Episode 79

Malavika Praseed is the host of the Your Favorite Book Podcast, a show with a similar theme as the Best Book Ever, but with a different format and philosophy. She’s been my guest here a couple of times, and I love talking books with her. Today, we got together to talk about what it’s like to ask people about their favorite books. What episodes are our most popular? Which ones are our personal favorites? What genres are we missing? Do we have an unpopular book opinions? Hosting these podcasts have changed both of our reading lives, in mostly (but not exclusively) positive ways, and I had so much fun digging in to the good, the bad, and the ugly of bookish podcasting with her.

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Host: Julie Strauss

Do you have a book you want to tell me about? Go HERE to apply to be a guest on the Best Book Ever Podcast.

Guest: Malavika Praseed
Podcast/Instagram/Twitter/Chicago Review of Books

Discussed in this episode:

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Debra Dean

Best Book Ever Episode 26 with Debra Dean

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Best Book Ever Episode 007 with H. Claire Taylor

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Your Favorite Book Podcast with Brandon Taylor 

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

Your Favorite Book Podcast with Malavika’s Mom

(Also, don’t miss Malavika’s episode with her Dad, which is also an absolute delight. I do so love a bookish family!)

Your Favorite Book Podcast with sportswriter Jeff Pearlman

Best Book Ever Episode 071 with Jeremy Patlen

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Barack Obama’s Summer Reading Lists

Liane Moriarty

Your Favorite Book Podcast with Shruthi Swamy

The Archer by Shruthi Swamy

Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin

Best Book Ever Episode 063 with Mona Kabbani

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Your Favorite Book Episode with Kota Connell-Ledwon

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Your Favorite Book Episode with Maxwell Dunn

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Best Book Ever Episode 047 with Aime Austin

What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster

Three Pines Mysteries by Louise Penny

My Cousin Vinny

Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

Rumors Fleetwood Mac

Black Panther

Elvis Costello The Best Of The First 10 Years

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir by Jenn Shapland

Best Book Ever Episode 029 Malavika Praseed

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles

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Hello, Bookworms welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where I get to know interesting people by asking them about their favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I’m talking to my podcast twin, Malavika Praseed. You may recognize Malavika from her guest appearance on episode 29, or perhaps you heard me on her podcast, The Your Favorite Book show. Our podcasts have similar themes, but we approach the questions very differently. and that’s why I’m always so eager to talk to her about what she’s learning when she asks people to tell her about their favorite books. This year, Malavika and I decided to do a wrap-up episode in which we discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a book podcaster. Join us now as we discuss what it means to spend our days asking people what they think is the Best Book Ever



Julie Strauss: Hi, Malavika, welcome back to the Best Book Ever podcast!

Malavika Prassed: Hey Julie, it’s great to be back!

JS: I love chatting with you, my podcast twin. We have a bunch of questions for each other today about the way our similar podcasts have impacted our lives. Shall we get right into it?

MP: Let’s do it. Let’s jump right in.

JS: Okay. Super. How many episodes are you in now? How many episodes does your podcast have?

MP: Ooh, good question. I believe off the top of my head, and I’d have to double check, I believe we’re about 65 episodes in. I had been weekly for a while and I recently went down to every other week. So the episode output won’t be quite as frequent, but, you know, focusing on really doing my due diligence with the ones I do put out. You know, we’ve got to make time for that work-life balance. But yeah, about 65 episodes for us. 

JS: Of those 65 that you’ve done, do you have any sense of how many of them were new books for you? 

MP: I would say almost all of them, almost all of them for me. Out of the 65, I had a couple solo episodes that I did, talking about some favorite short stories, and I did some ranking episodes. I would say out of the 65, maybe about 50 of those were interview episodes. And then most of those were brand new books to me, which was always exciting. 

JS: How has having the Your Favorite Book podcast changed or impacted your personal reading? 

MP: Oh, gosh, that’s a great question. I will say for one thing, it made me a much more diligent reader. I had always been a reader, but reading was always kind of the thing I snuck in, in between other activities or hobbies. And then it became a much more dominant thing. I mean, I think my GoodReads goals speak for themselves. I went from maybe 40 or 50 books a year, now I’m almost at a hundred, and I’m like, how did that happen? But reading has become such a big part of what I do now. And it’s also led to me branching out so much in terms of what I read. Books I normally would never pick up are now books I’ve been reading, and some have been really, really interesting and challenging. And I’ve been reading a lot of newer books too, because one of the things on my show is I feature a lot of writers and their upcoming releases. So good mix of all of that. I’m curious to know for you, how has that changed your reading goal? 

JS: You know, there’s been positive and negative. I agree that it has caused me to branch out. I have read so much that I would never have picked up on my own. And I always note that when I’m talking to people, like I just never would have picked this one up on my own steam and most of the time, that’s great. There’s been a little bit of negative impact in that when I get behind, which happens to all of us. I know ab interviews coming up and then I have to sort of speed through the book that I’m supposed to read, for example, for an interview that I have the next day, and then I start feeling a little resentful. Like, I’m in bed, I want to be relaxing. I want to read what I want to read right now. And so it really forces me to – I don’t like it when I get in that position. So I really try to treat the podcast reading as part of my work day. It doesn’t always work, but iit’s important to me to do it, because I get so mad at myself when I am reading a podcast book on the weekend. I just want to be totally in control of my weekend books.

MP: Absolutely. Here’s my quick follow up question on that: Have you ever not finished a book? 

JS: This just stays between us, okay? Deal. Yeah, there have been a couple.

MP: Same and I’ve actually been very forthright and told my guests I was not able to finish this book and I usually bring up reasons for that. And sometimes it’s my own lack of planning. Sometimes it’s the book didn’t work for me. But it happens to us.

JS: That’s why God gave us Spark Notes, right? And the key for me is that nobody’s called me out on the ones that I have not read. So, I figure I’m still doing okay. And it hasn’t been too many. So, everybody don’t @ me! Calm down. 

MP: On that note, we’re talking about how the podcasts have really changed our reading tastes and what we’ve picked up. What’s the book that surprised you the most doing the show?

JS: There’ve been a few. I’m not a big fantasy reader and a lot of people read fantasy, as it turns out. A good friend of mine, Alyssa Archer, chose a book called Deerskin by Robyn McKinley, which at first I was thinking, oh God, there are dragons. I love her, so I’m not going to skim this one. And then it turned out to really be a fantastic, feminist tale that surprised me every which way. It was really, really a good book. Also, I just interviewed a few weeks ago, Robin Whitten, who is the founder and editor of AudioFile Magazine, And she chose The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. And she recommended that the way we read it was to listen to the audio, because it was a full cast production, and it truly was phenomenal. It was like a stage play, almost. It felt performed, not just read. And I’m a big fan of audio books, but this one was much, much more than just reading the audio book. It was really a performance and it was phenomenal. 

MP: That sounds so cool. I love those full cast audio productions like that. It is like being in a theater and especially with COVID and none of us can go to theaters and I love theater. Like I really enjoyed that immersive feeling and I’m also a huge audio book fan. So, I get ya. 

JS: What about you? What book surprised you? 

MP: So I went this very same direction; I also thought of a fantasy book. I’m not a big fantasy reader either. I’ve just always thought the genre just went off in directions I couldn’t really relate to, or I wasn’t really a fan of some of the tropes, things like that. But I read The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, which is kind of infamous for being 850 pages long. And my guests was even like, if this is too long, I understand. And I’m like, nope, I’m going to do it. And so, I got the 850-page book and I didn’t give myself enough time to read this, but I devoured this book. I adored it. Somehow 850 pages felt short. I still wanted more. 

JS: Wow. 

MP: Again, it was a feminist retelling, also dragons, all of this. And I was like, this isn’t for me. But the thing was really character-focused. It didn’t bog me down in the world building. It just really focused on getting to know the characters. And so in that respect, it was like all the literary fiction I love, just with some new, interesting twists and turns. I’m like, this is excellent. And she’s writing another one in the same universe and I am waiting for it. 

JS: Oh, my God. So you’re in. You’re a fantasy reader. 

MP: I am. But I am judicious. I’ve read other fantasies since and I’m a little pickier, but that one, that one …

JS: Okay, I’m adding it to my list. Tell me something that you learned about people by asking them this question over 65 episodes. 

MP: I think that for one thing, I’ve learned just how hard of a question it is for people. As someone who has always been like, I have a top five ranking and I change the order and I know what my favorite books are, and that’s kind of what led to me doing this. A lot of people have a hard time with that question. And I think that’s a cool thing. Either it’s just that your tastes are always changing, or you just read so much, or favorite means different things to different people. I’ve actually found that when people get intimidated by the question, I rephrase it, and I like rephrasing it in different ways. I say, what’s a book that you can’t stop talking about, or what’s a book that you can’t seem to forget? And that usually brings up some really interesting answers. Some people still go with really recent favorites, but some people are pulling out the deep cuts from childhood, or like that one summer reading book that made them think maybe school’s not so bad after all, or you get some really interesting cuts here. So, I think the big thing I’ve learned is that it’s a hard question and it means different things to everybody. 

JS: Yeah, for me, the reason they like it is the most fascinating part to me. And I thought what the, I thought the benefit of this podcast was going to be, selfishly, I thought it was going to be opening up my reading life. but what it’s really been is learning people’s reasons, which almost always surprises me and has made me change my mind about a few of the books. There were a couple that I didn’t really love, but then when I talked to the person, and then they have –  some people have told me really, really highly personal stories. They say, this book represented this for me, or this book reminded me of my brother or this or that. And it changes the book for me. And it makes me think much more favorably about a book that I maybe didn’t like. And so that’s become the thing for me is the why is the important part. 

MP: Yeah. I really love that. I’ve had guests who have opened up to me. I had one guest and he admitted this on the show and he’s like, this is becoming a little bit of a therapy session for me! And I’m like, you know, books are therapy in many ways, especially when you’re digging out something that just has emotional resonance to you. It’s going to bring all those memories back. And even if I don’t see this, no one reads the same book. Like we all come into it with our own experiences and it’s a privilege to sometimes just be part of that. 

JS: Yeah, I agree. 

MP: What’s been your most popular episode? We’re getting into some podcast analytics here.

JS: Well, mine is, it’s actually from my first year of podcasting. Episode 26, Deborah Dean was on. She is a historical fiction author. She did an episode on Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. And that has consistently been, every month, my number one most listened-to episode. 

MP: Oh, interesting. I wonder if it is because he’s such a well-regarded author, or if it’s the strength of your guest? I’ve seen a little bit of everything. 

JS: I think it’s a little bit of both. She’s a very popular author. I think it’s that one. And, The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Those two have been top episodes been for a long time. What about you?

MP: Far and away, like I think total count this episode almost doubles all of my other episodes. And it is an episode I did with Brandon Taylor, the author of Real Life, and Filthy Animals. He was nominated for the Booker Prize a couple of years back and he was my guest. And we talked about Persuasion by Jane Austen and it was a match made in heaven. I adored doing that episode. I was intimidated because he was one of the first capital-A authors I talked to on the show and I was still a little nervous, but he was a wonderful guest and I enjoyed the book and we had a good time just talking about Jane Austen, who is the internet’s favorite writer. It was just a wonderful experience and everyone else seems to think so. So that’s been, that’s been lovely. 

JS: Ah, that sounds excellent. Numbers aside, which one is your personal favorite? 

MP: My first instinct: I talked to my mom as one of my first episodes on the show. And my mom was a great guest and I loved her, but Mom, someone beat you out for my favorite episode. And she tells me she sometimes goes back and listen to episodes. She’s like, I can tell which one is your favorite, just from the tone of your voice. And it is when I had the pleasure of talking to Jeff Pearlman, who is my favorite sports writer. I’ve been a fan for a while and he just decided to come on my show and we talked about baseball and I was like a kid in the candy shop. I remember editing the audio and I’m like, I am giggling too much. How do I edit out all my giggles? That wasn’t the closest I got to a true fan girl moment. So that’s still my thing. 

JS: Oh, very good. Well, mine is another really recent one, when I had Jeremy Patlen, who is the –  oh gosh, I hope I get his title right – Chief Buying Director?  Of the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. And he was just hilarious. And he chose a book called Just Kids by Patti Smith, which is sort of a memoir of her artistic life and her companionship with Robert Mapplethorpe. And the conversation, took all sorts of sort of crazy turns. We got into opera, and he’s a marathon runner, and he was hilarious and it was, and besides that, I think he has the dreamiest job that has ever existed in the history of the universe. I mean, being a bookstore buyer has gotta be right up there. 

MP: That’s up there for me with like, I don’t know, a Jane Austen character, where all you have to do all day is walk around at the park and go to balls. Like that’s up there. Ideal job. Getting back to the personal, do you have a dream guest and who would that be? 

JS: Can we do anyone? 

MP: You can do anything. You know what? Go for it. Anyone you want. 

JS: Okay. Barack Obama. And the reason is because I have always loved his W. what I love about them is that they are all over the place, in the best possible way. He seems to like popular fiction as much as he likes very deep literary fiction. They’re always so interesting and they’re always diverse and they’re always compelling, and he very often chooses books that I really love. So, I kinda think we have a lot of similar tastes, but not entirely similar tastes. It would be an interesting conversation, but not boring because we wouldn’t necessarily be sitting there talking about the newest Liane Moriarty book all the time. I mean, we would for a few minutes. I’m sure he enjoys Liane Moriarty.

MP: I’m sure he does. 

JS: What about you? Who’s your dream guest?

MP: Oh, gosh, you know, this is, this is tough. Cause on one hand, it’s like, I talked to one of them already, but on the other, oh gosh, if we’re going with absolutely anyone, there are, there are authors that come to mind. Somehow. I always think of dead people when I think of this. Wouldn’t it be great to talk to Edith Wharton or Jane Austen or John Steinbeck, one of my personal favorites? Yeah. I guess if we could talk to anybody living or dead, let’s have some dead writers. 

JS: So if we do that, then yours is going to be one of those three?

MP: Yeah. We’re going to go with John Steinbeck. I think if I was going with a dead guy. 

JS: Malavika, what genres are missing from your podcast? Is there anything that nobody has chosen yet? 

MP: Yes. And this is something I’ve been thinking about. I want somebody to make me read poetry. The closest we got is one of my guests, Sruthi Swami, who wrote a book I absolutely adored. She chose a book called Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin, which was a sort of an anthology or textbook of sorts. It had some poetry in there, but it was also sort of a pseudo-textbook of sorts about these fictional people. This was one of the two books I never finished. It was just a lot for me, but I also told her, I don’t know how to read poetry. And I really have been looking for somebody to say, here’s a poetry collection, read this. I want someone to teach me how to read poetry. Because somehow, after a four year English degree, I still don’t know how to read a poem. 

JS: You know what? I have had several quite acclaimed poets on the podcast, and I was kind of hoping they would choose poetry and none of them have. 

MP: Maybe it’s the word book? I don’t know. Maybe people have a single poem that they really like, and then finding a book of poems is a little harder? Maybe I should just have an open call for somebody telling me about their favorite poem. And we’ll talk about it. It’d be a lot shorter to read too. 

JS: How do we not know how to read poetry? That’s it’s always so strange to me that I look at it and I’m intimidated by it. It’s just words. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me. 

MP: I think it has a lot to do with being afraid to misinterpret, and being afraid to sound stupid. I think without narrative to sort of hang our hat on, there’s this fear that you’re reading the poem and maybe you’re not seeing a lot at first glance and you’re like, I’m missing something. I don’t know how to read this. And I feel this all the time. Sometimes when I talk to people who like poetry and I’m just like, I really appreciate the rhythm of these words, that’s a valid thing to say about a poem. Even if you don’t know all the context or you’re like, I like this image here. These are all really valid things to say. But I think we’re just afraid of sounding stupid. 

JS: I think you’re exactly right. And I think my other resistance to it, which also relates to being afraid of sounding stupid is, I tend to race through what I’m reading, and you just can’t do that with poetry. Having a poetry book in my hand sort of underlines this flaw of mine, which is, read quickly cause there’s so much to read! I do it in a happy way because I’ve got so many books to read and I’m always so excited to read books, but then, with poetry, you can’t do that. And so I always think I don’t really have time to sit down and really think about this, which is the dumbest thing. If I have time to sit down and read a chapter book, I have time to sit down and read a damn poem. 

MP: Right, exactly. I’m curious: have there been any genres missing from, from you other than poetry?

JS: Yes. Horror. That’s partially my own fault because I think I’ve said on almost every single episode, how much I dislike being scared. I did have one guest on, Mona Kabbani, and she’s actually a horror author. I was so excited to have her on, but I was also really afraid that she was going to pick something really scary. But she didn’t, she chose Fight Club. We had a great talk about that. Because she’s really, really into horror books, and that is her thing, I said, you know, maybe you could come on sometime and maybe introduce me to something that is scary, but not too scary. I don’t know. I really, really hate being scared.

MP: Me too. I’ve had to draw some boundaries. Like I’ve told guests, I can’t read a series for you. I just don’t have the time. Somebody once asked me to read the Wheel of Time series and I’m like, I’m pretty sure that’s like 30 books. That’s not happening. Absolutely not. I’ve had more than one person suggest The Lord of the Rings. And I’m going to have to say no. I need a whole podcast just for that. 

JS: Nobody’s a suggested The Lord of the Tings for me. That’s interesting. 

MP: They will now. Now you are going to get the requests. I did have The Hobbit and that was fine. That’s one book. But multiple books? No. 

JS: Has anyone chosen a book that is middle of a series for you? 

MP: No, thankfully, no one has. I’ve had a couple people pick book one in a series. One of my closest friends, Kota Connell-Ledwon, picked book one of the Shadow and Bone series. I had another guest who picked the first book in the Shadow of the Wind series. And I’m glad they picked book one. 

JS: And did you continue on with either of those series after you did the podcast?

MP: I definitely plan to with The Shadow of the Wind, because I love to book one for that. And I have booked two of Shadow and Bone sitting on my shelf. I told Kota, I don’t think is this is for me. But she and I are close friends and we just laughed about it. We were in all the same writing circles and she wrote fantasy and I wrote boring literary fiction and we bonded over that.

JS: So she must have known before she chose it that it was not for you?

MP: It was not my thing, but we had a great time talking about it. She’ll still insist I need to read the rest, and I might get to them. They’re pretty short, but just not anytime soon.

JS:  I had one guest, Aime Austin, who chose a book called What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George. I think it was like book 15 in this Detective Lynley murder series, but she said it was okay to read. And I didn’t get it. I was like, this is not a murder mystery. This is the weirdest book and I could not figure it out. And then when I sat down and talked to her, what it was was a person had been murdered at the end of the book right before it. And the author took a step back and went, before I go on with this detective story that I’ve been carrying on for all these books, let me tell you about the person who committed this crime. And she did a book about the criminal. It was a really sad story about these impoverished kids. And it just didn’t make sense to me for what I was expecting. But then when I talked to her, she said, you know, what you need to understand is if you’re this far in the series, you’re really invested in this particular character who had been shot. And, and all you can think is, why this person, of all people? And so then now you get to know. Not that it’s okay. It’s of course never okay. But there was a lot going on that led to this murder, a lot of very sad circumstances. So it was again, really eye opening to read it and then reconsider it after the podcast. 

MP: That’s really interesting. Cause you think of murder mysteries are sort of distinct from that series thing. They can kind of stand on their own a little bit. But that’s a really interesting set up. I’m intrigued by that now. 

JS: Yeah, it’s good. I really liked her writing. I had never read anything by Elizabeth George before, and I really liked her. 

MP: Now, getting onto maybe a controversial subject, but I am much more open about this on my show than you are, but I am firmly of the belief that no book is above criticism. So what is the book that just didn’t work for you the most, out of however many episodes? 

JS: This is actually my Patreon question because I have one. There’ve been several that I didn’t love, but I have one that I hated, that I just thought was garbage. But! You need to subscribe to my Patreon find out about that and I’ll tell you.

MP: Yep. So I’ll save mine too. On that note then let me give you another one. What is your most unpopular book opinion?

JS: Are we talking in terms of reading or genres?

MP: It can be something as benign as I don’t think it’s wrong to dog-ear a page. Which I think is wrong. First of all, I used to work in conservatorship and in book repair. Do not dog ear your pages! 

JS: I am going to be really, really unpopular with you right now.

MP: Let’s do it.

JS: I think it is okay to trash up books. I write in my books, I highlight, I dog-ear. I crack the spine. I destroy them. I think it’s a sign of love. Now, I have some books that are set aside that are very precious to me. For my 50th birthday, my husband bought me a first American edition of Howard’s End, which as you know is my all-time favorite book. So. I’m obviously not going to dog-ear that one. Even my Louise Penny mysteries – they’re not particularly precious, but they’re very special to me. I will underline a particularly good line, but I won’t dog-ear. Those I take care of those. But for the most part, yeah, I will trash a book up. I’m sorry. 

MP: There’s no shame in that. You know, it always pained me when I was younger and we had to annotate the books. I still can’t do it to this day, but I know plenty of people who do, and I love looking at an annotated book cause I’m like, this looks so intellectual. But I can’t do it. The one exception I have is that we have a tradition in my family that if you gift a book to anybody, you write a message inside the book. And so that’s just something that we do. And now my husband does that. Now he gives me a book and writes a message. You basically say, happy birthday, this is why I picked out the book and you sign your name in it. And to me, I like looking at those and seeing these were books that were gifted to me. That’s a tradition I plan to carry on. But that’s the only time you’ll see me writing in a book. 

JS: Oh, I love that. Okay. So tell me your controversial book opinions. 

MP: I mean, I think the not writing in books is one thing. Like I just won’t annotate. Here’s one. I prefer a used bookstore to a new bookstore. Even though I appreciate and love them, I’m very judicious when I buy new books. I mean, they’re more expensive and I have rules for myself. I usually only buy a new book if I have read it already, and I call it a five-star book and I have to own it. But used bookstores, I will go to town and just kind of buy up whatever I find and fill my shelves. That is just what I do. And I am the happiest clam when I am in a used bookstore. And in that setting, I’ll buy the old battered books. I’ll buy all of them. I just don’t do it to my own books. 

JS: Suppose you picked up a book that I had donated to a bookstore? It would have creased pages, and underlines, and OMG in the margins.

MP: I buy a lot of books online. I’ve got a collector’s project where I’m trying to collect all the Pulitzer Prize winning books. And as part of that, a lot of these are only really found online. They’re long out of print. So I’m finding these old secondhand copies and I’m totally cool with that. As long as the, the annotations don’t distract from me reading the text. 

JS: Got it. 

MP: I’m going to give you a fun one. Non-book related. Totally fun question. You can bring one movie, one food and one album on a desert island.

JS: Okay. Movie, food, album? 

MP: Yes. 

JS: The movie is going to be… Oh my God, this is terrible.

MP: I can go first. If it helps. 

JS: You go first. Have you thought this through already? I

MP: I’ve thought through this one. Okay. I have been very vocal on my show saying I don’t like a lot of movies. I am not a big movie watcher. I probably have like 10 movies I really like, so this is easy for me, but the one I would probably go with is My Cousin Vinny. I don’t know if you’ve seen My Cousin Vinny?

JS: Years ago. 

MP: My parents were always the kind of parents who were like, okay, this is not kid appropriate, this is kid appropriate. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized a lot of that had to do with whatever they liked. So I watched My Cousin Vinny when I was really young, because they loved the movie. And so we’ve watched that movie a hundred million times. I can quote most of that movie by heart now. I adore it. So that would be the movie. Album: I’m doing another thing where I’m going through the Rolling Stone 500 Best Albums. I’ve been slowly working my way through that. I would go Rumors by Fleetwood Mac, probably one of my favorite albums. The best concert I ever saw was Fleetwood Mac for my 18th birthday. That was great. Food wise: I love food, but probably going to go with a big bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese. Like I’ll just, I’ll die in a pool of Mac and cheese and I’ll be happy. 

JS: Okay. Those are all excellent choices. God, I’ve got to rethink, I got to rethink my life here. I think I’m gonna choose Black Panther for my move. It’s colorful, and the music’s fantastic, and it makes me laugh, and I love every single actor in it. The album would be definitely an Elvis Costello album. Can I choose a “Best of” or should I choose a specific one? 

MP: Choose Best Of. 

JS: Best of Elvis Costello, because I do have specifically favorite albums, but I would want the variety. Then, food. I’m going to choose chocolate. Because I’m just going to assume that I’m going to be able to get the basic nutrients from the plants. They’re probably really hard to make chocolate on an island. 

MP: I would think so. 

JS: I’m going to choose chocolate. Cause you can get the basics on the island, but you can’t get chocolate. 

MP: I don’t know where you’re going to find cheese or pasta sauce. 

JS: Yeah, no, that’s impossible. You got to bring those things. Cause you know, you’re going to be eating coconuts and stuff. 

MP: Exactly. Exactly. So I appreciate you indulging me on that.

JS: Oh my God. That is so hard. I’m so stressed out. 

MP: This is what we do to our guests, Julie.

JS: Well, let’s end with the question that I end every podcast with, which is, what are you reading on your own time? Not for your podcast.

MP: So, right now I’m only doing podcast reading, but about two days ago, I just finished My Autobiography of Carson McCullers. That is the title of the book. As we talked about before, one of my favorite books is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. And so this book had been on my list since it came out. I pre-ordered it at the library. And I was that one annoying person who requested it. And then I finally got around to reading it and it was delightful. It really defies genre. It’s part memoir, part history, part biography. And it’s really the author integrating a lot of her own experiences with queerness and identity and finding parallels in Carson’s own life. Carson, in her struggling marriage, was likely a lesbian and not in a society where that was really the done thing. But also it talks about the historical erasure of queer people, specifically lesbians, and how their narratives have frequently been written off. You know, that trope that they were “just good friends” and things like that. The writing is really good. It’s academic without being unapproachable. And I don’t think you have to be a fan of Carson McCullers to enjoy the book. I think it helped me because it put into context a lot of the real life melancholy that she brought into these books. She lived a tragic life. I mean, she had chronic illnesses that she was dealing with, like multiple strokes in her twenties and thirties. And she died quite young from all of her illnesses, but the book itself, just that sort of blending of biography and personal memoir was just so interesting. And I really enjoyed that. 

JS: Who is the author? Is it a relative of Carson McCullers?

MP: It’s very interesting. Her name is Jenn Shapland. She’s an academic, but she basically talks about how she came to Carson McCullers because she was working in an archive, and when she was a graduate student she came across these letters between Carson and her therapist, who later became what are thought to be lovers. Basically that just sparked a lifelong interest and figuring out about Carson. And she got a grant to live at Carson’s house and work on this book and she created this. That happened way back in her twenties, and she wrote this like over years and just was obsessed with this idea. That was so cool.

JS: I remember you telling me about the existence of this book when we spoke last December, it sounds fantastic. And I’m not nearly the fan of Carson McCullers that you are, but boy, this sounds. 

MP: It was really interesting. I have not read another book like it. It was a finalist for the National Book Award. I think might’ve deserved that prize. I haven’t read all the other prize winners, but I thought it was great. Julie, what are you reading? 

JS: So, I cannot tell you about this because, literally, this is the book I am starting tonight. I read the first couple of pages today, but it came very, very highly recommended. It’s called All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles

MP: I’ve heard of this. 

JS: Have you? It’s one of those – I love those stories of an object that passes from generations. This is an embroidered bag that belonged to an enslaved woman and given to her daughter, when her daughter was sold away from her, and then passed down. I am such a sucker for sagas being told through an object that passes hands. I love stories like that. And I’m so excited about this one. So I can’t give a report yet because I’m just starting it, but it’s one of those books that all day today, I’ve been looking at my watch going, six more hours and I get to go read my book!

MP:  I love that. I’m excited for you. And that sounds really great. I’m going to have to look that one up. 

JS: I’ll let you know. Yes. So will you tell my listeners where they can find you?

MP: Absolutely. I can be found on Instagram and Twitter.You can also find a lot of my episodes on the Chicago Review of Books website. We have a bit of a partnership. I also do written reviews with them. So if you like my thoughts in more long form, I do have a monthly review over there. The podcast itself is on most major podcast platforms, Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google, wherever you find your shows. 

JS: I love your book reviews, by the way. This is one of my favorite things. I always go read them. You’ve got such a great eye for books. It’s very fun. 

MP: I appreciate that. I’m like, who reads these things? I’m glad to know you do. 

JS: I want to thank you for joining me again today. I hope we make an annual tradition of this, because this is so much fun talking to you about our joint podcast experiences.


MP: Absolutely. 

JS: I wish you all the luck and success and marvelousness in your ventures in the coming year, which I can’t believe it’s already another year. 

MP: I know. I know. And I hope to do this annually too. This is so much fun. And I’m so glad I reached out to you that one day on Instagram and I’m like, hi, is it okay that we have the same premise?

JS: Me too. I love that both of our podcasts exist. It delights me to no end. So, thank you so much for your time. It’s really always so fun talking to you. 

MP: Thank you. 


Thanks for listening, Bookworms! You can follow the podcast on Instagram. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and you can find me on Instagram where you can see some of my favorite quotes from the podcast and occasional photos of my reading cave and get bookish news from friends of the show. You might even catch a glimpse of our official mascot, Benny, the meanest bunny on the planet. I really love most social media, but I love the Instagram book community. So come on over and let’s chat books.

Bookworms this is my last episode of 2021. I’ll be taking a two-week break and we’ll be back on January 3rd with new guests and new books. So, make sure you’re subscribing so you don’t miss any episodes. I wish you a warm, safe, happy, and healthy holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. And I thank you for joining me to talk about so many books over this last year. Take good care of yourselves, read lots of books and I’ll see you in two weeks. Until then you always know where to find me. At the library. Of course.

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