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‘The Worst Bestsellers’ podcast doesn’t want you to feel bad for liking ‘bad’ books

They just want you to know ‘why’ the books are bad

Kait Sudol (left) and Renata Sancken, hosts of "The Worst Bestsellers" podcast, which is dedicated to the "worst" books on the bestsellers list.Sarah Bay

Renata Sancken and Kait Sudol are a true Internet success story: online pen pals turned real-life best friends turned podcasters. Since 2014, they have hosted “The Worst Bestsellers,” a podcast that dissects and discusses top-selling titles that managed their way into the zeitgeist. (Or as their podcast tagline puts it: “We read stuff so you don’t have to.”) Each episode is devoted to their readings of one piece of fiction or nonfiction, with a discussion around why, in their opinion, it’s popular yet problematic. Think: Julia Quinn’s “Bridgerton” series and Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages.”

When they step out from behind the mic, Sancken is a teen librarian in Andover and Sudol works for a managed care company in Newton. But on April 14, their IRL and podcasting worlds will collide for a live recording and virtual event with Porter Square Books. This marks the podcast’s second event with the bookstore, and will tackle the 2020 self-help title, “Get Out of Your Own Way: A Skeptic’s Guide to Growth and Fulfillment” by Dave Hollis. Virtual audiences can tune in via Crowdcast and interact with Sancken, Sudol, and their episode guest, local culture writer Margaret H. Willison. The live event is like an unfiltered version of their podcast, Sudol explained, noting it can take three to four hours to edit one regular hour-and-20-minute episode.

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Sancken and Sudol first connected as teens on an online message board dedicated to the musical “Rent.” (“A classic ‘90s origin story,” added Sancken.) While residing in Illinois and New Jersey, respectively, the pair built a long-distance friendship, eventually deciding a podcast was an effective way to keep in touch — an idea was inspired by another podcast, one by filmmaker Kevin Smith, who said a joint podcasting project was an ideal chance to set aside time to talk with your friends. Their first episode centered on “Twilight,” Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire romance series. The books were chosen after serving as Sancken’s beacon of pop culture during her time in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.

The idea to exclusively pursue “bad” books also started online: “We just happen to be in this niche of library Twitter. We had a lot of friends who were booksellers or writers or librarians, who were interested in [this] ridiculous, millennial sense of humor,” said Sudol.

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What makes a book “bad” enough to be featured? The books are largely dissected from both a narrative and a reader’s point of view, citing reasons like: poor world-building (Katharine McGee’s “American Royals”) or the movie was better (“The Kissing Booth” by Beth Reekles). Sometimes episodes feature special guests from the podcasting or literary world, sometimes they feature Sancken’s cat, Duarte. But while episodes go deep into what exactly makes a “bad” book bad, the hosts don’t want to knock people’s reading preferences. “A lot of it does come down to taste. I think the acknowledgment that you can like [something] and not be a bad person even if [that something] is a bad thing is important,” explained Sudol. She also added that she and Sancken don’t always agree about the books they enjoy.

Sancken explained it this way: “We are trying to come to these books with an open mind, and I think we are hopefully encouraging listeners to have an open mind about different genres of literature.”

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The Worst Bestsellers Podcast: Live, April 14, 8 p.m., free, virtual, portersquarebooks.com/event.

Will Percarpio is studying publishing at Emerson College.