Monday, December 21, 2015

10 Years of The Book of Life Podcast

Ten years ago on December 21, 2005, I posted the very first episode of The Book of Life. Fourteen and a quarter minutes long, the episode is a mix of home-grown Hanukkah celebrations at Congregation B'nai Israel, the Boca Raton synagogue where I am librarian, and interviews with authors. I had summoned up the courage to approach Eric Kimmel (aka "Mr. Hanukkah"), who I'd met at the 2005 Association of Jewish Libraries conference when he won the Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award, and I interviewed him over the phone (with an in-ear recorder!) about his classic Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. I also called Rebecca Tova Ben-Zvi, who had been my colleague when I worked for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and had since authored Four Sides, Eight Nights: A New Spin on Hanukkah. Because it's been ten years and the downloads have had so long to accumulate, that episode has been downloaded 11,306 times and counting. You can still hear that very first episode here.

My original idea for the podcast was that it would showcase library materials to my own community and encourage folks to come in and borrow things they'd heard about on the show. I tried to interview CBI members and staff to create a sense of community. However, I soon found that most people clam up when you put a microphone in front of them! They get shy, they don't know what to say, and they find the whole experience scary. Authors, on the other hand, are thrilled to talk about their books! It's what they love, plus it's free publicity! So the podcast soon evolved to its current Fresh Air format where I interview authors, illustrators, filmmakers, musicians, and webmasters about their Jewish creations. Hey, if my friends don't wanna talk to me, that's fine, I'll go chat with the famous people!

The Book of Life has produced 152 podcast episodes out of the 272 Jewish news posts on the blog. A particularly memorable episode for me is my 2006 interview with Simms Taback, in which he sang in Yiddish for me. Simms was kind of rambly and he knew it, so when I edited him down to brevity he said "You saved my tuchus!" I answered, "Great! Will you draw me a picture?" And that's how I got this wonderful piece of original artwork! (Note that Simms didn't have an iPod himself, so he didn't realize the wires diverge at midpoint.)

Every now and then I try a new format, like the time I copied A Prairie Home Companion and read greetings from listeners (inviting people to "say chai" for the 18th episode), or when I did a live call-in show to discuss what makes a book Jewish. Another time I recorded a talk by Markus Zusak (The Book Thief) at Books & Books indie bookstore in Miami and he gave me permission to podcast the recording. A recent episode that created a lot of buzz was a virtual panel discussion (accomplished by conference call), discussing the theme  "Enough with the Holocaust Books for Children."

These days, it's easy to find interviewees: many creators email me to introduce their work in hopes of an interview. That's how I found forthcoming podcast subjects: The Last Shepherd (a crowdsourced Israeli sci-fi film) and The Yiddish Fish (a very weird picture book based on a true story). And of course the podcasts about Sydney Taylor Book Award winners just fall into my lap, because I meet those authors and illustrators each year at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference.

If you've been enjoying The Book of Life, please do let me know. It can be lonely, podcasting, because I'm doing all the talking and listeners don't often get in touch. Drop me a line at or leave a comment here on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter to tell me your favorite episodes, make suggestions, or share my delight at reaching the ten year mark! Happy reading and happy podcast listening!


Toby said...

Mazel Tov on your simcha of 10 years! I love listening to your podcasts and have followed you proudly since close to the beginning! You have always inspired me to try to keep up on the technology aspects of librarianship. I've love to see a "making a podcast" presentation at an AJL conference.

Unknown said...

Yasher koach Heidi, I'm also a fan. You were way ahead of the podcast curve, and should be proud of how much enjoyment you've brought to so many.
Warmly, Suzanne Balaban
BMM Worldwide

Suzanne Balaban said...

Yashar Koach Heidi. I'm also a fan -- you were way ahead of the podcast curve, and bring enjoyment to so many.
Thank you!

Warmly, Suzanne Balaban
BMM Worldwide

April Halprin Wayland said...

Dear Heidi ~

Mazel tov on Ten Years--wowee! May you and your podcast live to be 120 ~

I'm an NPR addict, listening to it all the time on my phone...but I've been slow to find podcasts. I've known about your The Book of Life for years and now, on January 1, 2015...drum roll...I've subscribed to your podcast--yay!

So excited!


Lisa said...

Hi Heidi,
I enjoyed reminiscing about all your podcasts and I do believe I have heard them all! I am grateful for my itunes feed these days because it makes getting them so much easier. I used to like when you went around to publisher's booths at the Book Expo to give everyone that heads up on what was out there.I remember fondly that time we all ended up at Esme Codell's house in Chicago and you interviewed me in the hall. How fun--I wonder if she is still doing those wonderful things there. Mazal Tov on your longevity in the world of podcasting--you were a pioneer and now they are everywhere, but you were the first one I listened to!

Lisa Silverman