Years ago—too many to count, now (or maybe not that many, but that COVID time warp is real, you know)—I crossed paths with Carrie Vittitoe. A mutual friend and I attended a one-day writing conference at which Carrie, a teacher and freelance writer, spoke. Of course, we became Facebook friends, and I’ve lingered on the sidelines of her life since then. Fast forward to when she and Amy Cunningham Smalley, another book nerd, got together to form The Perks of Being a Book Lover, and I eventually met Amy. They were kind enough to feature me (and Rewrite the Stars) on the show, and I had a blast. The rapport between these two is the real deal, and the questions they ask are thoughtful and thought-provoking. After recording the podcast, I knew that I had to interview them on the blog, and I was thrilled when they said yes. Of course, their answers to my questions are as multi-faceted and genuine as they are; both Amy and Carrie come across on the page just as they do on the podcast. And if you’re looking to see the dynamic duo in action, head on down to their first in-person interview with author Leesa Cross-Smith on June 1 at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky. Many thanks to these two for find the time to fit me into their schedule!
Christina: Welcome to the blog! How exactly did The Perks of Being a Book Lover come about? Did you have any struggles in moving from idea to execution?
Amy: I had been introduced to podcasts many years ago by a friend. The first one I ever listened to was the true crime podcast Serial. After that I was hooked; I loved the way anyone could find a podcast that fit their interests no matter how quirky. I started listening to several book podcasts and just really had this compulsion to produce my own. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. So I knew I wanted to try podcasting, but also knew I needed someone to do it with me because my favorite podcasts are those that have two people in conversation with each other. And Carrie was always the person who came to mind. While we had known each other for many years, I wouldn’t say we were super close friends; that developed because of the podcast. Somehow I just always thought she would be the perfect book partner. She is in many ways the opposite of me personality-wise, but she always makes me laugh and is the same level of book nerdy as me. I always wonder why she eventually said yes (although it took a year).
Carrie: Amy had an idea and would.not.let.it.go. LOL.
Christina: Of course, The Perks of Being a Book Lover calls to mind The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. How did you settle on the title for the podcast? Were any other names in the running? Have you ever thought about interviewing Chbosky?
Carrie: We talked about all sorts of names for the show at first. I remember Bibliobubili was one that came up–it means to be drunk on books, but we knew few people would know the meaning or even how to pronounce it. At some point, and mostly out of desperation, I started to look at book titles themselves for inspiration and landed on The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I had read the book but nothing specific about the book inspired the show title. Mostly I liked the idea of the perks and how there are perks to being a book lover—immediate connections with other book lovers being one of them. I reached out to a friend of mine who is an attorney specializing in media, defamation, and First Amendment issues to see if we could even use the title since it was so close to the book title. He said, “Carry on,” and so we have.
Amy: And we would love to interview Stephen Chbosky, by the way. Do you know anyone who can set it up?
Christina: Your camaraderie during recording makes it so easy for the guest to relax. How long have you known each other? What do you admire about each other? Do your reading tastes differ?
Carrie: We’ve known each other for something close to sixteen years—we met through a club for stay-at-home moms and then got to know each other better through the book club that formed with club members. Doing The Perks has definitely made us closer friends, for sure. I admire Amy for the patience to do all the editing and her high expectations for the quality of the show. I’m more of a “meh” person in general. We joke that Amy is the golden retriever of this outfit, but without Amy’s enthusiasm, the podcast wouldn’t even exist. Our reading tastes are similar, but we definitely have places where we diverge. I’m more interested in sci-fi, fantasy, and graphic novels than she has generally been.
Amy: I think we are just lucky that we complement each other so well. As I said above, Carrie always makes me laugh, and I am always drawn to people who can achieve that. And she is, of course, smart as a whip and has very thoughtful observations. But she is also the quality control of our team; she is much more tuned into small details than I am. I am more the big picture person, and she is the one that makes sure the trains run on time. She tells me when my ideas are unrealistic or just plain stupid. Honestly neither of us could do this without the other one. Our book tastes overlap quite a bit, but I enjoy a good happy story sometimes, and she likes darker, deeper, heavier stuff generally.
Christina: Guests have the ability to contact you right on your site. Do you each have a wish list of authors you’d like to interview?
Amy: Gosh that’s such a hard question. There are so many authors whose work I admire and would love to interview. Some of my dream interviews would be Stephen King and Judy Blume because of the influence they had on my reading life as a kid and young adult. And Aimee Nezhukumatathil, who is an essayist and poet. Her work is so lovely, and she seems like she might be a “golden retriever” like me. But we were actually able to interview one of my favorite authors, Alix E. Harrow, in our first season, so that was a pretty thrilling moment.
This isn’t a book person per se, but I would love to interview Terry Gross, from the radio show Fresh Air. She is the best interviewer around, and I like to say we try to be the Fresh Air for book nerds. That experience would be so very nerve-wracking, though.
Carrie: Hmmmm. Probably Neil Gaiman, N.K. Jemisin, and Jesmyn Ward, who are three of my favorite authors.
Christina: What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened on your podcast?
Amy: One of the most unexpected things to me was how many guests and listeners have become friends from doing the show. My friend Bethany and I met because she listens to the show. We connected on Instagram and now go to book readings and events together. And generally speaking, doing the show has been such a blessing in my life; especially during Covid, it gave me a purpose.
Carrie: That people say yes. We have been pleasantly surprised how many people have been willing to be guests. It has been a good life lesson that it doesn’t ever hurt to ask; the worst that can happen is someone says no, in which case we are exactly where we started.
Christina: Can you give us a little insight into the process of podcasting? The finished file sounds seamless, but how much work goes into preparation? Editing? How much of an interview actually gets edited out?
Amy: Ah, the million dollar question! In preparation for recording, if we are interviewing an author, both Carrie and I read a book by that author. If they have more than one book out, we split it up and each read a different one. Then we give guests a list of questions we will probably ask them during the interview. Coming up with those questions takes some time because we want to ask thoughtful questions that other interviewers may not have touched on. We record around 75 minutes with a guest, give or take depending on how chatty the guest is. From that 75 minutes, we have to get it down to about 50-55 minutes to fit into an hour-long radio slot because Perks also airs as a weekly radio show on a Louisville, Kentucky, radio station in addition to being a podcast. I do all the editing. it probably takes 4-5 hours to edit an episode. Granted, I’m a bit of a control freak, and I want everyone to sound good so I am somewhat meticulous about the editing. Some podcasters don’t do that much; it’s more a live style, which is great, just not the preference for myself. Then Carrie comes in and listens to the final edit to make sure it all sounds ok (quality control). And then we are ready to post!
Christina: When you first heard yourself on audio, were you surprised at what you sounded like? Do you have any tendencies that grate on you when you listen to the files? Does anything that the other person does grate on you?
Amy: It did take some time to get used to hearing myself and getting over being self-conscious. I think I still pretend that other people aren’t really listening to us when it goes out, LOL. It’s less stressful to me that way. It’s funny because my voice doesn’t sound at all like I thought it would. My husband even says my radio voice is my sexy voice, which is pretty funny (and my kids cringe). But I cringe when Carrie and I say so and well to start every question. It’s too easy to get into lazy verbal habits. From editing so many episodes, I’m fairly used to all of Carrie’s verbal eccentricities, and they don’t really bother me. But occasionally she will throw in one particular story that has to do with underwear that I absolutely hate (and she knows it and she knows I will always edit it out, haha).
Carrie: I don’t think I was surprised by the sound of my voice, but I’m constantly amazed by how repetitive I am. I need to do a better job of coming up with something besides, “So, Amy, what do you have going on over there?” during the second part of the show when we discuss what we’re reading. I wouldn’t say this grates on me related to recording, but there have been occasions when, in a fit of enthusiasm, Amy asks a lot of the questions. When this happens, she usually points it out. I am, after all, the grumpy, disinterested cat so I’m mostly like, “Whatever.”
Christina: You’ve been at this for six seasons! That’s big. When you first started, did you think you’d still be doing this six seasons later? Do you have goals for the podcast going forward?
Amy: We do two seasons a year so that equals three years of the podcast. I don’t think we had any expectations for how long we would be doing this. At first we just wanted to make sure we enjoyed it. And I think we have both found it to be more enriching to our lives than we even anticipated. After each season, we meet up and talk about whether we want to continue for another season. So far we always say yes!
Carrie: Can we get paid? We’d both like that.
Christina: Pets are always fair game in these interviews! Amy, you’re “crazy about dogs,” and Carrie, you’re “nuts about cats.” Can you tell us a little bit about your pets, past and present? How do they come into play in podcasting?
Carrie: I grew up with dogs only so I assumed I was a dog lover. But when my husband and I pet sat for his sister’s cats right after we married, a whole world of feline awesomeness opened up to me. We adopted two brother cats from the same litter about six months after we married. When they passed, we adopted the two sisters we have now. I never realized how lazy I was until I saw how little effort is needed to take care of a cat. With that being said, I do like dogs as an “aunt” or an occasional pet sitter. I don’t want to live with them, but I’m totally ok to visit and get snuggles and licks.
Amy: I had cats as a child and always loved them. My husband, on the other hand, definitely does not love them. He says he is allergic although I am skeptical. And his whole family are huge dog lovers. So for our first anniversary after getting married, we adopted our first dog and it’s been gonzo dog life ever since. We currently have three; a golden retriever, a cocker spaniel mix, and a loveable mutt who looks like a Jack Russell with really long legs. My daughter has been an animal lover since she was a wee one and is studying to be a vet so we have also had almost any kind of small rodent-type animal you can imagine as well–guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, chinchillas. She currently has a cat at college, and I love it when she comes home to visit because I can get my feline fix. My husband grins and bears it.
We began to feature our guests’ pets on our social media accounts during COVID because we found as we were doing interviews and everyone was recording from home, pets would meow, bark, or in some way make themselves known. Sometimes it was really hard to edit out. So we thought, why not make the most of it and feature them? Because, ultimately, whose day is not made better by a cute animal picture?
Amy and Carrie and The Perks of Being a Book Lover podcast can be found in multiple places!
Linktree (with ways to listen): https://linktr.ee/perksofbeingabookloverpod
Thanks to Amy and Carrie for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an artist, author, or podcaster who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.