So Many Damn Books is a show that aims to celebrate reading in all its forms, and to do so with a cocktail in hand. For over 200 episodes now Christoper Hermelin has been chatting to authors and crafting them bespoke drinks. From George Saunders and Ruth Ozeki to lesser-known but no less interesting authors, every episode in his archive is a delight. And it was no less of a delight to welcome him onto the Book Club Review podcast. So sit back and enjoy this very special episode, where you’ll find out about a Stateside literary cult that’s turns out to be an excellent resource should you need a new best friend, a book so good you’ll end up dreaming about it, and how to cope when you’ve gone so deep into the reading world that you can no longer simply buy a book in a bookshop. Luckily, a problem shared is a problem halved, or at least a problem understood!
Listen via the media player above or your preferred podcast app using this podfollow link.
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno
Spangle by Gary Jennings
Hestia Strikes a Match by Christine Grillo
John Hodgman, try More Information Than You Require
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Enjoyed this episode? In the mood for more? Head over to So Many Damn Books and listen to Christopher’s episode here. Amongst other things we discuss the amazing Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan, and lesser-known gem Parnassus on Wheels by Christoper Morely.
You can also hear Kate talking about Parnassus on Wheels at the end of our Victory City episode.
Want to know more about the Tournament of Books? 2023 is here
Keen to fall down a nostalgia rabbit hole? Try the Mac vs. PC commercials, but be aware it’s half an hour of your life you won’t get back.
Transcript for So Many Damn Books episode
Hello and welcome to the Book Club Review. I’m Kate. And this is the podcast about book clubs and the books that get people talking.
So Many Damn Books is a show that aims to celebrate reading in all its forms and to do so with a cocktail in hand. For over 200 episodes now, Christopher Hermelin has been chatting to authors and crafting them bespoke drinks, from literary superstars like George Saunders and Ruth Ozeki, to lesser known, but no less interesting authors. Every episode in his archive is a delight. A Conversation with Christopher will always leave you with a tonne of good book recommendations and reasons for reading them. And I was delighted to have the chance to interview him on the Book Club Review. This is also something of a podcast mashup, as there is a parallel episode of so many damn books in which Christopher and I discussed two books you absolutely should not miss. And I get to experience my very own bespoke cocktail called Tea and conversation. And so, after listening to this episode, head over to so many damn books in your podcast app, and see how much more interesting the conversation gets when alcohol is involved. But for now, keep listening as Christopher and I talk literary colts, books that keep you dreaming, and life as denizens of the reading deep. All right, coming up here on the Book Club Review.
Christopher, I was so pleased when I asked you and you said that you would come on the show because you’re someone when I listened to your show. I always think I just love to be part of that conversation. So hey, finally, I get to talk to you in person. Thanks for joining me,
I’m so glad that you asked me that is my favourite part of any of this. That’s what I want people to feel like with the show is that it sounds like a conversation that you just aren’t quite getting a word.
Well, you certainly achieved that. I also love that your shows whether intentional or not, I feel like maybe at any time of the day, this is what you get with you. But it always has like this late night vibe. You know, you’re like it could be in a bar somewhere. Everyone else has gone home, there’s just two guys or one guy and an author sitting at the end of the bar chatting and you get to overhear it, even though I’m sure you don’t record them all late at night?
I record whenever people are available. Mostly it is mostly at night, and then sometimes weekend afternoons. But I think that’s the drink. You know, I think that that’s just my voice after a cocktail is it’s just like we’re hanging out now we’re ready. And it’s such an important part of the show to me.
So let’s tell our British listeners who might not be so familiar with your show, or they like me, they may have come across it and be avid fans, what so many damn books is all about what’s the basic premise,
The idea of so many damn books is it’s just to celebrate reading in all its forms. And it’s to do it with a cocktail in hand. I started it with my friend Drew back in 2014. And we did the show together for many, many years until he bowed out from CO hosting duties at the end of 2021. And I’ve been keeping it going by myself. But I have always felt like it’s just celebrate reading have authors on and originally the pitch when we started having authors on was we would only have an author on if they would come and hang out with us in person, which helped that we’re in Brooklyn, and have a cocktail or a mocktail, it didn’t matter if it actually had alcohol in it. But having that sort of intimate serving, and chat with somebody had definitely added to what we hoped was an air of conviviality and to take authors off of the intellectual pedestal and bring them down to the bar. Like these are just people who love reading like you do.
And then the drinks are, you could just take that quite lightly and have any drink that comes to mind. But you take that quite seriously as well, don’t you?
Yes, I’ve been a cocktail enthusiast since I started drinking, when I turned 21. It was right as Mad Men was starting to you know, I feel like cocktail culture was just having a resurgence just as I was starting to go to the bar myself. And I was immediately I think that making cocktails is like a certain type of magic. I’ve been to bars where they take in their inspiration from literature, and they’d have Keats poem as the title, you know, it’s a very, like New York, or any cocktail bar type of thing to do. And so I thought I would just keep doing it. And we did it first with our first guest that we had on in person. And it just was like, Yeah, this is it clicked. I think it was 17 or 20 episodes in or something like that. And it was just, this is what will make the show feel like only ours, something that we bring to the book talk table.
The idea for the name of the podcast, is it I’ve always sort of felt like there are just so many damn books like how do you get through them all was that the idea behind that?
So Many Damn Books comes from you’re supposed to be able to say it in wonder, or in consternation, you’re either really, really excited. ‘There’s so many damn books!’, or you’re just … ‘So many damn books.’ I say at the top of the show a lot – my wife gets, she thinks it’s stupid. But I always say ‘A blessing, a curse a podcast’, because that is really how it feels. It feels like, here we are, you can read a book about anything you want. But you can also, you know, read a book about anything you want. There’s so much. There’s just so many
When I first discovered your show, I didn’t know because you refer to the Damn library. And I thought this was a real place. Oh, yeah. But it’s not a real place. It’s a metaphorical place.
Speaker 2 5:36
Well, it used to be where we would record was the Damn library, because people were coming over. But we would also, I think it was in our 100th episode, where we went over all the places that we had called the Damn library. Because we both moved all the time. And there were better places to record the show. And so the Damn library, we’d like to say it was a place in your heart. As much as it was literally the place where the microphones were. So it is sort of a real place. And I would say the library that I’m in now is the Damn library, still, but it’s just my apartment.
It’s wherever you are. Exactly, exactly. And so your one time podcast partner, still your close friend through, there’s a story about how you met each other, which has to do with this thing called the Tournament of Books. Can you explain to me about the Tournament of Books?
Speaker 2 6:26
Yeah, the Tournament of Books. It’s been going on for almost two decades now. And it’s sort of a blogosphere. Early internet invention of this website called the morning news. And the editorial staff were just joking around, like we should start our own literary award. But they were sort of doing it as a joke, and also as a parody of the fact that literary awards are sort of ridiculous, because how are you comparing these books to each other? And what are their criteria? And how are you going to say, this Haruki Murakami novel that deals with like hard-boiled Wonderland is better than some realistic? Like, what are those conversations that are going on behind closed doors? And so they decided, what we’ll do is we’ll actually have those conversations on the blog, and we will put 16 books up and we’ll do it like March Madness, which is college basketball, tournament style of making these brackets. And so they chose 16 contenders. And they make the long list and the shortlist over the course of the beginning of the year. And reading that list is a great, they always put Booker winner on often it predicts the Pulitzer because they’re looking at those books that have a lot of buzz, but they also try to find things from really small presses. And it’s always like a really interesting shortlist Drew and I met in the comment section. So every day, they’d have some literary or interesting person, post their judgement between the two books and explain, like, I’m going to say this one moves forward into the next part of the tournament.
I see. Because what I didn’t understand is how does something win. I get with a basketball game, clearly one team is gonna get more baskets, yeah, than the other. But how, who decides? So it’s some literary figure.
Speaker 2 8:06
Yeah, it’s an editor, it’s another author, it’s someone else. And they also will choose a Tournament of Books reader, you can apply and be a reader judge that year. And it’s just an essay, where it’s like, oh, I got these two books in the mail. And some people go really into diaristic. Like, this is the sort of exact experience I had, reading these two books. And other people really make a New York Review of Books type criticism, where they really take it from the top and have them muscling it out sentence by sentence, that type of thing. And everybody’s individual value system gets put on display and further illuminates this original idea that awards for books are very silly, because it is all based on some internal thing. And also, someone will be writing about, oh, yeah, my kid was sick the week that I had set aside to read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, the 700 page book. So it’s like I was trying to read that in between administering, so maybe I didn’t get this book very much, but I didn’t care for it. And it’s just like, Well, I wonder if you would read that book, when your child wasn’t sick, if you would feel differently, because you actually got to stay in it and the details with you know, so you really start to fight those things out in the comments. And so the commentary yet takes the judgments to task and that’s where I met Drew, Drew and I were often aligned, in our response to judgments in the comment section. And then one year, the year that we met, they threw a party after the tournament was over at Housing Works in lower Manhattan. And we met that night and later that night, I was just like, you want to start a podcast, we talk books very differently than I usually get to talk books with people.
I love the idea of the tournament. It sounds so great. You’ve talked about it before and I looked it up on Instagram and I just thought I don’t understand this and two things have now unlocked this for me One is your explanation there, which I get. But also another piece of information I’m now able to add in, which is I went to visit Laura in Vancouver earlier this year. And I think the march basketball thing was happening because Laura’s dad, I ended up going on this road trip with Laura’s dad to Elliott Bay in Seattle. And on the way he explained to me about the bracket. I mean, you know, we don’t have anything like it here. It doesn’t make any sense to an English person. But as he was describing it, I was like, Oh, this sounds like the Tournament of Books, I think I started to understand how all that works. So if people want to find out more and look it up, it’s on the morning news, as website, is it? Is that where they host it? Where do you find it?
Speaker 2 10:40
If people want to check it out, they can go to tournamentofbooks.com. And that’s the most recent year they’ve separated this year. And it’s its own thing. But all the rest the past two years from 2005 is when it began, all of those are still hosted on the Morning News. So you can go all the way back. And actually, a lot of the comments are preserved too. So you can see the people duking it out over the response to the commentary. And sometimes the commentary is really contentious. I remember, I think it was Andrew WK the musician, like the sort of wild party hard rock musician was chosen to read the two books. And he was just like, I don’t want to read these two. And he just threw them both down the stairs. And the one that went further down the stairs, he decided that one went forward, and people lost their minds, they were so angry. And there’s always something like that, you know, there was an author who wanted their book taken out because he didn’t like the tournament. So being considered in it really bothered him. So he asked to not be included. You know, there’s always some weird little bit of friction. That’s always interesting, because it’s pretty low stakes.
It sounds great. It sounds like a bit of a time sink, but it sounds
it’s a March time sink for sure. I’ve cut myself off from commenting myself because I just feel like I don’t need to rehash the things that people talk about every year. But it is a lot of fun to still read.
Is it like a bit of a cult thing in America? Or is it becoming bigger and more mainstream?
It is a cult thing. A lot of bookstores get into it. And they keep the brackets and show all the books and talk about it. But I think it’s still very much underground. If you see the sticker on a book. I don’t think anybody but like 1000 people would probably understand what that rooster sticker means.
It’s like a secret cult. Yeah.
Speaker 2 12:29
If it was a secret cult just like where you could search out everything very easily if you if you felt like just digging into something very, very nerdy. But yeah, it gave me one of my best friends of my life. So I’m forever grateful for Tournament of Books for putting me Andrew in each other’s orbit. We really went in, we used to do a Facebook Live show going over the results as though it were actually sports. It can be really, really fun.
It sounds great. And over the years on the podcast, you’ve had some amazing guests. I actually discovered you first when you had Leanne Shapton on. Oh, you remember that way back?
Yes. Yes. Amazing. So, so wonderful.
As a graphic designer, I’ve always been quite interested in her from really early on, when I was just thinking about studying design, I came across her and her work and was really interested. And so then when her name came up on your show, I thought ‘Oh, I’ll listen to that one.’ And I think that’s when I first found your show. And it was such a great conversation and I loved it, man, I kind of just dip in and dip out. But going back more recently you had George Saunders on. You’ve had some amazing guests. Is there any one that particularly you know, probably, they’re all like children and you don’t have a favourite? But are there any ones that are particularly special to you any conversations you’re particularly grateful you got to have?
Speaker 2 13:44
Yeah, I mean that Leanne Shapton one was so wonderful, just because I remember falling in love with Important Artefacts and Personal Property. That’s incredible book. And I love a gimmick book a book that’s like fully just like, I’m gonna really go all in on a very weird gimmick. And so to have good have an auction house guide, be your way of telling a story. Oh, amazing. This
is kind of a it’s almost impossible to describe, isn’t it? It’s not a graphic novel. But it’s a love story, isn’t it? It’s a romance. And it’s told through these possessions that belong to a couple, and they’re being auctioned off, the relationship has not worked out, and they are getting rid of all the possessions. And so the book is in the form of auction lots. And so you get the picture of the thing, and you get a caption and a value. And sometimes there are little tiny details or there’s something in the picture or there’s just something about a little note or something. And gradually, you start to piece together the story. And it’s just such a work of genius.
absolutely magical. And discovering that book was it was just in a bookstore on a bottom shelf type of thing and flipping through it and trying to make it and connect it like I didn’t read about it anywhere I didn’t know about It was just a book that I saved on a bookshelf
I was the same. Did you know when I first found it, I thought it was a real auction catalogue. It took me a while, because it wasn’t obvious it was by Leanne Shapton. It was because I recognised her artwork. And then I was like, Is this and then looked and then is this fiction is this made up?
I was clued in from where it was in the bookstore from the start, but it’s so speaks to me in that making something tell a story that you weren’t sure was going to tell a story. And also, a closely held belief of mine is that you can tell a lot about a relationship through the possessions that you share and don’t share and those types of things. And it was just like, there it is. There’s a book that proves that. That is absolutely true. Absolutely. magical book. And then we had her on for ghost story, which was a completely different type of experience, but also very moving. But yeah, I think one of the ones that I was just so so excited about doing was John Hodgman. John Hodgman is a sort of minor celebrity. He was the PC and Mac versus PC commercials in the United States against Justin Long. And he was also in bored to death as a literary agent. And he was this interesting guy who came up through the McSweeney’s San Francisco literary scene, writing as a humorist, and then ending up on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and then wrote these absolutely bizarre trilogy of books. That were his accumulated facts that he’d made up. So it was all not real facts. And it was like the presidents who secretly had hooks for hands, or a list of 600 famous hobos, or, you know, like, just like very funny, weird. The presence of ice hockey means there’s fire hockey, and then here are the rules to fire hockey. Anyway, very silly. But arch, but all presented extremely seriously, as though this is just true. Hmm. Then, after that series ended, he started writing these very thoughtful memoirs. And having him on for that I loved his career, I’d followed him through everything. And he was also one of these people that sort of unlocks a world where their connections and the things that they do puts you in contact with all these other wonderful pieces of culture. So he wasn’t just to me, a great writer who made me laugh. He was also just an entry point into this whole world of comedy and literature that I wouldn’t have discovered without him. So having him come on the podcast, and this was back when we really had him on, because he also lives in Park Slope, he just walked over. Oh, that was so so exciting. And then Lev Grossman was another one. Lev Grossman wrote The Magician’s trilogy, which was extremely inspiring for my own unpublished writing. So that series was really really, really amazing. And to get to actually just talk to him about it, and again, truly have him drinking a drink that I’d made him across from me, was just absolutely thrilling. And then one more Kelly link just came on the show. And she’s one of the rare writers that now that the show has been going on for so long. And I’ve been discovering work. She’s one of those rare writers who I’ve been reading from way before the show started. And so having her on was absolutely amazing. I’m the biggest fan, and she was everything that I wanted her to be, and more.
Yeah, I listened to that one as a recent one, it was a really good day. So when you’re interviewing people, do you think about the art of interviewing? Is it something you feel like you have to kind of work on and craft? Or do you just approach it as a conversation and not worry about it too much?
I think both. I think sometimes I’ve over prepared and had 25 questions. And I realised I only asked three and felt mortified. And then I listened back to the episode. And it’s a really wonderful conversation that I didn’t get to realise I was having, because I was so worried about getting to my other 22 questions. And then I’ve had other way where I had like four questions, and I moved through them in four minutes. And I’m thinking like, this is supposed to be an hour show. How am I going to get this person to keep talking? Like, why are they just so I think that all I’ve learned as far as interviewing, is people want to talk to you. And if they don’t want to talk to you, it’s going to be like pulling teeth and there’s really nothing you can do to change their mind if they’ve, for some reason said yes to come on. And then somewhere between that space decided they didn’t want to those conversations, first of all, never sound like that to the audience, because they don’t have all of the context. But also you can’t fight against it. It’s just something that’s going to happen. So I guess I wish I was a better interviewer. I always wish I were better, because I do feel like I get lost in the Congress. And then forget, but I’m like supposed to be like, asking things that make them think.
And you have to read a lot for the show. When you have someone on you’ll read their book. And often they recommend something. And you’ll read that too. And this is like perpetual question. I think that plagues all readers, you know, how do we make time to read, but I think it’s always interesting to ask people who do read a lot, because it’s just interesting to know how people managed to fit it in how do you manage to work the reading into your life,
but I kind of don’t know how to not do it. Because I’m always always reading. And I always want to be reading something new. And getting a good recommendation from someone that is something that I know that they’re going to talk about, because that’s the two halves of my show. First, I talk about the book that they’re touring. And then I talk about the book that they’ve recommended. And that recommendation to me is just first of all, it’s extremely exciting, because it’s like someone really wonderful telling you about a piece of work that they’ve reacted to. So I’m already getting to read it with this completely different mindset. So yeah, the big thing that changed recently is audiobooks. Having a library that gives you easy access to audiobooks completely changed, what I was able to get to and honestly actually added a lot to my reading for pleasure time, that isn’t just related to the show, because it’s time that I wouldn’t have normally been able to read anything. And so I can now fill that with stuff that I’ve just been meaning to try. And it’s also the stuff that’s available from the library, because everything else that’s like actually current has incredible, both lines. So it just comes very naturally. And I think also part of that is making sure no matter what you’re doing, you’ve got your book nearby, not having your book nearby is basically a guarantee that you’re gonna end up in a situation where you wish you had it. And I think that having that habit of never leaving the house without a book means that you’re going to get through more and more of them.
Yeah, who is it? Is that Victor Hugo? Quote, isn’t it something about leaving the house with one book and coming back with three? You find that you’d never leave the house with less than one a more often than not, you do come back with three?
Well, that’s changed more than anything is how I’ve purchased books. I so rarely actually go to a bookstore and buy a book. Is that something that you find yourself able to do?
Yeah, I do that all the time. That’s a bit of a problem, actually.
But I guess I mean, like, going to the store buying a book and then you read it. Like, that’s
Oh, I see. Yes. No, absolutely. No, don’t do that. Of course.
That’s that’s something that I miss for sure. And I envy of people who don’t have toppling TBR is that they go to a bookstore, buy a book, and then start reading that book. Right, then, when I do it for myself, it’s because of some extremely anticipated new release or something. I always feel like I’m doing something crazy.
I did it recently. And it was thanks to you. I did it with the new Kevin Wilson book now is not to panic. Now is not the time to panic. And I had such a great show. I love that show so much. And I was in the bookshop. And I thought, Oh, great, I’ll get that. And then I actually try and read the first chapter of things. Now when I get them, I do try and do that. Because I think you have quite a different relationship. When you put it to the side, if you’ve read the first chapter, it doesn’t make a difference. And I found that really helpful. But with that book, I read the first chapter. And I was like, Oh, I’m gonna read the rest of it. I didn’t want to stop. And so I actually had that really delicious experience of buying it and reading it like it was the next thing I did was I read that book. But it’s true. That’s a rare pleasure.
It’s such a silly thing that we are both as book lovers. I think everyone thinks that that’s just something that comes with the territory, but when you get too deep, yeah, and there’s no saying back to the surface from here. You’ve got to make
just make a life for yourself on the bottom. That’s right. Yeah, really down where it’s really dark. And there’s the strange things with that kind of, you know, tentacles. That’s where we
yeah. I was gonna ask you really quickly because you were talking about listening to books. And I was just curious to know what books podcasts you find time to listen to?
I can’t believe that you listened to mine. I love
yours so much. And I think it’s because there’s this really fun. I like the book club reports the most like actually, when you’re referring back to it, because it really feels like a boots on the ground type of reporting. Like this is what this group of people and it’s very specific to your world in that context, which is sometimes lost in literary discussion. And then I think, I assume that I’m imbibing podcasts the way that people are imbibing mine. I’m usually looking for an author that I’ve just connected to their work, and I’m searching by who’s had them on. So I assume that that’s how people find mind me as well. I don’t feel like people listen to every single episode. Do you? Is that something that you think about for your listeners?
Well, I’m the opposite, in that I don’t usually want to hear from the author. And so my favourite episodes of yours are probably the ones where it’s just you and Drew, and you’re just catching up on what you’ve been reading recently, because I’m more interested in that conversation. Because I’m interested in the reading, I’m not so interested in what the author’s intended. Your show is an exception to that, because I think they’re such good conversations, they go on such unexpected tangents that they’re just unfailingly a delight. But more often than not, to my frustration, I feel like conversations with authors rarely gets to the heart of, of what I think is interesting, you know, if they’re promoting something, and there’s a reason they’re there, and you know what I mean? It’s so I’m always interested in the sideways angle. Yeah, I used to love the New York Times podcast, they used to do a good bit at the end, but they just go round and do what they were reading, right then. And that was always the best bit, it was so good, because it wasn’t really didn’t feel like they prepared it that much, or really thought about it. And you just for an instant, got some really good, honest thoughts about what they apparently had on the go. The rest of it, I could take or leave. But that last 10 minutes, that was where the magic happened. And now they’ve changed I don’t think they do that anymore.
I feel the same way about there was this podcast, the sleep culture podcast, that was actually got to have Dana Stevens on my show, because she wrote a book about Buster Keaton, that was absolutely phenomenal. But she was a co host for that show that I still think goes, but I stopped listening. But in the same way, at the very end was when they get to their recommendations. And it was just anything in culture that they had responded to. And because they recorded an episode, every week, it was the most diaristic. And it was the most just like a window into their cultural lives, which I would sometimes Oh, I don’t care about this interview. I’m just looking to scrub to the recommendations at the end. And I’ve seen now that I have really ridiculous metadata on the show that so many people listened to the drink, and what did you buy? And then whatever. That stuff that I’m not sure like, Is this is this? Am I glad that the metadata for this exists or not?
I have absolutely no idea in the world, what the metadata would say about our show, I don’t even know how to access it.
It’s for the best, it’s better to think that you’re just putting it out into the ether, I think. Yeah, that’s
definitely the way I think about it. So what’s a book that you find yourself recommending a lot to other people, because you get books recommended to you all the time. But I’m curious to know, what’s a book that you find you recommend?
I always tell people to read Skippy dies by Paul Murray. I don’t think 10 episodes of the show have gone by without me mentioning something. Oh, that reminds me of Skippy dies. It’s funny because it’s so similar in start to the secret history. And that it just starts with like someone died at the beginning. And now you’re going to figure out what happened. Why did they die? The why DONE IT structure is such a great one. And I think Paul Murray is an absolutely delightful author. So that’s one but people tend to know that these days. So now I find myself telling people to read the boy detective veils by Joe meno. It’s a great book that I think a lot of people have done this concept sense, which is like a kid grew up being as their Nancy Drew in their neighbourhood. And now they’re an adult looking back on that time when they were solving all those cases and having such great adventures, and sort of wondering where that little kid went. And so it’s this adult looking back on his illustrious career, and then thinking about the one case that sort of sent him spiralling really, really funny. For as much as that doesn’t sound funny, but heartfelt and strange. Plus, there’s a fun puzzle inside the book, and everybody who does end up reading it, loves it, and they come back to me, like really excited about it. But I think it’s mostly out of print. You can get copies, but it’s one of these things that you have to go hunt down. I like sending people on a little bit of a hunt.
It’s so good to have a quest. Yeah. I was gonna ask you another question, which actually someone asked me my friend, Charles Piniella, who has a good podcast, he’s just started called lit with Charles, he interviewed me and Laura for his show. And he asked us this question. He said, Tell me the best book that you’ve read, that I’ve never heard of. But I feel like maybe you’ve just answered that. Do you have another best book that I’ve never heard of?
Yeah, I do. It’s also out of print. My dad sent me a copy in the mail. My parents are both big readers. They’re a big reason why I’m a voracious reader, but he’s not so evangelical about book If he likes one, you’ll tell me about it. But that usually it’s as much as it goes. But he actually sent me a copy of this because he was like, I think you need to read this one. And he was absolutely right. And it became one of my true favourite spangle by Gary Jennings. Yeah, never heard of that. It’s an enormous book, I think it’s over 1000 pages. And I think subsequent editions came out and they tried to serialise it. And so I think you can get it in three volumes, which is a great way to read it. It’s basically days after the civil war has ended. In America, one of the generals for the North gets approached by a real two bit luck and circus. And he says, I need a sharpshooter Do you want to join us. And it follows as the circus winds its way across America, and then ends up the Bella pock in Europe. And the circus keeps getting better and better and better, until it’s this incredible, magical, enormous, big, top experience. And you really just follow all sorts of perfect little things. And the guy Gary Jennings toured for, I think, over a decade with a circus in researching this, and was an acrobat with them. And so he’s got all of these details that you could only get from lived experience. So it’s an amazing historical novel. It’s an amazing circus novel, which is also a very fun sub genre that I get into. And it is sadly out of print, even though he wrote a couple novels about the Aztecs that are still in print and people love. And it’s interesting that that doesn’t mean that all of their library is in print. It just means that that really beloved one is sticking around. I just think that that’s interesting.
Well, that sounds great. I love knowing about that one. I feel like I’m even less likely to come across a couple of here in England, but you never know.
Yeah, no, I mean, I, I love all of the like, I feel like, um, charity shops have gone online. And that is where I find so many things for like $1 recent out of print books, it’s like, that’s where you find them.
That’s the same I absolutely Hoover things up. But we have thing he called world of books. It’s just a vast secondhand books warehouse that I think has a nice idea behind it, which is that they just wanted to save all these books that were otherwise just getting pulp. So often as not, when you go looking for something online, you end up finding it. Well, the book,
that’s probably where you’ll find it. It really is a completely. I think it’s one of these 1000 page books that you read in like a week, just because you don’t want to leave the world and it’s such a dreamy world. I found myself dreaming it in the process while I was reading it, which is a very rare thing to happen. When it’s happening. I’m like, Oh, I’m really reading something fantastic. It happened for tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, like eyebrow seven recently. The video game not we talked
about on the podcast. Yeah, that one did really well over here as well. I think English people have the same nostalgia for the video game era. So it taps into all that brilliantly, isn’t it?
It really does. I love when a book is that immersive that like, I still feel part of it even when the book is closed.
And is there anything good that you’ve read in your more recent stack that you would recommend?
I just finished this book by Christine Grillo called has just strikes a match. And it takes place in an alternative 2023 where the civil war that’s been rumoured in America actually has come to pass. And 12 states have succeeded. But the real story of the book is this woman, her husband decides to go fight for the Union. But also that really surprises her and she doesn’t understand this violence from this 40 year old man. They separate and so she’s dating in this world. And it’s very much now it’s 2023 with all of the political divides and everything. But I think that the thing that really struck me was how real it felt that like yeah, if all of this horrible things are happening, that will of course, take up mental real estate, but it won’t pick it all up. And you’ll still have to cook and go take care of your kids and fall in love and all of these other things. And so each chapter is a serious boyfriend over the course of the book. And it’s really, really funny, but it’s also very poignant. And I think it’s probably eerily prescient to how a civil war would go down in America right now. Highly recommend it. And I can’t wait to talk to her because it totally blew me away. And actually in this feeling of sometimes you have to read really fast to kind of stay in the world and just because of life’s distractions. The opposite happened with this where I wanted to slow down. And after a boyfriend was over. I just wanted to think about it and stay with it and keep the book on my bedside and sort of read it more like I would like a short story collection even though it’s definitely a novel, an incredible book. I hope it comes out in the UK for you
said why it sounds amazing. And have you been in a book club? How do you feel about book clubs.
I have never been in a book club before. I’m starting one for my patreon for the are you Yeah, we just chose our title, we’re gonna be reading changing all stars, okay. And I’m excited to read the book. And I’m excited to run the podcast book club, adding another book that I have to read every month or so my stack, but I’ve never been a part of one before. I’ve wanted to. And I’ve been part of other types of clubs, I was in a lost watching club, the TV show last, we would watch the episode together, and then I’ll discuss it. And that was really, really fun. And I was in a wine club, which I don’t remember very clearly, as you might imagine. So this will be my first book club, other than the book club that I’ve felt like I’ve unofficially created before I officially created one for the Patreon of just people writing to me about what happens on the show. I’ve always wanted to be a part of one. I think it seems like the absolute best.
And tell us about the book you pick Chang gang, all stars. I think that’s a book that’s having a big buzz in America, isn’t it?
Yeah. Basically, they’re televising fights between prisoners in high security prisons. And the winners can I think get out of prison, or they’re less exploited than the rest of the prisoners. I actually am going in pretty blind. I read the short story collection that preceded it Black Friday, which was really powerful. So I’m very interested to see what he’s like, as a novel writer.
Mm hmm. Yeah, it certainly sounds like it should be a good one for generating discussion, which is, of course what you want. But book club?
Yeah, I’m excited. Do you have any tips? Is there anything that I should? Any hot tips for people starting their first book club?
Well, I’m curious to know, what you do when you don’t like something, because you strike me is the kind of reader who basically will always find something that they love, something to admire, and celebrate and everything they read, I feel like you’re very generous that way, in a way that maybe I’m not meant to say what you know, how do you handle it, when actually you just don’t get on with it, but you don’t really think the writing is, you know, it doesn’t work for you? Or for whatever reason, you know, how do you feel talking about that?
I do want to find something because as a former literary agent, as a wannabe writer, I know how much work and effort it takes to make even the silliest book. And so I always try to take that into consideration and try to think, what hold people through on this one, if I am not reacting to it, and I’m truly finding it to be capital be bad, there must have been something that pulled people through. And I try to find that instead.
It’s really funny, you never quite know for what makes a good book club book. But what Laura and I have always tended to find and always really delight in is when you do get a really good range of opinions. And actually, sometimes there’s people saying, I really didn’t like this, I thought this was terrible. You know, where the crawdads saying, by Delia Owens was an excellent book club book because it was so divisive. My book club were absolutely split down the middle. And people who loved it like me were like, what, how could you not? And then other people are like, no, no, you know, you can’t tell about the characters and the marshes don’t make sense. And like all of this stuff. And it was just such a fun one because it was so polarising in a way that I had never expected.
That’s actually what I’m most excited about. Next, because this is a book club, I’m not going to record it or anything. It’s just to hang out with these people who support the show, I’m going to actually get to be candid about my opinion about things. And I’m not usually candid about my opinion about books.
Hmm, interesting. But I do you think as well though, occasionally I meet readers who I feel are the finest kind of readers where it’s looking at that respect for anyone who’s been able to sit down and craft a book and acknowledging that it’s good to be reminded of that for me. And all of the time, cuz you know, I’m just a reader. I’m not a writer. So that whole aspect of it, the craft of it, it’s not something I really think about, I’m not really aware of that, you know, I’m just thinking about the reading. So then you can be a bit selfish, you don’t have to care that took you a year to write. All I’m interested in is how I felt really good. For me
personally, that is where the most interesting conversation comes from is trying to find what did work or if something didn’t work for you, is that because of personal tastes because of something else, like where is your dislike of, you know, like, I love when when people tell me that they don’t like books without quotation marks. For dialogue, that’s, that’s something I hear people say a lot. And I think what they’re really saying is, I don’t like to be confused when I’m reading. There’s usually some underlying thing underneath. You get into this really fun psychological space that I think can be really illuminating to how you think that you didn’t realise that you thought that way. And so I’m hopeful for these book club conversations because I have put them on the intellectual pedestals and I’m hopeful that they will yield good conversation but who knows?
Have you got coming up on the podcast? Anyone you’re excited about?
have Rebecca Mackay coming up for her novel? I have some questions for you. And I’m also excited about that conversation because I’ve already had it. But she has been on tour for so long at this point for this book that it just felt like I was having a different conversation with her than she would have been having with me that was at the beginning of the tour. Sort of the same thing. When I had Anita perros on for her book that made that book came out in paperback, when I was discussing it with her, she got to talk about the book with the confidence that millions and millions of readers had agreed that yes, that is a good book that you wrote. And so those conversations can be really fun, but I am taking a break coming up. And that is what I’m really excited about is reading some personal stuff. And I’m going to Rome in Paris. So I’ve been loving reading Rome and Paris books. And yeah, that’s almost more exciting than anything I could be working on for the podcast. And that’s exciting, too. I’ve got the whole fall and end of the year wide open. Who knows who I’ll be talking to. It’ll be based on whose books really find me in the next couple of weeks.
Well, I’m looking forward to finding out Christopher has been so great to get to have this conversation with you. And good luck with your book club. And with all the episodes to come.
Well, thank you so much for having me. This has been a total blast. I love your show, and I’m honoured to have been included.
That’s nearly it for this episode. Books mentioned were important artefacts and personal property from the collection of Leonora Doolin and Harold Morris by Leanne Shapton Skippy dies by Paul Murray, the boy detective fails by Joe Mino spangle by Gary Jennings and Hestia strikes a match by Christine Grillo. And if you want to know more about the morning news and the Tournament of books, check the show notes where I’ve included a link. Don’t forget, you can also head over to so many damn books for what we might call the Chaser to the drink that has been this episode of bookcover V. I hope you enjoy it and make sure you have a browse through the smdb archive while you’re there. Just don’t stop listening to this podcast. That’s all I ask. This episode of The Book Club Review was edited and produced by me Kate sloth over whenever you listen to it. If you have thoughts, Laura and I would love to hear them. Comment anytime on the episode page on our website, the book club review.co.uk linked in the show notes, which is also the place to go for an episode transcript. comments there go straight to our inboxes so drop us a line we always love to hear from other links worthy of mention if you’re an Instagramer you can also comment under our episode post there and I’ve included a link to help you find it. Plus the link to our bi weekly ish newsletter sign up for extra views and recommendations between shows. And finally info about our Patreon stream and how you can support us there. If you’d like to see what we’re up to between episodes do follow us on Instagram or Facebook at Book Club Review podcast on Twitter at book club RBW pod or get in touch direct at the book club email@example.com And if you enjoy our shows and want to do a nice thing and return please do leave us a quick star rating and review. Wondering how to do that. Check the show notes or you’ll find a handy How To Guide. But for now, thanks for listening and happy book flipping
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