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Hannah Harlow and Sam Pfeifle – siblings, avid readers, and co-owners of the Book Shop of Beverly Farms – have launched a bi-weekly podcast, Live from the Book Shop: John Updike’s Ghost, in which they talk about the books they’re loving, the ones that aren’t working for them, the many ways people engage with books, and how they recommend books for customers.

Hannah Harlow and Sam Pfeifle

“These are the kinds of conversations we have with people who come into the shop all the time,” says Pfeifle. “We figured 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 of and enthusiasm for books in a friendly, accessible, and nonjudgmental way. Too often, they say, people view reading as a chore instead of a joy. They feel like they have to choose difficult or important books, that they have to finish any book they start, or that certain genres aren’t serious enough to be worth their time. The siblings want to demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be that way.

“There are a lot of weird ideas about reading out there,” says Harlow.

“Reading is supposed to be fun and pleasurable,” Pfeifle adds.

They have completed six podcast episodes so far and intend to keep releasing new episodes biweekly. They’ve covered topics like discovering new authors well after their first flush 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 much (much) more. Lists of the books discussed in each episode are posted on the bookstore website.

The podcast is named for renowned author John Updike, who the siblings consider the store’s patron saint. Updike was a long-time resident of Beverly Farms and frequented the shop, which first 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 really seems to resonate through the shop. They’ve placed Updike’s photo and a selection of his works right next to the checkout.

Harlow and Pfeifle bought the bookstore from its previous longtime owners in January 2020. They have kept the character of the beloved shop much the same, while making a few changes. They immediately updated the old paper-based inventory process, digitizing the whole system, a choice that had an unexpected benefit: When pandemic shutdowns struck in March 2020, they were able to easily adapt to online ordering, shipping, and curbside pickups.

The pair also expanded the store’s social media presence and Pfeifle started writing a biweekly newsletter.

“We want to be wherever readers are and helping them find books they’re going to like,” he says.

The podcast is produced by veteran engineer, producer, and musician C$ Burns, who currently also produces the successful Trickle-Down Socialism podcast and produced the full four-season run of The Multiverse. Listeners can check out John Updike’s Ghost on the book shop website or download episodes on all of the major podcast distribution outlets, including Spotify, Apple, Deezer, and Audible.  

Recommended reading

Harlow and Pfeifle read dozens of books each year, often working on three or four at a time. So what are they loving lately?

Olga Dies Dreaming, by Xochitl Gonzalez: “It walks this line of light and heavy,” Harlow says. “It’s funny, it’s fast-paced, but it deals with some really interesting issues. It’s a fun, engaging read.”

Jane and the Year Without Summer, by Stephanie Barron: ” I’ve been raving about this new series of Jane Austen mysteries that I’ve discovered,” Pfeifle says. “It’s this murder mystery where Jane Austen is the first person narrator, and it’s this mix of contemporary feminism and 19th-century manners.”

These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett: “They’re essays that just make you feel good and appreciate the small things about life,” Harlow says.

Led Zeppelin: The Biography, by Bob Spitz: “It is just an incredibly well-researched, well-written history of Led Zeppelin, “Pfeifle says. “For music-heads it’s got so many cool details.”