Episode 18: Jewel Gilbert | Reading What You Want to Read

On this week’s dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, I talked with my dear friend Jewel Gilbert about all things books and reading…as usual! It’s high time we had Jewel on the podcast, as both Rachel Palm (episode 12) and Hannah Wright (episode 17) talked about her. As you’ll hear, she’s ready to join the conversation! I will actually have two episodes with Jewel. A second one will be coming your way on August 12th with some questions she asked me and a hopeful conversation about striving making the world a better place in the midst of all the strife and uncertainty. 
I do use affiliate links on my blog for both Amazon and Bookshop.org and may receive compensation for purchases made through these links. 

The lovely Jewel Gilbert with her bookshelf in the background! 

Jewel and I met in college. We lived across the hall from each other sophomore year, and then in the same 4-person apartment junior and senior year (except for the semester she spent in Oxford!) She works at a bank, plays the cello, loves to read and watch re-runs of New Girl, and is one of my best friends. She's also the other half of the "Book Duo" that I talked to Rachel Palm about in her episode. 

The 4 housemates at Senior recital time. I was the lone business major among 3 music majors!

I love this photo from Easter one year. Left to right: Jewel, me, my roommate Ashley, Rachel Palm. 

When I asked her about her beginnings as a reader, Jewel told me a great story about learning to recognize letters and words at a very early age, and she never looked back. 

As a young reader, Jewel really enjoyed the work of E.L. Konigsburg. We specifically mentioned the following ones:  
  • The View from Saturday - Jewel enjoyed hearing Leigh Ann and I talk about this book as it was one she's enjoyed reading and re-reading. 
  • Throwing Shadows - This short story compilation is the source of the idea of there being "catchers" and "catchees" when it comes to getting in trouble. A little boy navigating the world with the awareness of being a "catchee." Jewel identified with this framework and feels like she's a "catchee" which means she tries to stay on the straight-and-narrow! 
  • From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler  - we both read this as part of our homeschool curriculum. Wasn't one of Jewel's favorites, probably because she had to read it. I want to read it again! 
  • The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place - Margaret Rose soon discovers that something is terribly wrong at 19 Schuyler Place. People in their newly gentrified neighborhood want to get rid of the three magnificent towers the uncles have spent forty-five years lovingly constructing of scrap metal and shards of glass and porcelain. Margaret Rose is outraged, and determined to strike a blow for art, for history, and for individuality...and no one is more surprised than Margaret Rose at the allies she finds for her mission.

We both did a lot of learning from Sonlight Curriculum, which mainly teaches through reading books and read-alouds. Because of this (and some other experiences), we quickly found we had a lot of common ground, foundational fabric,  and spoke the same language as each other. (Reading many of the same books will do that to you!) About homeschooling, Jewel said, "You either know or you don't know, and it's really hard to explain the experience if you haven't lived it." We both had a pretty good homeschool experience, enjoying the flexibility and the opportunity for field-trips or experiential learning. We both feel bad for all the families suddenly having to learn to teach their kids at home during the current health crisis. Their experience will likely be very different, and probably more difficult, than ours was. The good news is that there are great resources out there! Way more than when we were kids and homeschooling was still fairly new. 

What are you currently reading? 

Jewel as one of my bridesmaids

What do you look for when you're choosing books? 

Jewel would prefer to wander around the library and pick books with spines, covers & topics. However, she's been depending more on recommendations recently since she's unable to browse due to library closures during to COVID.  
She said she looks for being surprised or taught about the world in a different way and Likes to be surprised by a new perspective, a plot twist, etc. Prefers female authors and female main characters.  
She's also been making a concerted effort to read books about non-white people and books by non-white authors recently as well. 

Jewel wanted to set the record straight, that Rachel Palm is the one who told her to read The Eyre Affair. "Rachel, you made me read that book, so don't try and act like it was my idea," she said. 😂

She also had several other things to say about that episode. "Listening to that podcast was so weird because I wanted to be in the room with y'all...I am the other half of the book duo that Rachel talked about....It's been good, we have read a lot of things together....She and I have very different book tastes, which has been good because we end up pushing each other to read stuff that we probably wouldn't on our own."

Jewel and Rachel both enjoy Terry Pratchett, and "a good fantasy." Jewel 
was first introduced to Pratchett by her sister Joy, and was slightly aghast that it had "witches" in it. But she took the plunge and started with I Shall Read Midnight. Soon she really fell in love with his satire, the way he looks at the world kind of slanted, how he pokes fun of people in power, and his commitment to telling stories that are funny but also important. She mentioned Night Watch, which talks a lot about the role of police officers and the importance having diversity in police forces and at the same time is masterfully funny.  She also recently lent out Monstrous Regiment to a co-worker, doing what she referred to as "Propagating the gospel of Terry Pratchett." 

Terry Pratchett books Jewel recommended to me: 

  • Mort - inept, but well-intentioned Mort gets only one offer for an apprenticeship and becomes the accidental apprentice to Death.  
  • Hogfather - A Christmasy tale. Here it is, Hogswatchnight, that most joyous and acquisitive of times, and the jolly, old, red-suited gift-giver has vanished without a trace.

We enjoyed discussing our mutual affection for artist and author Lucy Knisley

Jewel holding the long-awaited
 "An Age of License" book that I brought
 all the way from Kansas to Arkansas
 for her to read during my visit 
It all started When I found An Age Of License at my local library about 5 years ago, and then shared my appreciation of Lucy's art and wit with Jewel. She and I have both read most of her works now! 

Jewel looked all over the libraries of NWA and couldn't find An Age of License anywhere. So when I heard of this we came up with the Epic Homecoming Plan. (duh dun daaaa!) I checked the book out of my library,  drove An Age of License to Jewel when I stayed with her at Homecoming last year, she read it while I was there, and then took it back to Kansas with me. Mission accomplished! 

Stepping Stones is one of Lucy's new books, which came out this spring. Somehow I forgot it existed, and will be reading it very soon. 

 Jewel bought Adventure Time: Marceline recently and then realized it had art from Lucy Knisley in it.
I also (somehow!?!) didn't know about Lucy's Condiments Raccoon account in which she chronicles cooking adventures by drawing herself and her son as raccoons in the kitchen. Her other instagram account is @lucyknisley.

Fan Fiction

Jewel and I had a lovely conversation about reading and writing Fan Fiction. Some of the ones she mentioned enjoying were Phantom of the Opera, Avatar and the Last Airbender, Naruto.

Jewel said, "I feel like fan fiction is the writerly equivalent of what coloring books are for artists. You can enjoy a coloring book even if you're a great artist, and I feel like you can enjoy writing fan fiction even when you're not a writer. You have a framework, characters, and maybe a plot, but you can add your own flair without having to start from scratch. I feel like it can be a great thing. It would be good for people to do. Writing is such a great skill and it's such a low-stakes way to write for your own enjoyment."

I haven't read much fan fiction, but I mentioned seeing Harry Potter fan fiction on the internet, which lead to the understanding that Jewel hasn't read the Harry Potter series (although she did read the first one). She heard an interview with Ursula La Guin's assessment that Harry has a "mean-spirited ethic of tit for tat," and just couldn't get past that. Like me, Jewel wasn't allowed to read them as a kid and she feels like she might have just "missed the boat." We talked about Hannah Wright's feelings about these books (see episode 17!) and how she suggested Rainbow Rowell's new fantasy series or Rick Riordan Presents books may be preferable. Jewel currently has Sal and Gabby Break the Universe from the library and is excited to read it. 

During our conversation, we kept coming back to this refrain: 

Books Jewel Recommends to Laura: 

Middle Grade/YA category:

  • Dealing with Dragons series by Patricia Wrede - Jewel's favorite quote is "Do not interfere in the dealings with dragons because you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup." 
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley - The author builds an interesting universe with high fantasy and some romance, the main character is the chalice bearer for the kingdom, religious themes because the author is Anglican, sweet ending.  (Robin McKinley was also Newbery Honor recipient for The Blue Sword and Newbery Medal recipient for The Hero and The Crown
  • Arabel's Raven by Joan Akin: 5-year-old British girl who befriends a bad-tempered raven who has a knack for trouble. Short and funny. Jewel enjoyed on audio. 
  • The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde - Inspired by the author's questions about how the classic tale really doesn't make sense, each short story solves the logical failings in a different way. short, charming & thoughtful. 
  • Hilary McKay is a British author that Jewel got to hear while she was in Oxford. She wrote several books she thought I might enjoy, including Indigo's StarPermanent Rose, and Forever Rose
  • Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris - A fairytale with two children separated by a river communicating by "p-mail" aka pigeon mail. Lots of puns and humor and magic and gushy young romance. Has the quote "Artichokes, who first looked at that and said 'hum, that looks edible.'?"

Between recording the episode and today,
I was at the thrift store and found a copy of One Upon A Marigold.
 Of course it came home with me! 

Adult category: 

  • The Good Lord Bird by James McBride - This novel set just before the Civil War following abolitionist John Brown from the perspective of a young black boy on the journey. A dark part of American history but the author is one of those geniuses who can take a dark time and tell it with a lot of humor and light. Jewel enjoyed the audio, and learned about the time period while laughing. 
  • The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson - Exactly what the title implies, an 100-year-old man climbs out a window and goes on a zany, wild journey. Lots of crazy characters and world exploration. Not only has he witnessed some of the most important events of the twentieth century, but he has actually played a key role in them.
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama - Jewel really enjoyed reading this memoir at the beginning of the year, partially on audio (it's narrated by Michelle Obama) and partially reading the book. She found it insightful and hopeful. Our conversation circled back to this book several times. 
  • Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairytale by Fredrick Buechner- One of Jewel's favorite religious books. She said, "it brings me back to the heart of the gospel." Likes his style. Buechner rote lots of fiction as well as meditative non-fiction works.

Books Laura Recommended to Jewel: 

Amy Rebecca Tan's books A Kind of Paradise and Summer at Meadow Wood - Talked about these with Kathleen Jacobs a few episodes ago, but I think Jewel would really enjoy them too. Very atmospheric and tenderly told middle grade fiction. 

The Mostly Invisible Boy by AJ Vanderhorst - I read as an advanced copy and loved it enough that I made my sister read it (by buying a Kindle copy of it and emailing it to her) so I could talk to her about it. Fun middle grade fantasy fiction. Monsters, magic school, an eccentric nanny, a hero's journey. Read my review on Goodreads

The Vanderbeekers series by Katrina Yan Glaser - I love these books and I apparently have already told Jwel to read them. Well, I'm telling her again! A interracial family living in a Harlem brownstone with a gaggle of kids that are always up to something. 

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman - A total bookworm who is on a pub trivia team and works at a bookstore. Her life is about to get turned upside down by two discoveries: she has a whole biological extended family that she knew nothing about, and the guy at Trivia is really cute. Also a great cat named Phil. (Jewel read Other People's Houses by the same author and didn't enjoy it. Same author also wrote The Garden of Small Beginnings which neither of us have read, but I intend to.) 

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson - we have both read and enjoyed, the audio is great! At the beginning Jewel thought it would be kind of creepy, and it wasn't. She's glad she read the rest. Subtle themes of family, hopes and dreams. 

Today's episode was  delight. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! Be sure to come back in two weeks to catch the rest of our conversation. Next week’s episode will be my July reading recap, so stay tuned for that as well.

Until next time, with lots of literary love from my library to yours, have a wonderful day. 


My photo
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.


The Library Laura Podcast


Affiliate links disclosure

As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop.org Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through links on this blog. Thanks for your support!

Popular Posts

Laura 's Goodreads bookshelf: read

The Slug Queen Chronicles: Season One
Christmas Night 1776
A Perilous Undertaking
The Mostly Invisible Boy
Please Close It!
On the Bright Side: Stories about Friendship, Love, and Being True to Yourself
The Giving Tree
At Home in Mitford
The Last Year of the War
The Goblin Emperor
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
Goodnight, Anne
Such a Fun Age
Every Heart a Doorway
The Underground Railroad
The Hate U Give
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
A Kind of Paradise

Laura Miller 's favorite books »

@library.laura on Instagram

The Library Laura Podcast on Facebook

Laura's Profile

Contact Form


Email *

Message *