I met librarian Lauren Regenhardt when I participated in my local “Book Connect” program, and I was thrilled to get a chance to ask so many questions without getting shushed! The Children/YA Librarian told me about how she abandoned her first career for the library and the different types of libraries for different industries. Or, as she puts it, “Libraries in unsuspecting places.” We also talked about why she specializes in Children’s/YA books, how a book can ease anxiety and depression, and the delicious perfection of Casey McQuiston’s hilarious, sexy, and sweet romance, “Red, White & Royal Blue.”
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Discussed in this episode:
The Mission Viejo Library
Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
The Baby Sitters Club Series by Ann M. Martin
The Baby Sitters Little Sisters Series by Ann. M. Martin
The Dog Man Series by Dav Pilkey
Lauren uses NoveList to find readalikes – check to see if your local library offers this service, and if not, you can go directly to the NoveList site to request it.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
Fresh off the Boat by Eddie Huang
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Long Call by Ann Cleves
A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
The Selection Series by Kiera Cass
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (great news! This is part of a 3-book series!)
Damaged Like Us by Krista and Becca Ritchie (this is the first in the 10-book “Like Us” series; the books can be read in any order.)
The Failed Audition: Book 1 in A Circus is Family Series by Becca and Christy Ritchie
Libra by Don Delillo
Discussed in our Patreon Exclusive Clip:
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Book 1 of the the Lightning Thief Series) by Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan Presents This is a series of middle grade books centering on mythology from around the world. Lauren particularly called out these two:
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
Hello. Bookworms welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where we talk about your favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and if you’ve heard this podcast for even 30 seconds, you already know how I feel about my library. So I can’t tell you how excited I am that today I’m joined by one of our local librarians, Lauren Regenhardt. I wouldn’t gush over a sports person or, frankly, most celebrities, but a librarian? I’m gushing like a fool. Just wait till you hear about the book recommendations she gave me. Lauren joined me today to talk about a book that is a delightful tonic for our tumultuous times, and I have to admit she’s right. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston just might be the Best Book Ever.
Julie Strauss: Hi Lauren! Welcome to the Best Book Ever podcast.
Lauren Regenhardt: Thank you for having me. I appreciate being here.
JS: Lauren, you work in the best library in Orange County, probably in California, possibly in the entire United States. And I say that completely objectively, without any prejudice whatsoever. Can you tell my listeners about your job?
LR: I would love to. As you said, I worked for the best library in the country, the Mission Viejo Library. I’m a children’s librarian and I just really love what I’m able to do. Despite the stereotypes. We don’t just sit there and read on a desk and shush people. In fact, I get shushed more often than I should.
JS: Which people?
LR: Patrons! By a child the other day. I was trying to help some other kid and he goes, this is a library. So, my point is don’t listen to those stereotypes. Although we do have cats and cardigans. Those are true. But I get to do story times. I get to share my favorite books with kids and adults. I also get to do some really awesome programs like Harry Potter programs. It’s just a delightful job that I’m very proud to have.
JS: I have such a special fondness for our library because first of all, it’s beautiful. And second of all, it is just the best library. And when people try to ask me why, I just, I can’t even really give words to it. It is just the best library.
LR: And we hear that quite often. And I say that objectively. We get patrons from San Clemente and other cities that are outside of Mission Viejo. Quite a drive. And they bypass their local library to come here because they prefer our customer service. They prefer our collection. We just had a compliment the other day that we have a very diverse and open collection for their classrooms. We do kind of pride ourselves on the gold Mission Viejo standard. I mean, we’ve had somebody from Disneyland Customer Service come and do a whole training. I think that’s kind of who we model after. which makes sense for Southern California.
JS: Lauren, will you tell me about your reading life? How did you get here, to becoming a children’s librarian? And what kind of reader were you as a child?
LR: I was a voracious reader as a child. I remember going to my library that was right across the street from my house, which I actually ended up working at in high school, which is what started my love for working in libraries. But back up a little bit, I used to run right to the spinners that had the Babysitters Club Paperbacks and the Babysitter’s Club Little Sister paperbacks because I am a little sister. So I felt like, Hey, it’s a book series that I can relate to. And then I kind of found myself in the adult section spinners with the paperbacks that were the clean Harlequin novels. I had no idea what was happening, because I knew nothing about romance. I knew nothing about adult problems. I was 10, but I felt like I was the coolest kid reading books in the adult section. So, and then, like I said, growing up, in high school I worked at a library as a page, so that’s just shelving and alphabetizing the books, organizing, kind of cleaning everything up. And my middle name is Page, spelled like a book. So I thought it was so cool. And then I let my dad talk me into being a lawyer. I let him crush my librarian dreams! And so I got my bachelor’s in pre-law and I hated it. And then I got a job at the campus library in Reno, where I went to college. I was like, okay, this is where I’m supposed to be: at a library, surrounded by books. Sorry, Dad. And then I got my masters.
JS: So what led you specifically to the children’s section? How does library science work? Do you have to specialize in school in the section or do you choose when you get the job?
LR: It really depends. In master’s in library science, you can choose a focus. So you can choose teen services, you can choose archives or special libraries. I just kind of did general masters, but I took a lot of young adult and children’s classes because that’s what my interest was in. I look and I act like a teen and I read purely YA. I am branching out, but I read mostly YA fiction. So, those areas of the library have always fascinated me. So that’s why I stuck with children’s and teen classes in my master’s program. But really, there are so many different types of libraries. There are some programs that offer a JD and a library science masters so that way you can work in law libraries. Some offer a teaching certificate at the same time so you can work for school libraries. So there’s just so many different options.
JS: Oh, and I would bet there’s probably medical?
LR: Yes, there’s medical libraries. There’s corporate libraries. I mean, places like Disneyland and Warner Brothers have libraries. We got to the library at Blizzard, the video games company. They have a library there. And so there are libraries in unsuspecting places. There are programs for all of that, is what I was getting at.
JS: Do you think you’ll continue to focus on children’s, or do librarians move around to sections a lot? Or, like, once you find your section, do you tend to stick with it?
LR: I think that really depends. It’s a personal preference for me. I can’t foresee myself moving outside of children or teens. I was a teen manager, teen librarian before I was a children’s. I work occasionally on the adult reference desk, and adults are boring. I am an adult, but they don’t have as much interest. Okay. How do I phrase this without insulting our entire community? Adults are more focused on the actual books themselves. They just want to come get their books and then go home. Kids want to know what our favorite books are. They want to know, oh, look, there’s a stuffed animal on the top of the shelf! They’re more engaged. And I think that’s just how it anywhere. Kids and teens are just more focused and engaged and adults are just like in a rush. They just come in and then they’re out. So I’m trying to change that. I would like to encourage more programs for adults and more reasons for them to just kind of engage in programs and not just the books or sitting at a table doing homework. I want to be able to provide for them as well.
JS: And what’s interesting to me about kids is they will let you know if they don’t like what you gave them. They’re not going to lie to you. Or they will be excited about it. And then their passion for it, their love for it, is equally as fierce. I love that about kids.
LR: So, to answer your initial question, some people do like to jump around to different departments in the library because they want to have that experience in different locations, because circulation’s a very different beast than a children’s librarian. They do completely different tasks. They deal with completely different problems than we face. And so some people do like to have the all-around knowledge. The thing about librarianship is that people don’t leave. Especially if they find a good place like Mission Viejo. Librarianship is competitive because we love our jobs, and so we don’t want to leave our jobs, which means that we don’t leave until we retire. So then there’s no positions until I’m 75 and I retire, then somebody else can have my job. I think that’s one of the difficult parts of librarianship is that when you’re happy, you don’t leave, which is great. But also there are so many other young, fresh librarians who can’t find a location. Can’t find a job.
JS: Do librarians have a lot of say in what stock that you carry or is that chosen by someone else?
LR: I’m only speaking for Mission Viejo. We’re assigned different collection areas. So I get to order half of the nonfiction for juvenile and I get to order half of the fiction. My supervisor does the other half of fiction and the other half of non-fiction. We have a librarian who does graphic novels and it’s the same in adult fiction or in adult reference. They all have their selection areas. So we get to choose our collection. We pretty much are told here’s the budget, have at it. And then we don’t really get questioned on it. Pretty much we put it in our online book cart and then it gets ordered.
JS: Given your, your budget, is it your goal to get as many books as possible within that budget? Or is your goal more about curation? This author was a big hit last year; she’s going to be giant next year. We’ve got to get her books. And this is a really small author, but a lot of kids have been asking; for some reason she’s a big deal at the local elementary. How do you manage deciding which books to get?
LR: Good question. It’s kind of a mixture of all of that. Some of it, especially with nonfiction, it’s just noticing what in our current collection is old or out of date and then replacing it. When it comes to fiction, what’s popular. There are some series that automatically, we have to have it. Like Dog Man. Anything by Dav Pilkey. So we have our go-tos where it’s very obvious that we need to have every single book in this collection or every single book in that series. In other situations, we judge our orders based on if it’s reviewed by publications. So that’s usually our guideline. Does this look good? Does this look well-researched? Does it look like a plot line that kids might enjoy? And is it reviewed? In that case, we’ll probably order it. If it’s not reviewed and it doesn’t have too many orders from other libraries, we’ll usually skip over it until maybe next year. It’s really just kind of also filling in the gaps of our collection.
J: Speaking of library engagement programs, we came across each other with the program whose name I did not write down – I’m looking at my notes.
LR: It’s called Book Connect.
JS: Can you tell my listeners what that’s about?
LR: Absolutely. It was originally called Curbside Concierge, but people were confusing it with our actual curbside service, where we would bring books out to cars. But it started during the pandemic, when we were realizing that we were offering this curbside service where we would drop off books in somebody’s trunk, if they parked in our parking lot, most people that come into the library like to browse. They don’t come in with a specific book in mind. They like to kind of look through the fiction stacks and read the cover and then know if that sounds good or not. And so we were trying to figure out a way to offer that service safely, especially when we were closed to the public. And that started the Curbside Concierge/Book Connect, which is what it is now. So we asked patrons to fill out a survey. They fill out what genres they want, whether it’s non-fiction or fiction, then they tell us what age group – adult or YA or children’s, then they kind of tell us what books that they’ve liked in the past and what they liked about them. Or books they didn’t like, so we know not give books of that similar author or similar writing style. Can I talk about your particular books?
JS: Please! I want to ask you how you chose the ones you chose.
LR: Well, the thing I loved about your survey was that you were very detailed and descriptive, and that really helped me, especially because on our staff, we rotate who answers these requests. Saturdays are my days to answer all of the Book Connect, all of our reference emails, and all of our library programs emails. And you just happened to fall on my day. And like I said, I read mostly young adult fiction. I venture into adult fiction occasionally, like the book that we’re going to talk about today, but usually it’s just YA. So adult fiction kind of goes right over my head. My eyes got wide, and I’m like, oh crap. The adult librarians were like, we can help you, but I’m like, no, I can do this myself. I need to broaden my horizons somehow, so this’ll be a good learning experience for me. So you said that you liked this book and this book and this book because of the world-building or because of the character driven relationships. And so that really helped me to know what to look for. And we have a service on our website called NoveList. And with NoveList, you can actually put in a book series or a book title or an author, and it’ll give you readalikes based off of that author or book title. You said you loved Crying in H Mart, and so I put that into NoveList and it gave me recommendations based off of the plot line. And it gave some key words that you had included in why you liked it. That’s how I got the autobiography Fresh Off the Boat. A lot of what we do is we use NoveList quite a bit. And also, I mean, I do ask my fellow librarians for help. This one, I was more stubborn, but in general, I do. One of our part-time on-call librarians reads a lot of different and diverse adult fiction. So I’ll say, hey, she likes Gentleman in Moscow. What can you recommend? And she’ll throw out just like, oh, give that to me. I’ll take care of it. We all have our different interests in different fields of expertise, I suppose. So if there’s somebody that requests purely YA I’ll get an email saying, hey, any recommendations for this patron? And I’ll rattle off 10 books that they might be into. So, it’s just a really great service and we continued it, even though we’re open to the public. Because people are still using it and can still appreciate that they might be kind of reaching the end of their to-read list. And they’re kind of running out of readalikes that they know of. So it’s kind of our way of offering an opportunity for them to read books that they might not have normally heard of.
JS: I have to tell you, it felt like a kind of witchcraft when I went and picked up my books. Cause I love the way you do it, where it’s just automatically checked out to me and I just go pick them up. And I will say, cause I wrote down the titles, The Long Call by Ann Cleves, Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang, A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. I had only ever heard of one of those five books, which is A Gentleman in Moscow, which I own because I really like him, but other four I had never heard of. But the second I opened the flaps, I immediately went, oh, I’m going to read this one. Every one of them was one of those ones where I went, how have I, how do I not know this author yet? And then you even said in your email to me, if you’ve read this one, I would suggest these, and you gave a couple of other suggestions. And all of your suggestions were books that I love. One of your suggestions was The House in the Cerulean Sea, which I read last year and loved, and One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, which I was in the middle of. I got a little freaked! I thought, oh my God, can she see me? Does she know me? Is she in my head?
LR: That’s the magic of a librarian.
JS: And it was magic. It really was. And it blows me away that you don’t think adult fiction is your thing because you nailed it.
LR: Awesome. And part of that was that with the help of NoveList, which is a great, underrated resource that we always try to promote to our patrons because, yeah, it’s magical. I mean, \it took me a good hour to find these books because I was dedicated to just not asking for help.So I’m glad that it worked out. That’s why I emailed to you, cause I was thinking, what if she gets these and she’s like, oh, I already read them all. Or this is not what I asked for at all. What are these librarians thinking? Like, what are they doing?
JS: Does that happen?
LR: Not that I know of. Not that anybody tells us anyway.
JS: I think because you asked specific questions and I was able to say, I like mysteries, but I don’t like blood. I don’t like gore. The fact that we are able to say what we dislike is, I think, what really makes it.
LR: Yes, because we don’t want to accidentally give you something that has blood and gore if you don’t like it, or if it gives you nightmares, you know?
JS: No, I don’t want that.
LR: We have enough of that in real life.
JS: So do you remember how you first came across this book that we’re talking about today? Red, White, & Royal Blue by our queen, Casey McQuiston, who I adore.
LR: Bow to the queen. I actually don’t remember. My supervisor might’ve actually been talking about it and she and I tend to enjoy the same books because she reads a lot of the same young adult fiction that I do. She’s our senior children’s librarian, and she might have brought it up and it just sounded delightful. I just seems like the escape that I needed at that time. Cause when it came out, was that a very tremulous, wild time.
JS: Can you tell my listeners what this book’s about?
LR: Absolutely. So red, White & Royal Blue, in very basic description, is the son of the female president of the United States after Obama starts to fall in love with the royal prince of England, Prince Henry. And really it’s just their story about them going from, I hate you because you’re a prick, to you’re not so bad, to oh crap, I like you, does that make me gay, does that make me bi? To just full blown, I am in love with you, who-cares-what-the-world-thinks love. It’s just such a beautiful, funny, laugh out loud – I mean, I would literally laugh out loud while reading this book. And in a time when I was hating how our government was, I was hating just really just not enjoying the way our country was looking, this was the exact escape. I keep using that word, but it’s true. That’s exactly right word for this book.
JS: Were you thinking of Prince Harry the whole time you were reading it?
LR: I wasn’t the first time I read it. I didn’t really follow the royal family, the royal life. It’s not that I didn’t care to. It’s just, I was so selfishly ingrained in our own problems that everything else was just like, who has time for that? And rereading it, yeah, I can absolutely see the correlation or at least the, the hint of correlation with Prince Henry and Prince Harry, and the kind of WTF love of who would have ever expected that. And the reaction of the Crown and the queen to the love. I re-read it last week in preparation for this talk. Because, who cares how many times you read this book? Because it’s magical. It’s the alternate universe that we needed, because like I said, the president is right after Obama. So it’s kind of pretending that 2016 never happened. And I wish it hadn’t. I wish that we had a President Claremont because politics and Democrat or Republican aside, I want a female president that kicks ass the way she does.
JS: I love that you keep using the word escapism, because to me, this is the ultimate escapist fantasy. She takes such pains to place it precisely in 2016. And she, she just kind of went, you know what? Trump just never happened, and we’re just going to move on ahead. It just kind of calms you.
LR: It does. You just kind of want to eat them up, eat up all of the characters. The characters are all so relatable. They’re all so different, but you can still find one of them that you see yourself in. Whether it’s the depression and anxiety that Henry feels or the anxiety and self-discovery that Alex, the president’s son feels or June, his sister, and how she doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of her mom and dad and brother. She wants to find her own journey. It’s all just so unique and diverse. The characters are all so diverse and I love that. I mean, I’m getting really personal here: I was reading that book and Alex’s self-discovery was, he didn’t realize that he was bi. He didn’t realize that all the times that he was admiring another man or another boy when he was a kid, he didn’t realize that that was, you know, how it felt. He thought it was just, he was like, I can’t be Bi. I can’t be gay. And that was kind of right around the time when I was discovering myself and being bisexual. I am an adult than I should have known this from the start, but at the same time, maybe I didn’t, maybe I just kind of ignored it. And so kind of going through that journey with Alex was, was really, it was just really touching because I could understand on a personal deep level. I can understand that his little crisis of, oh crap, Henry just kissed me and I liked it. What does that mean? What am, what am I, what does that make me? His little internal conflict was just perfect because I felt it, and it was so good for my heart.
JS: I kept thinking, oh God, please don’t let him get kicked out of the family. I cannot deal with it. Like, I would have shut the book, honestly, if shit like that had happened. But because it was just such a kind and intelligent exploration, that I think is also part of the escapism of this book. What if we are just – what if we just let this kid figure it out?
LR: I love that his mom’s reaction, the president’s reaction, to this was: Okay, cool. I love you as your mom, but as the president, here’s a PowerPoint of international ethics and relationships and how your romance with the Prince of England could affect global international relations. And I think one of the most touching scenes in the entire book was when their romance gets out and the emails that they send to each other get leaked to the press and to the public. And the entire world now knows of their romance before they were ready to announce it. They go through all this, you know, crisis aversion, crisis counseling or whatever. They put out all these fires. And then he walks in to see his mom and she kicks out all of the staffers that she’s meeting with, and she just says, are you okay? And like that moment, like I getting teary just thinking about it, because at that moment she was not the president. She didn’t care what happened or what was going on or what the, what the results of this would be, she just cared that her son was okay. I think that, that familial, behind-the-scenes look at what a presidency could look like, what a presidential family was and the relationship between the president and her two kids, it was really beautiful. Because no matter who’s in office in real life, you don’t see that. You don’t see the behind-the-scenes. You don’t see the president and their child interacting the way you do with this book. And that’s the best part of the fantasy about books is that you’ve got a look at whatever the author wants you to see. Every single word in the book is intentional. And I just always am amazed. I highlight on my phone, because I use the Kindle app, and I just highlight sentence after sentence, because it’s like, I need to remember this or that. It was just beautiful. every word that Casey McQuiston writes has a meeting and every scene that she writes is intentional. And I just love that about these books.
JS: I ask this of everyone, but I would think for a librarian and it’s a whole different can of worms. Do you have time to reread books normally?
LR: Oh, I always reread books. As someone that has anxiety and depression, sometimes revisiting the books that I love helps pull me out of a depression episode. And, it’s just like revisiting a TV show that brings you comfort. It’s the same exact concept for me. Revisiting a book like Red, White, and Royal Blue, or The Selection Series or Clockwork Angel – which you should read, by the way, add that to your list too, because that’s my favorite, favorite, favorite series in the world – t just brings me comfort and it’s kind of my safe place to go. I like to know how things end, especially in a time when our future and our present, we have no idea what what’s coming tomorrow with the pandemic or politics. It’s all so up in the air. Revisiting books that I know that I enjoy, and then I know how they end, brings me comfort and peace. So find me an ending that I can predict and that I know, and I’m good.
JS: So tell me, what’s on your bookshelf right now?
LR: This is what I mean when I say I’m branching into adult, I’m reading some simple romance, it’s a book by Becca and Krista Ritchie. They do a series called Like Us, and it’s a book series about this family who’s kind of American royalty. Each book is about a different person in this very large family of cousins and close family friends, and it’s just very diverse. There’s a female and male relationship. There are a few gay relationships. There are a few polyamorous relationships in this. The representation of all different kinds of love is just really well done. And it’s funny and it’s just a good mindless kind of read. It’s not too deep, if you know what I mean. But what I’m reading now is kind of an offshoot of that series called A Circus is Family. And it’s this book about this family that’s arialists just like Cirque du Soleil in Vegas. And just there are different love stories and the struggle that they have in being in the circus and being the best of the best. Next, I need to start reading, oh my gosh – what’s it called? It’s our book club book. It’s by Don DeLillo, and I don’t even remember what it’s called, so obviously I’m really excited to read it.
JS: Tell me about your book club.
LR: It is a book club that’s also a podcast. It’s called Gamers Read and it’s me and three guys – just way too much testosterone! But it’s just four of us who like to game and read. It’s a podcast where we just talk about the books and then we talk about what else we’re reading. And then we play a game called Fibbage to determine who gets to pick the next book.
JS: So do the books have anything to do with gaming? Or the person who chooses can choose anything?
LR: We can choose anything. And I would have chosen Red, White, & Royal Blue, but it can’t just be a book that we’ve already read before. So, I couldn’t choose that one.
JS: Oh, even the chooser can’t have read it?
LR: Correct. Other people could have read it, but if it’s my turn to choose, I can’t choose something that I’ve already read. And it doesn’t have to be a video game related, but we always find ways to tie it back into video games. Like, the plot might remind us of a video game that we’ve played or something, and then it kind of digresses from there. So this one, like I said, it’s a Don DeLillo book about Lee Harvey Oswald. It’s a fictional story…
JS: You’re really not looking forward to this one.
LR: It’s called Libra by Don DeLillo. It’s like a 480 page book, in a genre that I don’t normally read. So I’ll probably read it at the very last minute.
JS: Will you tell my listeners how they can listen to your podcast and find you online?
LR: Absolutely. So our podcast is on everywhere you can find a podcast. It’s just called Gamers Read, and we also have a website called Gamers Read, where you can listen to past episodes, find out what else we’ve read, what we’re currently reading. You can find me on Twitter. I think My Twitter handle is Lauren The Bi-brarian, And then on Instagram I am Lauren Page.
JS: This has been so fun talking to you. I hope you will come back anytime you have a book that you want to share with me and my listeners. There’s no better get than a librarian.
LR: I’m at your service. You can call me anytime. I’m happy to find you books and to help your listeners find books. I can even give my email if your listeners want to email me. Or you can just message me on Twitter and I can do it that way too.
JS: Let’s do that. So listeners, if you want Lauren’s genius, or witchcraft, as I called it when I saw the list, hit her up on Twitter. Lauren, this has been a delight. Thank you so much for joining me today.
LR: Thank you so much for having me. I had a great time being here.
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Thanks for joining me today. And I will see you at the library.