Episode 12: Rachel Palm on reading, writing, and following your whimsy

Welcome back to this week’s dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm.  On today’s episode, I have the pleasure of catching up with my dear friend Rachel Palm. As you’ll hear, we met in college and have stayed friends ever since. She is a lover of stories, music, beauty and tea (among other things). We had so much fun talking books today.

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Some of my favorite memories with Rachel from college involve her inviting a group of friends over for tea time. We would have tea (she had an electric kettle and a variety of lovely teas to choose from) and then we would sit around, chat, laugh, and tell stories. She even wrote a series of stories to read to us about several of our classmates as valiant knights, which were particularly humorous and delightful.

During the podcast, we talked a bit about our memories of  tea time, which we both miss quite a lot. We also talked about Rachel's writing. Rachel said she remembers giving me a piece of her writing for the first time, and I (according to her) with a quizzical look on my face, exclaimed, "There are things going on in your mind that I did not anticipate!" Since then, she's written a novel, which she is currently called Questing. She's finished the first draft and now is in the process of re-writing. She would love to see herself published one day.

Rachel Palm and Laura at an event during college (circa 2013)

Rachel and another one of our friends from university, Jewel, have been doing what they call Book Duo (or some other form of book club) since graduation. That's going on 6 years now! During the podcast, Rachel referenced several books they have read together. While I am not an official part of Book Duo, I often hear from both of them in conversation about the books they read, and sometimes they come to me for suggestions for what to read next. 

I asked Rachel what she looks for when she chooses books to read, and I loved the many answers she gave. Here are some of the things that are important to her:
  • A recommendation from a friend will make her much more likely to pick up a book
  • She prefers books that aren't brand new, as this means they have stood the test of time
  • Language and words that are used well. She loves vivid prose and well-constructed stories.
  • Fantasy fiction, especially for the quirkiness or whit, shedding light on real world issues through fictional description (e.g. Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde)
  • books on the spiritual life, letting her consider what it means to live in a God-honoring way  (e.g. Dallas Willard, C.S. Lewis)
  •  Recently she read some mysteries by Dorothy Sayers that she enjoyed 

Here are some of the books we talked about during the episode, before we ever got to our recommendations for each other: 

 Rachel mentioned she recently has been reading Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice by Belden C Lane - this is an example of the books that she enjoys about spirituality and spiritual practices.

When I asked Rachel about how she became a reader, and if there was a book that she remembers being pivotal, she mentioned The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter. This was the big book on her father's bookshelf that she decided to conquer. She grew up among siblings who loved to read, and would sit and pretend to read books before she learned to actually read.

We have both read and enjoyed The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - Rachel wanted to know if we can we please, please, please turn this into a television series? Apparently Jasper Fforde was a screen writer before he got into writing books, so this is totally doable. *Netflix, are you listening?!*

The Seven-and-a-Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton: Laura read this because Jewel recommended it. This is the book I brought up when Rachel asked me if there are any genre-bending books or books outside my comfort zone that I've read lately. This book is so dark and twisty and disorienting. Ultimately it was very interesting and I thought about it long after I read it! I even mentioned it to my local book club and we ended up reading it together as a group.

How To Read A Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren: Rachel discovered the phrase "following your whimsy" thanks to this book and has been trying to depend less on lists and goals for her reading, and more of what brings her joy. We had quite the time talking about "our piles of whimsy" aka our lengthy to-be-read lists on Goodreads. I love the idea of following your whimsy, as opposed to calling one's self a "mood reader" or just being a person that does not make lists and plans about reading.

Rachel Recommended To Laura:

Sensible Shoes: A Story About The Spiritual Journey by Sharon Garlough Brown - four women embracing different spiritual practices who eventually become friends. This book shows how different people are affected by what happened to them in the past and their family's expectations. Rachel says, "I think sometimes I need a story to kind of help me understand different practices and how they work."

The Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And The Beginning of the Modern World by Thomas Cahill. About this book Rachel says, "I've always thought of the Middle Ages as a really dark time... but he shows how the Church and how different people really affected the middle age mindset and how it laid the foundation for things to come." Witty and interesting exploration of the time period portrayed in helpful, human, real sort of way.  

Laura Recommended To Rachel:

Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn: I recommended this series (starting with A Curious Beginning) to Rachel based on it being set in Victorian England. I was hoping that the older setting would be attractive. And the fact that Veronica is a very strong independent woman who doesn't shy away from using big words and seeing the world also guided this recommendation. A mystery series mixed with a slowly-burning romance. 

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow: A young girl living in a big, old house. Her father is often absent and she lives under the supervision of a guardian. There is a book with secrets about her past, and "doors" or thin places between our world and others. YA historical fantasy fiction. Bonus: there is a pretty cover!

Adorning The Dark by Andrew Peterson: Rachel has already read this, apparently she got it on pre-order. We both loved it. "It was like sitting in a room with someone who understands so much of what I have felt most of my life, and having them say 'It's okay, it's going to be alright. Just listen to my story.' Yeah, it was like getting a really big hug from a book," Rachel said about this book. Laura described it as beautiful, gentle, contemplative, and wise. 
Peterson also wrote The Wingfeather Saga - which is a children's series that both Laura and Rachel are both in the middle of this right now.

The Mostly Invisible Boy (Casey Grimes #1) by A.J. Vanderhorst: Laura said "I LOVED this book." Middle Grade fantasy, with a community in the woods teaching everything from magic to survival tactics. An outsider boy ends up wandering in. Adventure, self-discovery, and magic await. Also, we have a mysterious babysitter that shows up.

Some of my favorite quotes from the episode:

"Genres are restricting, if you want to write a story that is bigger than that genre, you should." ~ Laura
Rachel: "It still blows my mind sometimes how much stuff I can read, without any kind of censorship or anything." 
Laura: "Oh yes! Especially with the digital resources, the fact that I can sit on my couch, click a couple buttons, and it's in my hand. It's magical!"

Be sure to check out Rachel's blog All Things: Finding Hope in a Fractured World 

Rachel was a guest on another lovely podcast recently, so if you want another hour of her musings you can check out episode 7 of the Mugs and Musings podcast with Lauren and Bethany.


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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