Today in How to Make a Reader, I'm talking to two of my favorite readers, Kaytee Cobb and Meredith Monday Schwartz. Meredith Monday Schwartz is a married mom of 4, a full-time CEO of a large wedding website, and a new resident of Austin, Texas. Meredith has been an avid reader since she was 4. As an Enneagram Type 1w2 and a very introverted INFJ, Meredith reads to re-charge. Kaytee Cobb is a married to her best friend and the mom of four. She homeschools her kiddos and serves as the director (kind of like the principal) of her homeschool co-op. Kaytee is attempting to reach “professional” reading level by regularly devouring 200 or more books in a calendar year. She's an ESFJ, Type A, Enneagram 2w1, Obliger who loves personality tests. She enjoys being around people, but her favorite thing to talk to those people about is… books! Together, Meredith and Kaytee are the bookish best friends and hosts of the Currently Reading podcast.
Currently Reading is a podcast dedicated to the love of books and reading. Two bookish friends, Meredith Monday Schwartz and Kaytee Cobb, discuss what’s on their nightstands, in their earbuds, and on their Kindles right now, in addition to books they’ve loved forever. I fell in love with the Currently Reading podcast back in April when I saw a lot of other bookstagrammers and bloggers sharing an episode of the podcast featuring a what we'll call a strong opinion about bookstagram. I loved the episode and subsequently went back and listened to every single one. Along the way, I became completely smitten with Meredith and Kaytee as individuals, readers, and bookish best friends. I've gotten so many fantastic reading recommendations from Meredith and Kaytee including The Mother-in-Law, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, The Current, Tell Me Three Things, I could go on and on. Last week I had the great honor of appearing on an episode of Currently Reading and today I'm excited to dig deeper into Meredith and Kaytee's reading history.
What are your reading lives like now?
Kaytee: I’m constantly trying to squeeze in “just a few more minutes” of reading! That ends up equalling out to 240 books last year, which is a lot. I just had a Timehop memory in which my July 1st status update said I was up to 25 books for the year. And that was only 5 years ago. My, how times have changed. As for discussion, my FAVORITE place, of course, is our podcast, Currently Reading. I love talking to Meredith about books and I love how well she knows my taste. I also love that our listeners like to be part of the conversation. They are constantly sending us dissenting opinions, pressing books into our hands, and emailing us with great recs.
Meredith: Reading has always been an important part of my life, and, since starting Currently Reading, it's become an even bigger component. I've averaged 50-75 books a year for most of my adult life, but I'm track for 150 this year. That's what talking about books professionally will do to your reading life!
I love (and read) all kinds of fiction and non-fiction, but mysteries are my true wheelhouse.
As a teacher, I’m always curious about how people fell in love with reading. For you, was it primarily in the classroom, or outside it?
Kaytee: My mom is a big reader and she always has had wonderful taste in books and made reading a priority. She encouraged me in subtle ways to find books I love and sink fully into them. And then I had some really great teachers that made reading exciting and fruitful and delightful for me. So, I’d say *primarily* in the home, but supported strongly by my classroom experience.
Meredith: I fell in love with reading suuuuuper early. My grandmother was my caregiver mostly and she really encouraged that in me by reading aloud to me and putting quality, challenging books into my path.
How did you figure out your personal tastes in books?
Kaytee: I started by investigating my parents’ taste and delving into the books they kept on their own shelves. Then, my friends started to influence my taste as well in high school and college (thankfully, I have wonderful friends, and great co-workers). In my late 20s and early 30s, I started to read more broadly and now (mid-30s), I’ll pick up almost anything that sounds at least a little intriguing. I feel like librarians are under-utilized, but I also feel like I don’t often get GREAT recs from librarians. So, I usually hope that my kids ask me for recommendations instead of relying on someone who doesn’t know their taste as well as I do!
Meredith: My grandmother and then my Aunt Susan both influenced my taste. Susan especially, as I got older, helped me get into the mystery and true crime genres.
Did you do your required reading in high school? Did you read outside of assigned reading in high school?
Kaytee: I am an Obliger (a la Gretchen Rubin), so yes, I read my required reading in high school. However, most of it strikes me as rather forgettable. I read, and enjoyed Jane Eyre and The Great Gatsby, Fahrenheit 451, and The Joy Luck Club, but my most memorable reading experiences were extracurricular, books I picked up just because I was interested. These are like The 100 Secret Senses, David Sedaris, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and First Person Plural.
Meredith: I am an Enneagram 1, so I follow all rules. So, yes, I read everything assigned and liked much of it. I especially loved A Tale of Two Cities and all the Shakespeaere we read. In fact, I ended up getting a concentration in Shakespeare along with my English Degree in college I loved it so much. I had a great Freshman Year HS teacher who really made Shakespeare come alive.
I always read outside of school, though, my entire life, even whilst getting my English Degree in college.
Did you have a teacher in your life who helped you learn something new about yourself as a reader or appreciate books in a new way? What did they do that made a difference in your reading?
Kaytee: Ms. Foley was my Sophomore Honors English teacher and I actually talked about her recently on the podcast (Episode 41). She gave us a lot more leeway in our book choices and encouraged us to dialogue about them instead of just writing book reports. We were allowed to discuss and argue and gush together. I really loved that. (However, of note: I do not have a book club now, where I would probably get to do those things in person. I just do them virtually with Meredith every week).
Meredith: I had several great teachers, but Ms. Baker, my Junior Year English teacher was key to really making me believe that a) reading was a superpower and worth doing as a lifelong pursuit and b) that getting a degree in English was totally something smart people did. She also just had so much passion about whatever book we were discussing that even kids who hated reading loved her classes.
What is one book you LOVED reading in high school?
Kaytee: I absolutely loved Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I feel like he is the first author I can remember that literally made me cackle out loud while reading. I still pick up everything he puts together and cannot wait for his next release! I also cannot speak highly enough about The Giver by Lois Lowry. Dystopian literature, totally accessible to a middle grader, I loved it. Oh, yes, and Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Amazing survival book that made me love home but crave adventure!
Meredith: As mentioned, I loved A Tale of Two Cities. It was so alive. The characters felt so vivid and gritty and real. I was amazed a classic could be so accessible. And, I'll never forget reading Great Expectations and thinking "God, please don't let me turn out like Miss Havisham."
What is one book you HATED reading in high school?
Kaytee: OMG, I cannot with Animal Farm and 1984. These two novels, were required reading and almost killed it for me. I had to slog through every page, and they aren’t even that long!
Meredith: Nothing comes quickly to mind here, believe it or not.
What is one book you would love to see introduced in classrooms now?
Kaytee: I want everyone reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas when they are 15 or 16 years old. I want them picking up a book that is written in a new style, feels contemporary to where they are living now, is not small by any means, but sucks you in so much that the pages fly by. I want kids to LOVE reading, and see the way that it can open up a world that is entirely new to you, separate from your own experience (speaking from my middle-class white experience). But then I also think this book allows the kids who are not getting to see themselves reflected in required reading as a main character, a protagonist. With their world depicted there on the page. They are valued and important and worth rooting for.
Meredith: I think it's so key that we teach more diverse books that illustrate different life experiences. I'd like to see This is How It Always Is and The Hate U Give taught. Also, wouldn't Circe be wonderful to discuss alongside the Greek mythology studies?
If there was one additional piece of advice you could give teachers to help students enjoy their reading more, what would it be?
Kaytee: I want to encourage HS teachers to push their students, especially reluctant readers, toward audiobooks. Or make it a genuine option instead of acting like it’s a cheat. They are getting the full plot line, character development, and setting, but can listen while they complete chores or drive to their after school jobs, or what-have-you. I want them to encourage students to fit reading into their lives and make it a priority, so they have time to fall in love with it! I want them to assign a variety of books that have similar themes so that students feel some autonomy over their reading lives. (I’m picturing the reading program developed by the lead character in The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms. So good.)
Meredith: Get to know your school librarian and let her put some amazing books in your hands. Don't be afraid to read things that might not feel "you" right at the start. Be open. You might be surprised what you love.
What are you reading now?
Kaytee: The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates in paper (slow start... I'm only 30ish pages in and I started 2 days ago) and The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson on Kindle and Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale on audio.
Meredith: Dream Daughter by Diana Chamberlin and finishing Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry.
*Click here to listen to me as a guest on Currently Reading and be sure to subscribe to their pod in order to catch new episodes every Monday!
Shop for books mentioned in this post:
- The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
- The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
- The Current by Tim Johnston
- Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- The 100 Secret Senses by Amy Tan
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- 1984 by George Orwell
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel
- Circe by Madeline Miller
- The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms
- The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
- Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
- Dream Daughter by Diana Chamberlin
- Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
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