Sam thinks the best investment she’s ever made is her subscription to Audible. Not that she ever has time to listen to any books on her own list, but the ghosts get a lot of use from it.
At the start it’s mostly Isaac taking advantage of the service; Nigel recommends books of poetry or other literature and Isaac comes sauntering over to Sam at all hours of the day and night, requesting she add them to a list for him. She finds it quite innocent that the two of them are still completely oblivious after all this time, and eventually suggests that Isaac invite Nigel up to the manor to listen to some of the books with him. Two months of listening to deeply romantic poetry with each other in close proximity, it doesn’t take long before they come to their senses. Everyone is relieved, especially Sam, that the long process of pining is over. When the other ghosts learn of the ‘magic’ book device, they each demand a turn at listening to their favorite stories. They fight for a few days about who would get to start listening each day, but it doesn’t take Sam and Jay long to come up with a system to make it fair for everyone.
And so the system becomes: every two weeks, one of the ghosts is allowed to listen to the book of their choice. They have two weeks to get through the book, but if they finish early they’re allowed to start another. As long as by the end of the second week, they allow the next ghost to start. Sam makes separate lists for all of them, compiling the suggestions as they come to her with them.
Nigel and Isaac gravitate towards older literature, Shakespeare plays, Walt Whitman poems, basically anything that would be considered classic. Sam tries to help them expand their taste by suggesting books that discussed real queer history, but they’re far more interested in the past than anything the present has to offer.
Pete is a self-proclaimed nerd, enamored with science fiction books. He asks Jay for book suggestions on a regular basis. To both his and Sam’s delight, Jay has plenty of recommendations. (They made Star Trek books? Who knew?).
Thorfinn of course is fascinated with any stories about war. Sam truly has no idea the number of books that exist about Vikings, both fiction and non-fiction, until she’s forced to sort through them. A lot of times, though, Thor comes to her and requests to switch books halfway through, finding some historical inaccuracy or other that ruins the experience for him. Fascinating, she muses one day, that so many historians who devote their lives to the study get it all so terribly wrong.
Sasappis requests books about Native American heritage and folklore, but Sam initially struggles to find books that aren’t written by white people for white people. Eventually, though, she does some further research and finds books she hopes to be accurate. If they aren’t Sas doesn’t mention it, but he is polite like that. Often he also listens in when Thor reads his Viking stories, but finds himself unable to wrap his head around Pete’s science fiction novels.
Trevor enjoys listening to, of all things, books about stocks. Initially, Sam thinks he’s joking, and tries recommending some romance or adventure novels. But no, all he wants to listen to is self help books and finance tips. (At one point he tries to add Donald Trump’s book to the list, but they have a swift conversation about how far he’s fallen since Trevor’s death, and that ends up being a terrible discovery for him). He likes listening to a little bit of everything, though, and enjoys tuning in to everyone’s genres.
Alberta unsurprisingly becomes enamored with true crime as a genre. Sam suggests other books on musical composition to add to her list, but Alberta insists on brushing up on her investigative knowledge, in order to try and solve her own murder. Every other month she indulges in a musically involved book, but mostly sticks to the true crime genre, something the other ghosts can’t bear to listen to. (Not that Sam can blame any of them for that.)
Hetty ends up last in the rotation, mostly because she doesn’t necessarily seem all that interested in being on the list to begin with. When it does come time for her to pick a book, she has nothing on her list.
Sam encourages the woman to find something that might interest her: “You never read anything when you were alive?”
Hetty guffaws, “Nothing besides recipes from…” She looks almost ashamed at admitting it. “My husband didn’t exactly encourage reading for education or pleasure; I was never allowed to do anything he deemed un-ladylike.”
Although Sam is vaguely aware of Hetty’s past with the Baron, mostly because of her conservative views on women’s place in the household and education, before now she had no idea how deeply unhappy Hetty was. The longer she spends with the woman, learning more about her life and afterlife, the more she realizes that Hetty is a tortured soul. There’s so much depth to her, a great personality underneath the façade she’s been forced to uphold as lady of the manor all these years. Suddenly this is personal to Sam. Of course it’s something as simple as picking an audiobook to listen to. But to Sam, it means that her relative, someone she’s come to care about deeply, can finally express herself. Hetty has never been able to show any part of herself, never been allowed to do anything she truly enjoys in life, this is her first real chance to broaden her horizons and step out of her husband’s shadow.
“Your husband isn’t here anymore, and I’m gonna find you something you’ll actually want to read. You’ll be able to explore so many different worlds and stories–”
“Oh, Samantha, I do appreciate the effort,” Hetty responds genuinely, “but you don’t have to do this for me, I’m happy to relinquish my time to Isaac and his beau.”
Sam does not intend to take no for an answer. “Give me one day, and I’ll find you the perfect book.” This is a guarantee, and once she sets her mind to something, she never looks back. “And if you don’t like it, I’ll find you another book, and we’ll keep going through genres until we find you something you’ll actually like.”
Hetty reluctantly agrees to this, “If there’s anyone I trust to influence my perspective on the new world, it’s you.”
Her cheeks flush at the compliment; it’s small, but it’s worth it, coming from someone she views as a mother figure. “I won’t do you wrong, I promise.”
Sam spends about an hour that night combing through countless different genres and sections, looking for the perfect read for Hetty. She thinks about something involving cooking, but then figures that would bring up gender roles and reinforce the idea that cooking and cleaning is all Hetty is good for. She feels an insurmountable amount of pressure to find the right book.
Jay walks in as she’s finally making some headway, “Babe, you’ve been looking at books for like, two hours now, what’s up?”
“Hetty can’t pick a book for her upcoming weeks, and I promised her I’d find her the perfect one. There’s so much pressure because she never had the freedom to read or do anything she actually was interested in when she was alive, because her idiot misogynist husband Elias was idiotic and misogynistic!”
“Woah, woah, woah.” Her husband puts his hand on both of her shoulders. “Take a breath. I’ll help you find a good book for Hetty to expand her horizons.”
Sam takes a deep breath as instructed. “Thank you, I just feel really responsible for helping her grow out of her old mindset, and sometimes it feels like I’m a mother of seven with all of them.”
Jay can’t help but crack a smile. “If you’re a mother of seven, that means I’m a father of seven.” He climbs into bed next to her and grabs the kitchen tablet from her hands. “Which means we’re in this together, and it’s my turn to find a book for your great great great great? grandmother?”
“I’m not sure how many greats we are either, but that sounds like enough.”
“Hetty lived in the Victorian era right?” He wastes no time as he begins his search, typing furiously as Sam nods and confirms his suspicions. “That’s the perfect place to start! There’s tons of Victorian era novels, both fiction and non-fiction.”
Of course. Sam is overthinking this way too much. That’s the first place she should’ve started. She’s let her emotions cloud her judgment; she finds herself a bit disappointed for not thinking of that simple solution first. She watches Jay scroll through the fiction section, bookmarking choices he thinks might fit to review with her later. They opt for solely fiction, figuring Hetty had enough of her time period when she lived through it, and hoping to expand her horizons while still introducing something she could relate to.
Eventually they land on a book they can both agree on. The description doesn’t give much away, but explains in brevity that the main characters are two progressive women living in the Victorian era forging their own path. One of the main characters, Catherine, is a widow, the only thing she has left of her terrible husband is his scientific legacy that has nearly been fulfilled. There’s one last solution that has to be translated, though. She has no interest in figuring it out herself, planning to wipe her hands of her last ties to her husband and pass the work off to a man better suited for the job. She makes it a contest of sorts; whoever can solve the difficult translation will receive all of her late husband’s work. That’s when the other main character Lucy shows up at Catherine’s door, having heard of the challenge and planning to translate the groundbreaking French astronomy text. Catherine is intrigued by this young woman, who clearly has a brilliant mind, restricted by the male dominated academic world for years. Catherine takes her in, allowing her to work on translating the texts without any outside male influence. Two women written from Hetty's time period, both defying the odds and gendered expectations beholden to them, indulging in difficult work they would be otherwise restricted from learning.
A controversial pick, but one Sam and Jay both agree will be perfect to expand Hetty's horizons in the world of literature.