Sam Sanders, host of the Into It and Vibe Check podcasts, joins us to discuss the history of objectivity in journalism, what identity is and how people wield it, and what it’s like having co-hosts and working with friends. We also hear how Sam decides which books to feature on his podcasts and how much he should share with his audience.
The Stacks Book Club selection for August is You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi. We will discuss the book on August 30th with Sam Sanders.
*Due to the nature of podcast advertising, these timestamps are not 100% accurate and will vary.
Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to The Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today I am joined by Sam Sanders, journalist and host of vultures flagship pop culture podcast Into It. Sam also co hosts the news and culture pod Vibe Check along with Saeed Jones and Zach Stafford. Sam was formerly the host of NPR as it’s been a minute and the NPR politics podcast and not only a Sam an incredibly accomplished podcast titan. He is also my friend and one of my favorite people to talk about, just about anything with. So on today’s episode, Sam and I discussed hearing our own voices as podcast hosts, objectivity and journalism, and the kinds of books that Sam gets to feature on his show. Sam Sanders will return for our book club discussion on August 30. We’re going to be talking about the romance novel, You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi, quick reminder, everything we talked about on each episode of the stacks can be found in the link in the show notes. If you want more from the stacks, join the stacks pack, it’s just $5 a month. And if you join, you have access to our monthly virtual book club hangs, the stacks pack discord, and all of the stacks bonus episodes. Plus, you get to know that your support makes this show possible. So head to patreon.com/the stacks and join. I want to give a quick shout out some of our newest members of the stacks pack. Janine Walker, thank you so much to Janine and thank you to the entire stacks pack because truly without you all there would be no show. All right now it is time for my conversation with the wonderful Sam Sanders.
Right everybody, this guest is such a long time coming. I am so excited to finally have my friend yalls. fav on the podcast, podcast host journalist, generally wonderful person, Sam Sanders finally welcome to The Stacks.
Sam Sanders 2:11
It’s so good to be here. And I’m like, Yeah, this has been a long time coming. Because like we just hang in LA.
Traci Thomas 2:17
Yeah, we’re just friends now. Yes. Do you remember when and where we met?
Sam Sanders 2:22
Probably some book event. Because before a pandemic, we were in the same book event circle. Like we both were like cool with Riverhead. And I felt like we would end up with a bunch of Riverhead parties. And it’s like I met you.
Traci Thomas 2:34
Yeah, I remember it so well, because it was December 2019. Oh, wow. I was very pregnant with my twins. And earlier that year, that summer, we were renovating our house and I was living in an apartment that I hated. And I had read how we live our lives by side Jones. Yeah. And he had shared the interview that you did with him on. It’s been a minute. And I remember literally taking a shower in this tiny apartment with my ginormous belly and listening to the interview and being like, because I’ve heard your show before but being like, oh, Sam Sanders is a force. And that’s when I started listening to you regularly. And so we were at a Riverhead event for James McBride’s book. That was yes. And LeVar Burton was there. I remember and I was so excited. And I was like, oh my god levar Burton’s here, and then you walked past me and I turned to my friend. I was like, Do you know Sam, Sandra says that Sam Sanders, you have to listen to his interview beside jokes. And then I like went up to him was like, I’m such a big fan. And you were like, Let’s rebrand. I want to do your show. And we were originally going to do it in like early 2020. But then pandemic and but we were originally going to do James McBride book.
Sam Sanders 3:52
I remember it. Yes, Deacon King Kong right.
Traci Thomas 3:55
Yeah. It’s been like, almost four years since that literally,
Sam Sanders 3:59
He has a new book out, isn’t it? And now, I host the show with Saeed.
Traci Thomas 4:07
And now you host this show with Saeed. And Saeed has been on The Stacks. And the three of us have gone out for drinks and apps. And now it’s like a whole different world.
Sam Sanders 4:16
I love it. There’s like this, like, black people book diaspora that has like, come out of all of this, because I’ve even had, I had LeVar Burton on it’s been a minute before I left that show. So all of the parties named we’ve all like-
Traci Thomas 4:29
I had James McBride on this show you go there you go. That’s a beautiful, beautiful spiderweb of books. Yeah, so that’s like a huge, long intro. But I mean, for people who don’t know Sam Sanders, first of all, what are you doing? You’re obviously not listening to me telling you what to do. But will you just tell people, maybe a little bit about yourself and you can include things that aren’t professional like you can include a little like where you’re from your background, whatever feels like a good intro for Sam’s.
Sam Sanders 4:58
Okay. So All most people who know me know me from the sound of my voice. I’ve been making radio and audio for, gosh, 13/14 years now almost 14 years. I was at NPR for a very long time. And I was a breaking news reporter there for years, I covered the 2016 election. I was one of the first hosts of the NPR politics podcast. And then I launched and hosted it’s been a minute for a little under five years. That was a radio show and a podcast. And since then, I’ve left and now I host a weekly twice a week culture podcast for vulture in New York Magazine called into it. And I host like a weekly Kiki podcast with two of my favorite people. Zack Stafford and Sadie Jones. It’s called vibe check and it publishes every Wednesday. So yeah, I’m just like an audio dude. I’ve been, I’ve been talking for a living for like, 14 years now. So that’s how a lot of folks know me. But people close to me know me as a loud procrastinator who is begrudgingly accepting middle age and always loves a strong drink. A tacky movie, and a dumb looking dog. Yeah, those are my favorite things, I guess. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve been an Angeleno for gosh, approaching a decade, but I’m a Texan through and through in that place will always have my heart. Yeah, that’s me. I guess.
Traci Thomas 6:32
I love it. Okay. I want to know, people ask me this a lot. And I’m a professional talker for the last five years, but you’re a professional talker for a lot longer. How do you feel about the sound of your voice?
Sam Sanders 6:46
I feel pretty good about it. Now for years. I did not. And so like, whenever I talk to people about getting used to talking or how they sound, I kind of say to folks, oh, yeah, for years, you might not like the way you sound on a microphone. That’s just the process. Like that’s just the process. So I don’t think I got comfortable with even hearing my own voice until I had been doing it for like five years. Yeah, that said, the only real advice I give to people is to try as much to sound on the microphone, like you do off the microphone. The only difference is that you make sure to enunciate. That’s, like that’s literally it. There are really no rules. And I think increasingly, people just want to hear other folks who sound like real people. So at this point, I think I sound kind of the same way all the time. The only difference is my diction is hopefully a little bit more polished, and the delivery is a little better. But the way in which I talk to you, in this chat will probably be the same way that we talk when we’re just hanging out.
Traci Thomas 7:56
Yeah it’s so interesting, because I feel like NPR voice used to be like such a thing when I was growing up. Oh my God. Now it’s like, NPR voice is your voice right? Or like, it could be anybody’s voice. And it’s just so interesting to think about how I think probably podcasts have had a huge impact on that. But just that there’s been such a change, and what’s acceptable for serious journalists to sound like,
Sam Sanders 8:20
Exactly, and I think is beautiful. When I started at NPR, that old school of thinking about how to sound was so entrenched, they would tell us when they were training us how to be like baby producers and reporters, don’t ever include the word I in a script, you should never even reference yourself. And it’s like, wow, that was crazy and dumb. And eventually the company stopped doing that. And so to NPRs credit, the idea of what that sound is and how much a person gets to be a person that’s shifted over time in a better direction. You know, and I think I was part of that way. But there are a lot of people who are just out there, finding ways to be themselves and still be journalists. I have looked up to Ari Shapiro.
Traci Thomas 9:01
Of course, just gonna say he was on the show, too.
Sam Sanders 9:04
He’s great. You know, he was just named in LG J, a journalist of the year, congrats on that. So cool. Yeah. But he was always an inspiration, because he was kind of just like, Yes, I’m fucking gay on a microphone because I’m gay. Right? Do with it? Right. And so like, that is the norm now people being themselves and I think it’s a beautiful thing.
Traci Thomas 9:26
I just, it’s so interesting to think about, like journalists, not, you know, putting themselves in the story because it’s obviously like, a relic from or like a function of white supremacy and like, hetero patriarchy and all that stuff. But it’s like, because it’s like, oh, we don’t put ourselves in a story because we are quote, unquote, neutral, which means like, we’re straight white dudes of a certain age and class. And when you start to put yourself in the story, if you’re not that, then you’re like editorializing or something. Right? Isn’t that what they’re sort of getting at?
Sam Sanders 9:58
Totally what but a lot of these journalists who still push the idea of objectivity, the straight white male journalist, don’t ever think about how they’re showing subjectivity, right, the stories they choose to cover and who they choose to interview for those stories. Right? Right. I also am obsessed with unpacking the idea of objectivity. You know, we treat it or we treated it in the world of journalism as sacrosanct as Bible for a very long time. But when you look back at the history of the word, objectivity in journalism, it began as a business practice. There was a certain moment in American journalism, where the heads of these big papers and such said, we can get a wider audience. If we present our news in a nonpartisan way, we’ll get Democrats and Republicans to read it. It was a money grab, you know, there were moments in American history. And still all throughout the world where a journalistic outlets were very clear about where they stood politically, and you knew it, and that was the ecosystem. The UK kept us going for a lot longer than the US did. But you know, there were left papers that were write papers that were Milla wrote papers, and you knew, and they were just like, here’s who we are, here’s what we’re doing. But America gotten this mindset or white American newsletters gotten this mindset that you could capitalize or maximize eyeballs and listeners, if you were quote, unquote, down the middle, because then everyone could like you. Right, right. And so whenever I ask someone to, or whenever someone is asking me to take objectivity seriously, I kind of just say, it was about money anyway, it wasn’t actually about the craft. It was.
Traci Thomas 11:36
Right. But like, okay, so taking that a step further than what do you feel about like a fox news that has sort of gone back to we are who we are. And we’re running with our point of view, obviously, there’s some untrue, there’s lies going on over there. But this idea that like, maybe that’s a move away from object objectivity, that like more news outlets should get back to like, This is who we are, this is what we stand for. And this is how we interpret the news.
Sam Sanders 12:07
Yeah, I think there’s two things going on with Fox News, like, right box is a company that has exactly who it is. But Fox is a company that gets to get away with a bunch of bad things, right? Government doesn’t regulate them anymore, right? There was a moment in American history, where the FCC did a pretty good job of making sure that stuff that was classified as news was fair, they did a pretty good job of making sure that different viewpoints had equal time on the airwaves and TV waves. That was the thing that began to be rolled back in the presidency of Ronald Reagan. And so you’re seeing two things happen with Fox, they’re incredibly partisan. Okay. But they’re also incredibly unregulated. Right. And so, I want and what I hope for American journalism, is that like, we allow journalists to be journalists and be fully who they are. But we also have some guardrails in place from the folks that should regulate this stuff, which is literally the FCC like, like their job. They don’t get you the general mission statement. And yeah, and like the last time the FCC was actually fully involved in what we see in here, was when they were fine in stations, for showing Janet Jackson’s nipple for half a second at the halftime show, right? They have bigger fish to fry. Like they have bigger things to do. So I mean, you’re seeing the federal government fall behind. And I mean, there’s so many things that I’m not going to get into, but section 230. And who’s liable for Internet publishing, and don’t even get me started on what the government does with AI and who owns our intellectual property. Right, the government’s behind. And the government hasn’t been doing what Western Europe has been doing for like 30 years, Western Europe, does a really good job of regulating these tech platforms regulating speech in a way to protect minority rights and safety. And the US just really stopped doing that, like in the 80s.
Traci Thomas 14:05
I feel like part of it is also like, the US government is so old, like they don’t get the technology.
Sam Sanders 14:12
They don’t get the technology. Yeah, you’ll see these hearings, where it’s like Mark Zuckerberg comes to the-
Traci Thomas 14:16
That’s the one I’m thinking where they were like, how do I delete?
Sam Sanders 14:21
How do I poke Mark Zuckerberg, you’re like, What the hell? You know, I mean, this is this is, you know, let’s not, let’s not make this a conversation about government one on one, but like, our government has, like, in many ways, stopped keeping up with the times. You know, we have a situation where like, every few months, you’ll see Congress is fighting past midnight to pass a budget. Suddenly, right, your system is kind of effed up. Don’t get me started. Don’t get okay, we’re
Traci Thomas 14:48
not gonna go there. I’m with you on that. I want to go back a little bit to objectivity though, because I feel like you know, while I haven’t ever had you on the show, you did do my one for the book show with me and we talked about this with Daniel Smith a little But, but this idea of like, identity, and how people who are not, ces had white dudes are classified by identity and like all these things, and you talk about how like, sis white hat dudes that is an identity. And like, I just I would love for you to talk a little bit about that. Because obviously it’s something that I know and knew, but like hearing you talk about it was just like, it was really validating for me as like to help me with my imposter syndrome. It’s like, No, I get to be here too, because my identity is just as important as yours. And you don’t have no identity, just because you are trying to pretend like you’re objective.
Sam Sanders 15:42
Exactly. I kind of liken it. You know how some people will say, this is an American thing. They’ll be like, well, that person doesn’t have an accent. Oh, yeah. You know, like, if they have like a Midwestern dialect, or, you know, some kind of way of talking that feels pretty run of the mill. Yeah, like Mid Atlantic. Yeah, that is not true. Everyone has an accent, because an accent just means the way you sound when you talk. Everyone sounds like something when they talk, right? And I think there’s something about the way we conceptualize race and culture in America, where we just assume that the default doesn’t have these attributes, doesn’t have accent doesn’t have race, because it’s the default or the majority. But in fact, it does. I feel like looking back on my childhood, I grew up with a lot of white kids who never thought about how they were white. They just got to think about how they were people. Because most of the people they saw in the world, were also white. And so the only people that had race in their minds, were people who were not white. And like, people grew up with this. And then they internalize these beliefs, and then they take it into positions of leadership in places like newsrooms, and it’s like, that’s the problem. Right? And I think the big national conversation of the last 10 to 1520 years, especially post Trayvon Martin, has been trying to convince white people that they, in fact, as well are raced. They have a race. I think a lot of white people still don’t see that. And that’s kind of the point where you’re like, Oh, wow.
Traci Thomas 17:17
And even if they like know it, they don’t like I don’t understand, and they don’t believe that they don’t. Yeah, they know like, Oh, I’m white, but they don’t understand like what it means to be racist.
Sam Sanders 17:27
Exactly. And so whenever I hear white people, even well intentioned white people now kind of talking about how they have to think about race too much in this current political environment or climate. I say to them, I think about being black every day, every day, I think about being gay every day. Whenever I go to a grocery store, Tracy, I asked for a receipt and a bag so that no one ever thinks I was shoplifting. Right? That’s because I’m black. Right? When I’m out with my boyfriend, I’m aware of what part of LA I am in, and whether or not I should hold his hand or not. That’s because I’m gay. Right? I have to manage the performance of my identities everywhere I go.
Traci Thomas 18:13
And I think like, I think what’s interesting about what you’re saying is like for white women, there’s this idea that because I’m a woman, I have like an identity, quote, unquote, that I have to worry about. But I think that white because of the history of white supremacy, white woman hood, is not an identity, in the same way that black womanhood or Korean womanhood, like, I think that it’s a function of white supremacy. And so this, like, of course, being a woman, across the board means something. But they think that like, I think that white women are uniquely positioned to feel like their womanhood is like an excuse, or, or a way to be like, I’m a woman. So I experienced discrimination without understanding that like white woman, the performance of white woman, this is actually in service to white maleness and white supremacy, way more than it is actually like something that holds them back, if that makes sense.
Sam Sanders 19:14
Oh, totally. I think that like when you think about black womanhood or Latina womanhood or Asian womanhood, what makes white womanhood different than those? Is that usually white womanhood gets to operate in very close proximity to white manhood. Yeah. And so being a white woman is like, you’re carrying two buckets at once. You’re carrying all the negatives that come with being a woman and being marginalized. But you also have this bucket full of water. That is right next to straight, privileged white men, right, though and so yeah, and like, part of the conversation, I think is asking white women to know that they can do both of those things and be Both of those things at the same time, right? And that’s hard to think about.
Traci Thomas 20:04
It really is, but also, like, I think so much of the crusade of white madness is, is in name on behalf of white women. Oh, tea, you know. And so I feel like that’s like, what’s so complicated about it is, is this idea of like, white womanhood is at once super privileged and also, of course, like discriminated against. So by it’s in such a different, different way.
Sam Sanders 20:31
Well and it’s historical, you think about the era of American history in which lynching was a big thing, right. Usually, the defense white courts and juries and judges used to kill a black man to lynch him was to say that he was doing something disrespectful to a white woman. Right, and that they had to defend the honor of this white woman. Oh, you looked at her? Let’s let you Oh, you whistled at her. Let’s let you y’all were hanging out. Let’s lynch you. And so throughout our history, the the enterprise of white supremacy was often upheld through the idea of protecting Yeah, the white woman.
Traci Thomas 21:14
Yeah, totally. I’m doing such a hard shift, because I wanted to ask you about podcasting.
Sam Sanders 21:19
And also, I want to say, like, you and I both work in the podcast space. A lot of our listeners, a lot of our audience is white women, right? Like, so I don’t ever want to say, I’m telling white women, not to be a part of my work not to be a part of this community. I’m saying to anybody, and everybody who wants to be involved in what I’m doing, and what I’m saying and what I’m about. Let’s just have these conversations,
Traci Thomas 21:45
Right? Let’s look at ourselves.
Sam Sanders 21:47
Exactly. Yeah, like I grapple every day, with the privilege I have, as a cisgendered. Man, who is six feet tall, very much male presenting with facial hair and a shaved head. Like I get to walk through spaces and walk into places. And I have that privilege on me, while also being gay while also being black. Like all of these things can be true at once. And I think the conversation I’m trying to have about race and identity right now is like, how do we think about all of these things at once? Because we can, and we should,
Traci Thomas 22:22
And because we all have those exact things. Right? Exactly. Totally. Okay, let me ask you about podcasting really quick. Okay. You left NPR. You went to vulture, you started into it. And then you also started vibe, check with your friends. I want to know as a person, because when you were, I guess at Intuit, and also when you were at it’s been a minute, you are Sam Sanders host, a lone wolf out interviewing the world talking about things. But now you have this show where you have co hosts? What’s that? Like? And especially because they’re not professional, co hosts, their personal co hosts, they are friends.
Sam Sanders 23:03
Yeah. You know, it has been so much smoother than I even thought it would be. So when I first had the idea for us doing it. So I had had Sayeed on it’s been a minute. And I had Zach on it’s been a minute as well like more than once. And then I had the both of them on together once. And then I had the both of them on together again. And we made this special tribute episode after the death of Andre Leon Talley. And it was just beautiful. And we, you know, we’re still in pandemic during this moment. And I was just getting restless with all things. And I was thinking about, like, what would I like to do that would make me happy. And there were like three things that came up. One, I missed a music, I wanted to play my saxophone more. I grew up playing my saxophone. I was a music major in college. And I gotten out of it. So I knew I wanted to do that again. And I’ve been taking saxophone lessons for a while now to get back into that. I knew that I wanted to, at some point, like find a way to go back to church. And that’s been fraught and a journey still. But I also knew that I wanted to start making audio that was like exactly what I wanted to do. And I wanted to find a way to make my work conversations I wanted to have any way. And that was definitely born out of the pandemic. And what I realized were like two things. I wanted to talk more about popular culture and less about news, hence, the vulture of it all. And I realized I wanted to talk to my favorite people on a regular basis on a regular basis. So much of my work at Vulture so much of my work on it’s been a minute was talking to a new whoever every week, right? And that’s super fun, and it’s a great challenge and I enjoy it and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But I longed for familiar conversations. And I think a lot of that was born out of the isolation and solitude of the pandemic. I wanted to I want To talk to my friends on a regular basis, and that’s my objective. That’s really it. And then as host, it’s been phenomenal. You know, they’re both accomplished professionals in their own right. So he’s an award winning writer. Zach is a Tony Award winning Broadway producer and former editor in chief of the advocate, but they also both for a while. hosted live morning, Twitter TV show from today.
Traci Thomas 25:28
Sam Sanders 25:29
So they have host experience. In fact, they have like video hosting experience. So I mean, anyone who listens knows like the Hey, no slouches. So I, it is, on the one hand, me like making a new show with my friends. But I’m also like making a podcast with my friends who happen to be like, distinguished media professionals. So I lucked out, we lucked out, you know, there was no learning curve, I think, we recorded one pilot that we then shot to studios, that pilot sounds just as good as the show you hear now. It was always kind of just like we clipped. So no, it is one of the bright spots of my week, every week. And when I don’t have weeks where we’re taping and recording, I miss it. It’s like It’s like my guaranteed weekly Kiki with my friends.
Traci Thomas 26:16
I love that. What’s the hardest part about doing vibe check?
Sam Sanders 26:20
Figuring out what to share and what not to share. So I’ve always been pretty open, even on it’s been a minute in the NPR politics, podcast, and there’s things that I always feel comfortable talking about. And I think it builds a relationship with the audience. You know, people know what I like to eat, they know what kind of music I like, they know what movies I’ve watched that. But Viva tech is so much more personal. Now there are questions of like, how much will I share about my relationship? How much will I share about, you know, like the one of the bigger life events for me right now is like becoming a homeowner. So over the last year, the place I was renting, the landlord was like you want to buy it. And I went back and forth for months, and then I bought it but like becoming a homeowner, and interim middle aged and come out of a pandemic in a weird economy. It’s been weird. And so it’s like, well, how much of that? Can I talk about on the show? Or, you know, my mother died a few weeks ago, we had an entire episode about grief and her death? And it’s like, well, how much of that? Should I share on the show? And for me, the answer is always the same. Any of these things embarrass you? If not, you can say it. And the saying any of these things potentially help other people? If it does, you should say it. And so probably the most personal I’ve gotten in an episode of vibe check was our grief episode all about my mother dying? And I went back and forth is like, what should I talk about this? And I said to myself, Americans, specifically, don’t do a good job of talking about grief. We don’t talk about it enough. And so if me talking about my mother’s death with my good friends who I want to talk to about this anyway, if that can help open up some listeners to some important conversations with their loved ones around grief, then it’s actually good. Let me do this, you know, yeah, so if it’s edifying, let’s do it. And just make sure that I don’t embarrass myself on the process, but I kind of know now about what stuff I say out loud will like embarrass me later, you know, so there are there are details about my romantic relationship with my partner that listeners will never hear. And that’s fine.
Traci Thomas 28:35
Yeah, yeah. I mean, that grief episode was so good. I posted on my Instagram. I was listening to it when I was getting ready for something and I was trying to put a fucking fake eyelash on and then I’m like crying and I’m like cursing you. Are you kidding me right now? But it was so good. Oh, you know I listen to everything you do. So I’m a little bit behind this week because I you know life but I haven’t finished the Barbie episode yet but I’m going back to it. And I haven’t listened to live check yet. But I’m going back to that to anyways, I have you know, my tour starts this weekend. So I’m so ready. I’m so excited. I’m so nervous.
Sam Sanders 29:15
I also love seeing you on tour I’ve had the privilege of being a part of one of your live shows. The people love you and you rock that stage. The the vibes are good I liked
Traci Thomas 29:25
I liked live so much and that’s my background. I was a theater major. So I got to do me is my favorite. I love live been preparing for live is so stressful. Because the theater when you work in a theater, there’s so many people you work with. And like so many people you collaborate and like bounce ideas off of and like people that enhance what you’re doing. And with this, you know, it’s just me and I have a tour manager and when I do the live show for Las I have a producer and they helped me but like I’m generating all Have the ideas and so it’s a lot of like, this is an idea I have but is it a good idea? And so I do have two friends from my theater background who I will literally sit down with and take them out to coffee and be like okay, here’s what I’m thinking what would you do and they know me and my creative process and like I literally could not make anything live without them at this point. I love it because I’m it’s like so isolating, creating live stuff as a single person. Oh, totally. Like there’s no stage manager there’s no director like it’s just me and I’m like trying to visual anyways, this-
Sam Sanders 30:32
Yeah, well, and and the script is new for every show the script like new for every show, when you’re doing theater, and I’m not a theater girl. I did a musical and Catholic school as a kid, but that was it. But there is a certain security and saying, Well, this play has a script, right? No matter what, like this is solid, these words are going to happen, you know. But when you do like a live show, for a books, podcast, everyone needs to be different and is different. So you’re like making a new play every time.
Traci Thomas 31:00
Yeah, it is. It’s like it’s much more akin to like improv than it is to like scripted. But yes, but I’m such a type A person that I have, you know, I have a script, I have a plan. I have a outline like I need I need as much structure in my life as possible. And so I think that’s what’s fun about life too, for me is it’s like, this is scary. Like, can’t edit this can’t fix this and you get like that real time feedback. A laugh in person. Beautiful. I can’t handle it. It’s overwhelming, or spontaneous applause. My like love language. So I didn’t prep you for this. But we do this thing called ASPA stats where someone will write in and they’re looking for a book recommendation. This one, this one I’m going to ask you is so hard. I really struggled with this one, and it’s totally in my wheelhouse. But it’s something that I’ve struggled with for years as a reader. So okay, this comes from Nicole, the question is one sentence long. I’m it’s not even a question. It’s a sentence. I’m looking for some investigative journalism books from bipoc. Authors. Huh? Nicole, you are asking the question that is at the center of my heart and my life because there really are not that many, which is really unfortunate. I tried to outsource this to Twitter and threads, and I got two replies. So I have two and I can start with them. You can think about it. And you can just do one or whatever. So the first one is a brand new book that just came out. It’s called when crack was king by Donovan X. Ramsay and Donovan was on the show. Two weeks ago, as you guys were listening to this, and it’s A People’s History of a misunderstood era, which is the crack era. And he interviews a lot of people connected to the crack era and also shares like the journalism or like the reporting around what happened in the history and stuff. So that’s like a new one that I love. And then the other one is, I have not read it yet, but it’s on my list and I want to read it. It’s called those who wander by Vivian hoe. And it’s about unhoused people. She follows them and writes about them and the history of homelessness in America, and people who are unhoused for a myriad of reasons. So those are the two that I came up with. Do you have any off the top of your head?
Sam Sanders 33:29
I mean, I think she deserves more credit for being an investigative journalist than she gets. But I classify Nicole Hannah Jones work on race and history as investigative. Okay, I’ll tanzu I would say the 1619 project. It’s a different kind of investigation. It’s an investigation into our history. But that
Traci Thomas 33:50
okay, I’ll take that. I know who I was hoping how to book out but still doesn’t is one of my favorite investigative journalists or like journalists, period is Caitlin Dickerson. Oh, she’s, she’s working on? Yeah, no, I was introduced to her through you. I think she was on your show. But she’s got something coming out, I think in 2024, from Random House about-
Sam Sanders 34:14
Like our immigration immigration system. It’s just so awful. You know. So Caitlin has been covering immigration for years at the New York Times for a long time and currently at the Atlantic, but she just won the Pulitzer for her reporting on immigration. And she’s working right now on a book all about it. So that should be out. Soon. I’ve, we’ve talked about you know how hard it is to write a book like that, but she’s doing it so. Yeah. Write that name down. Yeah. Her book on immigration is gonna blow everyone’s mind. Caitlin Dickerson she’s good stuff she can.
Traci Thomas 34:44
Everything we talked about people isn’t a link in the show notes so you can find we’ll link to Caitlin Dickerson.
Sam Sanders 34:50
We can link to her Atlantic article that got her the very long form one, looking at what went into Trump’s family separation policy. It’s funny Don’t worry, it’s so
Traci Thomas 35:00
good. She’s so good. Okay, now we’re going to talk about your book taste. Here we go. Two books you love one book you hate.
Sam Sanders 35:08
Hmm, I’m going to read. I’m going to tell folks the most two recent ones I’ve read and loved. I am lucky enough on the vulture show into it, too, every now and then talk with authors, especially if they’re in the comedy or creative TV movie space. And so, one book I just read and interview the author about, and it was just like, breathtakingly hilarious. I know where this is going. At the same time. I talked about this book. I love this book, Zack Zimmerman’s book. It is a debut memoir book of essays. It’s called, is it hot in here? Or am I suffering for all eternity for the sins I committed on Earth? It’s so good. You start reading it. And you think it’s the same kind of book you would get from an up and coming internet comedian, who on occasion writes for New Yorker shouts and murmurs. And it starts out light and funny and quippy like that. And then he gets really deep on his family history and growing up gay in a severely conservative Christian household. And then some of those essays and chapters break your heart and make you cry. It’s one of those books that takes you from one emotion to the next, in the span of a few sentences, and is brilliantly written, he’s an incredibly deft writer. I love the book, it obviously spoke to me a lot, because I also was a queer kid who grew up in a very Christian household. But this book was damn good. Zach Zimmerman, is it hot in here? Or am I suffering for all eternity for the sins I committed on Earth? I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s also quick read. It’s not that long. So that’s one. And then the other book I had the privilege to read for work recently. Was Samantha herb, his latest book, and I feel like neither of us need to say too much about her. She’s just fucking great. And you know it.
Traci Thomas 37:08
Yeah. She’s my guest for in Chicago for the tour.
Sam Sanders 37:11
I love it. It’s so good. Her latest book is called quietly hostile. It’s a book of essays about her hilarious life. She is honestly a model for how to like, share a lot about who you are. She tells you everything. Everything, every book of her spends a good chunk of time on her bowel issues. And it’s funny, and I love it. It’s good. And she is one of the smartest writers I know. But she communicates in a way that is so again, Gala. terian. shouldn’t put on any airs the first chapter of this new book, quietly hostile. The premise of the first essay is just like, we’re allowed to like things. Yeah, even if it’s tacky, even if it’s lowbrow. I like it, because I like it. And you can do that too. And that’s enough. That is the vibe of the entire book. And so it is incredibly in that way. Gosh, life affirming. Let me say that. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 38:07
Yeah, I like I liked it. It’s not what she says to say.
Sam Sanders 38:10
Exactly. And so they’re exactly.
Traci Thomas 38:14
Ok, speaking of things you like, what’s the book you hate?
Sam Sanders 38:17
Oh, gosh. Okay, I’m gonna tell you one where I’m just like, we could get to this point a lot quicker. Several friends of mine have been like, you’re in a serious relationship. You should read the book attached.
Traci Thomas 38:29
I don’t know that.
Sam Sanders 38:31
it’s all about attachment theory, which Okay, sure. Good. You know, are you anxious attachment, this attachment, that attachment. I bought it. I started reading it, you know, trying to be a good partner. And it’s one of those books where you’re like, this could have just been a magazine article. This could have been a Buzzfeed quiz. Literally, like take a quiz. We’ll tell you what the fucking attachment type is. And you’re done. So I guess I don’t like that book. Because I only want to read a full length book. If it needs to be a full length book. Yes. Call me crazy. And there’s so many books, you know this. You work in books. There are so many books that could have just been a magazine article.
Traci Thomas 39:05
Yeah. Like give me a nice long format. Give me a Caitlin Dickerson length article. And I would be like, Yes, I’m reading a book that’s sort of like that right now. It’s called mom fluence. And it’s about like mommy influencer culture. And Chapter Six is fan TAs. It’s about like white moms. And it’s like q1 on anti Vax, just like weaponization. And like, I’m like, this could be the entire book, or this could have been an article
Sam Sanders 39:34
They say, but I get it like a book advance is a lot more money than your payment for a magazine.
Traci Thomas 39:43
No, I get it, but I hate it as a reader because I’m like, please respect my time.
Sam Sanders 39:49
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Traci Thomas 39:49
Wait, I want to ask you about on Intuit how you decide what books you will cover on the show because it’s a show about pop culture. And you know, I think books are pop culture But I know a lot of people don’t. And I know that also a podcast is a business, especially one like at a place like vulture, and, you know, you all need to get hit your downloads and all that kind of stuff. So how do you decide what books you can feature?
Sam Sanders 40:15
Yeah, you know, on, it’s been a minute, we really had a few luxuries and blessings with that show. Once it got big enough, and because it was on the radio, and it was a podcast, we had a lot of freedom to just kind of do whatever, you know, that show always made more money on the radio side and the podcast side interesting, which is very interesting. But the thing about a radio show, it’s like, once it’s there, and the stations have taken it, and the audience likes it enough, and they know your voice enough. You can literally do whatever and they’ll listen. Right? You know, it’s like, if you listen to hot 97, in New York, the classic Hip Hop station, and you like the host that host the morning drive, at a certain point, it doesn’t matter that much what songs they’re playing. The hosts are there, and you’re used to them. Right, right. So we had that kind of situation with it’s been a minute. So a lot of times, we could just say, I like this book. I don’t know if it’s gonna be big or small. But I like this book into it is one, a new show, and just a podcast. So we’re still in just this growth mindset where like, until like, probably for the next year to making the show, it’s going to be in a growth phase where like every week needs to be tied to the Zeitgeist and a hit. So we have less room to deviate from, like where the culture currently is. So when we pick books, we either want a buzzy author, everyone knows like Brandon Taylor, we’re doing a little book club on Intuit on his latest book, or we want authors like Zack Zimmerman, or Samantha Irby who can talk about their book, and also talk about like the week of pop culture, right. So when I had those two authors on half, the episode was like, here’s some news of the week in pop culture land. What do you think, then the other half is their book chat, you know. And I think over time, as the show spreads its wings more, we’re going to have a wider range of authors. And I also think that we’re going to begin to have authors on five check.
Traci Thomas 42:17
You guys gonna do a book club?
Sam Sanders 42:19
I think so. And I can’t announce the book yet. But we’ve been talking about it. So there’s one in the works there as well. But yeah, I probably don’t have as much freedom in books election as I did. It’s been a minute. But both of these shows are getting to that place. But also the thing that always defines what kind of book I want to read is do I actually want to read it? If I don’t want to read it? I shouldn’t do it. fresher. Do it? Like, I don’t want to read a book because like, it’s, it’s the thing you need to do. Like no, I want my time. Everyone’s time is valuable. Yeah. Yeah. Not wasted on bad shit.
Traci Thomas 42:55
I agreed. What kind of reader would you say that you are?
Sam Sanders 43:00
I’ve changed over time. When I was a kid, I was the kind of child who would literally get in trouble for reading too much like, my parents would be like, it’s bedtime lights out. And I go to my room and have like, truly the flashlight under the bedspread. And I remember getting in trouble for that. Right. So I was a voracious reader when I was a kid and I was taught to read very early. My brother and I are on to outta my mother’s sister. She taught the two of us how to read before we even began kindergarten. She was an English teacher. And she was just like, all teach us so we walked into kindergarten reading.
Traci Thomas 43:40
So we can teach my kids.
Sam Sanders 43:45
Yeah, and honestly, I don’t know how it happened. For us. It was it was like just a miracle of having like an English teacher for an art. So I was an incredibly voracious reader. As a kid, I always have my head in the book, than the thing happens when you like, you know, get to high school prime TV age, I watched so much shit TV in high school. Just MTV was always on. Yes. And I think I got out of reading for a while, especially with the rise of the smartphone. And now I’m very intentional about it again. During the day, I’m kind of on a phone reading something but at night, reading a book before bed is like my routine. So I’m always kind of working through a book as I go to sleep. And then whenever I’m like away from the grid for a while on vacation or on a plane for a long time, I want to book there with me. But I’m going to be honest, I can’t read a book during the day. I’m plugged in to the phone to the computer. And I read a lot for work but like reading a magazine article for work on your phone is not the same as reading a book. So a lot of my book reading happens nights before bed weekend’s vacations or trips.
Traci Thomas 44:55
Okay. And what’s the last like? Great book you read? Just It’s like, out of the park amaze.
Sam Sanders 45:02
I mean, I’m gonna say it again because I love this book. So fucking zags. Everyone’s book was like had me weeping.
Traci Thomas 45:08
Okay, what are you reading right now?
Sam Sanders 45:11
Right now. So I watched Fleischman is in trouble Oh effects last longer that that show then I got the book which came first written by a taffy brought us or Agner I have to take that book in small doses because it’s so heavy, but I’m about 70 pages from being done with the book. And every sentence she writes, kind of knocks you off your feet. She does this thing where she talks about the the interior lives and the personal monologues of these fictitious characters so vividly and deeply that you almost think you’re having those thoughts yourself. If that makes sense. I have not read a book that has captured the way people’s minds can spin out when they’re in crisis, as well as Fleishman does, and that makes it a harder read because it’s fucking heavy. But it’s so good.
Traci Thomas 46:09
It’s okay. So far. What’s better the book or the show?
Sam Sanders 46:13
The show has Claire Danes. Yeah, let me tell you there’s an episode towards the end. The second to last episode is doing the work and just like give her give her an ego just for this.
Traci Thomas 46:24
I think she’s one of our great living actors. She really is I people don’t give her enough credit. I feel like especially for our generation.
Sam Sanders 46:31
Oh, she’s phenomenal. Watch the show read the book. I also love reading the book after watching the show to see what they’ve changed because Taffy the author of the book was involved with the show. And so she was in charge of making that show as exactly what you want it to be. And seeing and hearing and reading about what what changed. I find that fascinating. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 46:54
What are some books you’re looking forward to reading? They don’t have to be new books but just things you’re hoping to get to soon.
Sam Sanders 47:00
Donovan Ramsey’s book is on my list was Kane. Yeah. You know, I’m, I usually a void look back at that time, because it usually comes from like, academia and elites who are just very judgy with it. But Donovan’s book I can already tell is going to have a very empathetic take on that period of American life black American life, so I’m ready for that. I am looking forward to Caitlin’s book. I have to actually what should I look forward to? You know me, you know, books knowing me and my personality? Watch me on my radar. Dang, yeah. Huh.
Traci Thomas 47:38
Well, I have I have i i know that i put you on poverty by America by Matthew Desmond.
Sam Sanders 47:48
Yes. So good.
Traci Thomas 47:51
You know, I like to read like dark shit. I feel like maybe. Okay, so there’s a book that just came out that I just read that I think is probably one of the best things I’ve read this year, called the country of the blind by Andrew Leland. Okay. And he has retinas pigmentosa, which is, I think I said that right RP, which is like slowly making him blind. And oh, his and he got diagnosed in as a teenager. And he’s in his 40s. Now, I believe, and he basically like, writes a memoir about his experience, but also does that like deep research stuff. So he’s going to like, blind conventions, and he’s talking to blind artists and aligned inventors and blind activists. So it’s like, both blindness, very personal, his experience, and he gets very intimate. He like shares, you know, things about his relationship with his wife, and being a father and all that stuff. And then also, he’s zoomed way, way out in this, like, I’m new to this blind shit. Like, let me talk to someone who was born blind, or somebody who was blinded as a toddler, or whatever that looks like, and it’s so good. And just like, as we were talking about before, about, like identity, it was a book where as I was reading it, I was like, right, I am non disabled. Yeah. And like, I need to think about that more. And I need to like, think about what it means to not need a cane or like even less than that, like just to be able to like LIS choose if I want to read a book or with my ears or my eyes, all that kind of stuff. So I think I really like it.
Sam Sanders 49:27
I love that and just just thinking about, like how we are not disabled. And that is in itself, an identity. I had a moment the other week, you know, especially in LA people never think about this. But when you park your car in a driveway, if there’s multiple cars in the driveway, many times a car might block the sidewalk. You don’t think twice about it to you. It could ruin someone’s day, if they’re in a wheelchair. It can ruin their day, right? And it’s like those little things we just don’t think about so. I can’t wait to read this book you’re talking about but Because it’s like, yeah, how do we start having conversations where we see all of the ways and things we aren’t aren’t and like, oh, no, sorry, you have to go back to a previous topic, but I’m obsessed with that right now.
Traci Thomas 50:11
Yeah, I think you’ll really like it, then it was really, like, impactful for me just to think about like my own place. And also just to think about, like, blind people and like, what that’s like, and like the variety, like he talks about, like, he talks about clothes, or like, not closed captioning, when blind people can listen to shows where they’ll like, explain what’s on the screen. And he talks about the difference of like, what people who are blind did at a young age want versus people who had been sighted for a long time and have gone blind as far as like how much detail they want to know about the character on screen. Like he was saying, like people who are blind for a long time are like born blind. Want just like man walks onto screen punches baby, as people who are like newly blind want like black man bald head in a denim shirt, like they want like, and it was just so interesting to think about all these nuances and like the variety of blindness, and and he said also, like, there’s not a lot of writing about blindness. So I think part of it is just like he’s filling this space that that has, there isn’t like a huge wealth of knowledge there like or like discourse there in the written word, at least. And so I just think it’s great. I love it’s one of the I think it’ll be one of those books on all the lists at the end of the year to love it. I’m honest. Okay, back to you. What’s a book that you love to recommend to people?
Sam Sanders 51:38
Oh, my God. This is a frat recommendation. Okay. And also kind of cliche. The best graduation gift you can ever give to any graduate middle school, high school, college, grad school, whatever. Dr. Seuss’s.
Traci Thomas 52:00
Oh, I thought you were gonna say the alchemist.
Sam Sanders 52:04
I mean, you start reading this little singsong whimsical book. And by the end you are weeping deeply and thinking about life. And it’s a short little book. You know,
Traci Thomas 52:12
I have it for my kids. Yeah, it’s just had my own copy.
Sam Sanders 52:16
Yeah, even thinking about it makes me like tear up is a fucking good book.
Traci Thomas 52:21
Do you ever do audiobooks or digital books? Like don’t? No, no.
Sam Sanders 52:26
Because even when I have podcasts on, if I even get distracted for like, one second, I rewind it, like 15 seconds. And the idea of doing that with an audiobook that is hours long. Yeah, I’ve actually never get through it. It’s faster for me to just read the book on the page. Okay. I’m sure if I got good at that, and we could focus more. Yeah, it’d be a great way to get through books a lot quicker, but she’s not there yet.
Traci Thomas 52:50
Okay. Do you have a favorite bookstore?
Sam Sanders 52:53
Oh, gosh. I mean, where you had your party? I love that.
Traci Thomas 52:57
Reparations. Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
Sam Sanders 53:01
It’s funny. A lot of books now get sent to me. Yeah. From people want me to talk about the books or with the authors. So I’m kind of lucky that I want to go out to get new books right now. Like every book I’ve read in the last several years has been sent to me. Wow, knock on wood blast, most of them. But I’m really currently into record stores. I got a record player to get Renaissance on vinyl. Oh, yeah. So a lot of my go into stores to peruse things and look for things is like vinyl collection. So middle aged. Oh god.
Traci Thomas 53:30
I have a record collection. I just have a record player. My kids broke it. It was very cheap. It’s fine. It’s fine. I’ll get another one eventually, but but I did buy the Renaissance on vinyl just to have it even though I no longer have our record player
Sam Sanders 53:42
in the like, and like the full size posters of Beyonce that come with it. I
Traci Thomas 53:46
actually opened it. It’s just like, it’s like a collector’s item in my house just like on the counter displayed out. And I have a bunch of my dad’s old records. Love it. So and they all are, you know, the old played records, there’s got scratches and stuff, but still so God. Last book that made you laugh.
Sam Sanders 54:05
Laugh laugh laugh? Yeah, Samantha Irby book.
Traci Thomas 54:08
Okay. Last book that made you cry.
Sam Sanders 54:11
Saxon Romans book. Sorry to keep bringing up the same tune.
Traci Thomas 54:15
What about last book that made you angry?
Sam Sanders 54:18
Attached should have been article.
Traci Thomas 54:22
Last book where you felt like you learned a lot.
Sam Sanders 54:25
Fleishman? Okay, there’s a line where one of the characters says something like you can get divorced but you’ll always be married. And like the way that that book has made me think about relationships and long term relationships is kind of an eye opening.
Traci Thomas 54:40
Okay, any any book that you think people would be surprised to know that you love
Sam Sanders 54:46
Mattemio? It was a fantasy novel by this author Brian Jacques, and it was part of this Redwall series. And it was like, Knights and stuff and like armies and fun Writing, but they were all rats. And I read all those things as a kid and I still think about them fondly, and I hate existing IP as an idea in Hollywood, but if they ever made that, like, big screen Marvel level movies, I’d be the biggest Goodwill Ambassador for that. Level books.
Traci Thomas 55:19
If you are gonna sign up book to high school students, what would you assign?
Sam Sanders 55:25
There’s a book I loved years ago by Jonathan haar. It’s called a civil action. And it’s a pretty truthful retelling of how big corporations basically poison the water of a community for decades, and no one knew. And then we we’ve seen the story a lot. It is the Erin Brockovich story, right? This book is written like a novel, but tells his true story. It’s beautifully done. So that.
Traci Thomas 55:47
Okay, and then last one, if you could require the current president of the United States to read one book, what would it be?
Sam Sanders 55:53
Joe Biden. He’s tired. Just give him some cocaine.
Traci Thomas 56:01
No books, just drugs.
Sam Sanders 56:03
For the week, they’re like this cocaine the White House. I was like, okay, it might help
Traci Thomas 56:08
Joe need that. We’re straying. We’re not giving him a book. We’re giving him actual drugs. Bear. Okay. All right, everybody. So Sam will be back at the end of the month we are discussing you made a fool of death with your beauty. Do you ever read romance?
Sam Sanders 56:29
My mother was a Danielle- she was a Danielle Steel girly. So it’s, it’s in my blood. Let’s go for it/
Traci Thomas 56:35
I’ve heard this book is very polarizing, and that people love it and hate it. So I’m really excited to get to talk about it.
Sam Sanders 56:41
And listen, I aspire to be polarizing.
Traci Thomas 56:46
Well, thank you so much for being here, Sam.
Sam Sanders 56:48
I’m so glad we did this. It’s about time I listen to John. I don’t know. The last time I saw Tracy. She cooked me a full meal at her house in her backyard. It was delightful. I owe you one.
Traci Thomas 56:59
Thank you. Well, I’ll get I’ll get you. We’ll do something. Everyone else we will see you in the stacks.
Alright, y’all, that does it for us today. Thank you so much for listening. And thank you again to the wonderful Sam Sanders. Don’t forget Sam. We’ll be back on August 30th to discuss the novel You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi for The Stacks book club. If you love the show, and you want insight access to it, head to patreon.com/thestacks and join the statspack make sure you’re subscribed to the stacks wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you’re listening through Apple podcasts, be sure to leave us a rating and a review. For more from the Stacks follow us on social media. We’re on Instagram at tick tock and threads at at the Stacks pod and we’re on Twitter at at the socks pod underscore and of course you can check out our website the stocks podcast.com This episode of The Stacks was edited by Christian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree a graphic designers Robin MacWrite. The Stacks is created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
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