In addition to my usual book reviews, about once a month I plan to review a podcast or some other source of where I get my books. Here’s this month’s bonus post on the What Should I Read Next podcast.
What Should I Read Next from Modern Mrs. Darcy (Anne Bogel) is a little gem of a podcast—it’s not huge and splashy, it’s not everyone’s favorite—but it does what it does very well within its niche. The producing is usually excellent and Anne’s voice was made for podcasting and audiobooks. At first blush, it’s easy to think she sounds a bit like she’s trying too hard to sound melodic; however, having been in webinars and online author interviews, that is actually just her voice. She is one of those rare people whose speaking voice is soothing and mellifluous.
The premise for the podcast—three books you love + one book you hate + what you’ve been reading lately = three recommendations for your next read—is fun. Each episode runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 minutes, the perfect length for my relatively short commute. I usually knock out an episode in two or three days of driving—sometimes less if I also have some laundry to fold and can’t wait to hear what happens next. I’m a pretty avid audiobook reader—I just couldn’t handle radio anymore so I always have something going. But for one recent notable exception, I’m usually pretty good with my picks, so for me to interrupt my audiobook for a podcast means it has to be worthwhile.
Some of the criticism in reviews on iTunes has generally centered around Anne’s somewhat limited pool of guests—that they all tend to be white, usually female, often bloggers, and usually people of Christian faith (and this winds up coming up). Having listened for a while as well as having gone back and listened to most of the back catalog, some of this criticism is warranted, though I would say that Anne has made an effort as the podcast has developed to diversify her guests. Perhaps partly because one of the main ways to get on the show is to apply, I think it’s a self-selection problem with those being the primary groups drawn to find Anne to start with, so those are the people who make up the pool. I do think Anne realizes this and has made a conscious effort to diversify her guests; however, even with this effort, this podcast isn’t every one’s cup of tea and that’s fine. Evangelical buzz words and too much talk of church make me twitchy and are triggers for me, but I find I can usually ignore it since it’s rarely ever a point discussed in depth.
Anne has done perhaps the best job diversifying by gender, reaching out to men she knows and having men on the show who either applied themselves or had their wives apply for them. It is a strength of Anne’s that I find her recommendations for men just as spot on as those for women. She clearly reads widely. Around Christmas (or at least, that’s when I listened to it), she had Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House and Glory over Everything as a guest. That episode was fascinating to hear her talk about her process and what she enjoys reading. While Grissom still fits the mold of white woman, I remember thinking that her episode had a different feel and that WSIRN was starting to branch out more and more.
My favorite episode recently was Episode 80 with Cori Jora, a social worker who set a goal to read books from more diverse authors to ensure she wasn’t just reading books by white authors. I love that this is the focus for more readers and I love that Anne validated this by having Cori on as a guest. It’s been a focus of mine as well. While I’d read many of the books mentioned by Anne and Cori, just hearing that—yes! This is a thing people should be doing!—was great. I do think Anne also makes a point to recommend and discuss books by authors of color, even where this isn’t the explicit point of the episode. I’ve heard her recently discuss, among others, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a book that was already on my TBR list but moved up a few spaces after the discussion. Along a similar vein, for being a Christian and having Christian guests on the show, Anne has read and highly recommended books that do not fit neatly into the box you’d expect for a white, Christian woman living in the South. The most notable example for me–She has highly recommended This is How It Always Is, a book about a family whose youngest child is trans (a book I also very highly recommend).
For some, this is a must-listen. I find I listen to most episodes; however, if a few minutes in I realize I have nothing in common with the guest, I don’t feel bad for tuning out. I finish approximately 2/3 of the episodes and pick up a book or two each episode—either something I haven’t heard of or it’s another plug for a book I was thinking about and Anne’s podcast pushes me over the top. I appreciate that this is a podcast I find myself engaging with—not just listening. I wrinkle my nose at choices, I defend my favorites, and I find myself thinking of what I’d recommend to this guest—once or twice, I’ve even gone on the WSIRN website and left a note with my recommendation for the listener, a practice Anne encourages. Ultimately the engagement and not just passive listening is the sign of a great podcast for me.