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The COVID-19 pandemic has given virtual voyeurs plenty to focus on over these past few months but journalist and author Joel Stein is particularly keen on examining one feature — the bookshelf — in a new digital series for SoulPancake.
The Participant-owned content studio has partnered with Stein to host the digital series Show Your Shelf. Produced and directed by Josh Shelton, Show Your Shelf will feature Stein asking authors to discuss their book collections while exploring how literature has led them to uncover different life perspectives as well as insights they’ve discovered during quarantine. The authors will note the five books that have most influenced their lives and why.
Those booked to appear on the series include Mikel Jollett (Hollywood Park: A Memoir), Curtis Sittenfeld (Rodham: A Novel), Glory Edim (Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves), Samantha Irby (Wow, No Thank You), Laila Lalami (Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America) and others, discussing the five books that have most influenced their lives, and why.
Stein, a former writer and columnist for Time, Entertainment Weekly and the Los Angeles Times, says that after interviewing people for decades, he learned the best way to get to know someone is to ask them about something besides their biography, “and what better thing to ask writers to interact with than the books they loved.” He adds the idea for Show Your Shelf came to him in March just as the pandemic strangled its grip on America and shut down much of regular life. Stein saw events he was confirmed to do pulled from the calendar including several that would’ve found him interviewing authors on stage and two others in which he was to be interviewed about his latest, In Defense of Elitism: Why I’m Better Than You and You’re Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book.
“I figured I could do those events live over Zoom, and ask the authors about their favorite books as a format. Then I noticed all the bookshelves behind people who were being interviewed on TV from their homes and got curious about them,” explains Stein, who also penned Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity. “That’s when we came up with the Shelfie, which was the alternative title for this show. I also assumed we could get amazing access to people’s houses who wouldn’t normally let a camera crew and interviewer in. Once we made it a non-Zoom show, we learned how hard it is to have authors set up even simple cameras. Including me.”
So, he turned to his 11-year-old son for help along with Shelton. “We tried out so many cameras. There are boxes all over my house filled with wires and cameras that failed us. As lockdown went on, we were surprised how many potential guests weren’t near their books. They were at their parents’, in a rental house, moved to a new city. We canceled a bunch of interviews because of this.”
Now with all the technical and location issues sorted, Show Your Shelf is ready to be unveiled with new episodes dropping every Wednesday at 9 a.m. PST via SoulPancake’s YouTube Channel. “With everyone stuck at home this is an excellent time to read, and who better to ask about reading than authors,” says Dariush Brizuela-Nothaft, head of SoulPancake’s content studios. “We hope watching Show Your Shelf can be an experience of delight and surprise as we unpack the treasure trove of different notable people’s collections. May it inspire us all to pick up a book and read.”
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