In one of my favorite new podcasts, By the Book, real-life friends and co-hosts Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer read a self-help book and then try to live by it to the letter for two weeks. They record their struggles, victories, and unexpected reactions and then recap in a funny, smart podcast that’s as much about how two very different personalities deal with life’s inconveniences and traumas as it is about following a set of rules from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up or Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
They are unapologetically nerdy. There’s a great quote from author John Green about nerds that I love: “Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.”
One of the best parts of this show is when a book is a catalyst for Jolenta and Kristen to get really excited about something, whether it’s an encyclopedic knowledge of the Real Housewives franchise inspired by Class With the Countess: How to Live With Elegance or a deep dive into the social mores of Amish romance inspired by How To Write An Ebook in Less Than 7-14 Days That Will Make You Money Forever. They’re never too cool to get really into something, even if it’s weird or no one else is into it. And the world needs more of that.
The books can be silly, but the problems are real. Just about every episode is such a lovely mix of laugh-out-loud funny and unexpected moments of honesty and genuine self-discovery, even when they’re convinced the book is cray. In the French Women Don’t Get Fat episode, they joke about nice cheese and smoking one minute, and the next, they have a difficult, honest discussion about their own struggles with body image. They approach each book with a balance of fun and genuine open-mindedness, whether it’s being open to learning about finances from a crazy-cheap family or to learning about your soul through connecting with your past lives.
The husband scenes. Every episode includes a discussion at home about how the “by the book” two weeks are going, and Brad and Dean listen to their wives explain why they’re eating leek broth for 48 hours, throwing away their possessions, or attempting to write instant bestsellers, and they either offer their support or (tactfully and kindly) call bullshit when things get out of hand. Dean is from New Zealand, and I would like an avatar of him to suddenly show up and ask me supportive, patient questions in his New Zealand accent, like he asks Kristen, like “Honey, why are we throwing away our toaster?” or “Is it really so bad to spend money on vegetables?”
They talk honestly about mental health. Of course it would be weird if the topic of mental health didn’t come up in a podcast about self-help books, but I find the ways Jolenta and Kristen open up about their own experiences with anxiety and eating disorders to be particularly open and matter-of-fact. Turns out, mental health is a topic that spans all areas of our lives, from our financial habits to our eating habits, and Kristen and Jolenta manage to talk like grown-ups about it in a way that surely makes many listeners feel a little less lonely.
They choose books I would never, ever read. A weird Amazon e-book with a grammatically questionable title and dubious promise? A silly thing some Real Housewife had ghostwritten for her that tells you what gifts to bring to parties? An Oprah-favorite about making things happen with your mind? They are all over the place, they’re so weird, I would never read them, but listening to Kristen and Jolenta feel every human emotion before coming back around to humor and common sense is a highlight of my podcast feed.