July Sneak Peek

Welcome back book nerds and book ninjas! We are so excited to be entering Season 2 of Big Book Energy. Thanks to our listeners, we have two new themes for this season. Regular episodes will be Books We Love picks, a chance for us to rave about some of our all time favorite books. The theme for our bonus episodes this season is Movie Magic, where we read a book and then watch the movie to compare the two, probably trashing the movie to bits – but you never know! Season 2 is also bringing some other significant changes. We are changing our schedule, dialing back to posting an episode every other Monday, with one bonus episode per month. We are also introducing three new segments for our episodes: BBE Bookstore, Folio Facts, and Creatives’ Corner. Thanks for joining us for another awesome season.

Keep scrolling to see our July lineup:

Paige’s first Book We Love pick is none other than the Hugo award-winning first novel of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series: The Fifth Season. A gritty fantasy set in a truly imaginative world, this one is sure to rock your socks off. (Bad pun only applicable if you’ve read the books!)

While Paige went contemporary, Jennifer took a turn for the classics this month with one of her oldest all time favorites: Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Perhaps one of the greatest revenge stories of all time, the 1,000 pages are 1,000% worth the read.

Our July Movie Magic pick is Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. We didn’t know that this book was even made into a movie? But the story is incredibly compelling, and come to find out Oprah stars as Deborah Lacks?! We are excited to say the least.

And that is a wrap for our July Sneak Peek. To keep up with BBE this season, be sure to follow us on social media. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, we would dearly appreciate a review. And finally, if you’d like to support the podcast, you can check out our Bookshop store, or head on over to our Patreon to get access to our full bonus episodes (link below). Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

Show Notes – Episode 1.13

BBE Gets Spooky with The Ghosts of Williamsburg

Quick Links from the Episode:

  • The Bruton Parish Church story was perhaps the most compelling mystery in Ghosts. Today, the Church website reveals nothing about the cemetery incident, only mentioning that you must be a member of the church to be buried there. This only increases BBE’s interest and suspicions. Articles contemporary to the 1992 dig (here and here) explain that Church officials were hoping to lay to rest any conspiracy theories over the vault existing in their cemetery. Archaeologists dug down twenty feet and a geologist from William and Mary took soil samples to come up with…nada. However, the belief still persists, probably much to the dismay of the Church.
  • Colonial or Georgian architectural styles dominated early America, and thus are mentioned numerous times in Ghosts due to hauntings that occur in older or restored homes of these styles. These two names are roughly interchangeable, as colonial architecture was known as Georgian in America, referring of course to the King of England. The Historic New England organization and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission have excellent summaries and descriptions of these styles along with photographs of historic houses that embody them. You can also scroll down to see photos of the houses Jennifer was making fun of in the episode.
  • Paige and Jennifer both mentioned possible scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena, but here are some articles that drain all the spooky right out of it from the Smithsonian and How Stuff Works.
  • If you are interested in learning more about the colonial period, Bernard Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years are a great place to start. Don’t let the size fool you, Bailyn prized readability and it shows. Or reads? Either way, it is a great book.

The Ghosts of Williamsburg, Vol. II, by L.B. Taylor Jr. ( )

Finally, at last, one of Jennifer’s favorite subjects has become the topic of our podcast. Another Thrift Store Find is The Ghosts of Williamsburg Vol. II by L.B. Taylor Jr., a historical romp through various supernatural phenomena in the Williamsburg, VA area. Jennifer is actually quite horror-averse in general. She can count on one hand the number of times she has seen a scary movie, and she has certainly never picked up a Stephen King novel. However, when it comes to reading about true accounts of the supernatural, she has always been fascinated. More recently that has translated into a love for supernatural podcasts, such as And That’s Why We Drink. It also explains why this was a no-brainer buy at Goodwill.

L.B. Taylor Jr. appears to have been an old school dude. Ghosts was published in 1999, but it some ways it still harks back to an older age of dime novels. For example, at the back of the book, readers are encouraged to write the author at his home address for autographed copies, only fulfilled if you included $3 for postage. If you’d wanted to schedule Taylor for a speaking engagement, you’d also have to write or call. Given statements in the introduction about the corrupting influence of technology, we highly doubt that he ever had a website.

Unfortunately, Mr. Taylor passed away in 2014, but not before he had two very different and successful writing careers. Taylor graduated with a degree in journalism from Florida State University and launched into covering America’s space programs. For sixteen years, Taylor wrote about rockets, ingenuity, and the imagination of man. It wasn’t until after he retired from a career in public affairs that he indulged in another passion: ghosts and local history. You’ll notice the full title of Ghosts includes “Vol. 2.” There are, in fact, twenty-five books in Taylor’s ghosts of Virginia series. Let this kind of dedication be an inspiration to us all!

Main Topics from this Week’s Episode:

  • Jennifer found that, perhaps unexpectedly, she really enjoyed the historical content behind each story, building, or area mentioned. Taylor was clearly very passionate about local history and for someone not usually interested in early American history, Ghosts was a nice change.
  • On the flip side, belying the name of the book, the ghost content was less compelling. While there were a couple stories here and there that raised some goosebumps, but Jennifer is a total horror noob and most of the ghost stories were run-of-the-mill at best. If you were looking for some serious spooks, this book will not satisfy.
  • Jennifer also takes some time to recount her one and only supernatural experience which took place in a restaurant she used to work at in Alabama.
  • Does BBE believe in ghosts? In the episode we come up with a nice, lukewarm maybe. Both Jennifer and Paige, to their equal surprise are open to the possibility of the supernatural. Neither would invalidate the experiences of so many people across the globe who are convinced they have gone through something otherworldly. After all, Jennifer has her own experience she cannot explain, but she does believe that these could someday be understood through scientific means. Throughout history various phenomena once thought to be mysterious have been revealed, who knows if ghosts will be the same one day? Paige and Jennifer talk a few other explanations for supernatural events such as alternate dimensions, and rifts in the time-space continuum.
  • What was distasteful in Taylor’s otherwise charming little book on Williamsburg was the casual racism and glorious South narrative that are sprinkled throughout. Given that Taylor was of a different generation, he could perhaps be forgiven for using politically incorrect terms for Native Americans, though his editor should have lent a helping hand there. However, most disturbing are his characterizations of Southern ‘heroes’ of the Civil War and their ‘murderous’ Union counterparts. Jennifer didn’t appreciate this South-will-rise-again fervor in her ghost stories.

This photo of the Raleigh Tavern is an example of that colonial style that is as dry as burnt toast. The tavern at least has the advantage of gables, a common feature in these homes.

Photo by Maggie McCain from Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.

Another example of the colonial or Georgian style: a brick box. A box shape is a dominant and super interesting feature of this style.

Photo by Rob Shenk from Great Falls, VA, USA

Jennifer vacillated back and forth on rating this book. Two stars? Four? On the one hand, stories from the Revolutionary War and humorous anecdotes were charming. On the other, the ghost stories were sparser than she expected from a book about ghosts and were tame for the most part. However, more sinister than she first realized, The Ghosts of Williamsburg was in fact haunted by something more insidious than any one supernatural story Taylor mentioned: the ghost of narratives past.

Typical of a different era, Taylor’s prose was filled with old assumptions and black-and-white portrayals. In his account Native Americans were savages that brutalized colonists and Confederate generals were dashing and honorable men who contended with simultaneously villainous and incompetent Union soldiers. Never mind that Europeans were invaders into Native American lands that they intended from the beginning to conquer, and that Lee and Stuart at their core stood for oppression. The reality of these stories is that they are far more complex than American exceptionalism will ever allow. This view of the past, truly, is the spirit that needs to be laid to rest.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.14 on Nicholas Spark’s Dear John. If you are enjoying the podcast so far please consider leaving us a review and following us on social media. You can also support the podcast on Patreon and get access to our bonus episodes (all links below). Until next time!

April Sneak Peek

As we enter another month of craziness and uncertainty, take solace in the fact that Big Book Energy will still be serving up episodes every Monday and sporadic blog posts because Jennifer has a hard time staying on her sh*t. Keep scrolling for a preview of what we are chatting about this month:

First up this month is James Barclay’s Dawnthief. Following the adventures of the Raven, an elite band of mercenaries. Will Jennifer hate this book as much as Paige?

Our first Thrift Store Finds pick of April will be taking us on a supernatural tour of Williamsburg, VA. Be prepared for some *spooky* photos in this week’s Show Notes!

Up next is Nicholas Sparks’ Dear John. Once upon a time, Jennifer decided to give this bestseller a try. She was…unimpressed. Tune in to see if Paige thinks the same, although if you know anything about Paige, the answer is probably obvious.

Many moons ago, we promised you another ancient astronaut book, and the moment has finally come. A favorite source for Ancient Aliens, Erich von Danken’s Chariots of the Gods promises to be just as fascinating as our Lost Realms episode.

For our bonus episode this month, we will be finishing up Tolkien’s trilogy with The Return of the King. A teaser of this episode will be available everywhere podcasts live, but full episodes are available for our Patreon supporters.

And that is a wrap for our April Sneak Peek! Follow the links below to find us on social media or to support the podcast on Patreon. Stay nerdy, bookish peeps!

Show Notes – Episode 1.10

Paige is a Ray of Sunshine: Talking Murder and Massacre in In the Lake of the Woods

Quick Links from the Episode:

  • Here’s the Britannica page on Tim O’Brien. You really know you’ve made it as an author when you get your own encyclopedia page!
  • Amazing NPR interview with O’Brien on the twentieth anniversary of the release of The Things They Carried, this really gives insight into O’Brien’s goals for his work and his motivations.
  • Another interview with O’Brien, reveals the deep emotional trauma that is still with him today.
  • Here’s a link to Confederates in the Attic on Amazon. Jennifer would recommend this one again and again.
  • For more info on the massacre at My Lai, see the following: Britannica entry, a retrospective piece from NPR, a 50th anniversary article from Smithsonian magazine. Obviously, this is just scratching the surface, entire books have been written about this massacre. If you want more extensive sources, we recommend searching in Google scholar, or on the Library of Congress website – an excellent place to find primary source material on the massacre and subsequent investigation.
  • Click here for a satellite view of Lake of the Woods, bridging Minnesota and Canada. As you can tell, it is extremely large, filled with islands and small waterways, and would undoubtedly be treacherous for someone who did not know where they were going.
  • The BBC has a fascinating article on the ouroboros, a common symbol found in the ancient world, most notably ancient Egypt and Greece. The ouroboros was also an important symbol in the Renaissance study of alchemy.
In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O’Brien (1994)

One look at the cover of Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods and you know this is not going to be a fun ride. Could anything be more menacing than black waters lit only by the red light of a dying moon? It is as sinister and enigmatic as the work itself. This was a choice for our Books We Hate theme, but what exactly did Jennifer hate so much? Well, as assigned reading in a high school English class, the book didn’t exactly get off on the right foot. The constant bouncing between different times and places didn’t endear it to her, either. But what really caused Jennifer’s distaste was the ending: ambiguous and unresolved. You can’t be sure what really happened, and the lack of any concrete answers caused a teenage Jennifer to toss the book aside with frustration.

Tim O’Brien is a widely-celebrated, award-winning author, perhaps most known for his collection of short stories about the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried and another Vietnam tale, Going After Cacciato. O’Brien is writing from experience, having served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. His wartime experience manifests in In the Lake of the Woods as well: the main character, John Wade, suffers a crippling political defeat after his participation in the massacre of My Lai is surfaced by his opponent. O’Brien has been roundly praised for his ability to convey the emotional journey of the soldier as they navigate the horror that is war – from joy and camaraderie, to rage and terror. His abilities in this regard are undoubtedly why he was awarded the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing in 2013 and has served as an endowed chair in creative writing at Texas State University.

I carry the memories of the ghosts of a place called Vietnam β€” the people of Vietnam, my fellow soldiers…More importantly, I carry the weight of responsibility, and a sense of abiding guilt.

Tim O’Brien, from an interview with NPR (linked above).

Once you actually dive in, this is essentially a murder mystery/thriller – Jennifer is actually convinced it would make a great movie. Not one she would go to, though, too much suspense. What makes this book distinct from a Sue Grafton, for example, is that the reader is placed inside the head of the potential killer, watching as his sanity crumbles in around him.

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990)

In this episode, Paige breaks down the three parts of In the Lake of the Woods. There is the main narrative, driven by John Wade as he struggles to piece together what happened to his missing wife, Kathy. The next two parts are interspersed throughout John’s narrative and provide interesting counterpoints to his perspective. The first are hypothetical situations that could have happened to explain Kathy’s disappearance. Spoiler, none of them are particularly uplifting. The last part is comprised of the notes an unknown figure has been making about the case. BBE hypothesized that this was perhaps the work of an investigative journalist following the John Wade story. The interviews with relatives, law enforcement officials, facts about the area, and research into John Wade’s past would certainly suggest this. O’Brien expertly weaves these pieces together, crafting the perfect unreliable narrator in John Wade, and forcing the reader to constantly reconsider what they believe the truth to be. This style may not have suited high school Jennifer, but O’Brien is certainly effective at blurring the lines of reality, encouraging us to question the existence of abstract, objective “truth”.

It turns out that Paige didn’t hate this book. Honestly, after talking about it again, Jennifer isn’t so sure that she hates this book, as much as she found the experience of reading it to be distasteful. This is not a book for the faint of heart. It is uncomfortable, as any deep dive into the uglier sides of human nature should be. Paige didn’t enjoy it, but she gave it a BBE signature three stars out of five – meaning we probably won’t read it again, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.11. If you are enjoying the podcast to far, please consider giving us a review and following us on social media. Be sure to check out our Patreon for extra BBE content, including bonus episode (All links below). Until next time!

Show Notes – Episode 1.9

The World is Ending and Everything is a Cult – BBE Does Chicken Soup for the Soul

Quick Links from the Episode:

  • Here is the article written by Harvard University’s Asaf Bitton on social distancing.
  • Turns out Paige should not drink that rum she’s had for ten years. While liquor doesn’t grow bacteria because ethanol is poisonous to everybody, it does change flavor and could make you sick in other ways. This Bustle article is not only informative and breaks down how long each kind of alcohol can last once opened, it has endeared itself to Jennifer forever for referring to whiskey as “smokey regret juice.” Enjoy.
  • The Christian kids series about the family that does archaeology together is called The Cooper Kids Adventure Series, and was written by Frank E. Peretti. The Goodreads link for the series is here.
  • If you want to learn all things Chicken Soup, visit their website here. They have pretty extensive About pages.
  • It turns out that the Goodwill where we bought these did NOT have the full run of Chicken Soup books. Not even close. For the horrifyingly long list, check out this Wikipedia page.
  • As far as we can tell, The Esteem Group – co-founded by Jennifer Read Hawthorne and Marci Shimoff – no longer exists.
  • OWN posted a video of Maya Angelou herself reading “Phenomenal Woman.”
  • The sage of our times, Will Smith, has some great things to say about love and happiness.
  • Visit the official site for Women’s History Month.

Notes from the Episode:

Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul (1996)

This week BBE takes on the classic Chicken Soup series. This is just one of two Chicken Soup episodes we are serving up this month in the hopes of staving off quarantine-induced boredom. When BBE visited the thrift store what seems like years ago now, they were delighted to find that Goodwill appeared to have the entire run of Chicken Soup books. If you grew up in the nineties, chances are you had a copy or two floating around your house. As one BBE friend mentioned, his mother was fond of putting one in the bathroom for guests to peruse. Perhaps better reading material than the shampoo bottles. Maybe. If you are not a sentimental person, these books can be a tough sell. Originally put together by a pair of motivational speakers, the whole point of every Chicken Soup book seemed to be to pull as many unwilling (or willing, I don’t know what your emotional state is) tears from your eyes as possible as you blubber into some tissues in the best way. This is why people watch videos of people overcoming cancer or dogs being reunited with their military owners after months away: the emotional tidal wave is cathartic and reminds us cynical emotional Scrooges that good things exist in the world.

Chicken Soup for the Soul was first published in 1993 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Over the course of their speaking careers, they came across numerous inspiring stories that they used in their talks. Eventually they decided to compile the best of these stories to share them with those who may never see them speak. Chicken Soup for the Soul became incredibly popular, sold millions of copies, and a new hit series was born. The company has now astonishingly published more than 250 books. Somehow. There’s options for NASCAR fans and golfers, entrepreneurs and “golden” souls. Whatever that means. Today, the company has been sold to Bill Rouhana, Amy Newmark, and Robert Jacobs. It has, shall we say, expanded extensively beyond the original book. Chicken Soup trades on the stock market, sells pet food, and has started a YouTube TV show. That’s getting a little ahead of ourselves, though. It did not take very long after the original 1993 release, for Chicken Soup to move on to women’s souls.

It’s the click of my heels

The bend of my hair

The palm of my hand

The need of my care

Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally

Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman”

In the episode, Jennifer and Paige focused on just a handful of stories from Chicken Soup, because to do otherwise would have taken many more hours than it already did. Overall, though, here are some of BBE’s thoughts:

  • This book is interesting because it presents a very distinct and very traditional interpretation of womanhood: woman as mother, as wife, as caregiver. The overwhelming majority of stories revolved around women volunteering in hospitals, taking care of their kids as a single mom after escaping an abusive relationship, or finding love.
  • Very rarely, some stories included women that overcame discrimination through sheer determination or force of will, such as Jean Harper, who became United’s first female airline pilot in the 1970s.
  • It is really annoying that the fictional and non-fiction stories are mixed in together. It makes you, as a reader, doubt every word you are reading as no narrator is deemed to be trustworthy.
  • This book was very clearly written in a different time and for a different generation. Not only were many of the stories started with the phrase, “Back in [insert year between 1920 and 1950 here]”, they dealt with issues and views that seem…unfamiliar to us today.
  • Fun things like sexism and toxic masculinity in the stories are as unsurprising as they are disappointing. What is perhaps most disappointing is when these are not pointed out, but are instead wrapped up as a baggage-free sentimental story.
  • For the most part BBE had a hard time finding things to relate to in these stories. Jennifer in particular, after reading the entirety of the book could not identify with hardly any of them. Which poses an interesting question of what does womanhood or femininity mean to you? Does it fit these traditional female roles? Is it something else entirely?

At the end of the episode, Jennifer challenged herself to come up with her own story to add to the book, but struggled to think of anything meaningful. What would chicken soup for women look like today? Post third wave or even fourth wave feminism? Post #MeToo movement? In retrospect, Jennifer hopes that the stories contained in an updated version would offer a great deal more variety than what she found in Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul. Certainly stories that involved those “traditional” roles still have a place, because those roles of motherhood or wife or caregiver are still important to us and offer incredible value to ourselves and others. But hopefully, those stories would also contain more overcoming of social obstacles, of trailblazing, of being extraordinarily brilliant, of turning the torch previous generations of women have handed us into a blazing star so bright no problem can withstand it. The stories of inspiring women who did just that are a joy to uncover, now, during Women’s History Month, and every other day of the year.

This is not to say that all of us living ordinary lives, not being female astronauts or Olympians, etc., are somehow failing at being awesome. That isn’t true at all. You don’t need to be actual Superwoman to represent that blazing star. We can all embody that power in our everyday lives, through every step we take to support those around us.

Go on, have the audacity.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.10. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, please consider giving us a review and following us on social media. Be sure to check out our Patreon for bonus BBE content, including bonus episodes (All links below). Until next time!

March Sneak Peek

We are into month three of Big Book Energy! Many thanks to our listeners for supporting us so generously so far. Scroll below to see our March Sneak Peek and preview what books we will be covering this month:

Green, by Jay Lake is our first Book We Hate pick of the month. Green is the story of how one girl, sold into slavery, overcomes her circumstances to overthrow the government responsible for her exploitation and serve the new goddess she has found. Sounds uplifting, but Lake’s work leaves much to be desired.

Out Thrift Store Finds have a theme of their own this month: Chicken Soup for the Soul. Jennifer’s pick is for the Woman’s Soul, whatever that may mean to the editor’s of this compilation.

Forced to read In the Lake of the Woods in high school, Jennifer has hated it ever since. Tim O’Brien won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for his work, a nightmarish journey into the mind of Vietnam War veteran John Wade as he struggles to piece together what has happened to his wife, Kathy.

Though the Goodwill offered perhaps the entire range of Chicken Soup books, Paige chose for the Soul at Work for this month. Perhaps the uplifting stories of “Courage, Compassion & Creativity” will inspire us at our workplace. Or perhaps we’ll get some good laughs out of it, idk you’ll have to tune in to find out.

Our bonus episode for the month of March is the next in the LOTR series, The Two Towers. For this episode we will be incorporating more of Tolkien’s life and how it may have impacted his work. A teaser of this episode will be available to everyone on all our platforms, but to listen in full, head on over to Patreon and become a supporter of the podcast!

And that’s a wrap for our March Sneak Peek. Follow the links below to find us on social media or to support the podcast on Patreon. Keep being awesome, bookish peeps!