Today we’re chatting with my friend Raelene Bradley about how books have guided her and her husband Jordan as they work to fulfill their longtime dream of living off the land with their own farm (if the last name is ringing a bell, you might remember Jordan from his WSIRN appearance wayyy back in Ep 127: Seeking professional help for quitting books)

Raelene’s stories of reading in the fields with her horse as a child, and audiobooks to accompany milking time… ugh, it’s the stuff of dreams, readers. We’re also talking about the surprising disappointments from Raelene’s biggest reading year ever, and I’m helping her on her journey away from quantity and toward quality, by recommending she read a touching memoir, lush historical fiction, and a little something… unexpected.

Let’s get to it!

You can get a peek at Raelene’s charming family farm (and her much-beloved milk cow) on Instagram @belvederefarms.


Join our Patreon community to gain access to a huge archive of bonus episodes, and join WSIRN producer Brenna and me during our upcoming livestream on July 2nd.

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Books mentioned in this episode:

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• Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
• Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
• With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo
• Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball 
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
• Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palme
• Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
• The Light of the World by Elisabeth Alexander
• Euphoria by Lily King
• Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
• How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

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40 Comments
  1. Leigh Kramer 10 months ago

    FYI Kristin Kimball released another memoir this past fall: Good Husbandry. I haven’t gotten around to it yet but I LOVED The Dirty Life and I’m hoping it’ll be just as good!

    • Raeleneb 10 months ago

      Me too! I have it on my nightstand and can’t wait to read it!

  2. Adrienne 10 months ago

    This was such a refreshing episode! I’m racking my brain and can’t think of any good reads for Raelene (sorry!), but I did add ‘West With the Night’ to my TBR list.

    • Raeleneb 10 months ago

      It’s a good one! I hope you love it.

  3. Kate 10 months ago

    A great book about farming and the animals: A Good, Good Pig by Sy Montgomery (everything by her is fantastic)
    Unprocessed by Megan Kimble is a good one about a year in the author’s life when she ate only unprocessed food. It was fascinating.
    Educated by Tara Westover is of course about a very strong woman who overcomes many challenges.
    Happy reading!

    • Raeleneb 10 months ago

      These sound great. And I have read Educated – definitely a strong character who overcomes difficult circumstances. Thanks!

  4. Kait 10 months ago

    Does Raelene have a Goodreads account? Because I *really* want to read more of the farming books she reads for “business”!

  5. Susan in TX 10 months ago

    I’m probably in the minority, but I read How Much of These Hills as Gold in April (it was an Indie next pick) and found it very bleak/sad/depressing. That said, it was early April and we were still in early-ish days of the pandemic, which colored much of my reading at the time. I could tell that it was well-written, but just wasn’t for me at the time. I’ll be interested to see what you think if you read it, Raelene.

    • Raeleneb 10 months ago

      I’ll keep you posted Susan 🙂

  6. Laura 10 months ago

    I love your descriptions of the books you love and think we have similar taste. Here’s some recommendations you might also like: Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls, How Green was My Valley Richard Llewellyn, Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart, Out of Africa by Isak Dineson, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, All Over but the Shoutin by Rick Bragg, I Know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (great on audio).

    • Julie 10 months ago

      Great choices. Thanks for mentioning Rick Bragg. A personal favorite. ❤️

    • Marie 10 months ago

      Laura – Yes! I was thinking of Half Broke Horses too! And I forgot about How Green Was My Valley, as that is also one of my favorites. I loved this episode– read West With the Night in college and still remember it. Another one I loved is “The Road from Coorain” by Jill Ker Conway, about growing up on an Australian cattle ranch – the author ended up as a professor and it’s beautifully written.

      By the way, there was a longstanding controversy as to whether or not Beryl Markham actually wrote the book herself, as her husband was a writer. This was refuted by a scholar in the 1990s, but I think it makes it all the more compelling. Perhaps she was such a strong voice that people at the time couldn’t believe a woman wrote it.

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      These all sound wonderful. Half Broke Horses is on my bookshelf and I’ve read Out of Africa and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Loved both of them. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head and can’t wait to get into these others. Thank you!

  7. Julie 10 months ago

    Dear Raelene ,
    You live really close to us ! We’re about 10 minutes away from you and have been “ across the street” many times. 🌳 🌳 🌳
    For books, since you liked West With the Night , allow me to recommend Wildflower by Mark Seal. It’s about a couple in Africa ( I think possibly during Beryl’s years there ) , who had a huge farm with many animals. They got the idea to start giving African Safari trips with cameras instead of guns , and took many people to photograph the animals instead of killing them for trophies. They also learned to fly and took many award winning films of the African wildlife , from the ground and the airplane. It’s a beautiful book.
    * Also, I agree with you on Circling the Sun. Too much romance.

    Next, I’d like to recommend The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer- Purcell, about a Gay couple who move from Manhattan to a farm in upstate NY ..they raise mainly goats but I think they have other animals too. It’s all about the adjustments from the big city to farm life. It’s also really good. ( no romance nor bedroom scenes, just farm talk).

    I hope you enjoy the books. Your show was very interesting. Glad to see someone so close by on Anne’s podcast. Happy Farming.

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      How fun! Stop by the farm sometime and say hi 🙂 These both sound great. Thanks!

  8. Lisette 10 months ago

    My Antonia seems perfect for you. 🙂

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      YESSSSS. I LOVE Willa Cather.

  9. JennSev 10 months ago

    I want Raelene to by my virtual friend! Loved this episode. Has anyone read Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia? I am dying to get to it, and it seems to tick many of the boxes Ralene mentioned.

    I have a couple books I always recommend.
    1)In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. The prose is gorgeous, Vaddey writes in the style of Cambodian myth and lore and while this is fiction it is almost a catharsis of her experience under the Khamer Rouge. I cried buckets.
    2)The Bear and the Nightengale by Katherine Arden. Strong female character and a Russian folklore are a fantastic mix.
    3) The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. I thought the locations just came to life.

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      Oooo. These ALL sound right up my alley. Thank you! And yes – let’s totally be friends 🙂

  10. Pam 10 months ago

    Have you read anything by Wendell Berry? He’s a Kentucky farmer/poet who also writes beautiful novels about a fictional Kentucky town and its inhabitants. I’d suggest starting with Hannah Coulter.

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      Yes! Hannah Coulter is actually the only one of Berry’s that I have read (other than a few poems and essays here and there) and I did really love it. Spot on. And I’ve been wanting to pick up more of his. Thanks!!

  11. Belle 10 months ago

    Raelene, I loved this episode! Would you be willing to share your Goodreads? I think I will find so much to read there. I could listen to you talk about books all day. Belle

  12. Susan in TX 10 months ago

    Forgot to add – I think Raelene would really enjoy The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Dare. Strong female character overcoming great obstacles with a rich setting.

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      Yes! This is only list for this summer (crosses fingers) and can’t wait to get to it. Thanks for the reminder!

  13. Danielle 10 months ago

    I enjoyed this podcast. Raelene and I are book twins! 🙂

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      Wahooo!

  14. Mary 10 months ago

    Wendell Berry? Look at his!

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      Yes! So good. I’ve been meaning to read more of his novels. Thanks!

  15. Caroline 9 months ago

    Great episode! I enjoyed Raelene’s humor and insight. Based on Where the Crawdads Sing, which is one of my very favorites, I have 2 recommendations: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Conjure Women. I put these together because the main characters, Francie and Rue respectively, remind me of Kya in many ways. All three are beautifully written women who feel like flesh and blood people. All three are living through very difficult circumstances with strength and intelligence and love. Such great reads, all of them.
    Also, for novels in verse, I would try Kwame Alexander’s Crossover series, if you haven’t already. These are middle grade novels written in verse and are just beautiful. I bought one for my daughter and within a couple of days, the whole family had read it and loved it.

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      You know, I’ve checked out A Tree Grows in Brooklyn three times from the library and haven’t ever gotten to it. I’ll bump it up a little higher on my list.

      My son (12) has read (and really enjoyed) the Crossover series, but I didn’t realize it was written in verse until a month or so ago when I was looking for another verse novel. I’m excited to get to it!

  16. Courtney Buxton 9 months ago

    Raelene – I think you would enjoy Shepherdess of Elk River Valley by Margaret Duncan Brown. My dad gave me this little memoir. Margaret and her husband bought a Colorado ranch without knowing much about ranching in 1915. He dies from the flu in 1918, but she stays on and ranches alone for the next 47 years. When she died she had grown the ranch greatly in size and it was debt free. The memoir is based on her lifetime of diaries and writings found by the executor of her estate. She is a wonderful writer – beautiful sense of place with profound thoughts. Lots to underline! Seems like one you will love on many levels.

    • raeleneb 9 months ago

      Wow. Yes. This sounds EXACTLY like something I would love. Thank you so much!

  17. Deborah G Ball 9 months ago

    Raelene, met you at the retreat, and your voice comes across so beautifully on this podcast. I definitely strongly recommend the Barn at the End of the World.Mary Oreilley is the author AND it is one of my all time favorites! Part memoir, farm life and Catholic and Quaker theology as the author navigates life on a sheep farm in upstate New York I believe. Lots of funny real life, as well as thought provoking prose about our world. You will enjoy I promise!

  18. Pamela Jenkins 9 months ago

    I’ve never responded to a podcast… but I really enjoyed the interview with Raelene, and felt a connection to hear reading tastes. My fingers were crossed that Anne would recommend Apeirogon by Colum McCann, far and away the most powerful book I’ve read this summer!

  19. Kathleen Potter 9 months ago

    I have read Where The Crawdads Sing and The Great Alone. In each book the “place” – the swamp in Crawdads and Alaska in the Great Alone – were like characters in the story – alive and changing – interacting with the human characters. I loved that – however also in each book I felt that the “human” plot was overdone – too many things happening – too much plot and not enough reflection.

  20. Emily Murphy 9 months ago

    There’s a middle-grade book written in verse that you might enjoy (or your kids). The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill. Beautifully written about a young girl in some difficult circumstances. I really enjoyed that one!

  21. Elza Reeves 9 months ago

    I also read Where the Crawdads Sing and, honestly, I didn’t love it. But I did enjoy the setting as a character — how the place where Kya grows up shapes her and ultimately guides her to her purpose in life.
    Although I never thought of this while reading it, listening to you describe it on the podcast instantly brought to mind A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. Published in 1909, it is a very different time and place, but is also the story of a young girl who grows up in a swamp (in Indiana — who knew?), who loves and knows it intimately, and who overcomes opposition to become a strong, confident woman, shaped by that background.
    It is a sequel to Stratton-Porter’s earlier novel Freckles, also set in the Limberlost, so characters from that novel appear, but can read on its own.
    I think it could be a fascinating read-along (or “book flight” as Anne would say) to Where the Crawdads Sing.

  22. Kate 9 months ago

    Hello from Australia! I really enjoyed this episode! I just finished a book you might enjoy, called Past the Shallows, by Favel Parrett. No strong female characters in this one sadly, but a great setting, a rural costal town in Tasmania Australia. It is a story of a fractured family, neglect and sibling love. It’s not a long story, and not action packed. I enjoyed exploring the fragility of the yongest character and the description of the setting is fabulous! Enjoy 😊

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