‘The Worst Bestsellers’ podcast doesn’t want you to feel bad about liking ‘bad’ books

Kait Sudol (left) and Renata Sancken, hosts of ‘The Worst Bestsellers’ podcast, which focuses on the ‘worst’ books on the bestseller list.Sarah Bay

Renata Sancken and Kait Sudol are an Internet success story: online pen pals turned real friends turned podcasters. Since 2014, they have hosted “The worst bestsellers” a podcast that dissects and discusses best-selling titles that have managed to make their way into the mainstream. (Or as their podcast tagline goes, “We read stuff so you don’t have to.”) Each episode is dedicated to their readings of a piece of fiction or non-fiction, along with a discussion on why they think it’s popular yet problematic. Think: Julia Quinn’s “Bridgerton” series and Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages.”

When they come out from behind the microphone, Sancken is a teenage librarian in Andover and Sudol works for a managed care company in Newton. But on April 14, their IRL and podcasting worlds will collide for a live taping and virtual event with Porter Square Books. This marks the podcast’s second event with the bookstore and will address the 2020 self-help title, “Get Out of Your Own Way: A Skeptic’s Guide to Growth and Fulfillment” by Dave Hollis. Virtual audience can connect via Crowdcast and interact with Sancken, Sudol and their episode guest, local culture writer Margaret H. Willison. The live event is like an unfiltered version of their podcast, Sudol explained, noting that it can take three to four hours to edit a regular hour and 20 minute episode.

Sancken and Sudol first connected as teenagers on an online message board dedicated to the musical “Rent.” (“A classic ’90s origin story,” Sancken added.) While residing in Illinois and New Jersey, respectively, the couple struck up a long-distance friendship, eventually deciding that a podcast was a effective way to stay in touch – one idea was inspired by another podcast, that of filmmaker Kevin Smith, who said that a joint podcasting project was a perfect opportunity to set aside time to talk with your friends. Their first episode centered on “Twilight,” Stephenie Meyer’s romance series about teenage vampires. The books were chosen after being Sancken’s pop culture beacon during his time in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.

The idea of ​​exclusively pursuing “bad” books also started online: “We happen to be in that niche of the Twitter library. We had many bookseller friends, writers or librarians, who were interested in [this] ridiculous millennial sense of humor,” Sudol said.

What makes a book “bad” enough to feature? The books are extensively dissected from both a storytelling and a reader’s perspective, citing reasons such as: poor world-building (“The American Royal Family” by Katharine McGee) or the movie was better (“The Kissing Booth” by Beth Reekles). Sometimes the episodes feature special guests from the world of podcasting or literature, sometimes they feature Sancken’s cat, Duarte. But while the episodes delve into what exactly makes a “bad” book bad, the animators don’t want to offend people’s reading preferences. “A lot of it depends on the taste. I think the recognition you can love [something] and not be a bad person even if [that something] is a bad thing is important,” explained Sudol. She also added that she and Sancken don’t always agree on which books they like.

Sancken explained it this way, “We try to approach these books with an open mind, and I think we hopefully encourage listeners to be open-minded about different literary genres.”

The Worst Bestsellers Podcast: Live, April 14, 8 p.m., free, virtual, portersquarebooks.com/event.

Will Percarpio studied publishing at Emerson College.


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