About a month ago I decided that I have to change something about my reading habits and start reading more. The list of books to read had become way too long for one lifetime and on top of the list for 2015 was The Girl from the Train, one of this year’s bestsellers and one of must-reads.

But before I began I got an interesting newsletter from Goodreads, the social network for book lovers, which is owned by Amazon. One of the recommended books was Maybe in Another Life by American novelist Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Maybe In Another Life

The book was in the section Best books of the month and had a short description:

Two possible lifetimes are told in parallel after Hannah Martin, floundering at age 29, bumps into an ex-boyfriend in a Los Angeles bar. Can one tiny decision change your life and ultimately your fate?

Maybe in Another Life is Jenkins Reid’s third book. It’s about a young woman Hannah, who returned to Los Angeles from New York. Shortly after getting back to L.A., Hannah goes out to a bar one night with her friend and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan. Just after midnight Hannah is torn between going home with her friend Gabby or staying in the bar with Ethan.

Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan? In parallel storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision as we see two possible scenarios unfold—with different results.

I only needed a couple of days to read the book, but since I have regularly notice brands in movies, TV shows and even in books I highlighted a few cases of brand dropping.

Toyota Camry in Maybe In Another Life (2015, screen capture)
Toyota Camry in Maybe In Another Life (2015, screen capture)
Oreo in Maybe in Another Life (2015, screen capture)
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Maybe in Another Life (2015, screen capture)

Brands mentioned in the books didn’t have an impact on the story, I assume they were there to enhance the description of the setting or to make story more natural.

However, I got in touch with the author and made an interview about brands in her latest book Maybe in Another Life.

Q1: Toyota Camry

B&F: When Hannah decides to buy a car she says:

“I’m considering a used Toyota Camry. The dealer keeps trying to get me to look at this bright red Prius. Admittedly, I’d rather have the bright red Prius. There might have been a time in my life when I would have said “Screw it” and used all my money on the down payment for the Prius, forcing myself to figure out the rest when it came time. Because I love that red Prius.”

How come you decided to use Toyota Camry and Prius? I found that in 2014 Camry was the best selling car in the US. Was that the reason?

Best Selling Cars in the US
Best Selling Cars in the US

TJR: I chose Camry and Toyota because I was trying to keep tabs on where in L.A. I had placed Hannah at any given time and I knew, from having been to a Toyota nearby, that she could have walked to a Toyota dealership. And I think I chose Camry because it’s the world’s most practical and boring car (to me) whereas a Prius feels hipper (and is what my husband drives.) None of this, admittedly, even passed through my brain in a cohesive thought though. It just went right from an idea to a sentence without any filter. I also — probably — chose Toyota because I had noticed in previous books that I somehow had every character driving a Honda.

Q2: Oreos

B&F: When Henry took Hannah to the vending machine she had to choose one candy and she chose Oreos. She even made a mistake in using Oreo in a sentence “There’s no wrong way to eat a Oreos”, and Henry promptly made a correction and said, “There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s”.

Oreo in Maybe in Another Life (2015, screen capture)
Oreo in Maybe in Another Life (2015, screen capture)

Is there some interesting story behind choosing those two brands?

TJR: The only interesting story is that when she went to the vending machine I had to think of what she would want to eat and I, personally, couldn’t decide between whether I would want an Oreo or a Reese’s so I figured that was a good choice for her to have to make.

Almost all food in my books is based on what I am hungry for at the moment. Which brings up something you may not know yet: Perhaps the best example of high level product placement in my books was in my first book, Forever, Interrupted. I won’t spoil it for you but you will see, by the end of the first chapter on page 9, just how pervasive it is. Readers still talk to me about it. I wanted it to be on the book cover.

Q3: The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

B&F: When Gabby took Hannah to Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) they stopped at The Coffee Bean. I’ve checked Google Maps and found a few Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf cafes a few blocks away from LACMA.

I found the fact that there is actually The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf near LACMA totally awesome, but was mentioning that exact brand of café something from your experience or completely non-intentional?

Coffe Bean in Los Angeles

TJR: I only go to Coffee Bean if I can help it so that’s why they go there. I didn’t even occur to me they would go anywhere else.

Q4: Cheerios and Count Chocula

B&F: In the third part of the book Gabby and Hannah were discussing their former lovers:

Cheerios and Count Chocula in Maybe in Another Life (2015, screen capture)
Cheerios and Count Chocula in Maybe in Another Life (2015, screen capture)

Can you describe in a few words why did you choose those brands of cereals (Count Chocula, Cherrios and Honey Nut)?

TJR: This was slightly more contrived. I was looking for an analogy that would feel real to them but absurd out of context and cereal is something everyone knows intimately but can’t take seriously. Also, Count Chocula is a human(ish) character, so I could blur the line between cereals and euphemisms for people. When Hannah says, “call Count Chocula” it’s funny but also sort of real vs if she’d said, “call Shredded Wheat.”

Q5: Product placement in books

B&F: What is your opinion on product placement in books? Do you find it distracting, inevitable, something positive, something that could add some other layer to the story or character, …?

TJR: A lot of the time for me brands are slipped in when it’s how people would really talk. They would talk about Reese’s peanut butter cups and Coffee Bean so I don’t even notice I’m talking about brands, I’m just writing as people would speak. But sometimes, I do use them to ground the story in reality by making references in Hannah’s world that fit into our real world.

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Taylor Jenkins ReidTaylor Jenkins Reid is an author, essayist, and TV writer from Acton, Massachusetts. Her debut novel, Forever, Interrupted, has been optioned with Dakota Johnson attached to star. Her second book, After I Do, was called a “must read” by Kirkus. Her most recent novel, Maybe In Another Life has been featured in People, US Weekly, Cosmo, and more.

In addition to her novels, Taylor’s essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, xoJane, and a number of other blogs.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Rabbit.