Readers, after more than five years, over 900 books recommended, and so many amazing conversations, we’re celebrating What Should I Read Next with our 300th episode!
I’ve spoken to so many fascinating people about how reading is important in their lives, and alongside the team here at What Should I Read Next, I’ve loved seeing our community of readers grow, connect, and create thriving reading lives.
So today, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the people and process behind our weekly podcast and explore the many layers of What Should I Read Next. Listen in as I chat with some of our original voices, talk about how our show gets made, share some behind the scenes fun, and look at how we’ve grown over time. Plus, we asked for your stories—and we’ll be hearing from you throughout today’s episode, too! Many of your submissions mentioned specific episodes that influenced your reading lives, so we’ve included a full list below so you can revisit some of these listener favorites.
The fun doesn’t stop here, either. We’re going to be continuing the 300th episode celebrations over on Patreon with a special LIVE event! Our Patreon community can tune in on October 7th, when we’ll be sharing interviews and conversation with three of our most recommended and most read WSIRN authors. If you’d love to join us, you can learn more and become a part of our Patreon community here.
Finally, it’s almost time for our annual book gift matchmaking episode! As we have in the past, we’ll be inviting a special guest on the show to help us match YOUR loved one with a perfect bookish gift.
Want to submit your gift recommendation request? Because we know that local bookstores and publishers are facing supply chain challenges this year, we’ll be bringing you this special episode a little bit earlier than usual, so we’re asking you to submit your request by September 26. We’ll need to know who you want a gift recommendation for, a couple books they love, a book or genre you know they don’t like, and any other little details you think are useful. You can either email this information to our producer Brenna or leave me a voicemail from your phone or computer at speakpipe.com/whatshouldireadnext. Please make sure to keep your message under 1 minute!
ANNE: Hey readers, I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next episode 300. 300!
Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?
We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. For these 300 episodes we’ve talked all things books and reading, and I’ve played literary matchmaker with hundreds of guests. After more than five years of bookish delight, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the people and process behind our weekly podcast and explore the many layers of What Should I Read Next! I’ll be chatting with some of our original voices to talk about how our show gets made and how we’ve grown over time—and we’ll hear from some of you about how this podcast has changed your reading lives!
Our 300th episode celebration is too exciting to include all of the fun in one episode. So we are taking the party over to Patreon with a special LIVE event! Our patreon community can tune in on October 7th, when we’ll be sharing interviews and conversation with three of our most recommended and most read What Should I Read Next authors! Stay tuned, because we’ll be announcing 2 of these guests on our Instagram account in the coming days—we’re keeping the 3rd a surprise.
If you are not a member of our patreon community, we’d love to have you join us. That’s at patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext.
Like many good stories, the tale of our podcast has a cast of characters. One of the first was Knox McCoy, who told us his side of the story on Patreon back in May 2020…
ANNE: Okay, so we’ve been talking about this for a little while now about getting back together via the Interwebs. You pre-date the What Should I Read Next launch. January 12th, 2016.
KNOX: In like some small, tiny way, I’m like in the bedrock of What Should I Read Next.
ANNE: Yes, and I don’t remember exactly how … I mean, we’ve met before in person like way back in the day, but I remember like giving you the pitch for what the show could be, and you were like, yeah, that’ll work.
KNOX: Yeah, I’ve talked with a couple of people, there’s like this mythical blog conference [ANNE LAUGHS] where I met everybody…
ANNE: Yes, that’s how I think about it!
KNOX: Yeah, like I met you, I met Jamie, I met Erin, I met some guys that I’m close with. I met everybody there and you were one … But I think for What Should I Read Next, I don’t know if we were talking about this at our first live show that you came to the second you started talking about it, I was like yeah, that’s genius. That’s such a great idea. You have to do this.
ANNE: I remember the live show, and yes, that was total serendipity. It was great. The first one you did in Birmingham, we were — I was afraid to tell Will who’s been on the show so you can all get some, [KNOX LAUGHS] you can go back and listen, but I was like Will! Okay. There’s … You know Knox and Jamie, there, … We’re going to be in Birmingham, and he was like oh. You and your crazy Internet things again, sure why not. [KNOX LAUGHS] Not that I’m saying that you need a person’s permission, but to like, you know, to leave your husband with four kids in the hotel.
KNOX: It’s a … It’s a wild thing to be like look, I’m just going to be gone for an hour or two, it’s going to be weird, but just like roll with it, please.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] No, but the show was already in process at that point because we’d talked on the phone in my old house.
KNOX: Yeah, that’s right.
ANNE: This is how I date things. You moved recently. You can date things this way.
KNOX: Gosh, yeah. It’s like I don’t remember anything that happened before, but everything that happened after the move I know with like excruciating detail.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Okay, so we talked, you were like yes, that can be a show and then you produced the first eleven episodes.
KNOX: That’s right, and I didn’t really do much. I was just like yeah, little edit, press publish, and it just kinda sold and spoke for itself ’cause the idea was so great, you were great, and a lot of your early guests, I think Jamie was one of your early guests, and I know they all did a great job.
ANNE: She was number two. I think she was number two, unless she was number one. Here, I have the spreadsheet in front of me. Jamie was number one, “Books that inspire crying jags and sleepless nights.”
KNOX: She was like the only thing I want is to make sure I’m not the first one, and I remember listening to it and I was talking, I was like I think Jamie’s the best so far. [ANNE LAUGHS] So like you should lead off with her. [LAUGHS] So she still like reminds me how I betrayed her in that way.
ANNE: She didn’t tell me she didn’t want to be first. This is just coming out, like four and a half years later.
KNOX: You know, there’s just, there’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of pressure to be the kickoff guest, you know, but luckily for Jamie, she’s such a force of nature like, and just so funny and just so vivid that I thought it was a great fit.
ANNE: Well, lemme tell you how I’m indebted to you because I don’t know if you know this. You told me back at the very beginning that we needed like some literary quote to close out the episode. [KNOX LAUGHS] And I shot you Rainer Maria Rilke, “Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading,” and then I started creating this list of other ones we could use at the end of other episodes, ’cause the original idea wasn’t like let’s get a tagline. But for episode two you were like nah, I like it. Let’s keep it.
KNOX: [LAUGHS] Forever. Don’t ever change from this one. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Forever. And that was a good call.
KNOX: It’s a perfect way to end it. I think you did a good job identifying the quote.
ANNE: I appreciate that.
ANNE: Knox helped us get the show onto the air waves in the beginning, but there would have been no audio to air without the encouragement and assistance of my husband Will. I have been trying my hand at literary matchmaking in an ongoing blog series on my blog Modern Mrs Darcy, and I had started to become curious how it might work in actual live conversation with a guest instead of on the page. Like Knox said, our first public episode, episode 1, featured Jamie Golden, but Will was part of another very important initial episode of sorts.
ANNE: You were the very first What Should I Read Next trial guest in the episode that was not recorded and is lost to history and lives only in memory in the Allegheny mountains.
WILL: I remember, which is funny ’cause we now record everything.
ANNE: We do! We record everything, just in case.
WILL: There’s that one time we wish we had it.
ANNE: Well, if we’d known, except that would have been really pretentious though.
WILL: It would have also sounded terrible. [ANNE LAUGHS] It was literally in the car on the highway.
ANNE: Going 70 miles an hour through the mountains.
WILL: With kids in the car. I mean, like yeah, it would have been bad.
ANNE: Still that would have been nice to have. So for that episode 61, which aired on January 10, 2017 and it’s still a good episode, y’all. We found the piece of paper, the relic from the past that we used to record that sample episode in October, I guess October 2015 in the Alleghenies.
WILL: It’s about time you had me back. [ANNE LAUGHS]
ANNE: That’s a fun story we love to laugh about around here, but we know you all have your own What Should I Read Next stories. When we started brainstorming about how to celebrate 300 episodes on our podcast, we knew we had to share listener stories because without you, this podcast, and our amazing community, wouldn’t have reached this milestone. Thank you to everyone who shared your What Should I Read Next stories. We’ve woven your voicemails and emails throughout this episode. It is so special and meaningful to hear the ways our community of readers has taken the core message of What Should I Read Next into your everyday lives.
HOLLY: Caroline Skyler said, “Near the beginning of the pandemic, in episode 213, Anne welcomed Kate DiCamillo on the show. Kate gave advice to would-be writers and somehow just the way she said it and the sincerity of her belief was enough to get me writing again after giving up so many times. I now have a first draft of a middle grade mystery novel that I am so incredibly proud of because I had always quit in the past. Just having that draft means so much to me, and I never would have done it without the encouragement of that episode.”
ALISHA: This is Alisha calling from Washington. I’m not exaggerating when I say this podcast changed my life. Because of your constant encouragement to pay attention to our reading lives, I started a book journal and began noticing all kinds of preferences and moods and habits in my reading life that were totally unconscious. I’ve more than doubled my reading goal from previous years, not that it’s about the numbers. [LAUGHS] This year’s amount I’ve been reading reflects the ways I’ve been able to prioritize reading and to easily find books I love. I now know that I’m always drawn to compulsively readable literary fiction, that I have a soft spot for food writing, that my best reading blogs are the first thing in the morning over a cup of coffee, that I would rather read a paperback than anything else. Thanks for helping me practice paying attention and for all the great booklists to stock my TBR.
HOLLY: Nicki B. wrote: “I decided to check What Should I Read Next out two years ago to see what folks loved about podcasts so much, and never turned back. Listening in makes me feel connected to people who enjoy losing themselves in a good story as much as I do. What Should I Read Next has driven home the idea that I’m not alone when it comes to habits, preferences, and reactions to books, as well as the part they play in our lives as readers. I’ve become an avid reader since I was a child, devouring lots of books each year, but once I became a mom six years ago and struggled with that transition, plus simultaneous depression. I stopped having the energy to read a chapter, never mind finish a book. What Should I Read Next helped me out of that depression and has reminded me that reading is part of who I am. Now I make time to read or listen each day, regardless of how busy things are.”
CARRIE: Hi, it’s Carrie from Wisconsin. [LAUGHS] I absolutely love playing literary matchmaker and I think what I appreciate so much about What Should I Read Next is both the guest recommendations as well as Anne’s recommendations. They don’t always fit with what I want to read, but the more I listen to the podcast, the more often I find myself saying oh! I don’t want to read that but I know someone who would, and then I’m able to gently press it into their hands, which is always a really good feeling.
LIBBY: Hi, this is Libby Gorman. I’m from Forest Hill, Maryland, north of Baltimore. I’m a middle school librarian and I’ve been a What Should I Read Next listener for about three years. My personal promise that I always have too many things I want to read next, both for school and just for fun. Episode 158, “the life changing magic of clearing your unread shelf” sorta gave myself permission to prune my TBR. I figure if a book is important enough for me to read, it’ll pop up again so if I’m going through my list of things to read and I don’t remember why I put it there, I take it off. Thanks so much and have a great day.
BETH: I’m Beth Royo coming from Charlottesville, Virginia, and I began listening to What Should I Read Next the latter half of 2018. The huge change that I made after I started listening to the podcast is the creation of a TBR. Until that time, my TBR was the physical books on my shelves of which I had read maybe 25%. Whenever I visited my library, or went to the bookstore, my choices were completely impulse driven. I’d either read the books immediately or they’d take up residence on my bookshelves. Over the years, my bookshelves started to feel rather stale. Maintaining a physical or in my case, digital TBR has given me the discipline to think more carefully about my book choices. Now when I make book selections, they’re conscious and intentional and my bookshelves hold books that I’ve read at least once and have become beloved friends, or they’re in a pile in my home library and I know that I’ll be curling up with them soon.
ANNE: After so many cancelled trips and events over the past year, I am so looking forward to my upcoming trip to the 16th annual Bookmarks festival in Winston-Salem this weekend—and I’ll absolutely be taking my Away suitcase.
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ANNE: At the end of every episode I give a little shout-out to two people. If you listen to the end, you know you’ve heard me say—[quoting] “What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Peckacek”. A few short words to encompass the many hours of hard work that have kept What Should I Read Next going out on time every Tuesday for the past 5 years. But what you might not know is — they’re married! So, I called them recently at their cozy home office in Washington State to reflect on the art, tech, and ethics behind the creation of What Should I Read Next…
ANNE: This is the part where I usually say welcome to the show, except you’re a part of it and have been a part of it for a really long time. [BRENNA AND KELLEN LAUGH] But welcome to the airwaves? [BRENNA LAUGHS]
KELLEN: And for me, welcome to the mic for the first time ever.
ANNE: That’s right. Has your voice not been on the podcast?
KELLEN: It has absolutely never been on the podcast.
ANNE: You would know because you would have had to edited it. [BRENNA LAUGHS]
KELLEN: Exactly. So I have to set up all the ecues and compression, all of that stuff for my voice for the first time ever.
ANNE: We are at 300th episodes and you’ve been here since episode number … I don’t know.
BRENNA: Yeah, episode 34. Yeah. That’s the first one I remember touching.
KELLEN: Wow! I thought it was like 70 something.
ANNE: No, Brenna came on in …
BRENNA: Ah, 2016.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] And now five years later we’re finishing each other’s sentences. [ALL LAUGH]
BRENNA: I’ve got your voice in my head all the time, Anne, is the thing.
ANNE: I’m really sorry. [BRENNA AND ANNE LAUGH] I mean, it felt like at the time you were coming on to a fairly established podcast, but that was just [BRENNA LAUGHS] but that was just, I mean, as of today, just 10% of our episodes went out there without you.
BRENNA: I think my original title was podcast assistant?
ANNE: That sounds about right. We had to grow into that big important sounding word. “Production.” Not because you weren’t doing it, but because I mean, you know, what did I know?
BRENNA: Podcasting is such like a DIY world.
ANNE: It is. I do feel like it’s all slapped together with a digital equivalent of duct tape and cardboard. [BRENNA LAUGHS]
KELLEN: What I like about it is that you’ve got stuff like Audacity which I think most of us, or all of us, are recording on the moment which is a free program and that and a little bit of know how, it can get you like a decent sounding podcast, just right off the bat with very little investment.
ANNE: Kellen, don’t be modest. Like a little bit of know-how?
KELLEN: [LAUGHS] For a decent sound, I mean like, it doesn’t sound … [MUFFLED] Like you’re talking behind your hand or something. There’s ways that you can raise the lowest level of quality for fairly cheap. But yes, I’ve been working at this for years and years and years at this point and yeah. [LAUGHS] To get it sounding the best it can it definitely takes some know-how and a lot of experience.
ANNE: Brenna, you were saying your role has evolved and yes, I don’t remember any single moment in time where we sat down and said, let’s get you doing a lot more stuff [BRENNA LAUGHS] and yet week by week over, I mean, gosh five years now. That’s exactly what happened.
ANNE: Some of our listeners and you know many of our Patreon community members have a pretty good idea of what you do because you talk about it all the time but how would you describe the core parts of your role today?
BRENNA: Well, if I’m just listing titles, I’m an audio and video producer and I also manage our Patreon community, which means I manage a lot of big picture and little picture things, so as far the show goes, I’m working on short lists for what guests we’re going to have on, staying with those guests throughout the whole production process, so from inviting them on the show, telling them they’ve been selected, all the way through test calls, recording, and then making sure they know when their episode is coming out. And then I’m editing the shows now, which was not at all in my job description to begin with. But so I manage the content edits. I make Anne sound good. I make our guests sound good. And decide what does or doesn’t stay in the final episodes, like cooperate with Leigh who does social and whoever’s scripting at the time. We have a new team member right now. It used to be Chelsey doing some scripting when she took that off my plate, and now we have Holly, so welcome, Holly.
ANNE: So the three of us have met one time in person. It was when I was on book tour for I’d Rather Be Reading [BRENNA LAUGHS] It was the afternoon of an event that we had at Browsers Bookshop, which is owned by Andrea Griffith, oh golly, there’s just so many layers of What Should I Read Next [KELLEN LAUGHS] connectivity here. She came on the podcast very early, it was something like episode 18. We’ll put the correct link in show notes, readers, but at the time, she had just bought a store and she was talking about it, and then a few years later I was there on book tour and it’s a beautiful, wonderful bookshop in downtown Olympia, Washington. We got to hangout at a coffee shop for way too long … Like we had to reorder we were there for so long. [KELLEN AND BRENNA LAUGH] But I remember you saying there amongst a host of other things, Anne, why do we not have a Patreon? We need a Patreon, and this is what it’s going to look like.
BRENNA: It seemed like a missed opportunity to me at the time, and it’s no longer missed.
ANNE: Kellen, how do you remember your origin story of coming on the podcast?
KELLEN: Well obviously it involved Brenna ’cause she was always talking about [LAUGHS] What Should I Read Next [ANNE LAUGHS] and I would always sorta elbow her hey, I could work on the podcast and that kinda of a thing, and you guys had an audio gentleman at the time, Constantine. She was like no, I’m not going to do that, you know, we already have somebody.
ANNE: Who also was a listener who pinged me and said if you ever need any audio help at exactly the right moment, [KELLEN LAUGHS] and he was there when we needed him. More What Should I Read Next connectivity.
KELLEN: You know, he left and Brenna was like guess what. I’m going to [LAUGHS] give them your name. That was my origin with the podcast. I think I started around episode 1 … 117 stands out to me so three-ish years ago, something like that. I’ve been having a blast ever since.
ANNE: Both of you make the show really sound good, but you do it in different ways. I’ve had many years now to understand the distinction which I kinda do sorta most days. [ALL LAUGH] But would you all explain to us what you each bring to the show?
BRENNA: As far as audio goes for me, I do make sure like the tech is all set up at the beginning, so like guests know which mic to use and how to check their audio settings. They get their backup recording going, but then I also do sort of the creative edit, or what we call the content edit. I decide which book recommendations and which jokes and which flubs stay in the episodes. [ALL LAUGH] You know, make those little aesthetic changes, like ums and uhs and long pauses and when someone takes a drink of water or sneezes, and it’s creative work, whereas when I hand that audio off to Kellen, it becomes much more technical. When I look at his screen in his office when he’s editing, it makes no sense to me. It looks like [KELLEN AND ANNE LAUGH] he’s like landing the Mars Rover. It’s a lot beyond what I do as far as tech goes, so Kellen, you’re going to have to explain that part ’cause I still don’t understand it completely.
KELLEN: Brenna kinda makes the story happen, whereas when I get it, I’m the person who goes in and to put it simply, makes it sound pretty. Everybody that we have on has different microphones. Some people are using their iPhone headphones, some people are using their laptop microphone. We used to send headsets to people and then Covid hit and there were no headsets to be found because everybody was working from home.
BRENNA: That was a whole behind the scenes drama.
ANNE: Everybody was working from home, and all of a sudden we would have to buy our Panasonic headsets on the black market for $180 [KELLEN AND ANNE LAUGH] because everybody needed one. Well, I know that you all have different tasks. Brenna does the editing for content. Kellen, you make it sound good. You mix it and master it. I think those verbs make it sound so cool. [KELLEN LAUGHS] But you do work together. What’s that like, producing a podcast with your spouse in the same house but not together?
BRENNA: We are almost never working at the same time. He edits the show after I’ve clocked out for the day on Wednesdays, you know. It does require some collaboration which definitely has had ups and downs because the interesting thing about audio editing is that because it is a creative activity, you can have differing opinions on things that can both be right.
BRENNA: So we’ll have disagreements occasionally about like how we best want to treat this audio, versus what the other person thinks, but we now have our own offices that are across the hall from each other and it is very convenient to just be able to like unplug our headphones, turn the volume up, and play something really loud and be like hey! What do you think about this? [LAUGHS]
KELLEN: We definitely have like she mentioned our creative differences, our disagreements about how things should be done, that kinda thing, but I know because of her background and because of how much she cares about the quality that we’re putting out, I know that I can like come to her and be like hey, does this sound good, or she’ll come to me and be like hey, that sounded great. I very much trust her opinions on things, like it’s a conversation back and forth. I can’t tell you how many times I came to Brenna and be like I need you to listen to the before and after [BRENNA LAUGHS] of this. [ANNE LAUGHS] This dog barked and it was gone by the time I was done with it. [BRENNA LAUGHS] So it’s always nice also to be able to you know, just have those little moments where it’s like hey, I’m really proud of what I did and the other person’s like you’re right. You killed it.
BRENNA: Yeah. That’s definitely something that was really enhanced and more enjoyable for me once Kellen came on the team because most of us on the team were, I mean all of us, actually right now, we’re all remote, so there’s no like sitting in a room and like brainstorming. Like Kellen said, I come from like a theater production background and he comes from like live events and live music. There’s a production team energy that comes with that that’s very invigorating and when he came on the team, some of that came into our life as well.
KELLEN: Nothing beats in-person production.
ANNE: And that’s always been the case, but especially now after so many of us have been forced apart for so long, you know, being able to collaborate in person is really something special.
BRENNA: I’m really appreciating it.
ANNE: Kellen, it seems to me like the better you do your job, the less people notice your work.
ANNE: I don’t know that anybody sits down to a podcast, I mean, unless …
KELLEN: Unless they’re me?
BRENNA: Unless they’re us, yeah. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: Yes, exactly, and go wow, this sounds so good. But most of us have had the experience of not wanting to listen to something, or not being able to listen to something because it doesn’t sound good. Is it satisfying [LAUGHS] for your work to disappear?
KELLEN: Oh, it absolutely is. I’ve been doing audio for at this point it’s actually been about two decades. I’ve been doing it since I was 11 years old. In church I sat at the sound board for services and did probably a terrible job at that point, but yeah, I’ve been doing it for such a long time and at this point, I’m like, I’m fine to be the one to fade into the background. Like if I do my job right, you guys wouldn’t even know I existed. That is something I take great pride in. I’ve done my job and I find that highly satisfying.
ANNE: Kellen, I’m sorry to say, I don’t hear feedback about your work from our listeners, which I think means …
KELLEN: [WHISPERS] That’s great.
ANNE: You’re beaming with pride right now I hope.
KELLEN: 100% yeah.
ANNE: But, Brenna, I do hear a ton of feedback about your work from our guests and the usual narrative goes like this, oh my gosh, I don’t know if I can listen to my episode. [KELLEN LAUGHS] I’m so afraid of how I’m going to sound and I always say the same thing. I so enjoyed our conversation. You’re talking about something you’re an expert in [LAUGHS] Brenna’s gonna make you sound amazing. And something that we’ve discussed a lot behind the scenes at What Should I Read Next, so I don’t know that we’ve used these words on the podcast is the ethics of editing. We make people sound like themselves. I mean, Brenna makes me sound like myself, and so I hear from guests all the time after the episode that goes, I was scared to listen, but Brenna made me sound amazing! [BRENNA LAUGHS] So I know. I told you. Brenna, Kellen likes to disappear. What makes you feel like you did a job well done?
BRENNA: For the first part of having this job it was the same thing. My intention was not to ever come on the show, but obviously that’s gone out the window. I think that guest feedback is definitely a huge part about what makes me feel proud of the show ’cause when someone emails me and they say I was so nervous and you made me feel comfortable, that makes me feel like I’m doing my job right ’cause there’s lots of different people whose backs I have to have in this position. I have to have your back. I have to have guests’ back, and I have to have the audience’s back, like I need to make sure it’s a good experience for everybody as often as possible to the best of my ability, especially, especially for our show. We’re a little bit unique in that we have everyday people who are not public figures on the show. Almost every week. Regular people who don’t have shows of their own, but they have something to say about their personal reading life, and hearing back from those people that they felt supported and they felt safe, they felt confident I would take care of them in the end, that makes me really proud and the ethics of editing matters to me a lot. When a regular person really puts themselves out there, I think it’s important to take care of them.
ANNE: So that’s a tall order, and I just really had no idea when we started the show because I was really clear on the concept from the beginning how unlike other shows it was and the joys of that are obvious to me, but the challenges, some of those really surprise me. I’d like to think that between the three of us, and our supporting team, that we hopefully put out something worth listening to every Tuesday.
BRENNA: I think so. I would like to just say thank you to the audience because like the warmth of our audience is kinda unparalleled. We have a really warm and kind audience. We have a really friendly comment section and all of that makes it so much more joyful to work on a production.
ANNE: Well something that we say often about our listeners, hi listeners, is that so many of us love to hear the stories behind the books that we enjoy and also behind the readers who love them and the people who put [LAUGHS] their books and reading podcasts together. [BRENNA LAUGHS] So thanks so much to you two for coming on and satisfying that curiosity and for really helping everyone understand because we’re nerdy like that and we like to know [KELLEN LAUGHS] how we do it every Tuesday.
BRENNA: Here’s to 300 episodes.
ANNE: I look forward to many more to come.
ANNE: Alongside Brenna and Kellen’s production magic, some of our other teammates here at What Should I Read Next collaborate on our podcast’s weekly journey from idea to Tuesday morning delivery. Admin and event manager Shannan keeps our schedule humming along. Chelsey and Holly frame each episode story with scripting, show notes, and our weekly newsletter. Fun fact, our newest team member Holly is voicing your emails in today’s episode.
HOLLY: Becky Marsh wrote: “I’ve been listening to the podcast since the beginning and I’ve gotten so many book recs from the show, but I’ve also learned so much about why I like some books more than others. I’ve heard Anne talk about plot-driven and character-driven books, triggers, genres, and subgenres, like coming of age or family drama, all in an accessible, but not too technical way. I think the confidence I have about it leads me to try a lot new authors.
VICTORIA: Hi, I’m Victoria. I’m calling from South Florida. I’ve been inspired by What Should I Read Next to become a sort of literary matchmaker amongst my friends and family. The episode “Just don’t call it a bookclub” about the literary society absolutely inspired me to start my own book group. Mine is called a book club though, and it’s really nice to see the same women every month and I’ve gotten to know them and their reading habits pretty well, so when I read something that is not for book club, and it is the right fit for that particular person, then I am matching them up with the book.
STEPHANIE: Hi, my name is Stephanie Moore. I am calling from Mableton, Georgia. I know I’ve always loved to read since I was a little and spent hours upon hours in the library, but what I learned in episode 182 from Michele Cobb changed my life. I learned that I loved to be read to. Audiobooks have changed my life. There is something so soothing about an audiobook, and I have increased my reading probably by 50%. I am reading with my eyes and my ears so much more than I had been before.
HOLLY: Megan from Lexington, Kentucky shared: “Big things have changed in my reading life since I started listening to the show way back in its first year. One of those things is I stopped being embarrassed about my love of romance novels. They have a bad rap in certain circles as being fluff or trashy, but that’s simply not true. After listening to Anne and many guests speak about this on the show, I’ve been more open with my in real life book friends about it and it turns out they love them too. So now I get way more recommendations. They make me happy and help me relax. Thanks, Anne!”
LAURA: Hi, I’m Laura, and I’m calling from Overland Park, Kansas. I think the first episode of What Should I Read Next I listened to was the one with Gretchen Rubin, episode 102. Since discovering this podcast, I’ve started tracking my books on Goodreads, realizing that do not finishing a book was an option, embraced my love of middle grade books. I started my library.laura bookstagram account. I started a book podcast, and I just really embraced that reading is a huge part of my life. Maybe some of those things would have happened without What Should I Read Next, but honestly, I don’t think so. Thank you for showing me, quote, “how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
EMILY: Hi, my name’s Emily and I’m calling from Montreal, Quebec. Within the past six months, What Should I Read Next has changed the way that I decide what to read next. I have never been able to mood read. I used to just read books, alternating between fiction and nonfiction in the order I acquired them, so any new book that I got would go straight to the bottom of my stack and I would order them fiction, nonfiction. During the pandemic, because I moved out and I went to law school and now I have more grown up money, I got way too many books to actually keep track of this. Then I heard an episode, I don’t remember which one, where a guest was speaking about how she randomizes her book selections. So I created two wheels online, one fiction, and one nonfiction. When it’s time to pick my next read, I just spin one of the two wheels, alternating between the two of course, and I read whatever one comes up, and that way I don’t have to keep track of over a hundred books in the order that I acquired them. I still can’t mood read though. I’m working on that.
MADDIE: Hi, this is Maddie from Chicago. Thanks to episode 282 with Jeremy Anderberg who did the presidential biography challenge, I reached out to him on Instagram to share that I am also doing that challenge, reading a biography about each president in order. It’s taking me several years at this point because I read a lot of books in between the biographies, but I am about to wrap up Millard Filmore and have my Franklin Pierce biography chosen, and thanks to Jeremy’s list, I know what I’m going to chose for number 15, James Buchanan, a book called Worst. President. Ever, so I can’t wait.
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Here at What Should I Read Next, we love to help readers be happier in their reading lives – and if you’re looking for ways to be happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative in other areas of your life, Gretchen Rubin is ready to be your guide. Gretchen is the #1 bestselling author of The Happiness Project, and every week she chats with her co-host, sister, and happiness guinea pig Elizabeth Craft, sharing insights and practical solutions for how you can have more happiness in your life!
Join Gretchen and Elizabeth as they reveal fresh insights from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, pop culture, and their own experiences about cultivating happiness and good habits.
Every week, they offer a manageable “Try This at Home” tip you can use to boost your happiness. Tips like “Follow the one-minute rule,” “Choose a one-word theme for the year” or “Design your summer” feel achievable, even and especially when you’re busy with everyday life.
Gretchen and Elizabeth also bring in ways to know yourself better so you can understand what will make you happy! They discuss questions like, “Are you an over-buyer or under-buyer?” “A morning person or night person?” And every episode includes a “Happiness Hack,” a quick, easy shortcut to more happiness.
Listen and follow the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin.
ANNE: While the heart and format of our show hasn’t changed much since its inception, a lot of other things about the medium of podcasting certainly have. When we first launched this podcast over five years ago, I found support and encouragement from other creatives working in this space. This month I sat down with one of my podcasting friends and original encouragers, Tsh Oxenreider, to chat a bit about why we love podcasts, what we’ve learned along the way, and what’s changed, or stayed the same, in our work these long years.
ANNE: Tsh, welcome back.
TSH: Thank you, Anne. Lovely to be here.
ANNE: I really would have bet good money, or good books, that you had been on What Should I Read Next more than once, but I don’t think so.
TSH: I think it’s just once.
ANNE: I think we have to go all the way back to episode 6, which would have been February 2016 in an episode called “Books for book nerds, author backstories and simply stories told well.” We thought you’d be the perfect person to celebrate our 300th with. You know, somebody who’s been in podcasting and blogging and books forever who really gets it.
ANNE: So you have been a podcaster for so long. Your podcasts have evolved so much, and one of the things that made me think, hey this podcasting thing would be fun was that you were gracious enough to host me to talk about books. I think the first time you had me on we talked about summer reading, which was totally my jam, so tell our listeners about your early podcast days. What was getting started like for you?
TSH: Early 2011, so ten years ago as this conversation … More than ten years ago, yup. Things are so much more ubiquitous now about podcasting. Back then it was so techy, and so hidden I think in terms of the how to. Not as many people did it because it was just too much work, and so when I started, it was because I was offered the invitation to do a podcast with the exchange that someone else would take care of all that techy stuff.
It turned out I just enjoyed it mostly because, you know, having started blogging while living overseas, it was a great way to connect, but you still miss the human quality, the hearing someone’s voice and the nuance and not having to stare at a screen. There’s something about podcasting that was just really delightful where I could not only talk to a human, but as a consumer, I could then like go on a walk in the 3D world, you know, with my dog and listen to conversations and not have to stare at a screen, and that’s always been a high value of mine, so I just took to podcasting fairly easily, but that’s not to say the journey was like just a straight line, ’cause as you’ve said, I’ve had several iterations. I get bored easily. [ANNE LAUGHS] I thrive on change, and so does my podcast. It’s changed.
ANNE: That’s so interesting. I’d forgotten the obvious here that we were both bloggers. I was really surprised by the conversation as a blogger. I thought you just wrote in the basement and that was the end of it, and I didn’t understand that the back and forth was so much of the joy until I was already doing it …
ANNE: But What Should I Read Next was also born from a longing to have conversations that were happening online voice to voice, and that’s what you can do on a podcast. Tell me about what it’s like to work in a medium where it’s really easy to experiment and try new things and see how they feel for you and how they land with listeners, but also with the every present awareness and reality that you’re trying things out and experimenting and making it up as you go with a big audience at this point.
TSH: Oh my gosh, there’s always that conflict of am I creating content for me or for my listener or for my reader? And the answer is both, right? I tend to listen to my gut a lot. The gut does come with a sense of what do listeners need or want or readers, and so that part comes into play, and I think listeners do like some continuity. They like some I don’t know, dependence on like oh, my friend on this show, you know, that’s one of the great joys of podcasting. So it is a constant tension of do I change this just because I feel like it? Well, no. I need to have some responsible reason for doing so. At the same time, I’m a human first before a brand and I think people understand humans change, interests change, and I look to other examples out there on the Internet. People have done this. People wear multiple hats and it’s okay, you know.
ANNE: I’d love to hear if you would say podcasting has changed, like has it changed how you see the world? Or how you approach conversations, or how you think about your work and what you want to create?
TSH: Yeah, you know, I took a podcasting class a few years ago from Alex Blumberg’s, the guy who started Gimlet. He has a lot of NPR background and he started off his class making the case that audio content is the most emotional, that it resonates, like scientifically, psychologically, emotionally more than any other medium, any other method of communication, with human beings and I thought at first there’s no way, but he made the case and by the end of the class I was convinced because there is something about listening to somebody else without the conflict of watching them that really makes you pay attention. It makes you pay attention to the words said, the way it’s said, you know, the cadence, the tone, the silence.
When somebody’s really thinking and wanting to clarify what’s said, kinda the pregnant pauses, even you know, when somebody asks, and then what happened? Because it feels like you’re hearing a story, because you are hearing a story and it kinda I don’t know harkens back to our original longing for stories because I believe we’re all made for that audio becomes one of my favorite mediums to both better understand a topic and be understood, and so it’s changed me because I feel like I’ve become a better listener. I think it’s changed me a lot.
ANNE: We’re celebrating our 300th episode. We’re five and a half years in. You’re a few podcast milestones down the road from us. I mean, I could tell you all kinds of things we learned in the first five and half years, the first 300 episodes. But I’d love to hear what you think we might learn down the road. Like what are the next five years, and the next 300 episodes gonna show us that we haven’t maybe encountered yet?
TSH: Well, since we’ve already hinted at this broad topic of change, right, we know all too well how fast our workspace changed. You know, by workspace I mean, the Internet. The Internet changes constantly and that can be quite tiring to chase that. You know, like oh, long form episodes are what are getting the most downloads. Oh, now it’s short form. Now it’s this kinda ad. Now it’s this kinda intro, [LAUGHS] and I don’t know about you, but that gets very exhausting to me. This idea of chasing the download numbers or chasing the trends for the sake of our listeners when really I think we have to remember that listeners are ultimately a group of people who hit play because they like what we do and they show up week after week, and I think to remember that listeners are human beings and not just stats on the Internet mean that we have to listen to our gut so much more than what quote “they” say to do.
So I don’t know about you, Anne, but I don’t really anymore look up latest trends. I actually unsubscribed from some podcasts newsletters I was reading and getting … ‘Cause it was messing with my head. It was causing self-doubt, like should I do it this way or that way. The way I podcast now is quite different than when I started, and I don’t pay attention to numbers nearly like I used to and so I guess for me, I would say perhaps as you go down the road you might learn. I’m not saying you don’t trust your gut. I know you do. You are really great at listening to who you are and what you are good at, but perhaps even more so we are going to depend on that as creators more than anything. We can’t be all things to all people and so why bother trying? Let’s just do what works for us.
So right now my podcast is smaller than my original one. You know, I really questioned whether I should end it or [LAUGHS] change it yet again and when I decided to end Simple and start something new, I lost a lot of listeners, a lot of download numbers, and I had to be okay with that, and I’m learning to be okay with that because I realize that’s not my priority really. You know, not the main reason I do what I do.
ANNE: I’m sitting here nodding my head as you say all that because it really resonates and my philosophy has always been [LAUGHS] of little Pollyanna-ish, but make good stuff and it will find its audience and I just know that attempts to maximize things make me really cranky and insufferable and I just [TSH LAUGHS] Yeah I don’t even want to know the podcasting trends. I mean, Tsh, we haven’t changed our show format since January 2016.
ANNE: We’ve had [LAUGHS] we’ve had a little bit of talkie talkie in the beginning that we didn’t have in my initial vision of a 20 minute episode.
ANNE: You know, share your books and you’re out. Like now we provide the backstory, and we get into reader’s reading lives, and we, you know, we do troubleshooting sometimes for issues that are … I almost said niggling at them. Sometimes they’re like destroying [TSH LAUGHS] all their efforts to enjoy a good book. I trust that people who love what we do and that is make a show about getting more out of your reading life as a regular reader, not an author, not an industry person, not a celebrity, not … Just a person who loves to read. It will find its audience with your all’s help listeners, so thank you for that, but I feel like you have to believe that if you’re going to keep working in this field.
TSH: Our listeners and readers want that from us, even if they’re not aware, so if you know, some creator of yours decides to change something or end something, we can easily jump to oh no, that was my favorite thing you did. What do you mean you’re no longer doing X? But really the things we create change us. You know, sometimes when people say I don’t know if I should write this book because everything’s been said before, I think a good answer is we need you to be the person who has written that thing because writing changes us, and so with every book I become a better mom. A better teacher. A better reader. And the same goes with podcasting and so our listeners want us to be people who do what we are best at and what we love doing, even if they’re not aware because at the end of the day we want healthy, whole people and that’s what good work does.
ANNE: Tsh, I’d love to hear one funny, interesting, noteworthy story from your podcasting days.
TSH: Oh gosh.
ANNE: Could have happened last week or ten years ago.
TSH: I have probably three distinct memories of having a fantastic conversation with somebody and did not hit record.
ANNE: [GASPS] Oh, the pain!
TSH: It is so painful.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] I am so sorry. You know I know.
TSH: And it hasn’t happened in quite a few years, I am thrilled to say, but [LAUGHS] those were such hard lessons to learn because it’s so hard … You can’t recreate a good, authentic conversation, and it just hurt so badly. There, I think one of the times I reached out to the person and said, I am such an idiot. I’m so sorry. Can we do this again? And it turned out to be even better. I think the other two times I just counted it as a loss and held a Viking funeral for that [LAUGHS] conversation.
ANNE: I have to confess, I just clicked over to make sure we were actually recording when you said that. We are. Okay, I have a funny story that involves you.
ANNE: Listeners, we haven’t talked about this on the show before, but there was a point … It was years ago, when my husband Will quit his job to work on the show. The only time I’ve ever met your husband Kyle was when the four of us were able to get together when we were in NYC for BookExpo a few years back. I remember sitting at a table with you and Will and Kyle. Kyle said something like so, how, what’s your place here to Will, and he said oh, you know, actually I quit my job last week to go full time in this business instead of it being my side gig and Kyle was like oh my gosh, that’s so funny. I went back to work last week [BOTH LAUGH] and it’s been so much better now that I’m working in my wife’s business like I used to. [BOTH LAUGH] I think the four of us just looked at each other going [BOTH LAUGH] I’m not even sure what to make of all this.
TSH: I think [LAUGHS] there’s pluses and minuses both ways. Kyle actually is my editor. He’s phenomenal at audio editing, so he does this outside his main full time job, so we still get to do that little side. That’s the only thing he does for me now. He doesn’t do all the other stuff.
ANNE: That’s a big thing to have that be the only thing he does.
TSH: Only in air quotes, right ’cause that’s a big [ANNE LAUGHS] it’s a big job, but …
ANNE: But it’s a lot less than he used to.
TSH: And it’s lovely to have that in house because that job is not cheap [LAUGHS] and so … And he’s genuinely good at it. [LAUGHS]
ANNE: I have to say, it has worked out well for us, although I still, I really miss the amazing health insurance he had at his last job. [TSH LAUGHS] Tsh, if you were talking to a new podcaster, or someone considering starting one, what is the one piece of advice you’d share with them?
TSH: Well, it’s kinda like writing a memoir. I don’t know if you know Marion Roach Smith. I think you probably do.
ANNE: I do, and I was so jealous when you went to do coaching with her I think.
ANNE: I thought that sounded amazing ’cause I love her memoir book. What’s it called?
TSH: Yeah, I literally taught it in my English class last week and now I can’t even remember it, but yeah, the memoir book. That’s what I think it as.
ANNE: Yeah, the one on my bookshelf.
TSH: Well, she talks about how a memoir, even though you’re the protagonist, it’s not about you. The storyline, the plot is something that happened to you, but it’s about the reader. It’s about them because what you’re telling us is not an autobiography of your life and then this happened, and then this happened. What you’re telling us is a lesson learned from something that really happened to you and the reader is connected to that lesson learned. And so for me, a good podcast does something similar. When after you listen to it later on, you’re talking to your spouse and you want to tell them a story about something that happened, you have to think for a second, I heard this on a show, not it actually happened to me.
So I would say like you start a podcast out of an interest you have. You should hold on that. Once you start losing interest, we don’t need it anymore because the listener needs you to have buy in, but the things you say are ultimately about them, so you know, my show right now, I talk with Seth Haines every week and we talk about sacramentality because we both have huge buy in to that topic. But we’re always thinking of the listeners and what they will take away from it, like what is this telling them about themselves? So I guess my advice is a little philosophical more, like start it for you but keep the lights on for them with them in mind, your listeners.
ANNE: I love it. Tsh, thanks so much for talking podcasting with me and for leading the way in the field and being a role model all these years.
TSH: Thank you, Anne. It’s been a delight.
ANNE: It’s been such a pleasure to look back at where we started and how far we’ve come since What Should I Read Next began. We wouldn’t be here without our guests who generously share their stories with us every week, and we wouldn’t be here without you, our community of book lovers, listeners and readers. We are so grateful. And as we look forward to episode 301 and beyond, I can’t wait to hear all of the stories yet to be told.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed our special 300th episode today. Visit our website to get the full list of episodes we mentioned in our flashback conversations. That page is at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/300.
Subscribe now so you don’t miss the next 300 episodes, in Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, and more. We will see you next week!
Follow us on instagram @whatshouldireadnext. And I’m also there with my personal account @annebogel. That’s Anne with an E, B as in books, O-G-E-L.
Our newsletter subscribers are the first to know all the What Should I Read Next news and happenings, including our request for those listener stories you heard in today’s episode; if you’re not on the list visit whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/newsletter to get that free weekly delivery.
In addition to celebrating our 300th episode today, the book journal I’ve been telling you about, My Reading Life, is out today! Buying My Reading Life is a great way to support the show and a fantastic way to keep track of the books you love, the ones you don’t, the whys for both, and what you’re going to read next. Get your copy wherever you buy new books.
Our 300th celebration continues next week with another special episode and then on October 7th, we’re hosting a special live event for our patrons. Join the What Should I Read Next Patreon community now to take part in this fun live recording with some of our most recommended authors. Visit patreon.com/whatshouldireadnext to get started.
Thanks once again to the people who make this show happen! What Should I Read Next is produced by Brenna Frederick, with sound design by Kellen Pechacek.
Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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•WSIRN Ep 1: Books that inspire crying jags and sleepless nights with Jamie Golden
•WSIRN Ep 61: When the plot comes full circle with Will Bogel
•WSIRN Ep 213: Art, fear, and discoering great books with Kate DiCamillo
•WSIRN Ep 158: The life-changing magic of clearing your unread shelf with Whitney Conard
•WSIRN Ep 34: Books that marry fiction and reality with Rose Booth
•WSIRN Ep 28: Books that no one’s writing about in Entertainment Weekly with Andrea Griffith
•WSIRN Ep 117: Literary fiction over US Weekly with Rachael Robinson
•WSIRN Ep 166: Just don’t call it a book club with Tiffany Patterson
•WSIRN Ep 182: Matching the right (audio) book to the right listener with Michele Cobb
•WSIRN Ep 102: A new way to think about fictional characters with Gretchen Rubin
•WSIRN Ep 282: I’m a little bit obsessed with reading with Jeremy Anderberg
•WSIRN Ep 6: Books for book nerds, author backstories, and simple stories told well with Tsh Oxenreider
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