After Trump took office one year ago today, Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts set out to create an event that would allow readers to gather in community over a shared love of reading. The resulting event, an overnight readathon on October 7, 2017, drew several readers who brought with them books suited for a marathon read. Some brought several books with them, and bought more after browsing the shelves of the store. We attended the event and interviewed some of the participants on their idea of a book meant to be read in one sitting. Thanks to the organizers and readers who shared their stories with us on this special episode.
On our first episode of 2018, we mark the birthday of Elvis Presley with the story of his life as a reader. Fans may know Elvis from his music, movies, iconic fashion, or even from his famous home, Graceland. What can we learn about Elvis from considering his life as a reader? Elvis read voraciously, and travelled with suitcases full of books when he toured. In this episode, we’ll hear from his spiritual advisor, Larry Geller, and learn about the role books played in Elvis’ spiritual life. Elvis wanted to know why he’d been chosen to live such a singular life, and turned to books for answers. This was not a search without challenges, however. We’ll hear about an alleged book burning at Graceland, ordered by Elvis’ manager to put an end to Elvis’ spiritual quest, and Geller’s influence. His search for meaning and for answers continued until his untimely death, however. Though he kept no diary, some measure of his life as a reader remains scribbled in the notes he left in the margins of his books.
Here are some of our favorite stories from the last year. Thank you to everyone who shared their story with us!
Jolenta Greenberg is a New York-based comedian. She’s a Moth StorySLAM winner and a sometime contributor for NY Public Radio and BBC Radio. Currently, she is co-host (along with Kristen Meinzer) of the Panoply podcast, By The Book. By The Book, is a podcast reality show meets book club – where Greenberg and Meinzer live by different self help books to see if any actually work. It was a pleasure to learn about the books that helped shape her life, whether it was Katherine Hepburn’s memoirs, plays like Angels in America, or the self-help books she reads with Kristen Meinzer on By the Book. This is Jolenta’s story.
On today’s episode we meet Rachel Greenhaus. Rachel is a lapsed academic, professional cookbook editor, and over-enthusiastic home baker. She likes to think of herself as an independent scholar of Gender and the Poetry of Cake Recipes. From Shakespeare to Julia Child and the Joy of Cooking, this is Rachel’s story.
On today’s episode we talk with Danny Byrne. Danny was raised on books that he’s now sharing with his twins as a new dad (I Will Love You Forever, The Giving Tree, Berenstain Bears). He tells us about that, and about growing up reading about baseball. From Chicago, Danny turned to books to understand the world around him. Toni Morrison became a treasured author in his life, both for the beauty of her prose and her wisdom on issues of social justice. When he met his wife, he dabbled in rereading. Never a fan of Jane Austen when required to read it in high school, his wife inspired him to reread Austen’s novels. On the second try, he found much to respect.What changed? Danny or Jane Austen’s books? This is Danny’s story.
On this episode, we talk with Melanie Newport. Melanie Newport is an assistant professor of History at the University of Connecticut at its Hartford campus. Originally hailing from Tulsa, OK and Tacoma, WA, she is currently working on a book called Community of the Condemned: Chicago and the Transformation of the American Jail. On today’s episode, Melanie shares stories about reading books as a child that allowed her to imagine herself into the past, from Little House on the Prairie to the American Girl series. While pursuing a career in History, Melanie had to rethink her reading. Specifically, how could she navigate reading disturbing accounts in her archival research into the history of Chicago’s jails, and simultaneously turn to books as an escape? From Little House on the Prairie to reading the archive, this is Melanie’s story.
On this episode of Chapters, we meet Matt Blackburn, a research analyst who lives in Boston. Matt shares his experiences with books that have defined his life as a reader from Goodnight Moon to Walden, Dune, and beyond. We discuss what it’s like to travel to the site of a treasured book (Walden), and much more.
Join us this week as we talk with historian Erin Bartram. We discuss Nancy Drew, Baby-Sitters Club, and the appeal of books for children in which adults take kids seriously. We also talk about a kind of reading unique to historians: reading an archive of primary sources. Erin has read thousands of letters, journals and other documents to help her reconstruct the life of her nineteenth-century subject, Jane Sedgwick. We counter that discussion of reading and history by closing with thoughts about what it’s like to read social media. How is reading twitter a unique kind of reading?
Every year, on July 31st, readers gather at Mystic Seaport on the decks of the last remaining wooden whaling ship to read Moby Dick in twenty-four hours. “Herman Melville” opens the Moby Dick Marathon by reciting the first chapter from memory, and rejoins the community of readers on his birthday, August 1st, for the end of the book. On this episode of Chapters, we examine the idea of a reading marathon. How does it change your experience of reading a book to read it marathon style in the company of other readers? We’ll hear from readers at the Mystic marathon, talk to its organizers, and try to understand the significance of Moby Dick Marathons, an event that takes place across the country and around the world.