My Top 5 Favorite Bookish Podcasts

A short while back, I wrote about my top 5 favorite podcasts, most of which are not particularly bookish. 
(I know: weird.)

But goodness knows I listen to lots of the bookish stuff, too.

Here are my favorite bookish podcasts...

What Should I Read Next?
Oh, my goodness. Anne Bogel is so pleasant and kind and knowledgeable, I wish I were her. She invites a guest for each episode, asks them to tell her 3 books they love, 1 book they hated, and what they’re in the mood to read now. Then she prescribes 3 books for them. I always play along at home, and think of which books I’d suggest. This is pure comfort listening, guys.

Get Booked
Jenn & Amanda are smart & engaging & they love books. Lots of enthusiasm here.

Book Club Appetizer
A great podcast that focuses on a particular book that’s wildly discussable. Sometimes there are spoilers, so if that’s a thing for you, read the book first.

PW Radio
There are some amazing author interviews on this podcast. I cherry-pick the episodes that feature authors I love. (Mary Roach! Nathaniel Philbrick!)

Books on the Nightstand
For years (and I mean years -- this puppy ran for 8 full years), this was my bookish podcast of choice. And then it ran its course, and it wrapped earlier this year. Thanks, Michael and Ann, for some good years of bookish conversation. 

I'm aching to know... What are your favorite bookish podcasts?

Marital politics

The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close

3 words: domestic, conversational, uneasy

She’s got some serious talent at both creating believable characters and writing stylishly and elegantly. 

I had a really hard time putting this book down. It just kept tugging at me. And not because it’s some wild, adrenaline-rush thriller. It’s pretty much the opposite: a domestic novel about a young, newly married couple and the way the guy’s career affects their lives.

And it’s all super pleasant to read, because of all that nice writing.

Though: basically, this book is kind of a quiet, peaceful horror story.

It goes something like this:
Young happy beautiful couple befriends another young happy beautiful couple, and then Things Go Bad.

In this case, it all goes bad in a realm I completely love love love.

This book takes place in the world of electoral politics.

And people, I love a good campaign.

But this book… it exposes the dark underbelly. Here, we’re seeing it from the point of view of Beth, who is married to the manager of their good friend’s campaign.

And the results… they ain’t pretty.

Happily for us, this makes for a whopping good story. 

So... anyone else read anything fictionally political this election year? 

Coal mines and landfills and all the stories

Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Citizen and I share a fondness for the workplace narrative, and here, she guided me to an amazing example of the stuff.

The first thing to know about this book is that the writing is darn lively. Laskas is a professor of journalism, and she writes in a terrifically engaging journalistic style.

And I kept thinking of how this book would appeal to readers of Mary Roach. The writing style and the in-depth nature of the reporting felt similar to me. While this book doesn't have the laugh-out-loud thing going on (the way Roach’s books often do), there’s still humor here –– it's just more muted and contextual.

Laskas hangs out with people who do jobs we often overlook -- coal miners, cowboys, oil rig workers, air traffic controllers, landfill workers, truck drivers -- and gives a really in-depth look at their work and their personalities. 

She starts off with the coal miners, and I just keep thinking about that chapter. It’s pretty stunning writing, about staggeringly difficult work done by tough, stoic guys. It got me.
The whole book is this way -- a remarkably deep dive into a whole bunch of work lives that I confess I otherwise wouldn’t really think about (except for the landfill workers, cuz I know some of those guys from my growing-up years, cuz I’m lucky like that).

And as each chapter ended, I was sad to let it go. But then there was another narrative beginning, and it was only a matter of moments before I wondered where this one was gonna go.  

When I saw the subtitle of the book, I was worried that it was going to be over-earnest in tone, but Laskas keeps it real and she doesn't sentimentalize things and she doesn't make points. She just tells the people's stories, and that's just right.

A book that lets you meet people who do all kinds of tough and interesting work, because Laskas asked the good questions and made the insightful observations and let the people be who they are.

Dang. Wonderful book. 

Here's what Citizen had to say about it. (She really captured it.)

What's obsessing me in this week's book news

(photo credit: JD Lasica, Flickr)
OK, so we're all compulsively watching the Olympics, right? 

And so... you might've seen Anthony Ervin, co-author of the spectacular book Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian (a book I loved so much I could hardly stand it), win the gold medal (the gold medal!!) in the 50m freestyle. 


In case you missed it, here's the replay

And now his publisher is going back to press with his book. So there's all kinds of good news there, guys. 

And then, carrying on the Olympics theme... PBS did one of those freaky-good documentaries like they do... and this time it's about The Boys in the Boat. The documentary's called The Boys of '36. I watched it and liked it so much I'm yearning to re-read the book

Meanwhile, the President is doing summer reading, and the White House has released his book list. (I love it when this happens.) And his list is pretty darn good and even includes the amazing new novel by Colson Whitehead.

And then I saw this article about tons of self-improvement books, each described in a single sentence. And so, of course, that had me all blissed out. 

All of which has me thinking: This was one of the best book news weeks in recent history. 

Book club update: Summer is for kids

Shhhhh.... Quiet....
It’s book club update time again!

Last time, I introduced the Discussability Score* and yep, we’re rolling with it.

So here’s what our book club has read since then...

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Discussability Score: 5
Because: Either you are an introvert, or you know lots of them. And this book makes it cool to be introverted, and it validates many of the tendencies we true introverts possess. This one’s gonna live on in future discussions.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Discussability Score: 4
Because: While we’d all read it before, we each re-read Jane Eyre with new eyes. It’s a nuanced novel, and there was plenty to discuss, particularly about character development and plot believability.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
Discussability Score: 3
Because: We discussed the charm of this story and admired its many fine attributes. One book club member wished there were zombies in the story, to add some pizzazz. (That person was not me.)

Next up:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
(We’re doing that summertime children’s book thing again this year. I like it.)

*In case you're just yearning for a refresh, here goes...

Two factors feed into the Discussability Score:

  1. How engaging was our book club’s discussion? Did we discuss the book in depth and/or at length?
  2. How discussable do I think this book would be for other book clubs?

The Discussability Score is on a 5-point scale:

1 = Nobody has a word to say.

2 = You talk about the book for 5 minutes before someone mentions upcoming vacation plans and you never allude to the book ever again in your natural life.

3 = The book generates some discussion, but none of it is very zippy or interesting. But you’ve done your duty and now you can drink some wine and feel virtuously intellectual because you talked about a book.

4 = You all have interesting things to say about the book, and you’re all excited to be talking about it. The discussion goes on for quite a while, and it’s lively.

5 = Your group keeps talking and talking. Eventually, you talk about your vacation plans, but you keep leaping back to the book. And this thing has an afterlife… you’ll bring it up again and again at future book club meetings.

Biggest book of BEA?

(photo credit: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

3 words: brutal, lyrical, magical realism

At BEA, it was clear that Colson Whitehead’s forthcoming book was gonna be one of THE books of the fall publishing season. And I felt really lucky to have the opportunity to gush briefly at the author himself and to secure an ARC of The Underground Railroad.

And then I started reading the book, and it was an even more intense experience than I had anticipated. (That’s saying something.)

First, the book pulls the reader in immediately. Cora, the main character, and those who surround her on her journey north, became real people the moment I met them. 

Cora’s life has been pretty darn horrific, and when she sets off for freedom via the Underground Railroad, I’m sad to say it remains rather horrific.

But then there are brief periods of calm, when I’d think, “She’s gonna be OK. She’s made it to a good place.”

But… no.

Whitehead doesn’t hold back and he doesn’t shield his characters from the harshness of the reality they faced. It makes for some wrenching reading.

And again I was reminded of the power of fiction to convey truth.

Second, I realized early on that I was reading a Colson Whitehead book. Because here’s the thing: in this novel, the Underground Railroad is depicted as an actual underground railroad.

And each state has its own slavery culture, with its own horrors to learn anew. So, again, even though the book wasn’t a factual depiction of life in (and escaping) slavery, the story wields enormous emotional power, and some of that strength comes through its symbolism.

And third, the language. Oh, dear people, the way this writer writes. It’s enough to take your breath away. He writes with a lyrical precision that is stunning.

As we careen toward autumn, what books are on your radar?

Bookish tourist: Jimmy Carter Presidential Library

3 words: quiet, Seventies, earnestness

During this delightful whirlwind of a summer, the Dear Man and I headed to Georgia because Atlanta is the home of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. 

Both of us went into the situation with these two thoughts:
  1. Jimmy Carter… not our favorite President, even though he seriously seems like a really good person.

  2. Dang! We might actually see him when we’re there! 

Of course, I’m sure the fates decided that because of Thought 1, we were bound to be disappointed when it came to Thought 2.

So yeah: no Presidential sightings, my friends. He was nowhere to be found (even though I kind of had a feeling we might see him and then become regrettably tongue-tied if there were a chance to speak. But: Wrong! Humiliatingly awkward moment: averted.)

We made the best of the disappointment, though, because the Carter library/museum was really well done. 

There were family items...

And there was excellent Seventies campaign stuff…

… to accompany the truly wretched campaign song the Dear Man likes to play for me.
(Yeah, you're not gonna wanna click that Play button, cuz that song is an earworm that will keep crawling for hours...  Political campaign songs? They ain't good.)

And Darth Vader and Luke and Princess Leia were there...

And the obligatory replica Oval Office. (I'm a total sucker for the Oval Office replica.)

And they did a really lovely thing here... which made me gasp:

 A full wall of archival boxes on dramatic display! Rapture in the librarian heart!

And then, this moment of triumph...

The thing I really wanted to see (other than President Carter himself) was The Cardigan. I was pretty sure they'd have it, and Yes They Did

I buttoned up in its honor.

And to top it all off, there was a farmer's market in the parking lot, so: Georgia peaches!!

The Carter Center, the public policy organization run by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, shares the same grounds, and the whole place is lovely and peaceful and filled with good feeling. It's right there in the city of Atlanta, but it feels like a world apart. 

The museum brought back lots of very early memories... like being in the voting booth with my mom when she cast her vote in the 1976 election. In that moment, a political junkie was born. 

So, my fellow Americans... What are your memories of the Carter years?  
(Were you even born yet?)

Romantic LBD

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

3 words: light, multiple narrators, romantic

It’s well established that I love, love, love books about dresses. There’s this one and this one with all the magical realism, and there's this one with dresses that also change women's lives.

And now, there’s this one.

Nine Women, One Dress has a title that serves as its own elevator pitch: it’s a book about nine women and their experience wearing the same life-changing LBD.

And while there’s no magical realism going on here, the dress seems to have transformative properties, anyway. Because once a woman wears the thing, her life is never the same.

And usually that means a happy ending.

I listened to the audiobook, which was particularly well done. There are multiple narrators to represent the various characters who tell the story, and each one is well cast and distinctive.

I was surprised to find that there were so many male voices in the book, because the title had led me to expect it would be voiced only by women. But the inclusion of the fellows made the book a more coherent whole, because they provided the male viewpoint on the romantic relationships and also some of the family relationships. 

Set in current-day New York, this story is modern in sensibility, but delightfully old-fashioned in tone. I kept thinking Holly Golightly would have fit right in.

Looking for a good summer read? This one’s a winner—light and frolicky and romantic and happy.

It perfectly satisifed my yearning for a dresses book fix. 

So what's the frame (dresses, cooking, horses) you simply can't resist in a book? 

Currently... Midnight car to Georgia

Traveling | We dashed down to Georgia to see some amazing sites, then darted home to see more marvels

Reading | I recently finished reading My Life in France by Julia Child, which I loved. And I'm compulsively listening to Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen, which is basically the perfect summertime book about the perfect LBD. 

Listening | Like Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, I'm listening to the More Perfect podcast and finding out all kinds of fascinating details about the Supreme Court.  

Watching | The Property Brothers. They sometimes keep me company while I stretch. Ever since they were the guests on Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! that time we were there for the show, I've been hangin' with the Brothers via Netflix. 

Learning | ...that there are still discernible earthworks at the Kennesaw Mountain battlefield near Atlanta. Illinois soldiers from right near where I live fought there, and it was sobering to walk that ground and consider what they experienced.

Loving | Shrimp and grits! Holy Toledo, people. Why did no one tell us about this earlier? We stopped by Aretha Frankensteins in Chattanooga, which looks like this...

And we both ordered this...

And yes, it was life-changing.

Anticipating | Looking over all of our photos of the tall ships that docked in Chicago last weekend, including the one where we discovered that tall ships from the War of 1812 have living quarters that are not very tall

Celebrating |The opportunity to stand in Presidents' footprints. Here we got LBJ...

And Jimmy Carter...

Guys, what're you doing with your summer?

I’m no Julia Child

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

3 words: enthusiastic, personal growth, amiable

OK, I’m seriously no Julia Child. 

But I’m seriously part of her fan club.

That Julia, she's all about pursuing her passions and personal development and learning. And I really love hanging out with people like that. 

Lifelong learners, you are my tribe.

This book’s been around for years, and I only stumbled on it because Gretchen Rubin wrote that one of her favorite posts was the one she’d written about My Life in France.

And it made me want to read Child’s book. Bientôt!

And while I knew only a few facts about Julia Child when I began reading, I liked her immediately. And her story of self-discovery and self-actualization completely resonated with me. 

Here's what’s great about this book:

First, Julia's voice is clear and brisk and confident and engaging. It's fun to read her words. 

Second, it's also the story of a marvelous partnership. She and her husband Paul supported one another's interests and worked together as a team.

Third, it’s a celebration of mentorship and collaboration. Julia gives full credit to her teachers and the other chefs who inspired her, and to her early co-authors and colleagues.

Finally, this is one joyful memoir. It's downright jubilant. Once Julia found her passion, she threw herself into the hard work of mastery, and she conveys the delight she took in the work. It made me happy to read about it.

How about you -- ever read a memoir that made you happy just reading it?