Hannah Harlow and Sam Pfeifle — siblings, avid readers, and co-owners of the Beverly Farms bookstore — started a bi-weekly podcast, Live from the Bookstore: John Updike’s Ghost, in which they talk about which books they like, which ones don’t work for them, the many ways people interact with books, and how they recommend books to customers.
“These are the types of conversations we have with people who come into the store all the time,” says Pfeifle. “We thought why not hit the record button so people can hear how we talk about books.”
Harlow and Pfeifle hope the podcast will help them pass on some of their knowledge and enthusiasm for books in a friendly, accessible, and non-judgmental way. Too often, they say, people view reading as a chore rather than a joy. They feel like they have to choose difficult or important books, that they have to finish every book they start, or that certain genres aren’t serious enough to be worth their time. The brothers and sisters want to demonstrate that it does not have to be so.
“There are a lot of bizarre ideas about reading,” Harlow says.
“Reading is supposed to be fun and enjoyable,” adds Pfeifle.
They have completed six podcast episodes so far and intend to continue releasing new episodes every two weeks. They covered topics such as finding new authors long after their first wave of popularity, their favorite books of 2021, the wonders of local authors, the vagaries of the publishing industry, why there’s a curious lack of Thanksgiving Books, and many (many) Sequel. Lists of books covered in each episode are posted on the bookstore’s website.
The podcast is named after famed author John Updike, whom the siblings consider the store’s patron saint. Updike was a longtime resident of Beverly Farms and frequented the store, which opened in 1968. And the more Harlow and Pfeifle learn about Updike’s role in the community and his philosophy on reading and writing, the more his presence seems to really resonate. by the store. They placed Updike’s photo and a selection of his works right next to the checkout.
Harlow and Pfeifle purchased the bookstore from its former longtime owners in January 2020. They retained the character of the beloved boutique, while making a few changes. They immediately updated the old paper-based inventory process, digitizing the entire system, a choice that had an unexpected benefit: when the pandemic shutdowns hit in March 2020, they were able to easily adapt to online orders, shipping and curbside pickups.
The pair also expanded the store’s social media presence, and Pfeifle began writing a bi-weekly newsletter.
“We want to be where readers are and help them find books they’ll love,” he says.
The podcast is produced by veteran engineer, producer and musician C$ Burns, who currently also produces the hit Run-off socialism podcast and produced the complete four-season series of The multiverse. Listeners can view The ghost of John Updike on the bookstore’s website or download episodes from all major podcast distribution outlets, including Spotify, Apple, Deezer and Audible.
Harlow and Pfeifle read dozens of books each year, often working on three or four at a time. So what are they liking lately?
Olga dies dreaming, by Xochitl Gonzalez: “It follows this line of light and heavy,” says Harlow. “It’s funny, it’s fast, but it deals with really interesting subjects. It’s a fun and engaging read.
Jane and the year without a summer, by Stephanie Barron: “I was excited about this new series of Jane Austen mysteries that I discovered,” says Pfeifle. “It’s this murder mystery where Jane Austen is the first-person narrator, and it’s this blend of contemporary feminism and 19th-century mores.”
Those Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett: “These are trials that just make you feel good and appreciate the little things in life,” Harlow says.
Led Zeppelin: the biography, by Bob Spitz: “It’s just an incredibly well-researched, well-written history of Led Zeppelin,” Pfeifle says. “For musicians, there are so many cool details.”