Kate Gibson and Charlie Gibson, THE BOOK CASE PODCAST

Kate Gibson and Charlie Gibson, THE BOOK CASE PODCAST

Zibby is joined by longtime host of Good Morning America, Charlie Gibson, and his daughter, TV producer Kate Gibson, to discuss their new ABC Audio podcast, The Book Case. The three talk about the show’s origins during the pandemic, as well as the lessons they’re learning along the way and the importance of representation in books. Zibby also asks Kate and Charlie some of their most asked questions, like who their favorite fictional character is, where is their favorite place to read (as well as Oprah’s), and what is the most influential book they’ve ever read.


Zibby Owens: Welcome. A big welcome today to Charlie Gibson and Kate Gibson, who are cohosts of the new podcast “The Book Case” from ABC Studios, I guess? From ABC in general?

Kate Gibson: From ABC Audio.

Zibby: ABC Audio. Thank you. There’s the word I was looking for. Welcome to this special edition of “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” where we are featuring another podcast. I don’t want everybody to stop listening to this podcast, but you should also listen to their podcast. Welcome. Tell listeners about “The Book Case” and, Charlie, why you came out of retirement, Kate, how you convinced him to do this and why books are so important to you that you felt like this was worth investing all your time in now.

Kate: I’ll go first. Then he can talk about how I pulled him kicking and screaming out of retirement. I left my job at Twin Cities PBS in September of 2019 thinking that I would quickly and easily find another job in public television either within the Twin Cities or nearby, and we would relocate. Then the bottom dropped out of the entire planet. I had nothing to do. If I had to do it again, I may have a stayed at my job a little bit longer. I was home with two kids going completely stir-crazy and interviewing any place that would give me fifteen, twenty minutes. I was tap dancing as fast as I could. I was reading everything I could get my hands on because I figured at no other time in my life was I not going to have a job. I started reading things on my bucket list like Infinite Jest and Bleak House and all of that. It was a big part of how I connected with my dad during the pandemic. My husband, who’s an audio engineer — that’s how we met; we worked on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and he actually is our producer now — said, “I have all the equipment. You guys have really oddly compelling conversations about books. Can I tape them? We’ll make a podcast.” I think I told him he was crazy for almost a year before he finally talked me into it, whereupon I called my father.

Charlie Gibson: Parents, father and child, mother and child, find various ways to connect as the kids are growing up. Other than family matters, I think Kate and I probably talk more about books than we have anything else in our lives. She’s a reader. She has always been a voracious reader. That’s always been a love of mine, reading. She calls me and says, “Let’s do a podcast.” As I’ve told the story before, I had to call her back and say, “What’s a podcast?” I didn’t know. I’m just not of the generation that casts pods, I guess. I went out and bought a copy of Podcasts for Dummies. It proved not to be very instructive because there is no cookie-cutter way, as I know you have learned, to do a podcast. You just do it. Unfortunately, millions of people are doing it. I said to Kate, “If you’re not working, we need to sell this thing.” That proved to be a tougher job than I thought. We went up a lot of blind alleys. Finally, ABC Audio, probably to their great regret, said they would buy it.

Kate: That’s a heck of a plug.

Charlie: I had some previous connection with ABC, as about seven people in the world remember.

Zibby: Oh, stop.

Charlie: Eight. It certainly was less than eleven. We were in business once ABC said they would do it. The other thing was, in order to stand out, to differentiate ourselves, since it was an ABC connection and since I was the host of Good Morning America for nineteen years, I asked the new executive producer of Good Morning America, would she give us six slots a year to come on and do stories that organically grow out of the podcast? In truth, it’s to plug the podcast. I can’t lie about that. That’s what we’re doing. Bless your heart for saying it’s a new podcast. We’ve been doing sixteen, seventeen shows. It’s hard. You do it, Zibby, every day. I am in awe of your ability to do that. We do one a week, and I’m thinking this is nutty on our end. Your end is nutty times seven.

Zibby: As I told you, I also started doing it once a week. Our stories are so similar. It was my husband who got me to do a podcast. I literally said to a friend, “What’s a podcast?” and had to go google what to do. I couldn’t even find the button on my phone to listen to podcasts. I am with you on that whole journey. Starting slow — who knows? Maybe in four days, you guys will be a daily podcast. You’ll be like, wow. Who knew?

Charlie: I promise you, if it’s a daily podcast, I will be six feet under. quick. It’s really radio on demand. That’s essentially what it is. Once I had that phrase in my head, it was a whole lot easier to understand.

Kate: In some ways, our beginner stance with podcasts has been advantageous because we have no idea how we’re doing, nor would we even know how to go about putting together those analytics to figure out how we’re doing. That’s very freeing in some ways. In this particular way, I think ignorance is really freeing. We both come from the world of TV. We know that how a podcast does is based on lots of different factors. In some ways, I think our not understanding the world has been very relaxing.

Zibby: Not to burst your bubble, but there are detailed analytics for podcasts.

Kate: Don’t want to know. I don’t want to know.

Charlie: I don’t want to know. Somebody told us what percentage of people who are listening have subscribed. Apparently, that’s something that people who listen to podcasts do. I didn’t know. That’s very high. Our level of engagement is high. Whether a lot of people are listening, we don’t know, but we’re having fun. That’s the point of it. I think you’ve probably come to the same conclusion. We are in the midst of master class in writing. We learn so much about how novelists, nonfiction writers — we’re going to get into kids’ books; we’re going to get into biographies — how all these people work. It’s totally different. Again, as there’s no cookie-cutter form of a podcast, so too is there no cookie-cutter way that writers go about their craft.

Kate: That’s true. When I was growing up reading, if I read a good book, my first reaction when I put the book down is, boy, I would love to sit down and have coffee with the author and find out how their mind works. I’m always interested in exploring the mind behind a great book. Now I get to do that. That’s awesome. It’s my dream job.

Zibby: You sound exactly like me. This is the craziest thing. It’s like watching myself talk. It’s great. I’m like, this is what I must sound like to other people when I say the same thing.

Kate: Do I sound obnoxious?

Zibby: You sound amazing. I share both of your enthusiasm about books. I loved listening to your interview with Oprah, your opening episode, which was so wonderful. I actually didn’t know the whole backstory of how she started the book club, how random a thing it was, that it was just a five-minute thing at the end of her show. It was her intern, really, who was like, we have to just get people to read books. Listening to her talk to you about the importance of reading and getting people reading and also the gift of what you’re giving someone when you read a good book and love it and you share that with someone else and then they read it and love it as this unique connection, I am so behind that a hundred percent. I feel like that all the time.

Charlie: Zibby, it’s interesting. One of the things I said to Kate — both of us have an affection for independent bookstores. We love to go into a bookstore and just lose ourselves in the shelves. I suggested to Kate that we would affiliate ourselves with twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five independent bookstores around the country. I spent a fair bit of time on the web looking up what would be interesting bookstores. I was interested in small ones. There’s some really big ones like Shakespeare and Strand in New York and City Lights in Los Angeles and Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. I was interested in the little — we just recently talked to a woman who retired as an English teacher and opened an independent bookstore in a town of 616 people. Now that’s gutsy. I love talking to those people. Independent bookstores were critical to us. We have affiliated with a bunch. Talking to the independent booksellers gives the same reflection of what you just mentioned, Zibby, which is that the wealth that they derive is not monetary. The wealth that they derive is putting a book in somebody’s hands and having them come back and say, I loved this book. You have inspired me to read this, this, this, and this as well.

That is where they get their compensation. I admire them immensely, the same way writers do. A number of writers have said to us, once I’ve written the book, it’s not mine anymore. It’s yours. It’s the reader’s. I would think that would be a tremendously satisfying thing for them to say. One of the booksellers that we talked to told us a wonderful story. She put The Old Man and the Sea, the Hemingway book, in the hands of an eight-year-old. An eight-year-old. The eight-year-old came back ten years later. This was a resort bookstore. The kid came back every year with his parents to vacation here. He had the book, which was all dogeared. He said for ten years, it had been on his bedside table. He had read it and reread it. She said, “Can I see it?” He handed it to her. He said, “But don’t let any of the sand fall out.” She looked at him quizzically and said, “Sand?” He said, “Yeah, I thought it would be really cool to take it down and read it on the beach outside Hemingway’s home.” He did. He took it to Cuba. He read it right in the shade in the of the Hemingway home. “That,” she said, “is my wealth.”

Kate: One of the things, too, that we realized by talking to Oprah and talking to many guests — I bet you’ve realized it as well too — is that you can make a devoted reader out of anyone if, when you get them as a child, you can get them a book in which they see themselves represented. It’s one of the reasons that I’ll fight book banning all day long. There are so many different kinds of kids out there. They’re looking for themselves. They’re looking for the story of themselves. That will inspire them to be readers their whole life. Oprah told a great story about, she wasn’t really a reader until she read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She opened it up, and she saw herself on every page. That inspired her to be a reader for the rest of her life. I think that’s really important for kids. I’m hoping we can do an episode on the fight right now to keep books available to all kids. Kids need to see themselves in books. That will create a reader out of almost anyone, which makes me really happy.

Charlie: We talked to the proprietor of a bookstore in Chicago which basically caters to the LGBTQ community. That bookseller said to us it was a brave thing to write a memoir if you were not straight in the age that this woman had grown up. Now it’s much more common. She said it’s really important that kids who might feel different, that they find themselves in that kind of book. She said, “As a result, our bookstore is really important.” I’m sorry, I’m interrupted you, Zibby.

Zibby: No, it’s your episode. I was just going to make a joke. Why then, I wonder, do my kids like Dog Man? Why are they seeing themselves in Dog Man? What does that say about them? I don’t know.

Kate: My daughter’s into Captain Underpants.

Zibby: Same thing.

Charlie: Better than Captain Underpants.

Zibby: I don’t know. Crazy. When you do your podcast, you ask a number of questions to some of your guests. I wanted to ask them back to you. I don’t know if you’ve had them asked to you, so I’m going to do that. Both of you, what are — if you listen to “The Book Case,” for listeners of this show, you will hear all these amazing authors like — John Irving summarized his life in five words, which was hilarious. Just amazing. Anna Quindlen and Mary Laura Philpott. It’s just so cool. What is the most influential book in your life? What has been the most influential book of your life?

Kate: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

Charlie: In terms of influential, I would say Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. It is always interesting to me — that was written about the astronauts and their having the right stuff — the way that so many industries or businesses or networks are pyramidical. You start at the bottom. You work your way up to the top. If you fall off to the side and you don’t have the right stuff, whatever that may be in whatever business you may be in, people tend to say, okay, he didn’t make it, and write him off. That’s unfortunate, but it’s true in so many different guises in life, that you have to rise up to get to the top of the pyramid. If you fall off the side, nobody has a whole lot of time for you, which I think is unfortunate. I’ve just found it a brilliant, brilliant book.

Kate: I can’t give that many poetic reasons for liking A Prayer for Owen Meany, but I can tell you that I reread it every couple years. Every couple years, it changes. Its meaning changes for me. It was also the first book I read where almost after every page, I would go, oh! Just because of the writing. When he says, “I am a Christian because of Owen Meany,” every time, I go, oh! The way he writes in that book, to me, is transcendent. I love that book.

Zibby: I know you were encouraging readers just to read the first five pages or something. You’re like, you will get it once you read a few pages. So excited for his new book. Favorite time and place to read.

Kate: After my kids go to bed. God love my kids. I love them so much. They are my reason. They are all my reasons. That being said, there’s just something nice to know that I can read and at no point, nobody’s going to go, Mom! There’s something wonderful about that.

Zibby: You’re lucky because my kids still bother me in the middle of the night. You win on that front. Okay, Charlie.

Charlie: I would answer that question — I did a lot of traveling when I worked for ABC. My wife and I both love to travel, but I’ve traveled for work. What I hate to do is to pack and unpack and pack and unpack. I want to go somewhere and stay there. My wife wants to go someplace different every day. We’ve gotten into cruising. It’s not inconsiderable in the cost of doing so, but we love that. I would say not just a favorite time to read, but place — these new cruise ships now, you get a balcony off your cabin. Going out, sitting in a chair, looking at the sea as you cruise and reading is, to me, the perfect spot. Oprah described her spot as when it’s raining and she opens the door. She’s sitting in front of a fire. She’s got a dog at the base of her chair. She said, I do it right.

Zibby: Some sort of cashmere throw on her lap or something.

Kate: It’s very idyllic. If I could open up the windows in Hawaii and get my nonexistent dog — I wanted to be in that room with Oprah and just read with her.

Zibby: You can borrow my dog.

Charlie: I’m telling you, being on a cruise ship, sitting on your terrace and looking at the sea and reading, it’s perfect.

Zibby: Do you have a cruise line or something? I feel like there’s so many options that I wouldn’t even know where to start in doing a cruise.

Charlie: If they’d sponsor the podcast, I’d mention the two that we love.

Zibby: That’s true. Any cruise lines out there, if you would like to sponsor these two podcasts, we’ll take a big, fun, bookish cruise together.

Charlie: Regent Cruise Line down in Fort Lauderdale, I think it is. We’d love to have you sponsor the podcast. Silversea.

Zibby: Are you listening? Favorite children’s book.

Charlie: Without a doubt, because I think it’s my favorite book in the world, Charlotte’s Web. Right behind that, I think everybody has a copy of Goodnight Moon. I would put that on the list. Then one that we’re going to actually get into in the next GMA spot we do, which is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which I love.

Zibby: I love that too. I just did an Instagram post and ended in #EvenInAustralia.

Kate: “Even in Australia” was actually a phrase in my house. We said it a lot. I loved Eloise because I was a pain in the A. She was a pain in the A. I always saw myself in that book. I loved, loved, loved that book. Charlotte’s Web was also a big one for me. Most of E.B. White, Stuart Little, Trumpet of the Swan. I was a fan. Then I also really, really loved James and the Giant Peach.

Zibby: Awesome. E-book or audiobook?

Kate: Book.

Charlie: Book, book, book.

Kate: Since I started doing this, I also do audiobooks obsessively. If I’m not reading my book and I’m folding laundry or I’m making my bed or I’m listening to an audiobook, I generally try to listen to it at time and a half, which means I can absorb more books.

Charlie: While I think the answer’s easy to that, it’s book, when you’re traveling, when I’m out on that terrace on the ship, I’ve got a Kindle in my lap because it has made reading when you travel so much easier. Also, I think there’s an interesting psychology, Kate, which I think would be sort of fun to explore in one of the podcasts, which is, it’s easier to buy books on a Kindle. You might go into a bookstore. You get three in your hands, and you think, gracious, I’ve got fifty dollars’ worth of books in my hand, or sixty or whatever. Then you get on a Kindle, and it’s kind of easy. There’s a whole lot of books on my Kindle.

Kate: It’s like Disney, isn’t it? They don’t let you spend money anymore. They just give you a wristband. You’re like, this is so magical. I’m not paying for anything. Then at the end, they hand you all the paperwork. You’re like, oh, whoops. I’ve tried an e-reader. I have. My parents gave me one. My husband would love it. When we moved from New York, he had to pack up all the books and take them with us. It’s not me. I like pages. I like knowing where I am in the pages. Going on vacation, my husband knows he has to leave almost half a suitcase for me if it’s long.

Zibby: Our husbands have to talk.

Charlie: Kate’s bookcase is her biography. She lines her books in the order she reads them in her bookcase. She can look and realize what age she was when she read that and what was going on in her life, etc. I’m not nearly that organized. It’s an interesting way to approach reading.

Kate: It’s the only OCD thing I do.

Zibby: Favorite character in literature.

Charlie: I’d go along with Kate on that. I’d say Owen Meany. Fascinating character. Really interesting character.

Kate: I’ve got a very distinct voice for him in my head. I’ve talked to an interview once who said to me — I asked John Irving to do the voice. My first reaction was, oh, god, I hope he didn’t do it. The interview said he didn’t do it. I was like, yay! I have a very distinct voice. Charlotte also. Charlotte and Wilbur are also right up there for me.

Zibby: You ask people, what’s the most revered book you read and didn’t like? Isn’t that your question?

Charlie: Yeah. I have a very specific book in mind. I had a great professor, actually, at Princeton who taught a course in the English novel. We started with Pamela. We went right up through The Alexandria Quartet. He was a Joycean scholar. We spent three weeks on…

Kate: Ulysses. See, you blocked it out. You blocked it out. Ulysses.

Charlie: Put it out of my mind. Blocked it out. We spent three weeks on Ulysses. I hated it. I hated it. He kept talking about the predominant color in each chapter. I didn’t get any of it. It’s supposedly the great English novel. Actually, one of the things I want to do is have a podcast with a debate among English professors about whether or not this book really is as worthy as so many of them say and revere. I don’t know, is that too high-brow, Kate, to do?

Kate: No. Actually, I want to do Ulysses. I want to do Don Quixote, which I did not understand. Everybody from Spain, my apologies. I know Cervantes is a big deal. I didn’t get Don Quixote. Over the pandemic, I read Infinite Jest. I read Infinite Jest. I’ll just say that. I read Infinite Jest. I read it. I almost feel like I should get that tattooed on my arm. I read Infinite Jest, and then put the date. All respect to David Foster Wallace, who was clearly a brilliant, brilliant man, but that book was — I read it.

Zibby: I’ll make you a T-shirt. How about that? You can just wear it when you’re feeling less than in some way. I know we’re almost out of time. We could talk books all day. I know our shared mission is to help people connect through books, keep reading, not be so distracted by the eight million things, including devices and so many things that are vying for our attention. What can we do? Aside from podcasting and trying to proselytize ourselves, do you think there’s anything else we can do or that other people who love to read can do to make reading as exciting as we feel it is?

Kate: I’ll start because I know my father’s going to be more articulate than I am. For me, I think that you used the right word there. We live in an economy of attention. Right now, advertisers, everybody’s trying to get your attention. That’s what’s being monetized these days. Also, we did a piece with Azar Nafisi on the show. She wrote a book called Reading Dangerously. What she is saying, and I think it’s really important, is we are not a country that is very good at talking to each other right now. We’re incredibly divided. We’re not challenging ourselves by reading. We really should be because it is by humanizing the other that we can understand the other, we can have empathy for the other, we can sympathize for the other. I think this country needs to do more of it, but that’s more of me on my soapbox. In terms of making it more exciting, you can go anywhere in a book. It costs you almost nothing. It costs you the price of a library card. It’s an addiction for me.

Charlie: Azar Nafisi was a very interesting interview. I don’t think many people have read that book. She wrote a book called Reading Lolita in Tehran, which was a subversive act at the time that she had a little reading group doing it. She quotes Nabokov — or Nabokov; I never know how to pronounce his name — in her book, Reading Dangerously, in saying that imagination is the first step toward — what is it, Kate? I’m missing the quote.

Kate: Subversion. Some portion of subversion. Rebellion. Something like that.

Charlie: She believes you do that through fiction. That really opens your mind to other ideas because nonfiction is wedded to fact. Fiction will really open your mind and get you thinking differently. I think that’s a very powerful argument. We say with this podcast, you’re not going to read every book we talk about. If we just get you to think, oh, gee, that sounds interesting, or if we get you to think, that author is really smart — they all are. They’re so smart in what they do. As I say, I have no greater respect for any craft over writing. I just think writers are the most important people, in many respects, in our society. It is a privilege to talk to them. Kate talks about all the writers that we talk to of whom she is a fan. I’m fan of all of them. If you can sit down and have the discipline to write and have the mind that is expansive enough to come up with something that will interest somebody for two hundred and fifty, three hundred pages, more power to you.

Kate: Or in the case of John’s latest book, 892 pages.

Charlie: John Irving’s latest book is called The Last Chairlift. It comes out, I think, in October. Kate and I are reading it at the moment. It’s almost nine hundred pages. John, John, John, put down the pen. My wife has an expression that if you can’t say it in five hundred pages, don’t say it.

Zibby: I love it. Thank you both so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thank you for having me as a guest on “The Book Case.” I am just so honored to be among the highly esteemed other writers who I adore, many of whom have been on this podcast too. It’s just so wonderful to talk to such like-minded book enthusiasts so that collectively, we can all keep the excitement going and balls in the air.

Charlie: It’s an interesting thing that you’re doing, Zibby, and that we are as well. If you’re a reader and if you really love reading, then why are you going to take time out to listen to a podcast? Why aren’t you reading? I go back to that idea, if you can get people to say, that’s something I hadn’t thought about before — I have a good friend, after the John Irving interview he said, “For the last thirty years, I’ve been reading nothing but nonfiction. You really got me interested in John, and so I’ve read A Prayer for Owen Meany. I’ve read World According to Garp. Now I just finished Last Night in Twisted River.” He said, “I loved it. I think you’ve changed my reading habits. You’ve opened up a new world to me.” If you can do that, maybe that’s our wealth. Maybe that’s our wealth.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you so much.

Kate: Thank you so much. Really appreciate you having us on.

Zibby: My pleasure.

Kate: I love the podcast. I look forward to more.

Zibby: You too.

Charlie: You’re doing a good job, kiddo, but you’re doing it every day.

Kate: Really, he can’t get over that. He can’t get over that. After we talked to you the other day, he calls me up. He’s like, “Every day?”

Zibby: See, this is an interview. You can see how I could do this over and over again. This is a piece of cake.

Kate: Thank you so much, Zibby. Take care.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

Kate: Buh-bye.

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