Zibby Owens: I’m here today with Anne Bogel who is the podcast host of “What Should I Read Next?” and “One Great Book.” She’s also the author of Reading People, I’d Rather Be Reading, and her latest book, Don’t Overthink It. She’s also the creator of the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. Anne has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Bustle, Refinery29, The Washington Post, and more. Her popular book lists and reading guides have established her as a tastemaker among readers, authors, and publishers. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband and four children.

Welcome, Anne. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Anne Bogel: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me to talk about my favorite discussion topic.

Zibby: Which is?

Anne: Books and reading, all day long.

Zibby: Oh, good. Right before we started, I was talking about, there’s a scene in Don’t Overthink It, in this new book, where she accidentally microwaves a melon instead of a spaghetti squash, which was amazing. I thought maybe that was your favorite thing to talk about.

Anne: You know, that’s not a story I told all that much.

Zibby: Tell it now. Dinner party, set the scene.

Anne: Everybody loves embarrassing stories, right?

Zibby: Do you mind?

Anne: No, I don’t mind at all. As far as embarrassing moments go, this one is really not that bad. It had been a busy, busy Friday. Every meeting had gone long. People needed extra phone calls, you know, the usual.

Zibby: People.

Anne: Exactly. I mean, I love them, and yet… We were having friends that we’d known for a while but had never had into our home over for dinner. They’re vegetarian. I had the menu all planned. We were going to have spaghetti squash tacos. I was really excited because —

Zibby: — Which sounds amazing, by the way. I’ve never had a spaghetti squash taco.

Anne: They’re so good. I love Deb Perelman’s blog, Smitten Kitchen, and her cookbooks too. There’s a spaghetti squash and black bean taco recipe in her first cookbook. She says in her little essay introducing it, this sounds improbable, but hear me out, this is so good. I took a chance. I tried them. They were amazing. I was making a recipe that was easy, that I knew how to make, that I’d made before. I was excited because I was making it with my neighbor’s beautiful homegrown spaghetti squash. She’d grown them for the first time. She gave me the first one of the season. It was so pretty. It looked like one of those ones at the farmers market that you pay three times as much for because it’s so stinkin’ gorgeous. I pierced it with a fork, like I do. I put it in the microwave. I set the time for fifteen minutes. I did it again, and it did it again. This is how it usually cooks, but I noticed that the puddle of water in the dish was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I finally thought, something is not right here. So I pulled out my beautiful spaghetti squash. I cut into it. I thought, wait a second. This is not a spaghetti squash. This is some kind of fancy melon. My neighbor has no clue, and she can’t find out. I hope she doesn’t listen to your podcast, Zibby. She’s a reader. I’m sure she does.

Zibby: I’m sure she does not.

Anne: Jen, I love you. I love you. Thank you for giving me this great story for my book. I was tired. I just wanted to get dinner on the table. Now we had nothing to eat for dinner. Our friends were coming too soon. My husband had already left to go pick up another child from someplace else. We have four, so everybody always has to be someplace. I thought, ugh, I hate everything. What is happening? What I am going to do? I was just mad about it. I finally realized, hang on. I texted a friend and was like, listen to what I just did. She sent me back a message that was just like, ha-ha, ha-ha, hysterical laughter, like, I can’t believe you did that. That’s ridiculous. So I could pull out of it and embrace the humor of the situation. We had our friends over. Hours after they arrived, we were like, hey, we got a funny story for you. So it was fine.

Zibby: What’d you serve?

Anne: We did the same thing. I really thought about ordering pizza, which to be clear would have been totally fine.

Zibby: I was going to say, I would have ordered pizza.

Anne: But darn it, I wanted those tacos. There’s a grocery store really close to us. It was not that hard to just — it was so much easier than I thought it was.

Zibby: So you went and got another spaghetti squash?

Anne: I just went and got another spaghetti squash.

Zibby: I’m so impressed. I think I would’ve thrown the whole thing, the whole idea.

Anne: It seemed like the easiest pivot.

Zibby: Wow, I love that.

Anne: It was fine. We had more appetizers than I originally intended because even though you’re microwaving the spaghetti squash, it still takes a decent amount of time. It was great. It was fine. The reason I told that story in the book is that’s exactly —

Zibby: — Yes, let’s segue to the book.

Anne: That’s exactly the kind of thing that I could just get — you can spiral on that so easily, like, oh, this is so frustrating. I don’t need this today. I’m can’t believe I’m the kind of person who did this. I could really sink into, what’s the best way forward in this situation knowing I don’t like any of the options? It was going to go great, according to plan. Now I’m spending extra time and effort on something I didn’t want to because I did something foolish. That can be a dangerous spiral. You’re really crabby when your guests come in.

Zibby: Then you ruin it.

Anne: Right, not because there’s anything wrong. We could’ve had cheese and crackers, and it would’ve been a great night. It would’ve been my attitude that ruined it.

Zibby: One of my favorite dinner parties — I went to my friend Lea Carpenter, who actually was my first guest on this podcast, we went to her house for dinner with her boyfriend, Elliot Ackerman, also on my podcast. Anyway, they ordered in sushi. She had a bowl of lettuce and a bottle of dressing. Then we had ice cream from the freezer. It was the simplest thing. We had the best time. She set her dining room beautifully. It was amazing.

Anne: I love it.

Zibby: She was just relaxed and a happy hostess.

Anne: That sounds great.

Zibby: The benefits of not overthinking things, to talk about your topic of your book, this third book of yours. Why’d you write this book? How come?

Anne: When I started writing, I thought that I would write the things I knew about and the stories that I had that I wanted to tell. I’ve realized over the year that I write to figure out a certain topic or I write to figure out what I think, this is a topic, as you know, as you’ve read, this is a topic that has mattered to me for a long time. When I get together with my friends to talk, when you get glasses of wine or cups of coffee and start talking about what’s going on in life, this is what we think about. It gives lots of us lots of problems. I was really interested in digging into, first of all, why? Second of all, what can we do about it? I had this niggling feeling like there has to be a better way. I’d experienced implementing some simple, simple strategies in my life, but some huge mindset shifts that have made an enormous difference. So many people I talk to seem to be like, “I’m a person who worries. That’s just the way it is.” While some people are definitely more inclined to overthinking than others, there are things we can do about it. It seemed like a really important message to get out there.

Zibby: What are some of the biggest takeaways at least that have helped you personally the most?

Anne: Oh, for me personally?

Zibby: Yeah.

Anne: Realizing the strong tie between perfectionism and overthinking, I was completely blind to that before even though I’ve described myself as a recovering perfectionist for a good long time now. I wouldn’t have characterized that behavior as overthinking. Once I could see it that way, it made it so much easier to break those patterns.

Zibby: Now what happens when you have a decision? You just make it?

Anne: Are we buying a house or are we ordering coffee?

Zibby: That’s true. I know. I don’t know about you, but I feel like the big decisions in life, I’m good. Yes, I know where to send my kid to school. All these big things are relatively clear. It’s the smaller things like, what should we do on spring break? How should I deal with this coronavirus? Should I cancel this flight? Those are things that I just stew and stew and stew over. Is that the same for you?

Anne: That’s so interesting. I have done a little more — I almost said stewing. Ten years ago, stewing, but recently more dedicated, conscious, sometimes time-consuming thought about where to send a kid to school. The way I define overthinking, first of all, we’re talking about repetitive, unhealthy thoughts. Your brain is really busy at work, but you’re not accomplishing anything. It’s an exhausting process. It makes you feel miserable. Nobody needs that. But it’s not overthinking if you’re giving it the amount of thought that you want to. Maybe you enjoy researching forty spring break destinations. That’s totally fine.

Zibby: I don’t.

Anne: I don’t either. Some people really love their deep dive travel research and planning. That’s part of the process for them, and that’s fine. It is not overthinking if you’re giving it the amount of thought you want to. My goal is to give decisions the amount of energy they deserve. Figuring out which pair of jeans fits best, I do not want to spend energy on that. I think when we’re facing big decisions, we’re our better selves. We know it’s important. We know we need to think about it smartly. We’re careful to do so. It’s not that nobody sinks into a major episode of stewing over a big decision, but I think we’re more careful about them. Little decisions sneak up on us. Before we know it, we spent twenty minutes in the aisle at Barnes & Noble going, okay, I found my first two books that are on the three-for-two table. Now what am I going to get for the third? Pretty soon, we’re bouncing all over the store rethinking the entire decision. You’ve got better things to do with your life, with your twenty minutes, than that. That decision, I really have learned if I don’t want to be spending my time thinking about this, if I’m going to regret this in an hour or tomorrow, just truly, pick something and move on.

Zibby: Easier said than done.

Anne: That’s so true. It does become easier with practice, though. It’s like a muscle you strengthen.

Zibby: You have different things in the book about how to make decisions with what events to go to for friends, which I thought was interesting because you could spend your whole life going to different things. This might sound odd, but I have this thing about going to funerals. Anybody I knew — I went to a funeral of the mother of a preschool classmate of mine who I haven’t seen since I was three. I was like, I don’t know, I have to be there. I don’t know why, but that’s somehow important. You have a quote that you refer to. If you care, be there, something like that. Tell me about how you make decisions about which things to go to for other people.

Anne: Something that has changed my life is realizing that if you can identify if there’s a value underlying the question, the decision you’re facing, it makes the decision so much easier to make. That’s so interesting that you say that about funerals because I deeply regret not going to a certain funeral. I felt like I didn’t know the person that well. I was like, do I really deserve to be there? Would that be weird? Sometimes by making a wrong decision, we realize how to live rightly in the future. Now one of my rules to live by is I will air on the side of being there. My friend who said this to me, she calls it cheesy, but the little rhyme I think of all the time is, if you care, you’ll be there; if you don’t, you won’t. Of course, that’s not universally true. We’ve had friends get married across the country the same weekend. We cared deeply about both, but you can’t be in California and New York at the same time. We had all gotten together for an unofficial college roommates’ reunion outside Chicago. Travel was not easy for anybody. Several of us had kids in diapers. People were missing important things at work that they maybe should really have been at, but we all made the effort to come together outside Chicago with our real lives wanting us at home.

She said, “I just want everybody to know that I know it was hard for you to be there, but I’m so glad we all are. It says a lot about how much you care about this relationship.” You can also apply that inversely to your decision-making. Instead of thinking, we’re all here together, it shows how much we care; you can think, if I care, then my actions can reflect that; and just decide, when I can, I will show up for big things in life. We have spent lots of effort and lots of money and lots of hassle to go to key events in the lives of people we love because we really value being together in person. I’m not saying that should be a value for everybody. I know this is really important to me. Now if we can be there, we do. We air on the side of showing up. That helps me make decisions. It comes back to the perfectionism thing. Knowing I’m going to get it wrong sometimes is something that I’ve learned to, I mean mostly learned, mostly learned to accept. Deciding which way I want to go wrong if I do is really helpful.

Zibby: I also loved your book I’d Rather Be Reading. First of all, sometimes I look at all your books, and I’m like, you’re like a version of me. It’s so crazy. Everything you’re writing, I’m like, oh, my gosh, me too. It’s crazy. Now it’s so fun to be here having a conversation with somebody who has some things the same in our minds or something.

Anne: I’m noticing your bookshelves. I’m like, oh, that’s interesting. Those specific titles look a lot like the ones in my offoce at home.

Zibby: I bet, all of the ones coming out and everything, and your podcasts, both podcasts, which are amazing. From I’d Rather Be Reading, let’s talk about that for two seconds. Why would you rather be reading? Why’d you write that book?

Anne: I love books and reading. It’s my favorite introverted coping strategy. It’s my favorite escape. It’s my favorite intellectual stimulation. Also, I find that there are so many readers who love books and reading and yet don’t feel like they connect, again, in person in their three-dimensional lives with other readers about books. I really wanted to celebrate the fact that while reading is something that we do alone, it’s also something that we’re doing in community even though we can’t necessarily see that community. I really, as much as I could through those essays, wanted to make it physical and say, look, we are part of the same tribe that all shares this love, this common language even if we’re not sitting next to each other reading on the couch.

Zibby: It’s so true. It’s like a shortcut for understanding each other in a way, like, which books do you like?

Anne: Yes, I love that about books and reading. I feel like when you connect over a good book, it’s such a shortcut to discussing and connecting over the things that really matter in life in a way that you can’t do just — I mean, Zibby, we wouldn’t sit down and be like, what kept you up last night? or, tell me what really matters to you? But when we’re doing it through the lens of a good novel or an interesting nonfiction book, it’s very easy to go to the heart of what matters. I love how books make that possible.

Zibby: It’s so true. I’m always saying the right book at the right time can change your life. They’ve changed mine. Somebody wrote me an email the other day, it was actually a publicist about a different book, but had listened to an episode. She had recently lost her mother and had listened to an episode. She’s like, “That book, for me, came at just the right time.” That’s what I think is — I don’t know about you. As people who have dedicated our lives to getting books to people, the rewarding feeling of knowing that you’ve helped usher a book into someone’s life just when they needed it is amazing, even if you didn’t — you can’t write every book yourself, but just being the messenger almost.

Anne: I’m a big believer in bookish serendipity. It’s a real thing. It happens all the time. I think it’s one of the privileges we hold in common because of what we do, is helping put the right books in the hands of the right readers. That truly is life changing.

Zibby: I agree. You have four kids too. Let’s talk for two seconds about that. Eight kids between us. How do you manage the craziness? Do you have your favorite go-to thing that you do to decompress aside from reading? Is reading your go-to?

Anne: I’m a runner as well, but I’m not as good a runner as I am a reader. I always say that I’m a really fast reader but a really slow runner because apparently the universes needed things to stay in balance. It helps that for my kids, my youngest is ten, which is a totally different life than when I still had four kids but they still were buckling their own car seat buckles — no, when they weren’t.

Zibby: When they weren’t buckling their own car seats.

Anne: Or when they couldn’t tie their own shoes or put on their own socks. I love my children, but I never loved putting on socks fourteen times a day for their chubby little feet. That is different. They can maintain their own selves in some way.

Zibby: How old is your oldest kid?

Anne: Seventeen, which I still can’t believe. He just had a birthday. We do have a lot going on. It feels like a circus sometimes. Of course, there’s no one I’d rather do it with. Oh, good gracious, we do have a lot of help. We really try to simplify what we can because there’s only so much mental energy to go around. I really want to make sure I’m spending it on what really matters.

Zibby: When do you do all your work stuff? Is it always when the kids are in school? When do you record your podcasts? How often do you record your podcasts?

Anne: That’s interesting. We’ve experimented with that a lot over the years. Our show’s been going for a little over four years now. I’ve experimented with all different kinds of time and days and batching and not batching to do that. This has changed as I’ve gotten older. I used to put in a solid work session from seven to nine or eight to ten after they went to bed. A seventeen-year-old does not go to bed at eight o’clock at night. I haven’t been doing that for a while. Early in the morning, but then the school day is the core of my work.

Zibby: Do you ever have your kids sit in on your podcast?

Anne: Oh, no. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t know that they’d want to. My podcast is different from yours in that we often talk to, or listeners describe it as we talk to regular readers, people who could be your mom, your friend, your grandma, your neighbor, your sister, your babysitter, assuming those people don’t have shiny, Instagram-able jobs or work in the book industry. We talk to people who just love to read and don’t necessarily have credentials. It’s really important that we make them feel comfortable and not like they’re performing. A lot of times when I get on a call with somebody, they’ll say, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so nervous.” I just say, “You love books. You love to talk about books. This is going to be great,” but to say, “It’s going to be fine.” Also, my kids have their notepads out and they’re taking notes. I don’t know that that would really put them at ease.

Zibby: I’ve tried it a few times, but you’re a smarter woman than I am. I should not.

Anne: What do they think?

Zibby: I did it with my kids when we read this young adult/middle grade-ish thing with my little guys because it was about a Disneyland-type place. It was called Foreverland. Every night for months we read a chapter. I thought it would feel so rewarding to them to be there to meet the author. My daughter who’s six, she was into it. She even remembered the quote that I had dogeared that I forgot to mention. My five-year-old son was like, “I don’t remember it at all.” I was like, oh, my god. Then they started climbing up the shelves. I was like, okay, pause. Try to merge work and life and kids and everything.

Anne: I think one of the keys to my sanity and also being able to do the work I did for so long was merging work and life. As they’ve gotten older, that’s happened less, which I didn’t really consciously set out to do. It’s just worked out that way.

Zibby: How many books do you feel like you read a week?

Anne: Maybe four, four or five.

Zibby: Do you read at your desk or laying down?

Anne: Oh, no. I read on the treadmill. I never read at my desk. I know some people who read at their computer screen so they can mark up files. I spend enough time at screens writing. I read a lot in bed, a lot on the couch. I have a bright yellow chair that I love, and then the treadmill, and then audiobooks when I’m running or in the car, if I’m doing laundry.

Zibby: How do you read on the treadmill? You’re holding it and walking?

Anne: I don’t know that it’s the best for my neck. I have a treadmill desk and not like a big stand.

Zibby: Oh, you have a treadmill desk. You’re one of those people. So impressive. I know. Sometimes I’m like, I should just be peddling here. I sit here so much. I should make this some sort of stationary recumbent bike underneath my desk.

Anne: The treadmill desk often serves more as a great place to stash things than a nice work surface, to be clear. It is nice to be able to do that sometimes, especially in the winter or when it’s blazing hot out, to be able to read and actually move my body.

Zibby: Do you walk or run on the treadmill? I need as specific advice as you can.

Anne: I’m not saying this is ideal, but mine is a treadmill desk. It maxes out at four miles an hour, so it’s not built for running.

Zibby: I see, okay. I’ve never actually been on one.

Anne: I wish it was because I’ve thought about switching so I can run inside when it’s icy and listen to my audiobooks. That would be fine. It only goes to four miles an hour, so it’s a walking treadmill desk.

Zibby: I can read on the elliptical machine, but I haven’t tried the treadmill. Now I’m inspired.

Anne: The key is a nice device like a Page Anchor or a built-in magazine stand that will hold your book open, if it’ll hold your book open for you and you’re not bouncing too much.

Zibby: I need that. I’ve never heard that, a Page Anchor.

Anne: A Page Anchor, they’re beautiful. They’re fun. You can google it later.

Zibby: I’m going to. That’s awesome. That’s also such a clever way to fit in exercise, which I feel like is the first thing that falls off the list for me with the reading and the writing and the books and the kids.

Anne: I hear you. Yet I know, now more than ever, because you spend two years researching a book like Don’t Overthink It, and you’re acutely aware of what you’re doing to sabotage yourself or set yourself up for success. It’s definitely my impulse to let the exercise fall to the side when I get really busy. Yet if we are in a busy season or we’re feeling mentally frazzled, taking care of our body in that way, it’s one of the best things we can do for our mental performance. I don’t want it to be true. Yet the research shows that it’s definitely connected. What’s good for the body is good for the brain.

Zibby: I know. It’s true. I know. It’s just so hard to motivate. You’re right.

Anne: Oh, my gosh, yes. This is the pep talk I give myself a lot.

Zibby: What about all your writing? You write so much. Tell me more about that. When do you do that? Do you wait for inspiration for each blog entry? Tell me about the writing.

Anne: I really do, I write a lot, but I write in seasons because there’s a big difference between writing a blog post, writing a book list, and writing a book. Those require different kinds of headspaces. I always carry a notebook and will make notes whenever I can or sketch out an outline of a piece or a chapter. I’m an index card junkie, so I’m always carrying those and writing little snippets that I’ll file away later. I prefer to write in the morning when I can. When I can’t, I feel like it takes me longer in the afternoon. I never ever write between two and four PM because that is my mental dead time. That’s for running, email, the kinds of things that don’t take a ton of mental energy but still need to get done. I feel like the habits I’d chose if I were a hermit are different than the ones I choose when I have four kids staggering out the door to get to their schools that start at different times in the morning. I love to write first thing in the morning, take a break to get everybody out the door, then get back to it before I move on with the rest of the day. I need to do stuff to manage the business and make sure the bills get paid and manage my team, and that’s a different kind of thought. Writing, I want to be very focused.

Zibby: Tell me a little more about the business. I feel like I have to be conscious of time because I could ask you a zillion questions. Quickly, you’ve turned this into a true business. You have a book club. You have membership levels. You have an online course. You have all these different things that you’ve done to basically monetize this amazing content. You have and Oreos and everybody advertising on your site. I’m like, this is amazing. How is she doing this? When did you decide that this was going to be a full-on business, not just something you enjoyed? Or did you start out saying, I want to start a business around books and reading? When did it all…?

Anne: No, definitely not. It took me a long time to get comfortable with using that B-word because I never saw it going quite that direction. For a long time, I really shied away from — I don’t want to be the boss. I don’t want to be the boss. I’m the president of my company for my tax forms. Every time I have to write that word, because tax season’s coming up, I just think, oh, kill me now. I just don’t like the sound of it. Yet that is very much what it is. I’m so grateful to have an amazing team. It is my job to be the boss of that and manage that. It’s still, first and foremost, it’s something I love to do. I get to help people get more out of their reading lives. I feel like when you get more out of your reading life, you cannot help but get more out of your life because that power that books has to focus you on what matters, to think about your own life in a new way, to show you new insights that really make a difference in your day-to-day experience. I get to do that as my job. That doesn’t mean it’s not work, but it’s the best work I can think of. I’ve got to take it seriously because it deserves that.

Zibby: I just feel like there’s so many opportunities with — I get so excited about all the different things that you could choose to do.

Anne: Yes, I really relate to that. Some people like to focus on one thing and do it forever, but I really like the variety. We do have the “What Should I Read Next?” podcast. We do have the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. We do have the book club. I do write books about different topics. I visualize it as a Ferris wheel. I’m not doing all these things in-depth at once. The different parts of my literary world kind of take turns coming up to the top of the wheel to get focused attention for a time before they rotate down and something else comes up for its turn. That variety keeps things interesting. I love the possibility. I hear you. One of the guiding quotes for Modern Mrs. Darcy is “I dwell in possibility” from Emily Dickinson. I just love thinking about what could be, whether we’re talking about the literary world or people’s reading lives or people’s lives.

Zibby: I agree. We’ll have to get together some other time.

Anne: That would be fun.

Zibby: I know. That would be fun. You have another book project that you’re already thinking about?

Anne: I’m thinking about it. I’m always thinking about it. I’m sure that every author approaches their work differently. It’s really interesting to hear on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” how different authors approach their work. At the beginning, I’m never quite sure what a project is. Then it slowly starts coming out of the fog. You think, oh, this is what I’m writing about. That’s where I am right now.

Zibby: I just want to ask you, what are you going to read next?

Anne: Ooh, that’s a great question. We put out a summer reading guide every year, which means that in the winter and spring I’m reading all the titles I’m most excited about that are coming out between about the middle of March and — we always say the fourth of July, but the past couple years there have been some releases that I can’t wait to read coming out at the very end of the month, so I fudged it a little bit and pushed it out. That’s what I have going on right now. Although, I found that if I don’t mix it up with some backlist, that I become a cranky reader. It’s all summer reading all the time.

Zibby: Awesome. I love it.

Anne: And some old mysteries for balance.

Zibby: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Anne: Yes. Put your butt in the chair because that’s how it gets done, or the treadmill desk I guess. Honestly for me, it’s put your butt in the chair. Also, I really like to believe that good work will find its audience, but the first thing you need is the good work.

Zibby: That’s inspiring.

Anne: This is what I tell myself all the time.

Zibby: Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Anne: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for having me to talk about books and reading.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I could do this all day.