This was a near impossible task. In fact, it was an impossible task, as I had handed myself the top 10 list, but was unable to stick to it. Instead, passing through eight years of weekly episodes, in which I’ve hosted the Book Review’s podcast (my predecessor, Sam Tenhaus, was the founding host), I came up with a strict bitterness of what I thought was a favorite. That initial list was 35 episodes long.
What these episodes had nothing to do with my favorite had everything to do with me and my guests. The Book Review Podcast has been fortunate to host some of the biggest names in literature, ranging from Tony Morrison to John Updike to John Grisham to Colson Whitehead, and in non-writing, from Michael Lewis to Calvin Trillin to Isabel Wilkerson Is the author of. I spoke to public figures like Henry Kissinger, Samantha Power, Preet Bharara and Elizabeth Warren. Also all my colleagues, not only in the Book Review, but from across the Times, including Jodi Cantor and Megan Toohey, Wesley Morris and Frank Bruni, Thomas Freedman and James B. Stewart. These are all people who have knowledge and entertainment and informed me. All these guests tolerated my worst questions and often surprised me with their answers. He made me a better reader and a better listener. Also, in no particular order, 15 of my personal favorites.
Robert Caro on ‘Working’ and LBJ
April 19, 2019
It was an honor to have Robert Caro come into the newsroom and into the studio, and I couldn’t help but take the whole episode with our conversation. Caro had just written his brief memoir, “Doing the Work” and we talked about it. But after reading “Master of the Senate” recently, I had to ask him many questions about that book, and specifically about Lyndon Johnson. Naturally, we also had to talk about Robert Moses. An unforgettable experience for me.
Michelle Obama’s memoir was an editorial coup in the Book Review after Isabel Wilkerson’s review, and Wilkerson’s essay review Met and exceeded our lofty expectations. Wilkerson was presumably stationed in Obama’s family history to make his own discovery and reporting on the Great Migration. As a fan of Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Sun”, I jumped at the chance to discuss both that book and “Beingomething” and to tie the two together in this highly rewarding conversation.
Ayad Akhtar and Mark Lacey
September 18, 2020
When I came on the podcast I was already a fan of Ayad Akhtar’s work, and when we recorded I was about his novel “Homeland Allegies”. This can be a kind of sweet spot for me as a host between general curiosity from the listener and my own deep personal interest as a reader. Akhtar was recently named president of PEN America, and although we attended the same college at the same time, we never met. I got distracted by what I was trying to do in this novel, especially and more broadly, in my work and career. My second guest for this episode was Mark Lacey, the then National Editor, who is a great collaborator and recently wrote his first book review for us. He and I talked about the two books he assessed, Both US leaders are struggling with incidents of violence In their respective cities. While presiding over the reporting of those incidents, Lacey was well positioned to put both books in context.
Stephen Fry and Books on Race and Racism
June 12, 2020
Stephen Fry knows everything about everything, and is happy to talk to him about Greek mythology, especially since a child of mine is a big fan of repeating the myths of his new versions. On a personal note, I was eager to talk to him about Oscar Wilde, which he memorably played in the 1998 biopic “Wilde”. We had extensive conversations about Frye’s approach to books and art. In another section of this episode, which was taped shortly after George Floyd’s murder, I spoke with two of my colleagues at the Books Desk, Andrew LaLelle, Deputy Editor of News Desk’s News and Features, and Lauren Christenson, a preview. Of. Editor in Book Review, about books that relate to topics of race and racism. Books are such a great way to lend context and perspective to issues in the news, and I appreciate colleagues whose reading breadth is thus enriched with ideas for further reading.
James McBride on ‘Macon King Kong’
March 6, 2020
This was the second time James McBride appeared on the podcast, both times in the studio, and it was the last in-studio recording we closed for quarantine before The Times. I would say that what makes it extra special (I miss those in-person conversations), but the truth is, what made it special is McBride himself, who is always a thoughtful and energetic presence. The music is central to his writing (he is also a musician), and I was glad that we were able to include some music clips in the show.
Michael Lewis and Tana French
October 12, 2018
Michael Lewis is another repeat guest, and the visit was particularly good because the subject of his book, “The Fifth Risk,” which looked at various under-departments in the federal government, was surprisingly engaging. Upon publication of my first stand-alone novel, “The Witch Elm,” I was also thrilled to interview Tana French, who I recently finished reading “The Traspaceer”, part of her Dublin Murder Squad series did. I was a newly converted fan, and our conversation did not disappoint.
Baldwin-Buckley Debate and Saeed Jones
November 15, 2019
While preparing for my interview with Nicholas Bukola, I have had the famous James Baldwin-William F. since 1965. Watched Buckley’s argument. If you haven’t seen it.) If you’ve seen that debate, you’ll know how contemporary the discussion is and how much it was of its era, at the same time. The high level of engagement between the two men and their audience, and the unsolicited intellectual heights of their discussion, are electrifying to watch even on a grainy computer screen. Bukola, who wrote about the debate in “The Fire Is On Us”, was a brilliant guest. So was Saeed Jones, who spoke quite openly about his deeply personal memoir, “How We Fight for Our Lives”.
It is always a pleasure to have David Sedaris, a three-time guest on the podcast. On those two occasions, a conversation with him eclipsed the entirety of the episode, but on this one, I also got to talk to Christopher Knowlston, author of “Cattle Kingdom: The History of the Cowboy West”, a topic. Very few knew about and were particularly attractive.
Patrick Raiden Keefe and Frances de Waal
1 March 2019
Patrick Raiden Keefe was an excellent interviewer and a born podcast person who also listened to his extremely fun 2020 podcast “wind of change” Knows His book “Don’t Say Anything”, which we discussed on this episode, is nowhere a fun subject. This is an account of the troubles in Ireland. The story of the kidnapping and murder of the mother of 10. is told through. It is a testament to Keefe’s skill and range as a writer and writer that he is able to write in multiple registers. Overall, it was a very moving episode for me, as the second guest, Frances de Waal spoke “Mama’s last hug” And animal feelings. The video referenced in the title of his book still runs through my head regularly.
Jodi Kantor and Megan Couple
September 13, 2019
This episode was unusual, with all guests being current or former reporters for the Times. You would think that I would have known the whole story behind my colleagues Jodi Kantor and Megan Dohe’s Harvey Weinstein from that point on, but I still know in this interview their book, “She Said.” However, I had known the pair for years, before the two of us were in The Times, the podcast was the first time I had a chance to talk to Megan. This was the first time I spoke to Ian Arbina, my second guest in this episode; What she reported for “The Outlaw Ocean: Journey Across the Last Untended Frontier” was remarkable.
Isaac Mizrahi and David McCraw
15 March 2019
Some episodes are very funny, and this was one of them. I have long been a fan of fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. I saw him doing cabarets and always admired his creativity and humor and versatility. I talked to him about my memoir “IM”, I was eager to talk with David McCrave about “Truth in Our Times: Inside the Fight for Press Freedom in the Alternative Facts”. McCrosse is the lead advocate for the newsroom at The Times, so someone usually only encounters them over email about difficult and / or unpleasant topics. But anyone who works at The Times knows that McCrave himself is a former journalist and a fierce defender by profession in general, and the conversation was as illuminating as I hoped it would be.
Noah Havelle and Andrew Solomon
3 June 2016
I loved writing about Noh Haveli for his big, fun thriller “Before Fall” and TV (“Fargo”). Conversations with people working in different forms of media are always a draw, as film screenplays vs. journalistic investigations or Venn diagrams of the tools and skills needed for fiction and nonfiction are not always clear to me. I’m totally curious as to where the writers come up with their ideas, especially for plot-driven thrillers and mysteries. Andrew Solomon is one of my favorite writers today. His work is always so sensitive, joyful and subtle, and in my mind, “Away from the tree” One of the best books written about the family. On this episode, Solomon and I discussed his collected travel essays and journalism.
Sue Klebold and Matthew Desmond
February 26, 2016
There are more difficult subjects, at least in my mind. Sue Klebold was Dylan’s mother in 1999 in Columbine, one of two teen shooters. It took him 15 years to write his memoirs. Honestly, I was a bit sensitive to talk to him, as well as to be sensitive to the victims of that shooting. But talking about really difficult topics and trying to make sense of them is ultimately what journalists should do, and that’s why I tried to make the best of it, as I’ve done here. I also spoke to Matthew Desmond on this episode; His book “Eviction” had already garnered a lot of critical attention, but it was yet to make a full impact on the conversations around poverty at that early stage that would eventually take place. The episode was from the first iteration of the podcast – longtime listeners would note the lack of separate intro music, best-seller news segment, and a We Are Reading segment, which came later.
Tony Morrison’s legacy and Sarah Broome
August 9, 2019
One of the biggest advantages of working like the Times is to my colleagues. On this episode, soon after the death of Tony Morrison, I was able to not only call the book reviewers on my desk, Parul Sehgal and Dwight Garner, but also a ceremonial guest on the podcast and Wesley Morris, co-host of their podcast Myself, Still processing. Wesley is one of the smartest cultural critics working today (fun fact: his first piece was for The Times Review), and someone I always learn from and always have fun things to do. It was one of those segments, for which all I had to do was listen to other people; They did it themselves. On this episode, I also got to talk with journalist Sarah Broome “Yellow House,” A great storytelling memoir of his childhood and the history of New Orleans.
I have tremendous admiration and respect for George Packer as a writer, reporter, and thinker, and he was eager to learn more about how he wrote a large biography of a larger personality: Richard Holbrook. I was engrossed by Packer’s unconventional approach, and how he dealt with the life story of someone who was certainly important in global affairs, but not a household name. I was also thrilled with a big storyline that was entangled with Packer: the end of a special kind of roaring diplomat and a particular vision of diplomacy in the world. My second guest in this episode was Lori Gottlieb, who is a wonderful speaker and interview. A former journalist, she went on to become a physician, and then, of course, to write about it. I was interested in all stages of her trajectory, and in a deeply personal way she wrote about herself “maybe you talk to someone.”