that happens in the middle of the book and those who know know, those who don't know know, I think is the most creative part of the entire book.
Lily Herman: Yes. Oh. And speaking of that, so I looked up reviews and of course all of the literary—again, the literary establishment makes me eye roll, because they're like, "This is the most brilliant work to ever be published ever." And I was like, okay, but actually novelist John Boyne he's he actually wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which was critically acclaimed back in the mid-2000s. He wrote a review of this book for the Irish Times that I think summed it up best. The review was titled "A bold novel that might leave you feeling cheated." And I was like, yes, John, I do feel cheated. And then my favorite quote from this was, "Once in a while, a novel's plot takes such an unexpected turn, breaking the unspoken contract between reader and writer, that it's hard to know whether to fling the book at the wall in anger or proclaim it a brave attempt to push the boundaries of the form." And I was like, yes, John, I threw this book against my wall. I have a dent in the wall to prove it. And maybe it was a brave attempt to push the boundaries of the form, but...
Mackenzie Newcomb: Still upset six months later. Okay, I just want to say rarely do I receive a book recommendation in the form of "this book was so groundbreakingly, terrible. I need you to read it so I have someone to complain about it with." So Lily gifted me this book from her personal collection probably in February and was like, this is terrible. Please read this book was horrible.
Lily Herman: It was January. It was January.
Mackenzie Newcomb: And I'm like, I have other things to do than read this book that you absolutely hated. But when she told me that our second episode on our podcast is going to be on the Angsty Youths™, I was like, fine. I'll read this stupid freaking book that everyone hates.
Lily Herman: And I even preempted it, I was like, "You don't have to read it. Mackenzie. I'll just complain myself, like to myself."
Mackenzie Newcomb: No but it had to be group effort. Doubling down, confirming that Trust Exercise was what everybody said it was going to be.
Lily Herman: Was it pushing the form of the, or the boundary of the form?
Mackenzie Newcomb: Yes. I would say it did push the boundaries. And I thought the twist was kind of cool. Sorry. Sorry., that's going to hurt some people's feelings, but the book is a mess essentially. And as I was reading it, I read it last weekend, I was sitting and reading it in public and someone asked me like, "Wow, what a pretty cover. How's that book?"
Lily Herman: Yeah. It's got a gorgeous cover too.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I'm like, "Don't even ask, just to keep walking, lady. This is not this isn't for you." Overall I would say I gave it a two out of five in my Goodreads review because I was somewhat impressed by the originality of it all. But it is completely unreadable.
Lily Herman: This is the last thing I'll say on it: The thing that's funny about literary fiction is that there's always this line between what's brilliance and pushing boundaries and what's just fucking bullshit where you're writing unreadable fuckery. And I feel like this book just is so in the middle of that. And again, Susan Choi—this is her bajillionth books. She's written a ton of books. She's got a bunch of awards. One of her other books was a finalist for the Pulitzer several years ago. So I almost want to read a book or two more of hers just because I'm curious if this was some big departure for her or if this is how it is with everything she writes.
Discussion of All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad (36:01-39:13)
Mackenzie Newcomb: Damn, if this is how you get nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, I'm never going to be an acclaimed writer. I mean, I can never get past three pages of a novel that I'm writing, so like I'm never going to be in an acclaimed writer no matter what. But I may just give up on my dreams, knowing this is what gets awards. So moving on to my second choice: All My Mother's Lovers by Ilana Masad. So I will say that Maggie, the protagonist, is technically a young adult. She's a few years out of college, but she is about as angsty as the youths come. And I feel that she is one of those delayed adults and therefore—sorry, Maggie—it still kind of counts. Maggie is dealing with the death of her mother who died unexpectedly in a car crash. That is not a spoiler. In my opinion, anything that happens the first 10 pages is not a spoiler. This book isn't technically a romance novel despite the name. But I feel as though it perfectly fits the vibe of this episode. So Maggie receives a group of letters that she finds that her mother left behind for various men whose names that she did not recognize. And she decides to hand deliver all of these letters. She takes her car and she goes on a road trip and she meets all these men who she finds out were her mother's lovers. And she gets very distressed by this whole experience because her parents were, as she believed, to be happily married. But she found out a lot about her mother through all the men that she loved in her life. But she's fucking pissed the whole time. I mean, she is furious.
Lily Herman: I would be too.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Right? All the adults in this book spend a large chunk of their time complaining about their parents and how broke they are. I mean, it is angsty as it gets. There is a lot of sex. There is a lot of anger and a lot of arguing amongst siblings. This book starts out with Maggie getting her pussy licked. Like it is literally, she's getting eaten out on the very first page.
Lily Herman: Know what? We're happy, we're happy for her.
Mackenzie Newcomb: But when I say I clutched my pearls, like, oh my God, oh Lord, is this really what's happening? I was vetting it for a book club pick, and I was like, I think maybe this is going to turn off some of our book club members. But overall I would say that this book is definitely worth reading. There's a lot of childhood trauma in here. Maggie had a lot of resentment towards her mother for not accepting her as gay. And as she meets some of her mother's lovers, she becomes increasingly furious with her mother for this fact. It's just a really fun ride. If you're someone who likes literary fiction, I would say that it falls into that category. It would be a good beach read for you. So that All My Mother's Lovers.
Lily Herman: I'm excited. It just came off of my library holds like yesterday, and it's been on there for two months. And it got to a point where I was like, I should just maybe buy this. But I was like, no, I am dedicated to this being in my library holds for a full fucking like nine weeks. So I'm, I'm hyped to read it cause now I finally can.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I think that you will like it. I recommended it for our LGBTQIA+ challenge that's happening this fall. They didn't pick it. I'm not offended, but I think it would be a good thing if you're into queer fiction.
Lily Herman: Ooh, love it. Love it.
Discussion of Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales (39:13-42:37)
Mackenzie Newcomb: And let's hear, can we hear your third?
Lily Herman: Oh yes. My third and final. Okay. So we're doing a slight departure because now we've done a bunch of fiction. Now that everyone's like, "Oh my God, can we get something that's more fun?" Yeah, it's like Jesus Christ, Lily. Anyway, third pick a thousand percent comes from our girl. Roemer. Roemer is the best. She is a Bad Bitch Book Club member. She watches Survivor. She also knows like Bachelor stuff. I think she also recently, I found out, she's a Murderino aka watches or listens to My Favorite Murder, the podcast. So like Roemer's the best.
Mackenzie Newcomb: We love her.
Lily Herman: And she recommended this book and I immediately picked it up. And that is Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales. This is YA. It is still an Angsty Youth™ book, but it's YA and it is super fucking fun. I think it was described online as like a mix of Grease meets Clueless or something; that was sort of the crossover that was being marketed. And I was like, a thousand percent, that is correct, accurate marketing. So A+ to whoever thought of that. But essentially it follows the story of Ollie, who is an openly gay rising high school senior. He lives in California, but the summer before his senior year, he and his family spend the summer in North Carolina taking care of his Aunt Linda, who is sick with cancer. And while he's hanging out in North Carolina, he meets a hot guy named Will. So they be hooking up. And then unfortunately for Ollie at the end of the summer, Will ghosts him. And Ollie kind of goes back to his life in California and he's bummed obviously. However, Ollie's parents say, hey, Aunt Linda is taking a turn for the worse. We're actually gonna move the family to North Carolina to support her family and taking care of her and her kids and what not. So Ollie obviously moves back to North Carolina, transfers to a new school, and on the first day of his brand new life, he is shocked to discover that Will not only goes to his school, but isn't out as gay to anyone. So the angst is so thick you could cut it with a knife in this one. But I think what made it amazing is that I've been looking for books with the same sort of vibe as Casey McQuiston's Red, White & Royal Blue ever since I read it; I feel like that's everyone's goal in life who's read, Red, White & Royal Blue, is to find things that remind you of it. And the writing style in here really, really was reminiscent of it. And Sophie Gonzales is so funny. The book is really snarky, it's really pithy, it's really fun. It's again, filled with angst. There are some deeper themes around family and obviously illness and what it means to come out and all that stuff. But I say the other big thing that I loved is this book is under 300 pages. And I love anyone who can make their point effectively in under 300 pages.
Mackenzie Newcomb: It's a YA book that is only under,—wow, that must be a really fast read.
Lily Herman: It was super fast. I enjoyed every second of it. I was like, people are angsty, people are funny, there's a diverse group of characters but they don't feel egregious. Sophie Gonzalez nailed it with this book. I'm very excited to read her other stuff both past and present. Excellent book. Loved it. Super quick. Super fun. If you're in a reading funk, I feel like it's kind of the perfect book to kind of get you out of that slump.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Okay. I'm sold. Done. No problem.
Lily Herman: I'm like great. Excellent. No, no further points.
Discussion of Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (42:37-47:02)
Mackenzie Newcomb: Okay, so I'm going to talk about a little bit of a cult classic, a modern cult classic that a lot of people in the Bad Bitch Book Club really love, and it's called Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. If you know me, you know I really love Kristin Hannah.
Lily Herman: You fuck with Kristin Hannah.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I fuck with her hard. I'm down for all of her books. I think she's so brilliant. And Kristin is known for writing books that will make you cry, And let the record show that you've been warned: Firefly Lane will make you cry. There's no way, and when I say no way, I mean no way, to read this book without crying. Okay? You've been warned, don't read it in public. So it is no secret I stan her, but this is one of those books that doesn't necessarily sound super Kristin Hannah-esque who kind of loves historical fiction. I thought the beginning half of this book sounded like it was written by Danielle Steel. So when I say that it's readable, I mean, it is so readable for pretty much every demographic of readers and like every reading level. Because I know a lot of the books that we mentioned earlier do require—it sounds kind of douchey saying it—but kind of higher reading levels. Trust Exercise, you'd agree with that right?
Lily Herman: Oh, a hundo percent. I think what comes with literary fiction is sometimes this real bullshit where people try to be unreadable on purpose because they think that makes them smarter or more intellectual sounding, which again, another opinion of mine for another day. Whereas I think this sounds, like a lot of Kristin Hannah's stuff, much more about being accessible.
Mackenzie Newcomb: It's very accessible, I think that's the perfect word for it. So Firefly Lane starts with eighth graders, Kate and Tully, who meet and instantaneously become best friends. Kate has this picture perfect suburban life, two parents who love her but mortify the shit out of her, a nice house, siblings with nice little rivalries, good grades. She's just your normal bitch, right? She's your normal eighth grade bitch. And then you have Tully who has this aura about her, that everybody is super attracted to. She has beauty, brains, ambition, and parents who literally never know where she is at any given time and don't seem to give a fuck about that. She is definitely a little abandoned as a child. So she actually takes up with Kate's family who essentially all but adopt her as their other daughter. So these two women, girls at the time, are more sisters, I would say, than friends. And their relationship is reflective of that, that it's a lot of high highs and really low lows. And Firely Lane spans their entire life as best friends. So from college and boy drama—and let the record show, there is a lot of boy drama in this book. And like you said, really, really weird, horrible romance take relationships all, all throughout this book. And they're obviously both involved in all of them. There are complications of adulthood and I don't want to spoil this book, so I'm actually not going to go too far into the adulthood complications. But if crying is your jam, I highly, highly recommend this book. They youths are super, super angsty and it's an easy read and it's kind of one of those light books that pretty much everybody has read. So you may as well read it, so that you're one of everybody. Lily is not one of those people who likes to be one of everybody, but if you're someone who likes to read what's popular, I would say Firefly Lane's popular. Oh, and Hulu picked it up. Yeah.
Lily Herman: Oh, that adds to the intrigue. Me and my like unconventional ass are going to now read the book because love me to do like a book to TV or film adaptation.
Mackenzie Newcomb: I mean, who doesn't love an adaptation and who doesn't love complaining about an adaptation?
Lily Herman: Oh yeah, one of my favorite other activities, other than cheese and Susan Choi.
Discussion of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (47:02-47:29)
Mackenzie Newcomb: We have t-shirts at badbitchbookclub.com that say "The Book Was Better," and I look forward to saying that about Firefly Lane. So definitely read this one. It may be intimidatingly long. It's about 500, 600 pages, but it's a quick read. And that's what I have to say on Firefly Lane. Read all of Kristin Hannah's books though. One last book I feel like fits into this, and I know we're only supposed to say three things, but I just wanted to add this cause it does not fully fit the theme. It's just one line, it's Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden. It's a memoir, so I'm not going to go farther into it. I'm just saying if you love the angst and you love the youths T Kira was a great memoir for you. What did our audience recommend, Lil?
Bad Bitch Book Club Member Recommendations (47:29-49:41)
Lily Herman: So we had asked, the Bad Bitches in Love subgroup, which is the romance spinoff from Bad Bitch Book Club. So if you're in Bad Bitch Book Club—first of all, anyone can join Bad Bitch Book Club—you can also join any of our subgroups. So anyway, from there, are a couple of recs. Kylie, I'm sorry, you go by your middle name on Facebook—so I'm like, oh, interesting. She recommended a book that I fucking loved, which is Felix Eve After by Kacen Callender. Oh my God. We're not really previewing these we're going through them quickly. But essentially it's about a Black trans teen in New York City who is dealing with a mix of his own angsty and anxiety around his identity as well as kind of universal teen angst around love and the question of like, will anyone ever love me? And will I ever find a person? So, excellent book, also a relatively quick read, does get into some really deep, hard themes. The book is kind of kicked off by him being publicly—or he's being deadnamed. So someone uses the name that he used before he transitioned. And that same anonymous person puts up photos of him publicly from before his transition as well, which are both terribly traumatic, awful things that you should never do to a person. So that's where the book starts. Excellent book. Second, Cait Gillespie recommended a book, which I meant to read before this episode and just didn't get to. It is Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. It's been compared to Normal People, but I've seen some mixed reviews online. Anyway, check that out.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Cait has good taste.
Lily Herman: Cait has good taste, so I would definitely check it out. And then Jenn Inzetta also recommended Mary HK Choi's two—I'd say these are two of her most popular—books. These are YA. This is Emergency Contact and Permanent Record. I also heard most people really love them. Interestingly, some book ubers that I follow, some of them hate these books.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Sounds fitting for our episode, the polarizing books. People hate it, people love it.
Lily Herman: Kind of fascinating, like also who hates what or who loves what. Anyway, those are kind of extra recs if you're kind of just wanting to surf around.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Well, I think we're running out of time, cause we've been recording for just over an hour.
Lily Herman: And it's going to be hopefully cut down by moi in the edit. To reiterate and just to go over the social media things, one more time, Mack, where can people find you on the internet?
Mackenzie Newcomb: Okay. You find me at @mackinstyle, like "back in style" with an "M" and that is on Instagram, that is on Twitter, and tthat is on TikTok, though I can't say I would recommend following me on TikTok yet.
Lily Herman: And then you can follow me on Twitter at @lkherman, and that is "K" as in "kangaroom" and on Instagram at @lilykherman. And you can follow the podcast at @F2LPodcast on Instagram and Twitter. And again, the two is the number 2.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Be sure to give us a five-star rating and leave a review, telling us how intellectual and funny and enjoyable we are as hosts.
Lily Herman: Yes.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Or tell us much you hate our book recommendations, but still give us a five-star review.
Lily Herman: That'd be excellent. Yes, please. So next week's episode is one that as a politics writer, I am very hype about. We are going to be discussing the ongoing trend of romance novels that feature a Republican and a Democrat falling in love, because oh, the takes are hot over here and we have things to talk about. Our first guest will be coming, so stay tuned for that because Mack and I need someone with more professional expertise to help us dive in.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Other than us being like, "Booooo! Dump him!"
Lily Herman: Yes, we're very much like, "Dump Racists 2020." But anyway, so that will be next week. I feel like people are going to have thoughts on that, but until then, thank you everyone for joining in. Once again, this was Friends to Lovers, a Bad Bitch Book Club podcast, and we will see you next week.
Mackenzie Newcomb: Love you, bye!