It’s commonly believed in the writing world that, to become a better writer, you need to become a better reader. The co-host and co-founder of the Your Inner Shelf podcast, Sarah Woodward, embodies just that. Sarah is a senior at George Mason in the creative writing program with a questionable amount of packed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (which is something I can only dream of, to be entirely honest).
Sarah and her best friend Shannon Baker started Your Inner Shelf at the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester to bring their book reviews outside of just text messages and phone calls. The podcast follows Sarah and Shannon’s bookshelves as they review (and sometimes roast) books recommended to them by listeners or the books they love!
Jane Grosskopf (JG): What inspired you to create Your Inner Shelf?
Sarah Woodward (SW): Honestly, Shannon and I have always really loved reading, and we always would talk to each other and rant about books that we really, really like. So we were like, why don’t we do it and let other people listen to it? It’s purely for fun. When we started out, we both agreed, “Oh, we don’t care if it goes nowhere. We don’t care about monetization or anything.” We just really like talking about it, and it’s pretty fun having people recommend books that we basically get to destroy them in our reviews.
Our most recent episode that we did yesterday on “Artemis”; a girl that we know recommended it and both of us read the book and were like, “This is the worst book we’ve ever read.” It was so much fun to just trash the book.
JG: What kind of books are you looking for when you decide what you want to review? Do you stick to a certain theme or style, or is it mostly just getting viewer recommendations?
SW: So the first few books that we did were books that either Shannon or I had come across already, and we were like, “Oh, I like this we should cover it.” We do have a couple on our list that viewers recommended, but we usually try to stick to a genre that we care about. We’re not gonna go out of the way and read historical fiction if we don’t like historical fiction. If we do that, we’re obviously not going to like the book and we feel like that’s painful for everyone.
JG: Did you have any major influences while structuring the podcast and its content? Did you draw from other podcasts or read specific authors that made you want to start it?
SW: Not really. We just kind of looked at what we wanted to do. So, for example, our first episode was on “Twilight,” which is one of our favorite books (ironically and un-ironically), and we kind of based everything off the first one that we did. So we talked about things we liked, things we didn’t like. We did a favorite quote. If the book has a movie, we’ll compare it to the movie version, and then we’ll do a reading. It’s pretty much the same structure every single time.
We didn’t really want to listen to other book podcasts, because we didn’t want to be influenced too much if that makes sense?
JG: What have been some of the challenges of starting the podcast versus some of the high points so far?
SW: I think the challenges are just technical issues. One of our episodes that we did, we sat down and we recorded it. It was like an hour long, and then I went to edit it because I usually do the editing. I sat down to do it and I was like, “Why does my voice sound so distorted. What the heck?” and then I looked and saw the audio had been connected to my default microphone and not my podcast microphone. The quality was completely off and I had to re-record it, and so editing and re-recording in total took three and a half hours.
Little technically stuff like that is the most difficult, but overall it’s been really fun.
I don’t know if these are high points, but definitely, one of the best parts of my day are when people DM us, because we do have an Instagram, and they’ll DM us and be like, “Oh wow! I really like this episode! You guys are so funny.” Shannon has a lot of friends who listen and they’ll text her and give her play-by-plays of them listening to it. A lot of them comment, “Sarah’s laugh is so cute!” It does make my day.
JG: As a writer yourself, has starting the podcast influenced your own writing at all?
SG: I’ve always been a reader, but I think that now reading and trying to look at things analytically rather than just ‘I like this, I didn’t like this,’ actually has. Maybe it didn’t directly influence my writing, but I definitely do think more about things before I do them. Especially if I read a book I didn’t like and catch myself doing that.
JG: Have you had a favorite book that you’ve reviewed on the podcast?
SW: Actually yes! My favorite so far that we’ve read was “Red, White, and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston. It was so cute! It’s a gay love story between the prince of England and the president of the United States’s son. It was so cute, I loved it. I’ve read it like three or four times now, to be honest. Definitely one of my favorites!
JG: Do you have a book coming up that you’re looking most forward to reviewing?
SW: Yes, the book that we’re doing in a couple weeks is called “The Lovely War” by Julie Barry. I haven’t read it yet, but it was recommended to us by one of our dear listeners. It’s supposed to be really good, and it’s a really thick book so I’m excited about that. I love a good long read, so I’m excited. I think mythology is involved in it somehow?
JG: Do you have anything special coming up for Your Inner Shelf? I know a few weeks ago you did the Halloween Spooktacular!
SW: We’re probably going to do something like that for Christmas. We both absolutely adore Christmas movies and books. Shannon is the best with Christmas. I’m more in the camp of it still being fall, so I haven’t necessarily started my Christmas media devouring. We do plan to do something for Christmas, I’d say something for Thanksgiving but there’s nothing for Thanksgiving. I’ve never read a book centered around Thanksgiving, so we’ll hit Christmas
JG: What are your major hopes for Your Inner Shelf? Are you hoping to get any guest authors or doing anything special?
SW: Yeah! It’s one of my hopes that we can get more guests to come on, because Shannon and I do enjoy talking to each other, but I think it’d be really fun to include a third person’s point of view. It’d be really cool if we guest authors. It’s not important that we get monetized, but it’d be cool to maybe make some money off some sponsorships, get some free books, who knows? I’m always in the mood for a free book though, so I wouldn’t say no!
JG: Do you have any sneak peeks for what’s coming out on Your Inner Shelf?
SW: We’re slowly making our way through the Twilight saga, because as you do when it’s one of your favorite series. We are going to have a guest come up when we get to our “Midnight Sun” episode, so that would be probably two and a half months. We do about two episodes a month, so it’s not super immediate. We are going to do “Court of Thorns and Roses” coming up in a few weeks which is exciting because it’s one of my favorite books and I got Shannon to read it!
You can listen to Your Inner Shelf on Spotify, Anchor, Google Podcasts, and Radio Public.