Happy very belated Wednesday, pals! After many travails and difficulties, Whiskey Jenny and I have walked ten miles in the snow uphill both ways to bring you a very overdue podcast. This time around, we’re updating you on professional boundaries in our Serial Box Book Club, chatting about fictional friendships we love, and reviewing Laia Jufresa’s wondrous and underappreciated book Umami.
You can listen to the podcast using the embedded player below, or download the file directly to take with you on the go!
Here are the time signatures if you want to skip around!
1:03 – What We’re Reading
4:15 – Serial Box Book Club: Episodes 3 and 4 of Geek Actually
11:58 – Fictional friendships!
28:02 – Umami, Laia Jufresa, translated by Sophie Hughes
38:45 – What We’re Reading for Next Time!
39:26 – HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
Seriously, please get at us in the holiday gift guide submission form and help us help you buy gifts for your loved ones.
Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour
Our transcript is below the cut!
THEME SONG: You don’t judge a book by its cover. Page one’s not a much better view. And shortly you’re gonna discover the middle won’t mollify you. So whether whiskey’s your go-to or you’re like my gin-drinking friend, no matter what you are imbibing, you’ll be better off in the end reading the end.
GIN JENNY: Welcome back to the Reading the End bookcast with the demographically similar Jennys. I’m Gin Jenny.
WHISKEY JENNY: And I’m Whiskey Jenny.
GIN JENNY: And we are here again to talk to you about books and literary happenings. On today’s episode, we are going to continue with Serial Box book club for Geek Actually slash Geeks and Witches. We’re going to talk about book friendships that make us happy, and we’re going to review Laia Jufresa’s book Umami. But before we get into all that, Whiskey Jenny, what are you reading?
WHISKEY JENNY: I just started Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan, who wrote A Visit from the Goon Squad, and I’m really enjoying it so far.
GIN JENNY: Yeah? How does it compare to Visit from the Goon Squad?
WHISKEY JENNY: I’m not super far into it, so I don’t know if I can compare it that much. But so far it just seems like a very straightforwardly structured novel, and so that’s quite different. But also it’s really enjoyable, and I’m liking it so far. There’s a dad who’s involved in some shady union business before World War II, and then—
GIN JENNY: Wait, what is shady union business?
WHISKEY JENNY: He says he’s a bag man. He delivers bribes and such.
GIN JENNY: Oh. For the union?
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah. Yeah.
GIN JENNY: I’m such a socialist. I’m over here like, the union did something bad? I’m so confused!
WHISKEY JENNY: They’re often affiliated with organized crime, yes.
GIN JENNY: Wow. I did not know that at all. [LAUGHTER] I feel really stupid.
WHISKEY JENNY: You’re not. You’re super intelligent. Okay, cool. All right, so he’s— I mean, I could be wrong. Unions are also great, and hooray workers. But sometimes the mob gets involved, yeah.
GIN JENNY: Okay. All right, so that’s the kind of union man he is. Okay, sorry, so continue. He’s involved with shady union business, uh-huh.
WHISKEY JENNY: And then it jumped forward to during World War II, and his daughter is a little bit older and is working in the Navy Yard. So pretty much everything is as advertised so far. [LAUGHTER]
I like her writing a lot, though, so that’s helping. And it seems like it’s just going to be a very traditional, meaty, good novel, and I am excited.
GIN JENNY: Awesome.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah. What are you reading?
GIN JENNY: I am reading a book called Black Tudors, by Miranda Kaufmann, and it is a British history book about black people during the Tudor period. Which is really interesting, because oftentimes people who are racist want to talk about how back in the day everyone was white in Europe, and it was this golden age. And proper historians are always like no, it was never as white as you think. So I’m excited to read this book, and I’ll be very knowledgeable. And if I ever need to have an important debate with a racist, suddenly, about Tudor England, I’ll now be prepared.
WHISKEY JENNY: You’ll be ready. At the drop of a hat.
GIN JENNY: Exactly. I’ll know everything. I’ll just be reeling off facts and figures and anecdotes, and they’ll be completely vanquished, and will change their ways and become crusaders for racial justice.
WHISKEY JENNY: And regret the error of their previous thinking.
GIN JENNY: Mhm, mhm. It’s 100% what will happen. This is a very realistic fantasy.
WHISKEY JENNY: Great job.
GIN JENNY: Thank you. Well, Whiskey Jenny, it feels like it has been so long since we podcasted.
WHISKEY JENNY: It in fact has. [LAUGHTER]
GIN JENNY: Truth. Listeners, we encountered some difficulties, both life complications and technical difficulties that were just me being a dummy.
WHISKEY JENNY: It was difficult. It was a difficult time. We had a moment where we were like, maybe we should just scrap this one, but no! We soldiered through, and we said, we both really liked this book and we want to talk about it. I mean, I think we both liked it.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, no, I did. I liked it a lot.
WHISKEY JENNY: Spoiler for later in this podcast. [LAUGHTER] And we’re going to talk about it, and I’m really glad that we are going to. But I’m sorry that we had all of those problems.
GIN JENNY: Sometimes in the course of podcasting—
WHISKEY JENNY: It does. I think I definitely read the right ones.
GIN JENNY: For Geek Actually.
WHISKEY JENNY: For Geeks and Witches, yeah.
GIN JENNY: So for this podcast, both of us definitely read “Boss Battles,” episode 3, by Melissa Blue, and “The Long Con,” episode 4, by Cecilia Tan. And, Whiskey Jenny, what did what did you make of the plot turns in Geek Actually?
WHISKEY JENNY: Okay, there’s two things up top that I want to talk about. My first thing is about Michelle.
GIN JENNY: Uh-huh.
WHISKEY JENNY: She— I guess it’s in the second one, and she’s at that conference.
GIN JENNY: Oh great, I think we’re on the same page. Continue.
WHISKEY JENNY: Okay, so she’s at a conference for work, in a professional capacity—
GIN JENNY: A work, professional conference.
WHISKEY JENNY: For her job. Like, as a part of her job, and her job sent her there, and it’s very professional and work-affiliated, right? And at this conference, she goes up on stage at a BDSM presentation. And I was extremely not comfortable with that in a work setting.
GIN JENNY: Same. Additionally, after this happened, she’s like, oh, BDSM, maybe that’s for me. Which is fine, that’s a fine thing for her to discover. And her friend Aditi, keeps being like, oh, you should go to all this other BDSM stuff at this conference. And Michelle keeps saying, well, I’m here for work. And Aditi keeps being like, live a little!
WHISKEY JENNY: She’s there for work, Aditi! [LAUGHTER] It’s okay if she doesn’t want to go to BDSM dungeons! She can explore dungeons on her own personal time, because it’s a personal thing!
GIN JENNY: A work event is not the time to explore your newfound interest in BDSM. Also, they live in New York City!
WHISKEY JENNY: Hard cosign! Hard cosign!
GIN JENNY: Also, if that’s something she wants to look into, they live in New York City. I am very confident that she can find plenty of opportunities to explore this new interest outside of her work.
WHISKEY JENNY: I couldn’t agree more.
GIN JENNY: I’m so glad that— yes. This was the biggest thing for me in this section. I couldn’t get over it.
WHISKEY JENNY: Me neither! It’s a big thing!
GIN JENNY: Number one, she just had relationship turmoil, so maybe she’s making bad decisions. But the fact that her friends are like, oh yeah, you should definitely do this at your work conference is insane.
WHISKEY JENNY: I can’t even— I’m imagining doing that and my skin hurts. [LAUGHTER] In front of colleagues— oh my god.
GIN JENNY: And it was funny because almost immediately before that, we got to see Michelle kind of step out— because we’ve seen her mostly in a work context, and she’s been very work-focused. And we see her being really nice to Aditi at Booklovers Con— she notices Aditi’s having a panic attack, and she takes her into the bathroom for a pep talk. And it was nice to see her just being a friend, and I was like, oh man, this is great, seeing Michelle in other elements besides her work. But then this whole BDSM thing arose, and I was like, nope, I take it back. She’s got to be more professional.
WHISKEY JENNY: She needs to stop blurring those lines. Bring the lines back.
GIN JENNY: I’ve gotten really into reading Ask a Manager this year, and I’m pretty confident that Ask a Manager would say this is not appropriate for work.
WHISKEY JENNY: I agree with Ask a Manager and you. No kind of exploring of your sexual life is appropriate at work.
GIN JENNY: Mhm. Mhm. Good lines to draw.
WHISKEY JENNY: I didn’t know we’d need to draw them, but yeah. okay, so that’s super, super at the top of my list to talk about.
GIN JENNY: Yes. My second thing— and I wasn’t so much judging choices in this case as I was disappointed. I was a little bit sad that we find out that Aditi isn’t actually doing polyamory, she and her husband.
WHISKEY JENNY: This is the exact same thing. Yeah.
GIN JENNY: So it turns out her husband is gay and closeted, and she’s his beard. So that’s their situation. And that’s fine, but I feel like I almost never see polyamorous people at all in fiction, and I was excited for that representation to occur. And I was sad that it’s not, after all.
WHISKEY JENNY: I was, too. I was really disappointed. Really bummed. That was also the second thing that I wanted to mention, so I’m glad that we’re both on the same page on that.
GIN JENNY: Wow, we really are on the same page. Damn.
WHISKEY JENNY: Really are.
GIN JENNY: Those two things occupied a lot of my thinking as I was reading this section. But I will say it was nice to have a couple of the characters in the same place.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah. I think that was the first time that we finally got to see that, and that was nice. I do still really like the Slack chat, though, so I hope that that— just keep having more of that, please.
GIN JENNY: I did have a note. There’s a part where Elli asks why Christina doesn’t sleep with people she likes, and Taneesha and Christina both act like that’s a very naive question. And I don’t think it is. I think even if you’re having casual sex, you can have the casual sex with people that you like as people. I don’t think that’s a weird or naive question to ask at all. But they’re all like, oh Elli, you’re such a darling little fairy of a person. A woodland animal.
WHISKEY JENNY: A, I wrote down that Elli needs to stop being a magical woodland sprite. I am not on board with that characterization. I don’t like it. But B, I think all the points that you made were right. I took it more as they were saying she was being naive about Christina in particular, and not casual sex in general.
GIN JENNY: Okay, I’ll accept that. I agree the characterization of her as a woodland nymph will quickly become too much, so I hope they steer away from that.
WHISKEY JENNY: I am super on board for the new romance between—
GIN JENNY: Oh, Taneesha and the comic store guy, or gaming guy.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yes. I’m really excited about this burgeoning romance. Taneesha is so reluctant at first, because her brother introduced them. And she was so not excited, and was making snarky comments about the comic book store, even though it sounds basically like a perfect utopia of a comic book store. [LAUGHTER] And I was like, Taneesha, you need to get on board!
GIN JENNY: But it seems like now she’s getting on board.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah, and started describing how good he looked in sweaters and stuff. And I was like, good, good. Here we are. Here we are at the appropriate level of excitement about this person.
GIN JENNY: I feel like Taneesha is the only one making good choices consistently.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah, speaking of bad choices, Elli only brought one book for a cross-country trip.
GIN JENNY: Oh, Elli, come on.
WHISKEY JENNY: I was so confused by this point, when she’s sad that she doesn’t know what to do with herself on the plane because she finished it. But she only brought one.
GIN JENNY: Number one, that’s crazy. Number two, we live in an era of e-readers. Why doesn’t she have books on her phone or something? Right? Goddammit, Elli.
WHISKEY JENNY: I know not everyone likes to read, but if you are a person who likes read on a plane and you know that you have a very long plane trip coming up, wouldn’t you you prepare for it? Eh, bring a book? Like, more than one, maybe? I don’t know. Especially if you’re almost done with one of them. [LAUGHTER]
GIN JENNY: Yeah, I agree. Elli’s going to have to— I think Elli is my least favorite, and I think she’s going to have to do some positive things to earn her way back into my affection. I did like it that she called the Super Bowl the Superb Owl.
WHISKEY JENNY: That was sweet, yeah.
GIN JENNY: I’m going to call it that if teams are playing that I like. Any year the Party Tots are not in the Super Bowl, I’m going to call it the Superb Owl.
WHISKEY JENNY: Party Tots! [LAUGHTER]
GIN JENNY: Down with the Party Tots.
WHISKEY JENNY: No, down with them, but I like the name.
GIN JENNY: I love the name. I’m trying to infect everyone I know with the Party Tots name usage. So far it’s going great.
WHISKEY JENNY: Great, great. I also think you’re right, in that Michelle needs to start making more lines, and have the method of communication where she talks to Aditi about work stuff, and a method of communication where she talks to Aditi about friendship stuff. And it can’t be the same method of communication in front of all of your other friends. That’s not cool.
GIN JENNY: Agreed. Can’t do it in the Slack channel. Do it in a single-person text, or a phone call, or a private email.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah, like a professional email from your professional email address. I don’t know, just a thought.
GIN JENNY: I’m concerned Michelle doesn’t know how to do work.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah, I think a lot of my notes are like, Michelle, have professional boundaries. What are you doing? Which is really surprising, because she’s the workaholic of the group.
GIN JENNY: [SIGH] Lord.
WHISKEY JENNY: Was there anything else you wanted to chat about?
GIN JENNY: No, that was it. I enjoyed these two chapters, although I was very annoyed about a number of things in them. I still enjoy all their friendships. I really enjoy Taneesha’s plotlines, and I’m excited to see more of her and adorable comic store guy.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah. Just wearing sweaters and having great forearms. [LAUGHTER] If that’s not explicit, then it’s certainly implied, that he has great forearms.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, I just assumed. Well, speaking of friendship—
WHISKEY JENNY: Great segue.
GIN JENNY: —our topic for this week. Thank you. This week we wanted to talk about literary friendships. And we took slightly different approaches this week, so I’m excited to hear what you have to say, Whiskey Jenny.
WHISKEY JENNY: I’m excited to hear what you have to say. Yay, friendship!
GIN JENNY: Because you made a taxonomy, right?
WHISKEY JENNY: I did!
GIN JENNY: Oh boy.
WHISKEY JENNY: So we talked about—and I’m so sorry. I wild carded, and deviated from our agreed upon plan and told you about it an hour before we started recording.
GIN JENNY: It’s true.
WHISKEY JENNY: So sorry about that.
GIN JENNY: That’s okay. That’s what keeps the podcast interesting.
WHISKEY JENNY: The flame alive. [LAUGHTER] So we had talked about each picking five friendships, or five books with friendships in them, that we really like. And I failed at that, so instead I picked four categories of friendship books that I really enjoy. But I think you did what we talked about.
GIN JENNY: I did. I had a follow-up question. Was it that you couldn’t think of friendships in books that you were really into?
WHISKEY JENNY: No, I do have some that I’m really into. It was difficult, and I think there’s a real dearth of literature about great friendships. They’re always going to be second fiddle to romances. But there were certainly a lot that I wanted to talk about, and it was also easier to see the through lines and group them in little groups.
GIN JENNY: Oh interesting. I’m so fascinated. I have to confess that one of my friendships, they’re also in love. But—
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, okay. I mean, that’s fine. I just, I think— listen, I’m disappointed. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. [LAUGHTER]
GIN JENNY: No, let me hedge my bets slightly. Number one— okay, I was about to say they might not have been banging, but they definitely were. But number two, what I was actually going to say is, they were friends first, which is Alexander the Great and Hephaistion in Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy.
And these dudes were the very best of friends in real life. Alexander is the supreme emperor of the whole world, and Hephaistion is just a guy who plays with his hair and reads over his shoulder. And that’s from history. But I understand that it’s slightly cheating, because almost certainly they were also banging.
WHISKEY JENNY: I think you can still be into their friendship, but I just think it’s telling that it was so hard to find friendship stories that either, A, they aren’t friends to lovers, or B, aren’t super tragic YA stories.
GIN JENNY: Oh, interesting. Are there a lot of tragic YA friendship stories?
WHISKEY JENNY: I’m mostly mad, still, at Bridge to Terabithia, I’m sorry. [LAUGHTER]
GIN JENNY: I was actually thinking of a totally different one, which makes me think this is a thing.
WHISKEY JENNY: What were you thinking of?
GIN JENNY: Well, I don’t want to spoil it.
WHISKEY JENNY: Have I read it? Do you think I’ve read it?
GIN JENNY: I don’t know.
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, spoil it.
GIN JENNY: Okay. I was thinking of We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart.
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, yeah, I read that.
GIN JENNY: Oh, okay, cool.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah, again, super tragic.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, I started it and I was like, no. This is far too tragic. I quit.
WHISKEY JENNY: It was good, but it was real sad.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, it looked too sad. I’ll read her new book.
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, does she have a new book?
GIN JENNY: She does. I don’t really know what it’s about, but it has a bunch of— like, a hank of blond hair on the cover.
WHISKEY JENNY: Eugh.
GIN JENNY: I have no further information. [LAUGHTER]
WHISKEY JENNY: In a creepy way, or—?
GIN JENNY: Um, I think in an ambiguous way.
WHISKEY JENNY: Euch. All right.
GIN JENNY: So I guess you’re not going to run out to the library.
WHISKEY JENNY: Certainly not based on cover.
GIN JENNY: All right, well, tell me one of your friendship categories, because I’m interested to see how my picks fit into that.
WHISKEY JENNY: Okay, so the first one is maybe a cop out, but the first one is high school friends. And in particular, the high school friends where you have that particular relationship where you just want to spend 100% of your time with them, and in fact you do end up spending most of your time with those people or that person, and they’re the world. That’s your world.
GIN JENNY: Aw. Yeah.
WHISKEY JENNY: And I feel like that is unique about high school friendships, and that it’s very hard to recreate that later in life.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, because you’re never spending that much time with a single person ever again.
WHISKEY JENNY: Exactly, yeah. There’s just a volume issue. It’s true.
GIN JENNY: Well, and it’s interesting, because I feel like, with those friendships in real life, not only do both of you get older and change a lot— you change a lot after high school— but also the geographic considerations often no longer apply. So I agree, I like reading about friendships in high school, because it kind of puts me back to that time when I was able to— I don’t want to say— I have a lot of great friendships now. I just—
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, yeah, no, absolutely.
GIN JENNY: But to have that thing where you’re just so intertwined in all the ways.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah. And you just do nothing together. Like, you go to the gas station, and that’s what you do for a night, is you go to the gas station. Which is like, if someone today was like, hey, you want to go to the gas station, I’d be like, what?
GIN JENNY: Pass. [LAUGHTER]
WHISKEY JENNY: I don’t think so. Why? Why do you want to go? [LAUGHTER]
GIN JENNY: Is this code for something?
WHISKEY JENNY: Is it a speakeasy? I don’t— [LAUGHTER] My example for this is, I think Sarah Dessen’s really good about this kind of friendship. There’s one where there’s a band, and they also all live together. And they’re just really comfortable together with each other and spend 100% of their time together.
And there’s another one that’s about making high school friends. And at first our main character does not like this other girl, or thinks that she is too girly for her to be friends with, and then they form a grudging respect—
GIN JENNY: [GASP] Oh my gosh!
WHISKEY JENNY: And she learns that you don’t just have to be girly— or you don’t have to not be girly. And in sum, I really like Sarah Dessen. [LAUGHTER] But so many books do this well, also.
GIN JENNY: Yes, agreed. I think one of my list of favorite friendships I think falls into this, which is the kids in Year of the Griffin, by Diana Wynne Jones, which is so great. It’s about these six young adults who all come to a boarding school for magic!
WHISKEY JENNY: Boarding school for magic! What!?
GIN JENNY: Yeah. And one of them’s a dwarf, and one of them is a griffin, and they become the best of friends. And each of them is there a little bit sub rosa. Claudia, one of them is a mixed-race sister of this emperor, and the people in the empire don’t like her and are racist against her, so they don’t want her learning magic. And one of them is the son of a broke king who also doesn’t want his son learning magic. And one of them is under sentence of death from where he comes from.
WHISKEY JENNY: [GASP] Death!
GIN JENNY: I know. One of them was on the run from a pirate gang. Not a fun one.
WHISKEY JENNY: [SHOCKED] Not a fun one!?
GIN JENNY: Yeah, a really grim one.
WHISKEY JENNY: Boo.
GIN JENNY: So over the course of the book, there comes a time when each of their pasts catches up with them. And they all really just band together to help each other out and take care of each other. And it’s really sweet. And they’re all obsessed with each other in that high school way. They all really enjoy spending time with each other. And they all like sharing ideas about magic and talking about the kind of magic they want to do. It’s great. Okay, what’s your second category?
WHISKEY JENNY: My second category is friendships where you know each other super well, and you’re able to make choices for each other and decisions for the other person. I think it’s interesting that you don’t really talk about, gosh, we really need to rekindle the fire of when we first met in friendships. Nobody wants to do that. The point that you want to get to is like, you know each other so well, and you’re super comfortable with each other, and you watch Netflix together. Like, that’s the goal for friendships. I don’t want to go back to a time where I was wondering if someone wanted to be friends with me. Ever.
GIN JENNY: I have two things on this. Number one, I never stop wondering if people want to be friends with me. And number two, I thought this was true of everyone also. I was like, yeah that’s the point everyone wants to get to, the just hang out and watch Netflix and drink wine together point, where you just know each other super well.
WHISKEY JENNY: If you tell me that’s not what everyone wants, I’m not going to believe you.
GIN JENNY: I’m telling you.
WHISKEY JENNY: How can that be?
GIN JENNY: I don’t know what to tell you. My friend loves meeting new people and becoming friends for the first time. It’s her favorite thing.
WHISKEY JENNY: I don’t know what to say.
GIN JENNY: I don’t either. She also told me she loves going on first dates, and I was like, that cannot be.
WHISKEY JENNY: What!?
GIN JENNY: She’s like, it’s so fun! You get to know people for the first time, you have all new topics to discuss.
WHISKEY JENNY: Well, we’re extremely different people. [LAUGHTER]
GIN JENNY: So I’m just saying, if there’s one person out there like that—
WHISKEY JENNY: There’s some magical unicorns out there. I would be interested to hear what the Twitter breakdown of our listeners is.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, listeners, please let us know. Do you like going on first dates and first friendship outings, or would you prefer to be old, comfortable friends? The better one.
WHISKEY JENNY: Because I really like reading about old, comfortable friends. My example for this is Kate and Cecelia in Sorcery and— Chocolate Pots?
GIN JENNY: Cecelia?
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, it’s Sorcery and Cecelia. You know, I’ve always been annoyed at that. Because Kate’s also a main character, and she doesn’t get title billing. But anyway.
GIN JENNY: I believe it’s because of alliteration.
WHISKEY JENNY: So that the epistolary novel. And even though they’re writing to each other and they don’t get the usual hang out that you would often be able to see this sort of interaction, I think they do a great job of still imparting those details that show you how well they know each other. And Cecelia is always recommending colors for Kate to wear, because she knows what looks good on her what doesn’t look good on her. And Kate always knows the fun detail that Cecelia would really enjoy about the story that she’s telling, and can do callbacks to their previous adventures with the goats and stuff. And it’s really delightful.
To me it’s really beautiful when someone knows you that well, and is correct in being like, oh you’re not going to want that turquoise sweater. And you’re like, you’re right. It looks bad on me. Great job.
GIN JENNY: That is really sweet.
WHISKEY JENNY: When you were up here recently, we went to a comic book store ourselves together. It was great. And we’re both intimidated by a comic book stores, and this was a lovely experience. So thanks, comic book store.
But the guy offered to give us recommendations, so I asked for superheroes having everyday lives, like Hawkeye. And he was like, ooh, specific. All right. But then he started recommending me stuff, and eventually started saying the recommendation to both Gin Jenny and I, to see whether Gin Jenny also thought that I would like it. Because she could immediately be like, oh no, she’s not going to want that terrible story.
GIN JENNY: Heavens no. [LAUGHTER]
WHISKEY JENNY: Put that back right now, before she even sees it. It was extremely beautiful and helpful.
GIN JENNY: Oh, good. Well, who knows? I could have been wrong and kept you from comics that would have changed your life.
WHISKEY JENNY: I don’t think that’s what happened.
GIN JENNY: I don’t either, actually.
WHISKEY JENNY: Do you have one that falls in this category?
GIN JENNY: I do. So far this is mapping really well onto the ones that I chose. So I think for this one I would say Ilse and Emily from the Emily of New Moon books. You actually do get to see them becoming friends, but by the second book they just know each other incredibly well. It’s really lovely, and when they are having conflicts in their friendship, it always makes me really sad. And I’m always just really wanting them to get back together, because they’re awesome friends. They get each other, and it’s great.
WHISKEY JENNY: In researching this topic, doing just a basic Google for best friendship books, Anne of Green Gables pops up a lot. And I don’t think that I would put the Diana and Anne relationship in my friendship goals.
GIN JENNY: I don’t think I would, either.
WHISKEY JENNY: So that’s disappointing. I’ll admit that that book has some flaws.
GIN JENNY: Well, all books have flaws. I mean, it’s not a fatal flaw. Diana’s kind of boring, is the problem.
WHISKEY JENNY: I wish I didn’t think that she was, because she’s lovely, but yeah.
GIN JENNY: You know she’s like? She’s like what people— I feel like there’s been a Hufflepuff renaissance, and I feel like Diana is what people thought of Hufflepuffs before the Hufflepuff renaissance. Like, real sweet, but dumb.
WHISKEY JENNY: Aw, Diana. [LAUGHTER] Also, I’m excited that there’s a Hufflepuffaissance, apparently.
GIN JENNY: Oh, nice. That’s better. I regret my choices.
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, thank you.
GIN JENNY: All right, onward. What’s your next category?
WHISKEY JENNY: Onward. It is teams.
GIN JENNY: Teams. Great.
WHISKEY JENNY: I love a team. I think that one of the reasons that I in particular like the Navy SEAL books, or something like the Art of Fielding is because it’s a bunch of dude friendships in all-dude spaces that I am not invited to, and get to be a fly on the wall. Not in a creep— wait, not in a creepy way!
GIN JENNY: I didn’t think it was creepy until you said that. Then I was like, oh yeah, I guess that could be construed, sure.
WHISKEY JENNY: I get to have a perspective, I guess, on interactions in that sort of relationship that I wouldn’t normally. So I like a team. I love all kinds of teams, but I will mention in particular, I like the Navy SEAL teams. And The Art of Fielding, obviously.
GIN JENNY: Of course. And I think our love of teams is well-documented on this podcast.
WHISKEY JENNY: They have banter. They can banter really well. Team banter is the best. On a team you often have an older sibling, younger sibling relationship in there. It’s great.
GIN JENNY: Yeah. Well, none of the friendships that I chose for podcast really fall into teams, which is kind of off brand for me.
WHISKEY JENNY: That is surprising.
GIN JENNY: I know, but here we are.
WHISKEY JENNY: Here we find ourselves. Well, do you want me to say the last one, and then you can say your final two?
GIN JENNY: Yes, say the last one. Maybe it will encompass my other two.
WHISKEY JENNY: Okay, so my last one is regular friendships that get super tested and pushed to the limits. So Sam and Frodo, I was thinking of, in Lord of the Rings. And also Pippin and Merry. They’re great too. But they’re just totally normal people who normally would have just been normal friends, who go over to dinner once in a while and hang out. And they end up having to go on this— which is part of the appeal of those books, is that they’re normal people having to do these extraordinary things. But in particular, they’re having to do these extraordinary things for each other, and carry each other through all those situations, and put their bond through the fire.
GIN JENNY: Yeah. Sometimes literally.
WHISKEY JENNY: Sometimes literally. I think I would put Code Name Verity in that same category, maybe.
GIN JENNY: Oh, yeah.
WHISKEY JENNY: There’s probably a whole bunch of World War II books that fall into this.
GIN JENNY: I was going to say, my one that kind of fits into the category is a World War II book.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah. I also just want to note that a neighbor of my parents named his dog Samwise Gamgee, and it was a yellow lab.
GIN JENNY: Awww!
WHISKEY JENNY: And I don’t think a dog has ever been better named.
GIN JENNY: That’s really sweet. That’s such a good name for a dog.
WHISKEY JENNY: I know, right!
GIN JENNY: Oh my gosh. Well, I don’t know if this counts, but I think it does. I was thinking of Max and Liesel in The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.
WHISKEY JENNY: That 1,000% counts. Good lord.
GIN JENNY: Right? Yeah. So Liesel’s an orphan in Germany during World War II. And her foster parents take in Max, who’s a Jewish guy, and they hide him in their basement. And it’s just really moving. Liesel is haunted by bad dreams and loves to read. And Max, of course, is on the run from the Germans, so he’s stuck in the basement all the time. And he makes her a book, which is just so lovely. It’s a palimpsest that he paints on top of his copy of Mein Kampf and makes Liesel this book. Oh gosh, it’s just very moving.
WHISKEY JENNY: Golly, that book.
GIN JENNY: Oh man. [SIGH] That book is rough.
WHISKEY JENNY: It is.
GIN JENNY: I’m planning to do a rereading project for next year, where I go back and revisit some books that I don’t feel I’ve reread enough. And I thought about doing The Book Thief, but I’m not sure I can face it.
WHISKEY JENNY: I don’t know if this is the time.
GIN JENNY: Yeah. Well, Whiskey Jenny, is that all of your categories? I’m just shocked grudging respect has not featured.
WHISKEY JENNY: I think that I like that for— that applies to everything.
GIN JENNY: Just across the board.
WHISKEY JENNY: There’s grudging respect in all of those categories. Just like any time I always like grudging respect.
GIN JENNY: All right, fair enough Yeah well, my last one is a grudging respect friendship, which is Dessa and Hope in Peas and Carrots, by Tanita Davis, which is a middle grade book about a girl who is fostered into a family that has a teenage daughter her same age. And Hope, the family’s biological daughter, is very straitlaced and serious, and Dessa’s more of a wild card, and they become really genuine allies after a rocky start. And it’s just so lovely. It’s a lovely book and a lovely friendship.
WHISKEY JENNY: Hooray
GIN JENNY: Hooray. I don’t like it when people are supposed to be friends but they’re mean to each other. That happens in fiction kind of a lot, and I hate it.
WHISKEY JENNY: No, it’s no good.
GIN JENNY: What was that book we read that they did that, and they were mean to each other? The lady friendship book where they cooked the fancy meals?
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, Rich and Pretty.
GIN JENNY: Rich and Pretty! Yeah, that was an example of the thing I do not care for. Gosh, what jerks.
WHISKEY JENNY: How dare they? How dare they? [LAUGHTER]
GIN JENNY: That’s not how lady friendship should be.
WHISKEY JENNY: No, indeed.
GIN JENNY: Well, do you want to talk about Umami?
WHISKEY JENNY: Yes. Do you want to talk about it?
GIN JENNY: I do. I desperately do, yes.
WHISKEY JENNY: I meant do you want to do a little—
GIN JENNY: Oh, I understand.
WHISKEY JENNY: —sum up.
GIN JENNY: I gotcha. All right. So for this podcast we read Umami, by Laia Jufresa, translated by Sophie Hughes. And it is about this residential street occupied by all these different families, and the houses on the street correspond to the different—
WHISKEY JENNY: Taste bud areas and the tongue?
GIN JENNY: —taste bud areas on the tongue, exactly. So the Sweet and Salty houses are occupied by Ana’s family. The sour house belongs to Ana’s best friend, Pina. And her father Beto is raising her alone, because the mother has left. The bitter house is Marina, who is a single woman who has had some struggles with mental illness. And then at the end of the lane is the landlord’s house where Alfonso and his wife Noelia live. And Noelia has died. Yeah, so that’s the book. Whiskey Jenny, what did you think of it?
WHISKEY JENNY: I thought it was great. What did you think of it?
GIN JENNY: I really liked it. I liked it a lot. My mother looked it up when I told her we were reading it for podcast, and she read all these reviews that said not much happens in it. So I was kind of worried about that, but I think it worked in my favor. I think my expectations were lowered, and then I ended up really loving it.
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, good. I can see how that would be a critique of it.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, me too.
WHISKEY JENNY: Particularly because it jumps around into all the different perspectives, so there’s not a super obvious arc or throughline. But yeah, I found it really beautiful. There’s a lot of just gorgeous writing about grief and the self. And it was a delight.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, I thought so, too. Across the board I thought the writing was great. I wrote down like 15 quotes from this book.
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh yeah, same. You know what I learned that you can do on the Kindle that was really helpful for this book, is you can email yourself all your highlights.
GIN JENNY: Oh, that’s amazing!
WHISKEY JENNY: Isn’t that so great?
GIN JENNY: Yeah, that’s really great. There’s a part where— so the structure of the book is that there’s three sections. And each section has, each successive chapter jumps backward by, I think, a year. Is that right?
WHISKEY JENNY: I don’t know. I could not figure out what was going on with the years, so I gave up.
GIN JENNY: I am astonished. Usually you are very persistent in discovering what’s going on.
WHISKEY JENNY: I know! This is my one— I couldn’t do it. This is my one complaint. I was like, I can’t figure out if these are important or what’s happening. I can’t do it!
GIN JENNY: Well anyway, there’s a part where the little— because you find out almost immediately that Ana’s youngest sister has died. And the chapters that are farthest back in time, the younger sister is actually the narrator. And there’s a part where she says, the little girl says, “My brothers are always saying I’m a scaredy cat, but it’s not true. Only when I get scared is it a little bit true.”
WHISKEY JENNY: Aww.
GIN JENNY: And I just thought that was sweetest thing.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah, oh man. Gosh, the Luz chapters were really hard to read. Because you do find out, even before you start reading about her, that she passed away. And it was nerve-wracking, even though— I don’t know if this is a spoiler, but even though Gin Jenny told me she did not die on the page, it was just so poignant to have that perspective after the fact.
GIN JENNY: It was. Especially because you find out how she died, and it becomes clear when you’re reading her chapters that you’re reading about the last few days of her life. So it was— I agree, it was hard to read. I was relieved when I skipped forward and discovered that she doesn’t die on the page, because that would have been really rough.
WHISKEY JENNY: It would have been brutal. But her chapters and the younger people’s chapters, also— [LAUGHTER] the younger people. The kids these days— I thought were very unsettling in their descriptions of childhood. And it reminded me a lot of the Elena Ferrante book that we read, about how creepy they made childhood sound. It’s creepy sometimes. It’s not wrong.
GIN JENNY: Yeah. But I thought everyone in this book was less terrible than in the Elena Ferrante books.
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, definitely, definitely. There’s a scene where someone is scratching the alphabet— there’s a kid at the pool who’s scratching the alphabet into people’s hands until they start bleeding and can’t take it anymore. And A, I was like, this sounds like the worst game ever. Do not want to buy. [LAUGHTER] But B, that sort of physical— not body horror, but the big physicality of childhood, I thought was well-portrayed.
GIN JENNY: Yes. Yes, well-described. I was really impressed at how smoothly it seemed to have been translated. There were so many quotes that I thought were beautiful, and that must be hard in a translated book already. But also this book has a lot of wordplay, and jokes about words, and discussion of language. I just can’t imagine how difficult that must have been to translate from Spanish into English.
WHISKEY JENNY: So I was curious about that, too, and I looked it up a little.
GIN JENNY: Oh boy.
WHISKEY JENNY: And the author and the translator have done some interviews together where they talked about the process and how they worked super closely together, what sounds like more closely together than the usual author-translator relationship.
GIN JENNY: Aw, that’s wonderful.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah, and she wrote some new stuff for the English translation. There’s a part where— gosh, what is her name? Marina?
GIN JENNY: Marina.
WHISKEY JENNY: Marina. Marina does a lot of the wordplay, and in particular there’s a part where she is saying the Lord’s Prayer— she start saying the Lord’s Prayer but then transforms it.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, that was cool.
WHISKEY JENNY: And they tried a direct translation and it just didn’t work. So they redid the Lord’s Prayer in English and then played around with it the same way that she did in Spanish. So it’s totally different. Isn’t that really cool?
GIN JENNY: Yeah.
WHISKEY JENNY: I was really excited to hear about that. So I think maybe they did some of the same things with the color names that Marina makes up. The just, rather than having it be a direct translation, they rewrote it. And that process was fascinating to me to hear about.
GIN JENNY: Cool.
WHISKEY JENNY: I know, right?
GIN JENNY: Oh, man, can you possibly send me those interviews so I can link them in the show notes?
WHISKEY JENNY: Yep.
GIN JENNY: Okay, awesome. We will drop those interviews in the show notes, then. Was there anyone in the story that you did not like?
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, gosh. You know how I don’t like a deadbeat parent.
GIN JENNY: Oh, absolutely.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, so, Chela.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah.
GIN JENNY: Yeah. I don’t know how much you’re supposed to like her.
WHISKEY JENNY: That’s fair. No, you’re right.
GIN JENNY: So apart from her, you liked everyone?
WHISKEY JENNY: I think so. I’m trying to think. Was there anyone you didn’t like?
GIN JENNY: No, I liked everyone. I thought the book was very compassionate towards everyone, even Chela, and just made the characters’ good qualities pop, even when they were in very difficult situations.
WHISKEY JENNY: I have one criticism.
GIN JENNY: Okay, go. Was is it?
WHISKEY JENNY: Just the one. So what is the guy, the landlord’s name?
GIN JENNY: Alfonso.
WHISKEY JENNY: Thank you so much. Alfonso. I guess this is kind of a spoiler. Alfonso— [LAUGHTER]
GIN JENNY: I think I know what this is about.
WHISKEY JENNY: Alfonso keeps talking about The Girls in all caps, and taking care of The Girls, and making sure The Girls are cleaned properly, and he puts The Girls out to get some sun that morning. And it’s pretty clear that they’re not human children.
GIN JENNY: I thought they were rabbits.
WHISKEY JENNY: I thought they were plants. [LAUGHTER] But so it’s pretty obvious, and yet I think the book tries to be a little bit coyer than it’s successful at in making you think oh, who are The Girls?
GIN JENNY: Yes.
WHISKEY JENNY: I didn’t like that coyness, and I just wanted it to be upfront from the beginning about the fact that they’re dolls.
GIN JENNY: I agree with that completely. Also, when I was reading this book, they talk about Alfonso and his wife acquiring these dolls. They’re incredibly realistic dolls, and they get them— they’re called reborns. And I was like, man, this is a wacky thing for this book to invent. This whole plotline is crazy. So I googled them, and reborn dolls are real. Were you aware of this subculture, Whiskey Jenny, before reading this book?
WHISKEY JENNY: I don’t think I knew what it was called, but I didn’t think it was made up by this book. I was like—
GIN JENNY: Really? Huh. So, I mean, had you heard of the notion? Not the name, but were you aware that this was something people did?
WHISKEY JENNY: I think I’d heard of the notion, yeah.
GIN JENNY: Oh, interesting. Okay, well, I have never heard of this, and it is crazy to me. There’s this— I hope listeners are not huge reborns fans and are going to be mad at me, but— listeners, number one, I do not advise that you google them, because they’re very alarming to look at.
WHISKEY JENNY: Ooh, are they uncanny valley?
GIN JENNY: Yeah. Well, I— there’s just a lot of types that you don’t want there to be.
WHISKEY JENNY: Types?
GIN JENNY: Yeah, there’s NICU reborns.
WHISKEY JENNY: Oh, god.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, it’s I mean it’s so weird. Yeah so what they are is their baby dolls that have been adapted to look incredibly lifelike. And some of them, they’ll even put little inflatable bladders inside their bodies so it looks like they’re breathing. And they also just modify them to look as much as possible like real human babies.
And something that Alfonso mentions in his section, which turns out to be true, is that police have broken into cars to rescue what they thought were live human children, and they were actually these dolls. This is just a wild subculture to me. Again, I don’t advise googling them. They’re really creepy.
WHISKEY JENNY: It kind of made sense in the book, but I also thought it was a strange character choice to make for Alfonso and his wife.
GIN JENNY: For anyone, really.
WHISKEY JENNY: For anyone, really, yeah. But I was surprised that that’s where this character went.
GIN JENNY: Yes. Me too. Because Noelia, the wife, is the one who pushes for this. And up until that point, she seems incredibly down-to-earth, and then she makes this very strange choice. And it is. It’s odd.
WHISKEY JENNY: Speaking of Noelia, though, she’s I guess one of the “ghost” characters. Alfonso is, in particular, grieving her, and then the family is grieving their daughter. And those passages are in particular, I thought, just really gorgeous about grief, and living your life after such a huge loss, and the kinds of things that you end up missing. And that was definitely one of the highlights for me.
GIN JENNY: Yes, me too. I mean, really, the writing was just so lovely. I did write down a ton of stuff, both that I thought was very beautiful, and stuff that I thought was very funny. Which is— those are two separate skill sets, and I was really impressed that this book incorporated both.
WHISKEY JENNY: Very beautiful, very funny, and very emotionally true. Very difficult to hit all of those things.
GIN JENNY: Yeah. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about this book from more— I was surprised I hadn’t heard more about it.
WHISKEY JENNY: I was going to ask how you heard about it originally.
GIN JENNY: It was in the NPR Book Concierge a couple of years ago. And I love the NPR Book Concierge. They were totally right in this case. But still, it just seemed surprising that I didn’t hear about it from other review outlets anywhere. I mean really, I just thought it was excellent in a lot of different ways. I would have expected it to get maybe award attention. I was confused.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I guess translation is often a difficult sell for people.
GIN JENNY: Yeah, that’s true. Well, listeners, I really recommend this. If you can get it at the library or buy it, I would definitely suggest you do so. I thought it was great.
WHISKEY JENNY: Same.
GIN JENNY: Well, Whiskey Jenny, do you want to tell us what we’re reading for next time? Because this was your brilliant idea.
WHISKEY JENNY: I would! I’m really excited about this. Next time we are having Kay from Not Now, I’m Reading joining us, and we’re going to talk about fanfiction and read a long fanfiction recommended by Kay.
GIN JENNY: Of Kay’s choosing.
WHISKEY JENNY: And she’s going to let us bombarded her with questions— mostly me, because I am a fanfiction rookie. And I’m super excited.
GIN JENNY: I’m so excited. I think it’s going to be great.
WHISKEY JENNY: So we’re reading “Limited Release,” by rageprufrock, which is an X-Men fic.
GIN JENNY: Mhm. And I’ll link to it in the show notes, so if you guys want to read it and join us in talking and thinking about it for next time, you can do that. I think it’ll be great.
WHISKEY JENNY: Me, too. Very excited.
GIN JENNY: So Whiskey Jenny, before you take us out, we have a special announcement. As last year, we’re playing to do a gift guide podcast, which will be airing on December 13. And again, like last year, we would like to help you buy gifts for your loved ones this holiday season.
WHISKEY JENNY: It’s out of the goodness of our hearts, really.
GIN JENNY: We did this last year and it was super fun. And we also got feedback from, I think, three of the people that we gave ideas to— is that right, Whiskey Jenny?
WHISKEY JENNY: Maybe?
GIN JENNY: We got feedback from several of the people.
WHISKEY JENNY: Several! There you go.
GIN JENNY: And at least two of them said we did a good job. So that has been enough positive validation for us to bring it back for another year.
WHISKEY JENNY: That’s all it took was two of you.
GIN JENNY: Oh, also, if we gave you ideas last year and they were good or bad, we want to know about it so we can refine the algorithm. So all you have to do is go to readingtheend.co m/holidaygiftguide, all one word. And give us your name and some information about the person or people that you’re buying for. And on our December 13 podcast we will each give you at least one good idea of a book to get that person or people.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yes, but you have to get it in by December 6 so that we have time to record and spend time in our thinking chairs picking the great books to recommend.
GIN JENNY: Yeah. And thinking chairs is not figurative. We each have an actual thinking chair that we will be sitting in.
WHISKEY JENNY: Yes, we do. I would say they’re both glorious armchairs, right?
GIN JENNY: Yeah, yeah. I mean, Whiskey Jenny, you haven’t actually physically seen mine yet, but I think once you do you will agree, it’s a very strong thinking chair.
WHISKEY JENNY: I can’t wait.
GIN JENNY: So get your submissions in. We are very, very, very, very excited about this. And we will give you as many ideas as we can.
WHISKEY JENNY: Thanks for listening. This has been the Reading the End bookcast with the demographically similar Jennys. You can visit the blog at readingtheend.com. You can follow us on Twitter at readingtheend. We’re both on Goodreads as Whiskey Jenny and Gin Jenny. And you can email us— please do, we love hearing from listeners. Weigh in on the new versus old friendship great debate of our time. That email address is email@example.com. And if you’re listening to us on iTunes, please leave us a review.
And until next time, a quote from Umami. “What you miss are the habits, the little actions you took for granted only to realize that they were in fact the stuff of life. Except, in a way, they also turned out not to be because the world goes on spinning without them.”