Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant talk about “Option B,” and Annie Jacobsen discusses “Phenomena.”
United States


00:00:00The new york times has led the charge in exposing the obstacles women face in the workplace from factory floors to hollywood sets women have bravely shared their stories helping to raise urgent questions about gender power and policy now is the time to find solutions this september the times
00:00:16will convene leaders for the inaugural new rules summit where participants will explore the new rules of leadership for a new era learn more at www that new rules summit dot com cheryl sandburg the author of lean in and ceo of facebook handled the sudden death of her husband
00:00:36and father of her two sons she'll join us along with her bestselling co author adam grant to talk about their new book option b you can't perfectly control it the grief comes and goes on its own time and everyone grieves in their own way but knowing there are
00:00:52steps you can take and for me knowing that there have been research that proves that those steps help i was just like oh my god even if it only is one tiny thing it's something i can do just how seriously has the american government taken e s p
00:01:05annie jacobson will tell us about her new book phenomena the secret history of the us government's investigations into extra sensory perception and psychokinesis i didn't wantto prove or disprove either side i wanted to interview the dedicated scientists and psychic who believe in this work and work in the
00:01:25field and i also wanted to interview the scientific skeptics who find it abhorrent Alexander altar will give us an update from the literary world Plus we'll talk about what we and the wider world are reading This is inside the new york times book review I'm pamela paul Cool
00:01:46Joining us now is cheryl sandberg and adam grant co authors of the new book option b Facing adversity building resilience and finding joy Cheryl samberg is of course also the author of lean in and the sea c o o of facebook and adam grant bestselling author of originals
00:02:04and give and take thanks for being here Thank you for having us So this book i believe started as a facebook post which was very highly read Incredibly moving post talk about why you decided to post what you did on facebook and what was in that post for
00:02:20those few people who didn't see it I lost my husband dave two years ago and it's the unimaginable i um i found him we were on vacation celebrating a friend's fiftieth birthday party in a gym i flew home to tell a seven and a ten year old you
00:02:39might children that they'd never see their father again and you know the grief that followed was something i really never been prepared for it felt like there was a void closing in on me my brother in law talked about it as a boot pushing on his chest it
00:02:55felt like every day every week was the month was a year it wasn't just the grief it was the isolation you know before dave died i drop my kids off at school people said hi i walk into the office every chit chats but not so much because i
00:03:10think people were so afraid to say the wrong thing they like most likely didn't say anything and so is just feeling worse and worse and worse thie jewish period of mourning for a spouse is called shell oshima it's thirty days from burial and so i've been keeping a
00:03:25journal and as that they approached i wrote a facebook post which is what i would say to everyone if i were going to say something and the night before i went to bed thinking there is zero chance on posting this it is just crazy open and i woke
00:03:38up the next day and it was so awful i thought this is supposed to be the end of morning it couldn't feel worse things can't get worse than maybe they'll get better and i hit post and you know it doesn't take away the grief at all but it
00:03:51did help with the isolation because just broke open the conversation and kicked the elephant out of the room my friend from work told me she'd been driving by my house for a month but hadn't come in she started coming in a woman from the nick you a stranger
00:04:05posted that she just lost one twin that was trying to give the surviving twenty great life and another woman who had lost a twin posted to her and it was for me remembering okay i'm facing this horrible tragedy but i am not alone so many other people face
00:04:19adversity of all kinds and when we talk about it we can help each other get through it you actually use some of those comments on your facebook post in the book at what point did you decide that this was more than just a facebook post it was something
00:04:33that you wanted to continue in book form adam and i have tried to remember what we started writing the book and we're not quite sure aye journals a lot for five months and it was some time after that it was interesting because at the time i was journaling
00:04:46i always wanted to journal my whole life and i never did i would start journals every new year's january fifth i was done i have a big box of them but after dave died i wrote and if i don't write for a couple of days i felt like
00:04:59i was gonna burst and i learned later when i was doing the research with adam for the book how important journaling khun b to recovery yeah it's it's amazing i never would have expected that just a few minutes of writing could make such a difference for people was
00:05:13not only mental health physical health too but they're hundreds of experiments showing that if people just journal like fifteen minutes at a time a few times about a traumatic event that at first they feel worse because it's not fun to relive the experience but over the next few
00:05:28weeks and months they actually end up becoming happier and healthier and it turns out it just takes a tremendous amount of energy to bottle up emotions journaling seems to help people expressing it and then there's also just the forming a story finding some coherence and you know a
00:05:42path forward and i think that was really clear and carol's journal which turned into a big chunk of the book you worked on this as collaborators how did that actually work I'm curious about like the mechanics did you have a google doc that you shared like across the
00:05:55country or to do email chapters back and forth we did a lot of iterating i would say cheryl initiated all the personal content her story i usually wrote the first draft of the research and we sort of took terms on other people's stories and we just sent them
00:06:10back and forth a lot between the two of us and editor and else koval i think we averaged over two hundred versions of of each chapter wow yeah when chapter one got two version two hundred i didn't know whether to laugh or cry did you know from the
00:06:24beginning that the final book would take the form that it did which is cheryl you writing in the first person and adam you're sort of in the background there we actually tried to write it with wi i i would have rather done that because it really was a
00:06:36book we wrote together it's a terrible idea it was just hard to talk about we when it was dave who died and adam wasn't there from us to those moments that we just tried to switch back and forth and it was just too distracting so he tried to
00:06:48write it in the first person but explained that it was really written by both of us and we've had the same goal anus which has you know living through this was unimaginable for mei and adams said it was one of the hardest things he oversaw A close friend
00:07:02go through and in the early days adam kept telling me it's going to get better my thirty day facebook post i've wrote the sentence i will never feel another moment of pure joy again and i believed it and meant it and adams had don't publish that don't post
00:07:16that it's not true but i posted it because i knew it was true and i was wrong and we want people to believe that they will feel joy adam did you have some personal tragedy that you sort of kept in mind so much of this is about cheryl's
00:07:30personal experience but did you have something that sort of helped frame it for you i had to that sort of were really relevant to a lot of my thinking in the book one was i had a student in two thousand ten first class i taught at penn hey
00:07:43was the captain of the football team his name is owen thomas and he was just beloved by all of his classmates a few months later he reached out to me came by the office looking for career advice and then not long after that he died by suicide and
00:07:58we were all shocked and i seriously thought about giving up on teaching eventually he was diagnosed with that with ct that there's a medical cause injury which you know made made me feel less like oh you know i should've noticed something was wrong but that that was really
00:08:13hard and you know the whole campus grieved over over that experience and then in in twenty twelve our closest family friend jeff zaslow who was a writer was killed in a car accident that was you know shocking and i had a really hard time with that i played
00:08:28these endless loops in my head over and over again of you know well when i last talked to him what if i had stayed on the phone ten seconds longer you know every than every event in his life would've been different maybe you would have been on the
00:08:39same icy road at the same time and my wife allison she's a psychiatry backgrounds she shared with me something that really change the way i thought about that event which ended up then sharing with cheryl years later she said you have to realize that this could be worse
00:08:53like that this could not be worse like this extraordinary person lost his life halfway through and she said well you know people have car accidents with their families in the car too and you know you have to remember that you're lucky that you know his children were not
00:09:05in the car and that really helped me move on with that and ended up being something that was really relevant when cheryl and i were talking about what happened to dave in the book you write about how adam told you not to focus on the positive that at
00:09:16first the very beginning that everyone is telling you to focus on the positive and adam handsome very different advice for you yeah i mean adam is one of the most brilliant people i've ever met and but one day he looked at me and said you should think about
00:09:26how things could be worse and i thought he was a total idiot when you mean things could be worse dave just died suddenly you know i found him on the gym floor and he looked at me and he said well dave could have had that same cardiac arrhythmia
00:09:39driving your children and you say that and in that instant i am fine i'm like okay my kids are alive i'm good to this day if i need it i think about that and was so counterintuitive to go through it is the worst experience of your life but
00:09:56come out on the other side feeling more grateful but i am i mean i said here today almost two years and i'm satur i appreciate life in a way i never did before my cousin laura who lives in new york turned fifty two months ago and i called
00:10:11her that morning and i said happy birthday calling to wish you a happy birthday but i'm also calling in case you woke up that morning with that oh my god i'm fifty thing i used to do that because this is the year dave want turned fifty i will
00:10:24never make another joke about growing old again because it turns out there's two there's two paths some people grow old and some people don't and the first is way better than the second and i said tow laura i'm so grateful you're turning fifty i will never take a
00:10:38year for granted again that that whole theme of like it could be worse is woven throughout the book it seems like you take pains to say like look this is a tragic thing for me but i'm aware that other people suffer even greater tragedies and you continue to
00:10:52point that out to sort of contextualized your own experience and sort of the the grand you know fabric of trauma did part of you feel like i need to do this so that people understand that i'm putting this into perspective that people sort of don't have a reaction
00:11:05of like oh well easy toe for her to say or people are suffering all over the place nothing saved my kids and i from this death is the great equalizer we all face it Katie couric interviewed us last night at the ninety second street y and she said
00:11:20i like to say we're all terminal just a question of when but in the face even of trauma resource is matter and i know that i have resource is that few people have i've thought so much about so many families going through situations like mine and worrying about
00:11:35paying health care bill how many women woke up this morning in our country and had to face the unfathomable choice between taking care of a sick kid and losing a job that's keeping a roof over their heads that's unacceptable we need we need to do better there's so
00:11:51much adversity out there and it is not evenly distributed one of the things i liked about the stories that you share in the book is that not everyone is sort of like a you know a paradigm of virtue and perfection there's a lot of failure in their personal
00:12:05failure as well as sort of things that happen that you can't control and i'd like to bring up one of the names and have you tell her story which was catherine hook i met canada conference last year and was just i don't even know the word i was
00:12:21like flabbergasted when she started speaking here was a woman who was described as an angel because in her twenties she quit her venture capital job she's very lucrative and started a nonprofit to help prisoners figure out how they could re enter the workforce that even start their own
00:12:37businesses she noticed that a lot of a lot of prisoners had some of the same qualities that she had always admired in successful entrepreneurs grit and ingenuity and then she ended up getting divorced her husband left her suddenly she had a really hard time with that and she
00:12:52turned to the people that she had been the closest to which were the graduates of her program former inmates and she ended up having inappropriate relationships with multiple of these graduates it wasn't illegal because they were no longer in prison but she was basically told her program would
00:13:07be bad from prisons unless she stepped out so she resides short a public letter to the seven thousand supporters of our program and she went through therapy she really spent a year rebuilding her life and then she said i have spent my whole life trying to give people
00:13:21second chances and now i'm going to get my second chance at giving other people second chances so she started a new program called defy ventures where she's now gotten about fifteen hundred people in two starting businesses and to reemployment and it's incredibly moving program a lot of what
00:13:40inspired her to move forward was feedback from other people who said like actually you were incredibly helpful and who were very compassionate for her situation and it stuck me in reading this book that it's not just about recovering from tragedy yourself a lot of this is actually about
00:13:55helping people deal with people who are recovering from tragedy and i'm curious did you know from the beginning that you wanted to help other people sort of know what to say when someone dies and what not to say and what to avoid We did our our goal in
00:14:07writing the book is not just to speak to people facing adversity but really to speak to the people around them because i realized i didn't get most of this right before you know i used to think if someone was going through something hard cancer job loss a death
00:14:24the first time i saw them i would say i was sorry but then i wouldn't bring it up again because it was up to them to bring it up and if i brought it up i would be reminding them so was that's a busy airspace You can't remind
00:14:35me dave died i know dave died i know dave died every day all the time so when people didn't say anything it felt like they weren't acknowledging the pain helping other people acknowledge the pain the power of the word we i used to say to people you're going
00:14:50to get through this well if you have cancer diagnosis the voice in their head is then saying you don't know that right What is so much better is i don't know if you're going to get through this but you're not going to go through it alone because i
00:15:02will go through it with you we will get through this together or we will try to get through this together the power of doing something specific i used to say to people is there anything i can do and i meant it i was coming from a good place
00:15:16but it kind of shifts the burden to the person to answer the questions very hard question to answer when i was on the other side of this i would think to myself well you could make fathers they go away so i never have to live through it again
00:15:28my dear friends dan and esther levy beautiful couple they lost a child tragically and they were in the hospital for many months and a friend of his texted and said what do you not want on a burger and then showed up with the burger rather than offer to
00:15:42do anything do something in the book cheryl you are incredibly personal it's really brave book you write about crying in meetings about being distracted about going to work foggy you know brained and and and also that very intimate moments about the moment when you told your children what
00:16:00happened and their reactions did you have trepidation around opening up about these things yes um but i know why i wrote this book with adam and why we started option b dot org's thie community where we're trying to help bring people together for resilience there's my favorite story
00:16:21in the book is a story of a man named joe casper and he lost a son he's a doctor so he dealt with other people's life and death but then he lost his own son so he went back to get a degree in psychology where he was adam
00:16:34student and met adam and he talks about his concept of co destiny that when he helps other bereaved parents which he now does on the side of his day job he's keeping his son's legacy alive my husband was amazing at the funeral will never forget this our friend
00:16:51xander said who here had their life changed by dave goldberg and a sea of hands went up their life changed and it's true because he was that generous and that giving in adam's language he was a huge giver and so if he were alive still you know and
00:17:07he should be alive still he died at forty seven he would be doing so much good and so if option b can help anyone recover from anything in his name i think it honors his legacy the other thing that struck me in reading the book is that it
00:17:23felt like and i mean this in the best way it felt like a really great facebook feed embodied in a book because it was a mixture of you know very personal sharing and then kind of collective wisdom and other people's stories and then you had like your news
00:17:38posts which i imagine adam you you know fed a lot of that in studies about you know the three p's that help you get over a tragic experience and sort of data points and i'm curious have if you see that analogy at all i had not thought of
00:17:54that but i love that mean the book really has three parts it's my story the research and other people's stories so i hadn't thought about it as a news feed but i love that too not now that's that's your new point i love that yeah i never never
00:18:05thought about it that way but way set down i mean cheryl didn't want it to be about her yeah i remember a little bit of like dragging kicking and screaming of saying like you know you really do have to share your story people interested in that and cheryl
00:18:20is so often focused on others that you know it doesn't lot the spotlight on her personally but i think you know she rise especially after seeing the reaction to the facebook post that this really meant something to people when she was able to open up and be so
00:18:33vulnerable and then we said look but we don't we don't just want to write about grief we have a lot more to say about how to build resilience in the face of all kinds of adversity and very often they're things that you can learn from you know how
00:18:44to deal with one kind of hardship that apply to another and so we said yeah you know we want to cover the best insights from psychology that are relevant here with a lot of which cheryl put into action and then you know we we want to capture what
00:18:56we've learned from so many people who have opened up on dh shared their stories this is all very recent i mean dave died two years ago and i'm curious like was this process of writing the book therapeutic for you it was cathartic because it i'm imagine it sometimes
00:19:10it it was painful the parts of the book that are the personal parts that really are the painful parts to live through the right were really written for my journal it's writing right thumb for the book so i didn't have to sit down and do that we've already
00:19:23done it i've already done it it was you know working with adam to figure out what i could share and what i would share the other parts the book which are the research and other people's stories from you were incredibly cathartic i mean when you go through loss
00:19:38it is a complete sense of loss of control and people talk about this any form of adversity cancer death losing a job you lose control and you can't perfectly control it the grief comes and goes on its own time and everyone grieves in their own way but knowing
00:19:52there are steps you can take and for me knowing that there have been research that proves that those steps help i was just like oh my god even if it only is one tiny thing it's something i can do and we hope this book gives people something they
00:20:04can do not just for themselves but to help others and the stories of others people i mean the stories in this book from katherine hoke tio show casper to kevin and marina krim to stephen thompson thes air people who have come overcome unbelievable odds and tragedy and they've
00:20:24not just overcome them but they've rebounded and they have found meaning and they have found joy and writing those stories talking to those people for me that was so inspiring and i think i think other people will be really inspired by them too let's end in a very
00:20:39positive note after lina and you created lean in circles i think you have now thirty thousand lean in circles and you are trying to do a similar thing with option b my foundation launched option b dot or ge and the idea is to help people come together in
00:20:55the face of adversity there's educational material up there how to help yourself how to help a friend and there are all these different facebook groups from los two job loss to hate to discrimination to violence my mom's friend has a friend who's sun on ly son only child
00:21:15died by suicide three years ago and a couple days ago she got on option b dot organ she connected with a man who i was thinking about committing suicide and she felt that she helped him and she told my mom's friend that it was the first moment since
00:21:30her son died she felt like there was some good that came out of it We know not every story has a happy ending and we know what tragedy is like We also know that we're too often isolated in dealing with it and so the idea behind option b
00:21:44dot or is certainly not to solve every problem but it is to bring people together so that they can support each other and we're really excited that that's already happening I have to say the book has been out for like five seconds it's already number one on amazon
00:21:58and i think that's not just about having like one mega bestseller bestselling author write a book with another mega bestselling author The book again is option b facing adversity building brazilians and finding joy by sheryl sandberg and adam grant Thank you both so much for being here thank
00:22:13you for having me Look This's de bam island crossword columnist for the new york times Solving the times crossword is like entering another world where your mind khun stretch its legs The wordplay column has your back if he needs some help and soon you'll want to solve every
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00:23:06dot com slash podcast Annie jacobsen joins us now from los angeles her new book is called phenomena the secret history of the us government's investigation into extra sensory perception and psychokinesis annie thank you for being here thank you for having me actually the subtitle of your book could
00:23:30be much longer right because it includes everything from telekinesis to telepathy to psycho energetic ce too many things that i have never heard of and so a big subject how did you decide to write a book about it Well as a national security reporter i write about war
00:23:49and weapons and national security and secrets and i was fascinated to learn that across seven decades now the intelligence community and the defense department have been actively researching what is now called anomalous mental cognition and also across these decades they have on operational with program in this bizarre
00:24:15and sometimes quasi supernatural field your third book the one that wrote immediately before this was a pulitzer prize finalist the pentagon's brain was it in researching that book that you started to become interested in this it was because the pentagon's brain address is the most advanced technological world
00:24:41that exists today and that is being led by the defense department through its agency called darpa and i wanted to look at the other end of the spectrum the so called school she science which phenomena falls into because there is such a debate between scientific skeptic and those
00:25:02who are in the work as to whether or not this kind of investigation is a waste of federal taxpayer money whether it's nonsense or whether it could lead to more advanced technology and intelligence collection that on ly the cia has act but to talk about things like spoon
00:25:26bending even the term squishy science seems kind of generous i mean how much science is there to these subjects that you and looked into that's what i looked at and i tried to address it as the neutral journalist me i didn't wantto prove or disprove either side i
00:25:44wanted to interview be dedicated scientists and psychics who believe in this work and work in this field on i also wanted to interview the scientific skeptics who find this abhorrent when you talk about spoon bending that falls under the rubric of what would be called psycho thie ability
00:26:04to move matter with the mind and the reason why the defence department wanted to look into that as a concept it was if there was any legitimacy behind it they feared that perhaps elektronik systems could be interrupted by certain individuals who had this so called power the psychokinesis
00:26:26programs i did not get advance that's a generous way of putting it but on the other side the extrasensory perception program that ability to know the unknown to divine the future did get advance even to the point where the defense intelligence agency was running a program called project
00:26:47p and the p stands for prophecy let's talk about the scope of this work how much money has the military and thie intelligence community in the united states spent on research in these areas I would say it would be very difficult to provide and convincing number because even
00:27:10the scientist working in this field will agree with the fact that things are in part buried and in part partitioned off the other programs having written a book about darpa where there was there is a three billion dollar a year annual budget and that's pretty much back to
00:27:30the origin of darpa in nineteen fifty eight adjusted for inflation if you look at three billion dollars a year and you look at the psychic programs which were probably in the millions to tens of million you're talking about a great disparity and i think in some i would
00:27:46say that it is it was not necessarily a a huge waste of money let's go back and talk about the origins of these programs as funded and run by the government how did the government get involved in research into things like espn clairvoyance You know having written four
00:28:06books now about ward weapons and national security it amazes me that the origin story so many programs leads back to the nazis The phenomena programs are no different At the end of world war two our intelligence collection agency called operation al saud grabbed a huge cash of nazi
00:28:29documents from heinrich himmler that were called dot on a narrow bay and inside of that there was a prove of information about the work that the nazis were doing in this area The soviets found the other half of the cache of documents and they began working in this
00:28:49field looking at whether or not extrasensory perception Psychokinesis were fact or were fantasy and because the soviets were doing it we needed to do it and that's really the origin story of the psychic arms race So this was another area like the race to the moon where the
00:29:10cold war was sort of a driving force behind the progress and it creates a bit of a catch twenty two and it creates lots of polemics You know one side will say a huge waste of money We're only doing this because the soviets were doing it but the
00:29:24other side will say But yes what if the soviets are onto something that we're not on too and you know the snake begins to eat its own tail Did you find any of it persuasive Whether or not extrasensory perception exists is up to science to determine and what
00:29:46i found most interesting is that whereas my original idea going into the book or my original understanding was that the remote viewing program the extrasensory perception programs that really began in earnest in the seventies and continued through the middle of ninety ended at that point on what i
00:30:08found in researching phenomena is that these programs have recently been rebooted under the rubric of advanced technology so here we are again with a whole new generation scientists trying to determine whether extrasensory perception is fact or fantasy and they have different names for it they call it anomalous
00:30:34human cognition instead of extrasensory perception the office of naval research calls it the spider sense and i think it begs the question which is again a little bit of the chicken and the egg scenario is will this mystery be solved by modern technology or is it a fool's
00:30:55errand Are these new generations of scientists pursuing the same goal the unattainable goal that the paris psychologist of the seventies so intensely are their technology companies that are looking into this is any of this happening in the private sector Absolutely and in fact one of the great surprises
00:31:17to me was that at stanford university which is where a lot of the programs with the cia were going on in the nineteen seventies specifically today at a laboratory called the nolan laboratory ah group of the former c i a scientist and physiologists have teamed up with dr
00:31:40gary nolan off that lap and are working in the field of genomics to try and determine if there is a genetic component to the so called super normal in at least one case the space race and the investigation into the paranormal kind of meat in in one character
00:32:03edgar mitchell tell us about him ed mitchell of the apollo fourteen mission experiences a conversion event on the way back from the moon that i write about in phenomenon and his whole outlook on life changes he quits nasa he divorces his wife he makes all new friends and
00:32:21colleagues and he dedicates the rest of his life to the study of extrasensory perception and psychokinesis he was ridiculed for this but i found it fascinating that a man of science had a conversion event and pursue this until his recent death and i found his story to be
00:32:41compelling and i urge people to look at it with you know from two sides of the coin so to speak what happened on that apollo flight that led to this conversion how does he describe it I saw a photograph when i was researching darpa of a man on
00:32:59the moon reading a document and i wanted to know what the astronaut was reading on the moon it was ed mitchell i went to him and i asked him what he was reading and he told me that he was reading a map and the reason that he was
00:33:13reading a map on the moon was because seek and alan shepard had gotten law and mitchell's conversion event on the way home from the moon stemmed from the fact he told me that having gotten lost on the moon i meant that they did not reach there to local
00:33:34target they were on a mission to collect some rock that may or may not have been able to allow geologist back on earth to find out the moon's origin and he was so upset on the way home is how he described it that he was looking out the
00:33:50window wondering what it meant to be lost and that is where he had his epiphany looking into the darkness he came to the conclusion he said that man was more than he thought he was capable of that we were somehow connected to a consciousness that was greater than
00:34:07ourselves And that was the origin story of his quest And i found that worthy of further exploration anne so much to discuss here i didn't even get to ask you about thie army attempts to detect espn cats but i will leave that for readers to discover thank you
00:34:27so much for being here thank you for having me annie jacobsen's new book is called phenomena the secret history of the us government's investigations into extrasensory perception and psychokinesis oh alexander altar is here now to talk about what's going on in the publishing world alexandra hi hi pamela
00:34:57what is going on So barnes and noble had some news this week they announced their new chief executive and it's their fourth since twenty thirteen so that a lot of people have been cycling through this position they promoted demos pron eros who was acting as their chief operating
00:35:12officer for the last five months and he's only been with the company for that period of time previously he was at staples in a top executive position so i think you know the publishing industry is going to be watching him very closely investors and analysts are going to
00:35:25be watching him to see what direction he takes the company and this is still the largest bookstore chain in the country but they've really been struggling in recent years just with you know sales declines revenue declines they're digital strategy has been sort of a disaster for them so
00:35:40they're still kind of digging out from that and i think the thing that's concerning most to investors and analysts is that the general market for bookstores is pretty good You know the independent market is really stabilized and groan amazon's even moving into physical bookstores and they wouldn't be
00:35:56making a bet on it if they didn't think there was a customer base there So it's sort of curious that that barnes and noble hasn't really taken advantage of those sort of trends in the marketplace are people excited about the fact that it's an insider it's sort of
00:36:08it's not like a big marquee name brought in from the outside that's true it was just announced recently so we haven't seen a lot of reactions but len regio who bought barnes and noble in nineteen seventy one and expanded it into this massive national chain he's been grooming
00:36:24him for the last few months he's been talking up his leadership qualities and calls with investors and i think they see him as a good choice because all those staples doesn't have a ton to do with book filling is a very different business it's still a large chain
00:36:38it's a specialty business it's not like getting someone from walmart or costco right he knows how to sort of handle specialty i interviewed him and he's well aware of the challenges that the company faces and he's also you know optimistic about the brands kind of power with its
00:36:54fans and its consumers i think one thing that a lot of analysts think is that barnes and noble really came into its own sort of rose up with coffee culture and mall culture in the nineties and so it had this kind of this super structured a sort of
00:37:09glum onto and that has really gone away no malls are closing e commerce has become so much more of a force in book selling and everything else so it might be the case that barnes and noble does need to shrink a bit to sort of find the right
00:37:23size how much experience does the new ceo have with the digital side with digital strategy was he involved in that he was at staples he oversaw all of their stores as well as the website so i think he's comfortable with kind of balancing that realizing that a lot
00:37:39of people are going to be buying stuff online and you have to have a presence there and it might you know come at the expense of some of your physical foot traffic but that you can find the right balance there and you know he's he's also kind of
00:37:51bullish about the company's new concepts stores they've opened three of them and these air kind of newer models of a barnes noble sometimes with a smaller footprint with outdoor space with restaurants with beer and wine so there's kind of experimenting and i think he sees there's a real
00:38:05need to experiment these stores a lot of them are older and they're sort of they kind of feel cluttered or they just don't really feel contemporary so he's looking just kind of change that model up a little bit i think a lot of people forget that back in
00:38:18barnes and noble's big expansion days that they knocked a lot of the independents out of business but the end result now is that in many areas the barnes and noble is the only bookstore they have and so if if the's barnes and noble bookstores don't succeed that leaves
00:38:34a lot of communities without a brick and mortar bookstore Exactly I think that's something that communities air worried about and the publishing industry is deeply worried about I mean they want to see a strong barnes and noble They want them to be in every state and every marketplace
00:38:49because they're a cz You say there are a lot of places where that's the only bookstore it's also sort of this network for doing author tours and getting hundreds of people And i think this week caitlin generated a signing at a manhattan barnes and noble I mean you
00:39:01still have these big events there so authors and publishers are very concerned about the company's future and want to see it succeed And i imagine readers are too thanks alexander thanks for having me Joining me now are my colleagues great coles and carl siegel and special guest star
00:39:26jenny schuessler hi guys family all right let's start with carl what are you reading this week i'm finally reading lincoln in the bardo which is the first novel by george saunders and saunders action curious about everybody but sanders is a huge blind spot for me i think i
00:39:40read like a handful of stories over the years but sort of never i'm really sort of plunged into his work on dh picked this up on a whim and i really don't have anything intelligent to say about it thus far other than like i'm just kind of undone
00:39:55by is telling you guys that i cry on the way over on the way home it's just it's moving it's strange if you're not familiar with the premise it's just kind of a bonkers idea it's it's the story of lincoln's son willie who dies is the child i
00:40:09think he's fourteen and he goes into this place that the tipton's called the bardo which is this transitional place between life and death and it's sort of you know this extended dialogue between other people he meets it's it's about the nature of grief it's it's sort of philosophical
00:40:28without being irritating and i'm also just trying to figure out where this suspense in the book is coming from because i am reading it at a sort of really brisk clip which is somewhat surprising to me i mean it is like a deeply sad book it could have
00:40:42been like a very in anybody else's and a very depressing book but it's it's i don't know it just sort of has these moments of lightness and wit even as it's describing this fourteen year old terrible untimely death you guys jenny's read it yes yeah without spoiling anything
00:40:57it's going to stay this good right i think so i'm dying to talk to you about the ending though oh my god e not that there's a dramatic event exactly but about but green's the resulting get resolved and i got that feeling right now i'm like how are
00:41:11you going to land this thing you've put in motion so no i'm i'm tremendously excited to see where this goes and how this goes i like that your question is where does the suspense in this book and i've read enough of it to venture a guess which is
00:41:26that this whole question of the afterworld the bardo as a kind of purgatory where the the spirits that you encounter in the book it's it's partly made up of kind of historical sources and letters and things like that but it's also partly this kind of chorus of ghostly
00:41:42voices who are residents of the bardo and as in purgatory the question is will they move out of the bardo and on to kind of ah better after world or you know out of this in between stage and finally be able to die in peace yeah i think
00:41:58the question is how does willy lincoln right play a role in letting them do that I guess but i'm not so interested in that even and i think my hunch is that what it is very attractive to me about this book is that so i mean as you're
00:42:11reading it's sort of the question that he's asking the question animating the book is how do we live knowing that everything we love is going to die i'm sure right and so i think what is getting to me about this book is that sure there's the state call
00:42:22this bardo this like liminal state but a book is a bardo to a book is away in a moment of stopping and saying that all of this is going to go but this is one place it's preserved and i think that's why i'm going to make myself cry
00:42:34i'm so moved by just the act of reading this book and this book is a kind of offering on about your active reading the good i know i'm ridiculous but anyway my highly like endorsing it which is nothing new but guy says good quick question what do your
00:42:47blind spots like saunders a certain kind of short story writer I really haven't read much of him i haven't read so much dennis johnson do you guys have noticeable waistline spot i feel like i'm just swimming in a big ocean of blindness and there's a few islands with
00:43:02maybe a few lights on where i have landed in the past but i just swimming around no no no no i have major blind spots george saunders is not one of them and dennis johnson is not one of them i've read a ton of contemporary fiction but i
00:43:17was not an english major and so i never had cause to go back and read the classics except as i've gone in and filled those spots and myself so henry james a big blind spot i finally went within the past year and a half or so in red
00:43:31washington square but i haven't written most of henry james i'm the opposite of you and i'm like that i didn't get an m f a thing where i haven't read is nearly as much contemporary fiction as i feel like i shit particularly in this role james joyce i
00:43:44read you know the dubliners and i think i might have read portrait of the artist as a young man but could i haven't read the major joy you specifically was let go and read that next yeah i think i maybe have red portrait of the artist as a
00:43:58young man but it is it's actually on my list to pick up you re read it if i did it was it was a long time ago So it's one of those right i want to pick it up again and and start to read it and spur my
00:44:14memory I think i read that book too young i think that is a book that you would read if you had to read it in high school which is just not the time i think oh yeah i like carl's description of books as a kind of bardo themselves
00:44:27it ties into what i'm reading right now i've been thinking a little bit about an lamotte because she is back on the nonfiction hardcover best seller list with another kind of christian celebration called hallelujah anyway and this is her stick now this is what she does in book
00:44:44after book is kind of talking about her faith and kind of proselytizing and it puts on the best seller list all the time people forget that back before she did the christian books back even before she did operating instructions and bird by bird her her writing manual she
00:45:02really started out as a literary novelists and she was celebrated for that you know she was reviewed in our pages by richard bausch and tyler blurbed her so she was she was kind of seen as a writer to watch and then she she went off on the side
00:45:17path of exploring her religious faith and has kind of solidified into that kind of a writer But i i went back and i've been reading her nineteen eighty nine novel all new people which is very much to the point of a book as kind of a frozen moment
00:45:33in time it's a coming of age novel about a young woman returning to her home in northern california in marin county and then looking back on her childhood in the sixties and it's the title all new people comes from a thing that her father would always say you
00:45:51however bad something looks now in one hundred years it's all new people so you can forget about it and it's this idea that yes everything everything that we celebrate and hold dear will be gone and it's it's crushingly sad but it's also this is her effort to capture
00:46:06all of that all right a question about categories and also about time do we think of the nineteen eighty nine novel is contemporary fiction i tio i don't think the stylistically feels so different you know like i feel like now i think maybe that were there's more of
00:46:25a sense of like looking at people like and beatty and carver and you know some of mary gaitskill zoran has a distinct tears to me distinct it's like a reflection in the late twentieth century affection i mean it's funny i was just starting college in nineteen eighty nine
00:46:46so it's contemporary fiction where i'm concerned but parle was not born thiss gets into you no questions of generations and how you define yourself aids shaming all of us jenny what are you reading I got to say i'm so relieved that parlous reading lincoln in the bardo a
00:47:09book i have read because i often when i've been a guest on this segment i felt like massively under red like oh my god i'm not reading enough in a way like existed with the best person i know well i'm going to do it i have a little
00:47:22i've been i have i'm embarrassed to report that i am not reading anything because i and for the past week roughly in addition to attempting to do my job i have been undertaking a great task of relocating my i'm moving out of my cubicle to a temporary space
00:47:39in preparation to move to a smaller desk so i have had to clean out my vast accumulations of stuff from twelve years at the new york times and it made me think about walter benjamin wrote this famous essay called unpacking my library and i've been going around joking
00:47:54like i want to write an essay called d accommodating my library because my library my books are like passengers being dragged kicking and screaming off of the united flight and thrown into some uncertain bloody and battered fate and if they had legal standing i'm sure they would sue
00:48:10me so i have been like under my desk itjust amidst the dust pulling out about all of this stuff and it's been really hard i want to read a brief passage from the walter ben you meet and then this is his his sort of you know very genteel
00:48:24you know german intellectual early twentieth century version of this and then i'm going to give you like the twenty first century like is there his essay begins i'm unpacking my library yes i am the books are not yet on the shelves not yet touched by the mild boredom
00:48:39of order ah cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friend the audience you need not fear any of that instead i must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open the air saturated with the
00:48:51dust of wood the floor covered with torren paper to join me among piles of volumes that air seeing daylight again after two years of darkness et cetera and then he goes on to talk about kind of the passions of the collectors and i would say i would call
00:49:04myself more of a hoarder and i'm sure all the way we've all been in this business for many years except for parlor who's a baby and we're you know we're bombarded with stuff and it's you want to read them you want to keep them and so i sort
00:49:17of found out some interesting stuff like on the one hand i saw shelves of under my desk is long shelves of really great substantial scholarly books about you know american history was like wow i actually read all those books and you know thought about them and even read
00:49:30a lot of the footnotes and then there were just you know lots of books i just sort of grab because i aspire to read them a lot of formerly contemporary fiction which may be no one like every and then i had kind of all these like little micro
00:49:41collections that i was really proud of like i had a whole shelf of books about books sort of books about book history about libraries about we're all suckers favorite s oh yeah i've been tweeting out all these photos i found weird things like this book called the human
00:49:54newer handbook which was this kind of hippie how to book about composting human waste and i had bought this in a used bookstore in san francisco like ages ago and i've become aware of this book because a million years ago when i worked at the new york review
00:50:06of books there was this independent press listing in the back so it's just you know small publishers self publisher's advertising their books and there's always this big ad for the human who were handbook and one actually side in the wild i was like oh my god and i've
00:50:18i put it on our book compost pile not sure if it's speeding things up but i just kind of want to read a couple of titles because i just i love these things and i kept some of them i threw some of them away there was a book
00:50:28called cruising the library perversities in the organization of knowledge bring me that one immediately a great book by the harvard historian and blair called too much to know managing scholarly information before the modern age and that sounds like a very dry subtitle but it's basically about information overload
00:50:44among early modern unwto intellectuals how did they deal with what seemed to them like this impossible profusion of another book what they know leah price another on scholar harvard with this great book called how to do things with victorian books was just all about the great book the
00:51:00book as an object and a kind of thing in the victorian world and then there's this book which i was a gonna toss and then i'm like no i have to keep this called the accidental diarist history of the daily planner in america and i think pamela as
00:51:14a last time i checked in with you as a diehard hold out for the print former lever planner yeah i have kind of gone to the dark side but i was like there everything has a history including the daily planner there was also this great book i haven't
00:51:28read it so i can't say it's a great book great looking book by anthony graft in the renaissance Our early modern historian at princeton called the culture of correction and renaissance europe it was all about how writers dealt with correct ear's in print shops and as a reporter
00:51:44where when you gonna have to take a correction it's like this terrible thing i sort of wanted that of a prophylaxis anyway this omelet humiliation yeah direction so the sum total of all of my ramblings here is i probably took i would guess maybe two hundred books home
00:51:58gradually day by day carrying them on a couple of occasions i took taxis and big bags ah lot of them went on the toss pile i tried to send a lot of them to what i've been calling no kill shelters like e had these great bilingual editions from
00:52:12this harvard university press project called the murti library so is all this literature from the subcontinental i'm not you know from but in many language not just sounds great beautifully produced and i'm not going to read these books but i wrote about them and so i gave them
00:52:24to a friend of mine who's a scholar of tibet actually and but anyway i wanted to be close with one quote a book i really love a little book and that was published i think in the early two thousand's by in translation it's by this mexican literary critic
00:52:38named gabriel's i eat it was called so many books and it was a lament about the profusion of books that this sort of moment of digital transition but he has this great quote which i sort of think of as my credo and i'm gonna change the pronouns here
00:52:50he said it is the mark of a truly civilized person to own thousands of un read books without losing her composure or her desire for more so i've lost my composure but not my dessert pamela what are you reading Well before i go into that i want to
00:53:05say that there are lots of cast offs around the office as many people on our floor moving around and consolidating or getting rid of things and my favorite cast off that i've seen so far it was a book called the useful book and it was not a book
00:53:19finished book but it was like a twenty fifteen galley and i loved the idea of sort of trying to come up with a backstory that like someone was like this is what i need yeah i have to have this i'm not even going to wait for the finished
00:53:30book and then like two years later they're like either i don't know do they no longer need it did they not useful did they did they acquire everything that they needed from this book of a sort of one of these compendiums of how to do things that none
00:53:42of us know how to do anymore but what i'm reading is still the ben bradlee memoir a good life which is really enjoyable it's it's actually quite the page turner and i'm sure i'll be done with it by next week but i was interrupted by sheryl sandberg and
00:53:57i'm at a point right now about midway through the book where there are so many areas that he covers that are still still sort of resident what i was reading last night was he was talking about the period where newsweek was being sold to the washington post and
00:54:13how he personally negotiated part of this start early sail with phil gramm and we know now from reading katharine graham's personal history about phil gramm's bipolar disorder so in retrospect bradley knows that he got phil gramm sort of in a manic a period when he was like sure
00:54:33i'll buy newsweek and then sort of a little bit later into the into the process graham must have got depressed and it's just interesting to to read that in the context of having read katherine graham's memoire and he also writes you know jfk was his neighbor in georgetown
00:54:51and this interesting relationship he had as a journalist who was a personal friend of the president whom he was reporting on and it's a kind of relationship that i think it just wouldn't stand today in terms of our journalistic standards with conflict of interest and even at the
00:55:08time was kind of awkward because he would go over on a sort of social visit with jackie and jfk to their house but bring a notebook and write things down and apparently jackie who was really distrustful of the press you know did not like this so sometimes they
00:55:23would sort of specify this is off the record don't write this part down but other times kennedy would say you know make sure you get this part or like to do add in that it's easy to forget so young jackie was she was thirty one when they entered
00:55:38the white house which is just shocking especially someone who's very far from being thirty one to imagine what that must have been like to experience all of that at that age and then the final thing that struck me is when kennedy took office you know he was sort
00:55:53of immediately confronted with a situation in laos and with the cuban crisis and it was so far outside of what he had campaigned on and it's just this recurring theme in american electoral politics where people run for the presidency having all of these domestic ambitions and then they
00:56:10get into office and they're completely distracted by foreign policy and we've seen that to a certain extent with the current administration but kennedy had said it's going to be a little passage from the book a few months into his presidency kennedy talked to me about how foreign affairs
00:56:25were dominating his life during the campaign he had not dwelled on foreign affairs except for using the so called missile gap because that was not his field of expertise and nixon was claiming it as hiss And because there just weren't that many foreign affair issues kicking around chemo
00:56:41and matsu too small for mohsen islands of new strategic value but coveted by red china or perhaps the major foreign hot spots just kind of remarkable to think of like one of the rare moments in time where foreign affairs weren't dominating the news cycle Of course it quickly
00:56:58changed but i did think it was interesting sort of How far outside kennedy's area of interest and expertise foreign affairs were considering that this was sort of the era where we became so embroiled in vietnam Fascinating Your nonfiction moment this week i remember reading All right jenny greg
00:57:15carl thanks for being here Thank you Remember there's more at nytimes dot com slash books and you can always write to us at books at nytimes Dot com inside The new york times book review is produced by pedro asado Thanks for listening for the new york times i'm
00:57:36pamela paul

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