Today, award-winning host of NPR’s All Things Considered, and now bestselling author, Ari Shapiro joins us to discuss his new book The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening. We discuss how Ari brings his identity to his storytelling and how he approaches writing interview questions. We also get into Ari’s love of books and the difference between illuminating and influencing a story.
The Stacks Book Club selection for April is Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay. We will discuss the book on April 26th with Clint Smith.
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Traci Thomas 0:09
Welcome to The Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today I’m speaking with award-winning NPR host of All Things Considered Ari Shapiro. He’s now an author as well with his first book The Best Strangers in the World: Stories From a Life Spent Listening. This instant New York Times Bestselling memoir in essays covers a wide range of Shapiro’s experiences from reporting and war-torn countries to taking flights on Air Force One with President Obama. Today we talked about the idea of media bias, how Ari thinks about writing questions, and hating books. Our book club selection for April is the poetry collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay. We will be discussing the book on April 26th with Clint Smith. Quick reminder, everything we talked about on each episode of the stacks can be found in the link in your show notes. If you love the stacks, and you want more of it, like our incredible community on Discord, our bonus episodes and monthly meetups to discuss our book club picks, you must join the stacks pack on Patreon for just $5 a month, you get all of that and more and you get to know that you’re a part of making this black woman independent podcast run every single week, head to patreon.com/the stacks and join shout out to some of our newest members of the statspack bonsai brand, Helen Kim and Rachel Kramer bustle. Thank you all so much. And of course, thank you to the entire stacks pack. And now it’s time for my conversation with Ari Shapiro.
All right, everybody. I’m very excited. I am sitting here today in real life in person across from my dining room table with THE Ari Shapiro from All Things Considered. He’s got a new book. It’s called The Best Strangers in the World. Hi, hi.
Ari Shapiro 1:53
I’m so happy to be here in beautiful rainy Los Angeles with you.
Traci Thomas 1:56
Yeah, so the weather is a really- it was cute in the beginning. We needed it for the drought. I hate it.
Ari Shapiro 2:02
We live with this. Welcome to the life of Pacific Northwesterners.
Traci Thomas 2:06
I don’t live in the Pacific Northwest. Do you see?
Ari Shapiro 2:09
Okay, you made a choice. You had expectations. They were not met. I get that.
Traci Thomas 2:13
Someone was like this is the deal that we made with the devil is to have the sun if we choose to live in LA in exchange for climate apocalypse. Drought. Yeah. And instead, I’m getting Seattle vibes. And I’m still in LA.
Ari Shapiro 2:27
But the superbloom, when it comes is going to be intense.
Traci Thomas 2:30
I can’t wait. It’s gonna be poppies all day. Okay, let’s talk about the book. 30 seconds or so give us sort of a rundown of what the book is.
Ari Shapiro 2:37
Well, over more than 20 years, as a journalist, I have seen a lot of stories go by me. And some of them have sort of snagged on my heart and shaped the person I am. And I realized that not only have the stories I’ve told, shaped the storyteller that I am, but also the person I am shapes the stories I tell I carry my identity, my history, my experience with me when I go out as a journalist. And so this book is sort of the two sides of that coin. And it’s also an answer to a question that I’ve gotten a lot from friends over the years, which is how do you stay optimistic in the face of all the terrible things that are happening in the world? All the terrible things that we as journalists cover every day? And the stories in this book are in some way? An answer to that question. Like, these are the people who give me hope. These are the people who keep me optimistic.
Traci Thomas 3:25
I love that I have to be transparent. I was not raised as an NPR person. I was okay. Why. But I was not really familiar with your story. And so reading the book, I was like, Ah, I love this person. And I think for most people who read your book, they go in knowing you having heard you in their ears all the time. And like, of course, I’ve heard some of your work. But I wasn’t familiar with your whole backstory. Like I haven’t been following you for years. And so I think that’s maybe unique.
Ari Shapiro 3:55
I’m really glad to hear that because I want the book to stand on its own to die. I don’t want it just to be an accompaniment to something that people here who listen to NPR, I want it to be meaningful for people who don’t listen to NPR who don’t follow the news, but who are curious about connection and human. Like, I want to get people out of their self reinforcing bubbles. I want to make the foreign seem a little bit less strange. I want to talk about how we connect to one another, as people who might, on the surface appear to have a lot of differences, but actually fundamentally have much more than common.
Traci Thomas 4:31
Yeah, you’ve mentioned this from the beginning talking about bringing your identity to your work and your work your identity. And, you know, it comes up in a few parts in the book where you talk about being gay and covering stories and sort of this idea about bias and like, you know, there’s my favorite essays the one about your wedding. Oh, talk about how before you went to City Hall in San Francisco to get married you asked your boss if it was okay.
Ari Shapiro 4:56
Yeah, cuz it was really early in the days is the same sex marriage debate. And it was a huge battle in the culture wars. And I felt like as a journalist, I was supposed to be narrating not participating in those kinds of battles.
Traci Thomas 5:08
Right. But so let me ask you this. How do you feel about it now, like years on, because, you know, I’m a black woman, you’re a gay man. We bring our identities to everything that we do we see the world through the lenses that we see the world. And I feel like, you know, you kind of get to this towards the end of the book, where you bring up with Sam Sanders, who’s my dear friend, and your dear friend, and greatest fan, yes. But you bring up how Sam talks about, like, you know, hard hitting journalism versus soft stories. And you know, the way that those things are basically couched along the lines of are you from a marginal identity? And it’s often if not, yeah, so I’m wondering now, like, after having experienced what you experienced in the way that you approached your wedding 15 years ago, or whatever? How do you think about it now? Are you bringing more of yourself?
Ari Shapiro 5:53
I think one thing that we, as journalists collectively have realized, at least over the course of my career is that there’s no such thing as an absence of identity, right? The way my short storytelling is shaped, has as much to do with the fact that I’m white and male, as it does to do with the fact that I’m gay and Jewish. Right. And so like, one example I give in the book is, if you’re gonna say gay people shouldn’t report on LGBTQ issues, then, are you gonna say people of color shouldn’t report on racial justice or the people who can have children shouldn’t report on reproductive rights. And in that case, who’s supposed to report on proposed changes to the tax code, right, because literally, we all pay taxes, we all have a stake in it. And so there’s truly no such thing as the view from nowhere. And so rather than pretend that our identities don’t exist, or they somehow preclude us from being good journalists, we need to look at how to use our identity as a strength, right. And that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as objectivity. It doesn’t mean that we come to storytelling with a bias or a preconceived agenda, or that we’re actually secretly advocates. It does mean that we acknowledge our history, identity and who we are. And we use that to deepen and enrich and add nuance to the reporting and storytelling that we do. And I think, you know, in 2004, when Mike and I got married, gay people were being used as political pawns in a national debate. In a very similar way. I think today, trans people are being used as political pawns in a national debate. And I think having trans journalists in your newsroom is a huge strength and an asset, and arguably, almost necessary in this moment, when trans lives are being used as political weapons. And so far from saying that, Oh, well, if you have that lived experience, it means you have bias and therefore you shouldn’t be telling those stories. I think just the opposite. You need people with lived experience around that editorial table, that editorial meeting, so that you understand the lives of the people who are at the center of these stories.
Traci Thomas 7:57
When you back in 2004, do you feel like there were people advocating for you to be in the room in the same way that you just sort of advocated for trans?
Ari Shapiro 8:04
Absolutely, you know, and what I realize is that that has always been a part of NPRs DNA, right. Susan Samberg, former host of all things considered, was the first woman ever to host a nationally broadcast nightly news program. And so when I showed up some 30 years later, NPR had a history of fighting for inclusion. We obviously had work to do we still have work to do, we need to reflect the entirety of the United States in a way that we still have work to do. But we have been built on a foundation of trying to be more inclusive. And that’s something that I think when I showed up, there were other people fighting for me. And I hope that now 20 years later, I can be the one to fight for people who are just coming in.
Traci Thomas 8:55
Yeah, yeah. This is sort of a really small anecdote, but it comes from a really important part in the book when you’re talking about 911. And you talk about this couple who, it’s a gay couple, they have an adopted son, and you call them a family.
Ari Shapiro 9:09
And he’s writing like a 32nd little obituary for the host to read that would just like slot into the show when
Traci Thomas 9:15
a story came in a little short. Yeah. And it was like right after 911 Yeah, like the day like that week. Yeah. And so I’m reading this section in your book, and I’m like, that sounds so familiar to me. And I’m all of a sudden it flashes in my mind. There’s a park in West Hollywood. It’s a little playground, and I take my kids there and there’s a plaque for that child. You’re kidding. No. And when I was on my way to the park, when I went to the park, I thought so interesting that this kid died on 911 Like this three year old because coincidence, like, like, I just felt like who’s this kid like weird, they died on 911 We’re in LA like, and then I had looked it up and it was like, Oh, this child died on 911. But I didn’t know anything of the story. And then I’m reading your book. Read a book. It’s a fantastic playground. I love it. Oh, yes, amazing. Yeah. So boy,
Ari Shapiro 10:05
I heard that That’s so incredible.
Traci Thomas 10:08
You needed to be talking to the exact person who has three year old children. They just reopened the park a few months ago or like it maybe a year ago. It’s like one of our favorites anyways.
Ari Shapiro 10:19
But that is wild that.
Traci Thomas 10:22
I mean, as part of this conversation, right of like you choosing to use the word family to talk about those two people. And you say in the book, like someone else might not have picked this group of people to up to do the obituary for someone else might have used different language. They weren’t married, so that were they a family, etc. And I could imagine
Ari Shapiro 10:41
somebody saying, well, that’s evidence of bias, or that’s evidence of an agenda. And I think there’s a distinction there. I don’t think that’s what was going on. I think that is trying to make the news reflect my identity myself, my reality. And I don’t think that’s taking a position so much as it is describing the world as it is.
Traci Thomas 11:00
But I Okay, can I ask you this? I know people use the word bias, bias and agenda, and it has this really negative connotation. But I sort of when I think about it, I think if we were all more honest, and we’re just like that, it does show our bias, like and that’s okay, because we all have it. There’s this idea that no one’s supposed to have bias, especially journalists. But if we’re real, and we also note that like Tucker Carlson has bias and, you know, Matt Lauer and like, yeah, like, white straight guys have it, too.
Ari Shapiro 11:34
So I think bias is such a loaded word. Right? And often people who are accusing journalists of BIAs are doing so disingenuously right, because they themselves are trying to score points in one way or another. And I think what Tucker Carlson does is fundamentally different from what I do
Traci Thomas 11:52
as a bad example, because he’s like, so skewed. I just mean, like, white dudes, but
Ari Shapiro 11:57
the important distinction, I think, is the distinction between trying to influence and trying to illuminate, you know, like, refugees International, might tell a story that is very similar to a story I tell, right, in the, like, plot points, right. But ultimately, refugees International, is trying to influence it’s trying to persuade people to do something. And I’m trying to illuminate I’m trying to inform people. And so whether the story that I tells you, moves you motivates you changes you, is between you and the story, right. And so, in the same way that I think like, you know, a defense lawyer represents people whether or not they agree with the individual that they are defending because they believe in the importance of the legal system, where people have representation, right? I believe in the importance of journalism, fact based stories that are grounded in what is happening, and not what should happen. And and so whether my lived experience comes to bear or not, is not evidence of whether I am actually a secretly hidden cloaked undercover activist. Right, right. Right, right. And to the contrary, I think being open about my history, my experience, the fact that I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the fact that I’m gay, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, helps with the transparency part. I’m not trying to do anything undercover, like, I’m really open about who I am.
Traci Thomas 13:32
So when you’re telling a story, I’m sure there’s times where you bump up against something and you’re like, am I illuminating? Am I trying to influence? How do you balance that for yourself? And like, set yourself back on that course that, you know, is so important to that journalistic integrity moment? Does that ever come up? And if so, what do you do?
Ari Shapiro 13:51
You know, the times that it comes up are moments when I’m interviewing somebody, and they are playing fast and loose with the facts? And I feel like I have to sort of like pull the leash a little bit and be like, well, that’s actually not true. Yeah. Which is also part of my role as a journalist, you know, I am in a position to ask powerful people questions that most people aren’t right, particularly elected officials, who are there to represent their constituents. And in many cases, like, you know, I’m thinking about at the UN Climate Summit, I got to interview the UN climate envoy, John Kerry, and it was a combative interview. Oh, there was a lot of push poll and my saying, okay, but you’re talking about X when actually what matters is why. And here’s the Zimbabwean activist I talk to who said or Ugandan I’m sorry, there was a Ugandan, a Ugandan activist named Vanessa Kataeb, who I spoke to, like I played a clip of her for John Kerry thinking like, well, this activist is not going to have a chance to talk to the UN, the US climate envoy. And so in those moments, I can imagine and people listening to the story and thinking like, our he’s got an agenda here, right? He’s coming in like ready to fight. But in that moment, I feel like what I am doing is serving as a surrogate for the people who can be in the room of John Kerry. And that it’s my role to ask difficult questions, to push back to confront him with facts, to contextualize things that might be out of context, because anyone listening is not going to get that chance to do that with John Kerry. And ultimately, by having that sort of tense, contentious back and forth. We are going to do more illumination, we are going to help listeners better understand what’s going on, than if I just let somebody recite their talking points on interrupted, right-
Traci Thomas 15:41
Speaking of questions, how do you think about asking questions? This is really a me question. I’m curious.
Ari Shapiro 15:48
The more I prepare for an interview, the more I can let go of my preparation, I do a lot of work. And then I tried to just let go of it. And listen, I think the most important thing in an interview is actually listening. And often, the best questions that I ask in an interview, are questions that I could not have planned in advance, such as, how so? Or what makes you say that or really, or give me an example. And I’ll give you an example. Please give me an example. I was interviewing this amazing pop star named Vincent about Yes, first album, do you know Vincent? Yeah, since a good friend of some of my friends. Amazing. So I was interviewing Vincent about his first album. And in the answer in my very first question, he said something about writing a bunch of things on note cards and laying them all out. It was an exercise that his therapist had suggested he do. And that that kind of informed his album. I being so glued to my script, and my preparation on the questions I had written, sort of obliviously went on to the next thing. And my brilliant producer Mallory, who was listening in slapped me and said, Why don’t you ask for an example of what was on one of those index cards? And I thought, Oh, thank you. I’m glad you were listening in, because I completely missed that opportunity. So after events and answer the second question, I looked back, and I was like, sorry, you know, earlier you were talking about those note cards? Can you give me an example of something that was on one of those note cards? And the answer to that question, became the scaffolding that we built the whole conversation around something that I never could have anticipated in my preparation. And so even somebody who does this for a living, who does that every day, misses those moments, I’m constantly learning from my colleagues from listening back to opportunities that I missed. But I think often the best questions you can ask are the ones that you couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 17:44
Something that you say about yourself really early on, you’re talking about your younger self growing up Jewish in Fargo. And you kind of say, like, you know, I was always a cultural ambassador, even as a kid, like being the only Jewish boy are the only Jewish family in town. How do you think about that responsibility now? Like how were you thinking of yourself as a cultural ambassador, when it maybe is less clear? Because, you know, on NPR, I think probably a lot of people know Jewish people, a lot of people who listen no gay people.
Ari Shapiro 18:17
I think the evolution is that when I was a kid, I was telling people about me. Yeah, and as a journalist, I’m telling people about others, or at least I wasn’t till I wrote a memoir. And now I’m once again this sort of like, intuitive leap was the realization that in journalism, I can do the thing that I was doing as the Jewish kid in elementary school, and as the out gay teen in high school, but I can do it for groups that I have no personal connection to. So if where we sit right now, a bikers for Trump rally seems completely foreign and distant, or the idea of people living in coastal Senegal, whose homes are being swallowed by rising seas, feels like that could be happening on another planet, my opportunity, my privilege, is to go into that Senegalese community to go into that bikers for Trump rally, find the stories that people there have, and help you to see the world through their eyes.
Traci Thomas 19:18
Yeah, this just popped into my head because those are gonna be the best. This is such a small you travel a lot, obviously. Where do you like to sit on the plane?
Ari Shapiro 19:28
Oh, the aisle because I’m six three. Okay. I mean, if I can get an exit row seat even better, but yeah, okay. I tend I tend to fly coach, as you might surmise from the fact that I work for Public Radio.
Traci Thomas 19:39
I don’t know you. I don’t know what kind of miles you use. I don’t know. Well, I read that there’s a book that came out a few years ago. I wish I remember her last name. I mean, not to something she and she it’s called the window seat. And she’s a journalist and she traveled and she talked about how you know, being in the airplane and like looking out the window and seeing the world below her. And that just made me think about I was like, she made this really compelling argument for the window seat.
Ari Shapiro 20:01
Well, look, if I had enough room, I would love a window on Air Force One, the radius. So the people who fly in air force one or the press pool, yes. Which is because you don’t have room obviously for the entire White House press corps on the plane. So on Air Force One, there’s like one TV person, one print person, one radio person, etc. And the radio pool seat is on the aisle. But flying on Air Force One, you always wanted to be near the window, because you’re flying into these crazy amazing places. And you’re like, you know, arriving on Air Force One. So that was always kind of a shot you wanted to have. But then often Air Force One would land and you’d get on helicopters. And from the helicopters. You see amazing things. I mean, I can remember being like the helicopter, motorcade, whatever it’s called. In South Africa, in Cape Town, sort of going from one. Yeah, just Cape Town is like one of the most beautiful places and most beautiful cities in the world. I mean, absolutely astounding.
Traci Thomas 20:57
I feel like it’s one of those places where the horror of what people did there does not match the beauty of the city. And it’s constantly That is cool. Yeah, like when you’re there like,
Ari Shapiro 21:13
I’m American cities. I feel that way about Savannah, Georgia. Sure. It’s beautiful, gorgeous city that has such a dark-
Traci Thomas 21:25
I’m sure there’s tons of cities like that. It’s just the one that for me.
Ari Shapiro 21:29
Also, because as you drive from the airport into like, the center of town, you pass these like all
Traci Thomas 21:36
the township towns. Yeah. And then the Table Mountain and like the fog, and oh, yeah, the most beautiful sunset I ever saw was there. Okay, we should take a quick break, and then we’ll be right back. Okay, we’re back. So you have again, like we talked about traveled all over, you tell a story about a refugee, you know, about following a man who was like trying to, you know, leave and, and go, he’s going to Germany, Syria, Syria, and he was going to Germany, and you’re following him. And you talk about, like, the balance between journalism and sort of this, like, cruelty? Or, or, you know, like, just not giving them money for a bus ticket when you could, and you could afford it. And we’ve had many shows up episodes of this podcast, we talked to Andrea Elliot, who wrote that book. Invisible child. Oh, yeah. And she and I talked about this at length, because she’s following a family who is homeless. They’re, you know, relying on New York City and the United States government for a lot of their money and all of these things. And, you know, I asked her about it, and I thought, like, how do you balance that? Not so much as a journalist, but just as like a dude?
Ari Shapiro 22:49
Right? So for me, I mean, just to like drill down into that specific example, this guy mons or Omar, I met him in the Turkish city of Izmir, on the coast where he was trying to get a human smuggler to put him on a raft to go to Greece, which was not that far away. And then at some point he gave up on Izmir. And so he decided to try the city of bow drum. And he was struggling to get to bow drum without spending down his already diminished savings. And I was like, Okay, well, I’m gonna drive my rental car to Belgium, I’ll see you there, like, I was the only one on the rental car, I could easily have given him a ride to bow drum, right. And so where I ultimately come down on this is that the role of the journalist is important and different from the role of the aid worker, or the, you know, clergy or the all of the other people who are doing important things, right, a journalist shows up at the scene of a natural disaster, and FEMA will be there and the Red Cross will be there, and emergency doctors will be there. And the journalists are doing something that is different from all of those others, and all those others are serving essential purposes. But the journalist has a really important role to play to. And what makes that role different is that we’re not helping, we’re narrating, right. And if we were to start helping, then we’d be doing something other than what we’re there to do, right. And so it can be difficult, and there are moments that you just kind of want to intervene. But what you are there to do is to tell the story. And it’s also important to me that from the very beginning, when I start talking to somebody, I lay out what I’m there to do, right and where the lines are. And I say like I’m I’m not going to be able to help you on your journey. And if that’s a deal breaker for you, I absolutely understand like there are often people when I show up in places like that, who simply don’t want to talk and I respect that. Yeah. But there are other people who have a story that they want to tell and they want someone to listen and in those settings, I think I can be of service in a way that’s different from the way that the aid worker and the others are also of service
Traci Thomas 24:54
Yeah, have you to your in your opinion ever crossed that line? You don’t have to tell us why And
Ari Shapiro 25:00
I’ve always I think I’ve always been careful not to cross that line. But something that I will tell you is that in the last chapter, I talk about this transgender woman in Indonesia, who started this home for people with HIV. And I’ve just never forgotten her. I think the place she created is so incredible. A few years after I made that reporting trip, so like, there’s no actual official statute of limitations, but I was like, It’s been years since I did the story. I started just monthly sending a check to that place in Indonesia. So like, I don’t think I’ve ever crossed that line. But I do now financially support this like, house for transgender women with HIV that I did a story on. Yeah. So that doesn’t
Traci Thomas 25:46
feel like alignment and close that just feels like always a nice guy. Do you think by telling someone’s story, you are like looking for someone who is more worthy? Or if like, the, I’ll tell you how exactly how I have it written down by telling someone’s story, do you think it makes them more worthy? If not, why bother telling that particular story? And if so, how do you decide who is worthy?
Ari Shapiro 26:13
It’s such a good question. And so complicated. Yeah. Because, in a way, like the people who I talk about in this book, in many cases are people who have really stuck with me, you know, who I’ve sort of dug deep into their stories. But often, I will be looking, you know, like, when I was covering the Romney campaign in 2012, I would have five or 10 minutes before he took the stage. And I would know that he was giving a speech about, I don’t know, the elderly or whatever, I’d be like, I need to find somebody who represents retirees, retiree, there you are in the crowd, give me a quote, you represent a retiree, you’re basically a symbol, or a category, where if you’re telling a story about I don’t know, immigration, it’s like find an individual who represents that, or student debt, or whatever the case may be. And this is not a deception. Like I say, I’m doing a story on student debt, do you have student debt? Would you like to talk to you about your student debt, whatever else, that person may be a child of immigrants, a Capricorn like, whatever, it doesn’t matter. For that story. There’s somebody with student debt, right. And I think the more time you spend with somebody, the more you’re able to sort of bring in the nuance and the complexity and the sort of ways in which their story is not just a symbol for a category of news item that you’re talking about. But I don’t think that means worthiness. I don’t think that means specialness. It just means that they are a sort of Aperture through which somebody who is not connected to them or their story can access, the larger issue that I’m there to talk about. Yeah. And it can be weird when you’re, you know, choosing somebody from among a large group of individuals, like, you know, I’m telling a story about the best party in South Beach, Miami, and there’s 1000s of people at the party. It’s like, who’s gonna be the voice of this party? What, personally, I’m making this up. I didn’t do a party about a story about a party, you know, yet. Actually, now that I think about it, I actually did. And now that I think about, in 2004, I did a profile of a woman who created this company that like, hired out dancers and performers for parties, I dug that up from deep in the recesses of my brain, there was nothing significant or important about that story, per se, okay.
Traci Thomas 28:37
Anyway, um, so your publicist is here, and it’s my dear friend, who has been a guest on this show-
Ari Shapiro 28:44
Extraordinary human. And I just say if anyone listening is like an aspiring author or has a book about to come out, the best advice I was given, was, hire an outside publicist. And even better than that was I know there’s nothing better than the best was hire Joseph, Papa specifically,
Traci Thomas 29:02
I concur. I’ve never written a book, but I tell people to hire an outside publicist and iron Joseph as well.
Ari Shapiro 29:06
And this is no shade whatsoever to my extraordinary publicist at HarperCollins. But Joseph Papa’s quite a-
Traci Thomas 29:16
We’re very pro Papa around here, but anyways, I was gonna say, so I was writing these questions like writing out my work yesterday, and Joseph was sitting next to me.
Ari Shapiro 29:24
Oh, did he bet the question you’re asked, I asked my publicist influence your questions.
Traci Thomas 29:29
Never. I would never let him he was trying to push some buttons. I was like, I’m not asking that. But I did turn to him. And I said, I don’t know if this is like the most basic question ever, but I have to know the answer. How do you file a story? What does that entail? About It? During the Air Force One Stop and you’re like, we’re down. We’re touchdown for the minute. I got a file the story. What does that actually mean?
Ari Shapiro 29:52
That’s a great question. And now I’m wondering if I should have explained that more clearly in the book.
Traci Thomas 29:57
Sorry, paperback edition back at it. A New York Times Best Selling Ari Shapiro. I didn’t even get to say it in the beginning, I fucked that up. I’ll do it in the intro. So you guys will have already heard it. But Ari just made the best seller list literally yesterday. So crazy.
Ari Shapiro 30:09
So crazy. So here’s how I file a story. I’m walking around talking to people recording it on my little mini disc, mini disc, my God, I haven’t used a mini disc for 20 years, what do I say, my, my flashcard recorder, then I like slip that flashcard into my computer. And I will pull cuts, which is like, I have the audio file. And it’s like, here’s a quote of so and so saying this, here’s the sound of the helicopter taking off. Here’s the music underneath the scene, here’s the air conditioner running in the background, that’ll mask but whatever. And then I line them all up. And then I tippity tappity type out my script. And then I call an editor. And I say let’s run through it. And with the editor on the phone, I say, today in Washington, the president said blah, blah, blah, click and then the editor hears the sound of the President saying blah, blah, blah, we run through the thing. And the editor says moon that was 30 seconds too long, or this didn’t make sense to me, or I think you should actually start with that whatever we make the changes. Once we’ve made the changes, and we finalized it and settled it, I send all of my audio clips in to Washington. And then I record my script, send that into Washington. And then a producer weaves them all together, makes radio magic and puts it on the air. Wow, that makes sense.
Traci Thomas 31:26
Totally makes sense. That’s so cool. I love it. Okay, here’s another thing we have to talk about. We have to talk about reading the book, because so I’ve been doing the show for five years. I’ve read five years. Five years next week. Amazing. Congratulations. Thank you very proud of myself.
Ari Shapiro 31:44
Oh, happy anniversary.
Traci Thomas 31:45
Thank you. But I from the beginning have always read every book cover to cover same. Yes. Turns out people don’t do that.
Ari Shapiro 31:53
Yeah, I’ve noticed that in a couple of interviews.
Traci Thomas 31:57
You want a name? But I have to ask you this question. You can tell me No, but I’ll go first. Okay, there have been three books that I did not finish before I interviewed the author. Not that I did not intend to finish them. I either ran out of time. Or I just really struggled with the book. Yeah. Have you ever not finished a book? No. But I’ve decided to skim. Okay. I have looked at every page of every book that I’ve done an author interview for. I’ve never left a book unfinished. But there have definitely been times I mean, I am on record. In the New York Times,
Ari Shapiro 32:32
I saw the saying that I think many nonfiction books, some nonfiction books, whatever a percentage of nonfiction books would be just as good or better if they were the length of a long magazine article. That’s right. And so there comes a point in certain nonfiction books where I’m like, I get it, I’m going to like, I’m going to look at the whole thing. I’m going to read at least some of every single page. But I don’t need to dive quite so deep into this subject in order to interview somebody for an eight minute piece. I actually find, I don’t know if you have found this. But sometimes when I’m reading books for an author interview, I find the acknowledgments to be the most useful source of questions. I love
Traci Thomas 33:10
the acknowledgments so much that I will never read them until I finished the book because it is my reward.
Ari Shapiro 33:16
Oh, wow, I loved you feel that way, both as a reader and as an interviewer.
Traci Thomas 33:20
I don’t I just love it. I just feel like there’s there’s like treasures in there. It’s like, Oh, totally. Thank what other writers Lulu? Yeah, what fellowship did they get? Like, just for
Ari Shapiro 33:31
me? It’s like, oh, you know, when, when I was a child, my great grandmother told me the story of blah, blah, blah. And that sent me off on the idea of this novel that I’m like, okay, that’s what I’m going to ask about is, yeah, when you were a child, and your great grandmother told you that story that provided the seed for this novel. Yeah,
Traci Thomas 33:44
I can’t, I can’t say more, because this is going to air before this other episode that I’m talking about. But in the episode that are in the acknowledgments, the authors like and I want to thank this other author, and you might notice that this book was written in the style of their work because they were such an inspiration. And I didn’t notice that when I was reading the book, but obviously familiar with the other I had read the big the big, but I’ll tell you after. But I asked the author about it. And it was actually really one of my favorite questions. I was like, yes, thank you for telling me about this and like, why this author was important to them, etc, etc. As a big reader, one of my favorite questions to ask readers is two books you love one book you hate.
Ari Shapiro 34:25
So I rarely look back over my shoulder. Okay, so I’m gonna give you two recent books I love you can give me anything. Okay. One book that I just adore. That has not come out yet. Okay. Is by the author Abraham Verghese
Traci Thomas 34:41
covenant. It’s right behind it. Yeah. Have you read it? Has everybody got to tell you that story too? Okay. Do you love him? So
Ari Shapiro 34:49
I had never read one of his books before. Oh, and it arrived. I got an email and it was like heads up. This is 800 pages, right?
Traci Thomas 34:57
They didn’t give me the heads up and I was like, yes, I’d love to read it and It arrived. And I was like, when will I have this time?
Ari Shapiro 35:02
So I got it in December or January, it comes out in May. Yes. And of course, I had books that were publishing in January, February that I needed to read. And I thought, You know what, I’m just gonna read the first 20 pages of this to see if I want to do it or not. I read the whole 800 or 700, or whatever it is page book. Before those January, February, because I was so sucked in by it. And now like, my great regret, is that I can’t go back and read cutting for stone, you just have
Traci Thomas 35:30
to find it. I have such a high time do it on the time to do it. He’s also got a memoir.
Ari Shapiro 35:35
I know he hasn’t. Yeah, there’s one about tennis, HIV that write my own country. Yeah, I love that. But I’ve never read anything of his and what I mean, first of all, I just love the book on its merits period. I also love that he was like a practicing physician on faculty at Stanford Medical School. And look, I’m a person who is a, like, serious journalist. And I also sing with a band and I also do a cabaret show with Alan coming. And now I’m also an author. And so the idea that this guy who wrote this beautiful, sweeping, epic, gorgeous novel, also practices medicine, and that he weaves his knowledge of medicine into his fiction. Just have you started reading it, haven’t even started it. I think once you start, you’re gonna be swept away by it like, okay, for me getting through the 700 pages was not a problem at all.
Traci Thomas 36:26
When a book earns the 700 pages. I don’t mind I’m much more of a nonfiction person. So sometimes 700 pages of fiction just feels like Yeah, are you trying to kill me?
Ari Shapiro 36:36
I’m more of a fiction person. Yeah, I read tons of nonfiction for work. It’s one of the things that I have been told is to never read my Goodreads reviews. Don’t do it. Okay. But what I’ve done instead, because I can’t help myself, is when I read the Goodreads reviews. And obviously there are people saying things that I’m like, would rather not read. I then go and find the Goodreads reviews for a book that I think is like a treasure extraordinary. And I read those Goodreads reviews,
Traci Thomas 37:03
some really great Instagram accounts that like share one star reviews of like, classic books are like great, yeah, so I
Ari Shapiro 37:09
shouldn’t say this. But I adored the covenant of water. And so there was one moment when I was like, okay, if I’m feeling a little bad about my Goodreads reviews, I’m gonna go read the Goodreads reviews for this book that I think is an absolute treasure. And it’s like, oh, okay, there were people who just like that, too. Yes, they were clearly wrong. So maybe the people who disliked my book are also wrong.
Traci Thomas 37:28
People just I mean, on Goodreads, you can find like people one star the Bible, okay, just
Ari Shapiro 37:33
like, on Amazon. Someone gave me a one star review, because of the quality of the paper that the book was printed on.
Traci Thomas 37:41
Okay, don’t do deckled edges on your book because people will destroy you. Ice is not duck. Neighbor, if you had done edges, you’d have a whole star less average on book on good, really? People. Okay, I
Ari Shapiro 37:54
know the words deckled. I know what it means from context.
Traci Thomas 37:57
Yes. For people who don’t know, it’s those pages that are kind of like feathery. Yeah, I love a deckled edge. Personally, I did an Instagram post. I was like, What’s your biggest book pet peeve? And people are like a question box. It was like 45 People said that and I was like, What is wrong with you? Why do you care so much about
Ari Shapiro 38:15
my friend and colleague, Linda Holmes, who has written a couple of fantastic novels, shocks and getting Amazon reviews that say, the delivery person left the package out in the rain and the book was wet.
Traci Thomas 38:27
Yes. I’ve heard about this. I’m like, Are you guys out of your minds? Like it’s just as a review of the book as object? Yeah, it is a review of the actual physical book. Okay, wait, we have to do the other book you love and the book you hate.
Ari Shapiro 38:39
Okay. So the other book I love, which I’m still 50 pages from the end, I was just reading it on the flight over is Salman Rushdie’s latest victory city, which is this epics. I’ve written many, but not all of his books. I’ve never read any. No. Well, you’re a nonfiction person. Oh, Salman Rushdie was one of those people who I discovered in high school. I don’t know who recommended that I read one of his books. But it the first book of his that I read wasn’t even Midnight’s Children, but it was just like, his writing was like nothing I’d ever read before. And then I went back and read so many of his novels. And now I’ve read most Many, but not all the things he’s written since I interviewed him years ago, of course, there was that horrible, brutal attack on him over the summer. And so I just thought, I want to read this next book, and it is epic and mythic. And it centers on this woman who is sort of part goddess and it’s just, there’s clearly so much historical research that went into it. And yet it feels like some ancient epic, right? It’s really beautiful. And it’s one of those books that I’m going to be sad when it ends because I just feel like I’m being swept along on this journey.
Traci Thomas 39:45
But you talked about in your book, always, or never getting to go back and read things. But this book has been out for a little bit and you’re reading it.
Ari Shapiro 39:51
You’re right, you’re right, because I’m on sabbatical right now. Mark and
Traci Thomas 39:55
Abraham are gays bog cutting for stone. Just get it. I need you to read it. We need to talk All right. Okay, book you hate. My favorite part.
Ari Shapiro 40:03
My face is so hard for me. I’ve really been thinking hard about this. And not think of a book that I like, I hate hate.
Traci Thomas 40:13
Well think about you, Hey,
Ari Shapiro 40:16
I’ve been racking my brain. So like, you know, I was an English major in college, I had to read a lot of things. That didn’t make sense to me or that I didn’t finish. But I feel like hatred has to come from, like, hate and love are much more closely related than hate and indifference. Yeah. And I can’t think of a book that I feel hatred for what you know what I mean? I
Traci Thomas 40:37
can I can think of a million bucks. Give me an example. I hate Malcolm Gladwell book, talking to strangers.
Ari Shapiro 40:44
I haven’t read it.
Traci Thomas 40:45
Oh my god, I hate that book. There was a book that came out a few years ago called the line becomes a river by Francisco Kahn, too. And it was like about immigration from Mexico to America. But he is a writer who decided to become a border agent to like, tell the story. And I just the writing was lovely. But I like hated the idea of the book of like, becoming a cop to, to fuck with people just so you could write your little memoir. I can
Ari Shapiro 41:15
think of books that weren’t for me, but not books that I hated. And I wouldn’t want to call them out because I know that other people love the story. So
Traci Thomas 41:22
nice. Okay, you’re listening back on this podcast with all this kind man.
Ari Shapiro 41:26
I mean, for example, like I can think so. You know, as I’m thinking like, back in college, I read The Iliad and The Odyssey, and I prefer the Odyssey to the Iliad, but I’m not gonna say a hate of the Iliad, like one bloody
Traci Thomas 41:37
The Iliad, and that’s gonna be our audio cut, right?
Ari Shapiro 41:41
When I think about Shakespeare, like, I don’t think that um, what’s the bloody gory? Titus Andronicus is like, one of my favorites. Titus Andronicus is one of your favorites,
Traci Thomas 41:54
Underrated- I think it’s like, so clear. It’s one of those books that I’m like, oh, you should be teaching this to kids. Because it makes so much sense. You can follow like in high school, if I was taught that, I would have been like, Shakespeare is a freak. And I love it. Like, there’s revenge. There’s hatred. Tamra is like such a juicy.
Ari Shapiro 42:12
See, I can’t make the case that you’re wrong. I’m just like, that’s not for me.
Traci Thomas 42:18
You hate doesn’t have to be a book. That’s the worst book ever written? You know,
Ari Shapiro 42:21
the I mean, the examples that come to mind are all we’re being really honest. Well, no, the reason I’m reaching for those is because there are author interviews that I’ve done on NPR, where I’m like, this is a great conversation about a book that I would not recommend to anyone, I’ve had those two, I’ve had this. And you know, my mom, sometimes just accidentally will refer to my reviews of books on NPR and I am always insists I was like, This is not a review. Because if I were reviewing these books, I would say it is no good. Don’t read it. But as as an interviewer, I’m like, having an interesting conversation about a book that I personally would not recommend to anyone. But I don’t want to be on record as saying that that author who poured their heart and soul, okay, I’m going to tell you a story. Okay. Early in my time, as a host of all things considered, I was asked to be a judge for a tournament of cookbooks on a food website. And so I was sent to cookbooks. And I was told to cook at least three dishes from each of them. And then write a little essay about like, why I chose the one I did. And this was more than five years ago. What I wrote was kind of snarky and rude, okay, towards the cookbook that I didn’t choose. And now five years later, I just think to myself, somebody worked really hard on that cookbook. And so I didn’t prefer it over the other cookbook. But did I really have to be such a bitch about it?
Traci Thomas 43:55
Maybe you did. I am a I am a thing that I believe very deeply in my heart is that hating art is important. And it’s good for the art. Like the and this is like a crusade that I’m on around books is I wish more people were snarky about books in the same way that we’re snarky about TV or a movie or a song or an album. Because I think that that leads to really interesting cultural conversations. If you can just be like this book. And again, it’s your opinion. It’s not like
Ari Shapiro 44:25
no, I’m like thinking of books where I’m like, I love what they were trying to do, but it did not succeed. And I don’t want to call out that.
Traci Thomas 44:32
Well, you don’t have to, I feel like you’ve called out Shakespeare. You’ve told him he’s on notice. For Titus. You’ve called you’ve done your hate, but I just for me, I like I understand that. I also like as a person who puts things out into the world. I have feelings and I’m insecure when people don’t like what I do is hard.
Ari Shapiro 44:47
One of the great things that my editor Rakesh Sauchiehall did when I had a draft manuscript, he reminded me that it was something people would actually read. And so a few places where I named unchecked individuals very, very, very famous individuals. He was like this story works without the individual’s name in it. Maybe you don’t want to like publicly haul them out just to name check them. And so, in the book, I referenced the movie Philadelphia from 19 93 million. I do not reference the very famous actor who starred in Philadelphia by name, although in a previous draft I did.
Traci Thomas 45:25
That’s fair. There’s two very famous actors in it, though.
Ari Shapiro 45:28
That’s true. That’s true. Well, I refer to a straight actor weeping along to Maria calles Aria, so you can do the math. Yes, I’m familiar.
Traci Thomas 45:34
I knew her was I was trying to give you okay, you talked about your producer. And there is maybe my famous favorite line, perhaps in the entire book is when you when your producer tells your new producer or your team that you need the peanut butter pretzels. That’s not the unsalted guide. It’s the salted for me, because that’s the correct answer. My husband is a dangerous person and he buys unsalted. Isn’t that the most similar virtue signaling? I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He was he was raised in a family who did not use a lot of salt. So he thinks things are salty. A lot of the time it’s wrong. Sorry. It’s horrible. But when I saw that it was like half to be the assaulted I was like, Are you and I are canceled because I’m a huge snack purse.
Ari Shapiro 46:19
I love hearing what people’s favorite line of the book is. And you’re the first person to have named that particular one.
Traci Thomas 46:24
I mean, there’s other parts of the book that I love, but that actually that’s not true. My other favorite there’s two favorite parts both speak to me and my soul. One is the snacks and the other is your pettiness about the person who wrote you the love that you
Ari Shapiro 46:36
like a postcard still framed on my desk to this day. Yeah,
Traci Thomas 46:40
because I am two things. I am a snack lover and I’m petty, like soulmates? Yeah. And so I was like, Oh, I both those things happen early in the book. So it was like, you know, I’m going with this.
Ari Shapiro 46:53
So that postcard, may I recite it, you may say it was the first time I was ever filling it as I was the Morning Edition. And the postcard said, Dear Ari, please bookshop. I find a daily dose of your personality annoying. I’m a person to signed D. Emerson, Miami, Florida. And I framed it and it’s still on my desk to this day. And I love this. Can I tell you what my favorite line in the book was? I was really proud of it. Nobody has asked me well, what’s your favorite line? Which is funny because I say that I hate superlative questions. I hate like, what was your favorite interview you’ve ever done? What was the I like? I can’t stand them. I can’t answer them. And yet I’m totally contradicting myself. I like waiting for somebody to ask me my favorite line in the book. And I have one which is I’m very good at holding two contradictory ideas in my head. After all, I’m a Libra. And I don’t believe in astrology.
Traci Thomas 47:47
Do you remember that moment?
Ari Shapiro 47:48
I was very proudly like this for you.
Traci Thomas 47:50
Thank you. You’re in Los Angeles. Please don’t repeat that. I might as well be very troubling.
Ari Shapiro 47:56
It’s a cult except a cult doesn’t have as many people in it. Yeah, this has way too many. Like, I’m sorry, I have no objection to astrology. My grandmother was a fortune teller. I get the whole woowoo thing but I did an interview on let’s culture Ystos podcast and Matt Rogers said something about not only will I believe this, but it will become a dominant facet of my personality, which I thought really described so many people in Los Angeles.
Traci Thomas 48:24
That’s exactly right. But yeah, I was not big into it. I was like a little into it because I’m a Leo and so when you’re but living in LA now I’m like, Oh, you actually like won’t leave the house this week. Like you really won’t really won’t do a thing because really you won’t sign you won’t do Oh yeah. Like I have our friends be like, you know, Mercury’s retrograde you should not go and test drive a car. I’m like, what? Like, does that mean there’s gonna be less people there? I can get faster. Yeah, but so back to the snacks. Oh, yeah. thing that I asked everyone on the podcast is how do you right? Where are you? How many hours a day? How often are there snacks and beverages? If so what lighting candles Yeah, formation God’s
Ari Shapiro 49:13
astrology for me because I was working a full time job as host of All Things Considered and did not take a book leave to do this. Although I started writing it in a cabin in the woods in Northern California and the redwood forests. I you know, wrote the vast majority of it while I was doing other things. And so for me, the key was lowering the barrier to entry. Okay, there was not some ritualistic we are now in the writing zone mode. It was on a weekday, I will aspire to write 500 words. On a weekend day I will aspire to write 1000 words, okay. I am not going to force myself to write every day. But when I am writing, in order to not feel like I have a huge mountain ahead of me that I’m never gonna be able to climb. I broken into digestible bite sized pieces. So when I hit the 500 word Mark, I was like, done move on. I did it on the same laptop that I use for my day job. And I did it whenever wherever. You know, sometimes it was before work with a cup of coffee. Sometimes it was after work with a cocktail. Sometimes it was like sitting outside on my patio. Sometimes it was at my desk in the office. It was wherever whenever the key to me was the bite sized pieces. 500 words on a weekday 1000 on a
Traci Thomas 50:30
weekend day, snacks and beverages besides coffee and cocktails.
Ari Shapiro 50:34
No writing specific snacks, but I’m a snacker generally salty rather than sweet, but I cannot really keep nuts or the Trader Joe’s peanut butter filled pretzels around because I will literally eat all eat all of that. Yeah, yeah. Okay, I love this. I can have cookies in the house. They will remain uneaten, really for an ordinary amount of time. But I’ll eat. I’ll eat them like a normal human being. If I have a family sized bag of chips and salsa, that bag gone and 24 hours.
Traci Thomas 51:02
Okay, what about this? What’s the word? You can never spell correctly on the first try?
Ari Shapiro 51:07
I’m in winces
Traci Thomas 51:08
Okay, that’s a word I’ve literally never heard before.
Ari Shapiro 51:11
It’s a it’s a person who is like an assistant. Like, like a protege? Like a stenographer. i There are lots of words that can ever spell on the first try. That’s the first one that popped into my head.
Traci Thomas 51:25
I was literally gonna say to you the Wait, how do you spell?
Ari Shapiro 51:29
Well, there’s an M, somewhere in it. There’s a you sorry, double, you know, I think it’s you e n when I won’t make you
Traci Thomas 51:38
smile. Because if you get it wrong, you know, people will come and tell you about how you don’t have to spell the word.
Ari Shapiro 51:41
What’s another word that I always spell wrong. Okay, this is not a word I spell wrong. But it is a true confession. I sometimes confuse elbow and shoulder.
Traci Thomas 51:52
Like, you confuse them for real, or you call them the wrong name.
Ari Shapiro 51:55
I will refer to my elbow when I mean my shoulder or I will refer to my shoulder when I mean my elbow. And I remember doing that as a child in the same way that as a child like I would sometimes write a lowercase b instead of a D or vice versa. And think Oh, when I grow up, I’ll stop making this mistake. I figured out my B’s and my DS but I still do elbow shoulder.
Traci Thomas 52:12
That’s so funny. Okay, this is an another very like niche question for me specifically. But did you go to high school with Shoshana beam?
Ari Shapiro 52:19
Oh my god. Yes. So I asked that question come from because we sat together and we’re your friends. So
Traci Thomas 52:26
I one of my best friends from college. I went to NYU. Yeah. What is from Lake Oswego. Okay, and were you in performance at La I was a theater girl. Okay. And Shoshana beam was like doing her Broadway thing. She was at alpha for a bit while I was in New York. And before that hairspray, yeah. And so she is sort of a famous Broadway person from that area. And I was kind of doing the math on your age and her age. And I think she went to that high school sang
Ari Shapiro 52:53
together in high school. She’s so wonderful. She even comes back and does like fundraisers for the theater department in my high school. Wow. Yeah. She’s the best. Yeah. If you know, you know.
Traci Thomas 53:05
Yeah it’s just a nice question. People are.
Ari Shapiro 53:08
A mutual friend of ours was like when you were in high school, did you know that she was like a singular talent. And the true answer was, I thought everybody had a shot of being in their high school. I had zero perspective. I didn’t know that she’s literally a once in a generation voice. Yeah. You know, I knew that she was the best around but I thought others had to, you know, find me it’s like picking that up. Whitney Houston is a dime a dozen or something. Right, right.
Traci Thomas 53:33
Right, right. Yeah. Well, I mean, I went to Tisch for theater. So it felt that way in college, but in high school I didn’t. I didn’t I don’t think we had that. But definitely in college. I’m like, so spoiled. All my friends are like Tony nominated and, you know, Golden Globe winners. And I’m like, Yes, that’s right. Of course, because I thought you were talented in college, but Right. It was like the cream of the crop. Yeah. Talent credibly talented people. This is such a fucked up question to ask someone whose book just came out, but I’m gonna ask you what comes next?
Ari Shapiro 54:02
That’s a question I’ve not been able to answer. But I am excited to write another book. I just don’t know what it’s going to be.
Traci Thomas 54:08
Would you write fiction? Well,
Ari Shapiro 54:10
I don’t have a fiction idea. Okay. My husband says I should write a book called The Next Best strangers in the world. A lot. Yeah. It’s I don’t think it’s gonna happen. I like the idea of doing some kind of original journalistic nonfiction project next, but I don’t know what that would be. I, when I think about the people I admire, there’s a cohesiveness to their body of work. So like Michael Pollan, or Alex Gibney, who’s not an author, but he’s a filmmaker, and I feel like they do a lot of different things, but there’s a through line and a cohesion. And I need to figure out what that is for me. And I don’t know yet. Okay, but my book agent keeps asking,
Traci Thomas 54:53
So you’re not the first Well, I just meant generally.
Ari Shapiro 54:57
Oh, well, the next next thing is that I’m I’m I’m doing my show with Alan coming at the cafe Carlyle in New York. Oh, new is starting April 5. Okay. Yeah. So I wish I was in New York to see it. It’s so fun. I love doing that show with him.
Traci Thomas 55:12
I was so it was so fun to read about it. I know him from cabaret that yeah, obviously just how I first met him. Yeah, it’s not that age of being in New York. But you know, I’m, I meant to ask you this about the structure of the book. How are you thinking about the essays?
Ari Shapiro 55:29
I didn’t write them in order, okay. But I knew that I, I knew that it wasn’t like a cohesive narrative beginning to end. But I also knew that I wanted it to have I almost think of it as like, if you take a yoga class, they’re sort of like gentle, warm ups, and you progress to the most challenging poses. And there’s kind of a cool down like, Yeah, I knew that in the center. I wanted this sort of trio of intense chapters about kind of like war and conflict. But I also wanted to intersperse it with like moments where you can catch your breath. Yeah, sort of levity and pauses. And I knew that there were going to be the two musical interludes and, and then I wanted to sort of let the reader down gently at the end. So even though it is a collection of essays, and they are not interconnected, and one doesn’t necessarily always lead directly into the other, although in some cases, there’s an obvious sort of chronological flow. I wanted to feel like you’re sort of easing into it. And by the time you get to these stories about like, upheaval and heartbreak, you’re ready for them? Yeah. How did it feel to you? Did it feel random? Or did it feel like it flowed or-
Traci Thomas 56:33
It felt like it flowed, but to me, I wrote I the reason I asked this question, because I wrote down, these sort of feel like radio segments, like each essay on its own, it did have that sort of like conversational feeling where you kind of set us up and like, let us know, where we were headed. And then kind of had these like twists and turns inside.
Ari Shapiro 56:51
That’s probably just because it’s that’s how you tell stories, how I tell stories. But I did want it to have the quality that I think on its best days, all things considered haves, where it has where you never quite know what’s coming next. And collectively, it encompasses the entirety of the human experience. And you get like, you know, hard news and entertainment and joy, surprise and uplift and interesting, random facts. And like, collectively, you got a real cornucopia of experiences.
Traci Thomas 57:19
I think that that happened, a word that comes to mind for me, and I don’t, I don’t hope this word isn’t like belittling. But essays are sort of delightful, like well, I don’t know, sometimes you sometimes delightful. It’s like, oh, no, I mean, it like in a much more rich sense, where I was like, I was delighted to read, even the more difficult ones. I was like, this is sort of like a lovely way.
Ari Shapiro 57:43
Oh that’s so nice to hear. Thanks. Yeah, I think the through line is curiosity and discovery. And that should feel like a delight, even if it is, I mean, look, even when I’m in incredibly challenging, difficult scenarios, I feel so fortunate and privileged to be able to have that experience and access that and hear those stories, and then share them with people. It’s a real gift that I don’t take for granted.
Traci Thomas 58:10
You talk about in the book, being sort of in awe of the fact that you get to ask experts questions, and that’s how I feel on this show. It’s like getting to talk to people and be like, can you tell me why you wrote this part of your book? And like, that’s why I started this show. It’s like, I just wanted to ask book lovers and writers. The questions I had that came up when I was reading the book,
Ari Shapiro 58:33
I mean, as you know, from the book, those are some of my favorite interviews are with, with-
Traci Thomas 58:37
Writers, you said that they like illuminate the world for you, or like help you make sense of it. And I mean, I although for me, it’s more often fiction. I do fiction on this show, too. But I just, it’s like, you know, you sit curious amounts of what I always use to describe myself, but also like, a little bit nosy. Like, Oh, yes. I sort of want to know, like, getting to ask Andrea Elliot, like, did you feel guilty when you won the Pulitzer at all? Like, yeah, it’s not like, you know, at her taking me at face value and being like, yes or no, right? It’s just such a it’s very easy answer, yes or no? Well, she gave a much more interesting answer. But she sort of was like, Yeah, I mean, it’s really hard to have success off of someone else’s hardship. And she followed the family for eight years. And you know, like, that’s, you know, what, a child was a baby. And then they were in like, third grade. Yeah. So, you know, I just have like two more questions. For people who love this book. What are some other books you would recommend to them that are in conversation with this,
Ari Shapiro 59:38
um, one of the books that to me was like, I loved it. And therefore, it was a real hurdle for me to write this book because I was like, Why does the world need a book from me when this other book is already on the world? It’s here for it by our Eric Thomas. He’s been on the podcast. We love Eric. He’s the greatest. And you know what? When I got the book deal, I early on called him I mean, he and I had talked before, like we know each other. And I called him and I said, one reason I’m so intimidated to write this book is that your book is in the world. And with that in existence, who needs whatever I might write, and he was so encouraging and thoughtful and helpful, and insightful, and just wonderful. And then he gave me a lovely blurb for this book, and also sent me an email that was like, this isn’t the blurb. This is just what I want you to know about my reactions to the book. That was so wonderful and beautiful. So it remains like one of my favorite memoirs from the last five years. I think it’s been Yeah.
Traci Thomas 1:00:43
2020 I believe it came out.
Ari Shapiro 1:00:44
Okay. Yeah. So here for it by our Eric Thomas. And another book that I don’t know if I would say it’s in conversation with it, but it still sits in the kind of quasi memoir category. And I just adored it was why fish don’t exist by Lulu Miller. I don’t know that she is one of the hosts of Radiolab. She was one of the founding hosts of the podcast, invisibIe Lea, okay, and why fish don’t exist. It’s part memoir, and also part biography of a scientist named David Starr Jordan. And then the book sort of evolves in a way that defies categorization and becomes about the dangers of categorization. And it came out in the height of the pandemic, I think it was 2020. And I just loved it so much. I recommend it to anyone, and I think it’s a singular, beautiful read.
Traci Thomas 1:01:39
I love that.
Ari Shapiro 1:01:40
I recommend it. As somebody who loves nonfiction. This is a book for you.
Traci Thomas 1:01:45
Okay, last one. If you could have one person dead or alive, read this book. Who would you want it to be?
Ari Shapiro 1:01:50
Oh, my grandma Sylvia. Okay. So that just popped into my head. I mean, she had a good long life. I believe that when somebody dies after the age of 90, you should mourn their loss. You should celebrate the incredible life they lead. But she’s just such a character. Such a like delightful woman who had so many stories to tell, and was always so encouraging of me. I would love for her to be able to read this book.
Traci Thomas 1:02:16
I love it. This was so much fun.
Ari Shapiro 1:02:19
Thank you for having me.
Traci Thomas 1:02:20
You read the audiobook? I’m assuming I do. Yeah. You for people get the book The Best Strangers in the World it’s out now get the audio or the physical. I know many of you are audio people as am I and I would have read the audio if I had it. But I had this before it came out and it was great. And you’ll all love it. Get it where you get your books already. Thank you so much for being here and wonderful conversation. Thank you for having me. Everyone else we will see you in the Stacks.
Alright, y’all, that does it for us this week. Thank you again to Ari Shapiro for being my guest and thank you to Joseph Papa for helping to make this conversation possible. Don’t forget to listen on April 26 When Clint Smith and I discussed Ross Gay’s poetry collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude for the Stacks book club. If you love the show, and want insight access to it, head to patreon.com/the stacks and join the stacks pack. Please make sure you subscribe to the stacks wherever you listen to your podcasts and if you’re listening through Apple podcasts or Spotify be sure to leave us a rating and a review. For more from the stacks. Follow us on social media at the stocks pod on Instagram at the stock spot underscore on Twitter, and check out our website the stocks podcast.com This episode of the stocks was edited by Cristian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. Our graphic designer is Robin MacWrite. The stacks is created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
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