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!