Strong Sense of Place

By Strong Sense of Place

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One lifetime is too short to visit everywhere and meet everyone. That's why we love books with a strong sense of place — they let us travel the world in our imagination. In each episode of our podcast, we explore one destination and talk about what makes that place different from everywhere else on earth. Then we recommend five books that took us to that place on the page. We're on a trip around the globe, one great read at a time. Please join us!

Episode Date
Ep 19 — Nigeria: Jollof Rice, Nigerian Pidgin, and So Much Hustle

Located on the west coast of Africa, Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world — and one in six Africans is Nigerian. Its megacity Lagos is the hub of commerce for the country, and it's also known for its epic nightlife, bustling street markets, influential music scene, and Nollywood, the second-largest film industry in the world (to the tune of 1500 movies per year).

Most countries embody contradictions, but Nigeria takes it to extremes. There's vast wealth (thanks to its oil reserves) right next door to poverty; one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Devout religious beliefs rub elbows with government corruption.

Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, Nigerian culture is boisterous, colorful, and exuberant, shaped by both religions and tribal tradition. English is the official language, and most Nigerians also speak Nigerian Pidgin, a creole language that combines local dialects, slang, and English words.

In this episode, we explore Nigeria's past and present, including the deliciously carb-centric and spicy food. Then we discuss five books that took us there on the page, including a sci-fi-noir novel, an evocative travelogue, a darkly comic story of sisterly love, a multi-generational family saga featuring Nigerian cuisine, and the tale of a village girl on a quest for an education.

The books we cover include:

  • My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa
  • Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
  • Rosewater: Book 1 of the Wormwood Trilogy by Tade Thompson
  • The Girl with the Louding Voice: A Novel by Abi Daré

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

As always, you can follow us at:


Nov 16, 2020
Ep 18 — Iran: Revolution, Poetry, Storytelling, and Spices

Iran (formerly known as Persia) is the second-largest country in the Middle East, and its culture reaches back through the millennia. About 2500 years ago, the Persian Empire stretched from Greece to India, and its impact is still felt in the world today.

Persia was the world's first superpower. Its leader Cyrus the Great allowed kings to continue to rule the areas he conquered, earning him the moniker 'King of Kings' and laying the foundation for our next remarkable fact: Persia was the first multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual empire. Persian leaders envisioned a world in which religion was not the basis for strife and division. 

So how did this society based on equality — and wildly passionate about civic improvements, art, philosophy, food, and poetry — become the theocracy we know today?

That's a long and interesting story that we explore in our podcast and through the pages of five books we love that transported us to Iran on the page.

Books we discuss include:

  • Everything Sad Is Untrue: (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri
  • Searching for Hassan: A Journey to the Heart of Iran by Terence Ward
  • Disoriental by Négar Djavadi
  • The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

As always, you can follow us at:

Nov 02, 2020
Ep 17 — Halloween: Costumed Revelry, Voices From Beyond, and YAY, Candy!

It's no surprise that most Halloween stories delve into the dark corners and shadows of life. That premise is in the very name of the holiday. Originally known as All Hallows' Eve, it's celebrated just before All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day — two holidays meant to honor the dead. For thousands of years, people all over the world have remembered the lost with candles, rituals, costumes, and revelry.

The best Halloween stories produce tingles up the back of the neck, while also, maybe, breaking one's heart just a little bit. After all, good scares and sorrow often go hand-in-ghostly-hand.

In this episode, we get curious about Halloween traditions and explore the lore around classic creepy creatures., Then we recommend books that celebrate the spirit (and spirits) of Halloween, including stories for self-proclaimed scaredy-cats, titles that should come with a 'don't read this at night' warning label,' and a few in-between. Trick or treat!

We also talk to horror legend Steve Bissette, illustrator of 'The Swamp Thing' and writer of both fiction and non-fiction works that'll scare the pants off you.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

Books we talked about include:

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  • Pine by Francine Toon
  • Basic Witch: Witches of Salem by Harmony Hart
  • Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery by Deborah Howe, James Howe
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes: A Novel by Ray Bradbury
  • Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

As always, you can follow us at:



Oct 19, 2020
Ep 16 — New Zealand: Kiwis, Majestic Scenery, and Māori Mythology

Head south to Australia and take a sharp turn east to arrive in New Zealand. It's a landscape both magical and majestic, surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Tasman Sea and southwestern Pacific.

New Zealand is a fairly new country: the first people to arrive were ancestors of the Māori, between 1200 and 1300. It took another 300 years for European explorers to show up. Modern NZ balances its colonial and Māori history with three official languages (English, Māori, and NZ sign language), and a national anthem that's sung in both Māori and English. 

In this episode, we get curious about life in New Zealand, then recommend books that transported us there, including an essay collection, a memoir from an American woman who married a Māori, a novel about the 1860 gold rush, a tale of Māori mythology, and a fantasy novel set in Wellington.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

Books we cover include:

  • The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
  • Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All by Christina Thompson
  • The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
  • The Colour by Rose Tremain
  • Can You Tolerate This?: Essays by Ashleigh Young

As always, you can follow us at:


Oct 05, 2020
Ep 15 — The Library: Endless Books, Reading Nooks, and Lots of Possibility

The library is a sacred and celebratory place, filled with objects, yes — but inside those objects are imagination and possibility, heartbreak and triumph, silliness and seriousness and the whole range of human emotion and the entire history of science and art and philosophy... so far.

In this episode, we discuss some of the highlights and larger-than-life personalities of library history, then recommend books we love that put the library front and center. We've got two wonderfully nerdy nonfiction books that explore bookshelves and archives, a sweeping literary cycle centered around a magical library, a historical novel with dueling timelines, and an exuberant story about a secret library.

Books we cover include:

  • The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
  • The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski
  • Mr. Penumbrass 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles
  • The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

As always, you can follow us at:

Sep 21, 2020
Ep 14 — Alaska: Fresh-Caught Salmon, Cake Mix, and So Many Bears

Alaska is the 49th and largest state in the union. It was derided as Seward's Folly when the US Secretary of State bought the territory from Russia in 1867. But the joke was on critics: Decades later, both gold and oil were discovered in Alaska's pristine wilderness. The call of adventure was too much for pioneering Americans to resist.

When they arrived, they met the original hardy inhabitants: native peoples who'd been hunting, fishing, and gathering there since 10,000 BCE. Native tribes had followed migrating animal herds across the land bridge that once connected Russia to Alaska.

But the most noteworthy residents might be the bears, wolves, moose, eagles, whales, otters, sea lions, puffins, seals, and more that populate the state parks and — in some cases — roam city streets, reminding everyone that Alaska is equal parts danger and beauty.

In this episode, we discuss the surprises of life in Alaska, then recommend books that transported us there, including a vivid memoir, two novels in which snow plays a starring role, a coming-of-age story set in the world of commercial fishing, and two books that showcase Alaskan cuisine.

Books we talk about include:

  • The Raven's Gift by Don Rearden
  • If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska by Heather Lende
  • The Whale and the Cupcake: Stories of Subsistence, Longing, and Community in Alaska by Julia O'Malley
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  • The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

As always, you can follow us at:



Sep 07, 2020
Ep 13 — Paris: It's Always a Good Idea

When you daydream about Paris, whatever sparkling, romantic images you conjure are probably not too far off the mark. It is, after all, know as the City of Lights and the City of Love.

The Eiffel Tower can be seen from almost everywhere and is a constant reminder that you are in Paris). The streets are lined with cafés, the tables and chairs arranged so you can sit next to your companions and look out on the people passing by. The smell of baguettes wafts in the streets in the early morning. And when the sun gets lower in the sky, burnishing the buildings with its glow, people fill the cafés, drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, and talking, while their hands gesture in the air to make a point. It is, in many ways, _just_ like the movies.

In this episode, we talk about some of our favorite experiences visiting Paris and how it really does live up to its dreamy reputation. Then we discuss the books that transported us there: an insightful memoir about one lively (and typically Parisian) street, an illustrated novel about the magic of everyday life, a fictional biography of Madame Tussaud, a modern crime novel with a snappy heroine, and a confection of a story that centers around an exceptional bottle of wine.

Books we talk about include:

  • Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  • The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre
  • The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino
  • Little by Edward Carey

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

As always, you can follow us at:


Aug 24, 2020
A Special Mini-Episode: Questions from Our Audience

In this mini-episode, we answer a variety of questions, including how we choose the books for our show, whether or not we really love everything we recommend, how we met, previous jobs, and other behind-the-scenes info.

As always, you can follow us at:


Jul 20, 2020
A Special Mini-Episode: Survey Results and What We’re Reading Right Now

In this mini-episode, we share some of the results from our end-of-Season-1 audience survey, preview some of the changes we're making to the show, and announce the first four destinations for Season 2. We also discuss a few of the books we've read lately. 

Books mentioned in this episode:

As always, you can follow us at:


Jul 06, 2020
A Special Mini-Episode About Our Audience Survey

There is no Strong Sense of Place without you, and now we're curious about what's on your mind. Where shall we go next? What can we do better? We've put together a short survey so you can tell us just what you think.

Bonus! If you provide your email address at the end of the survey, you'll be entered in a drawing for a $50 gift card to the independent bookstore of your choice. Express yourself _and_ maybe win some free books!

Click here to take the survey!

Thank you so much!

As always, you can follow us at:


May 22, 2020
Ep 12 — The Circus: Found Family and Daring Feats

Feats of derring-do! Amazing acrobats! Clowns both ridiculous and poignant! Majestic animals from around the world!

For centuries, the circus has transported audiences to an enthralling in-between place: a version of our world where gravity seems to disappear and everything sparkles with glitter.

In this episode, we go behind the greasepaint and red velvet curtains to get curious about the circus. We discuss larger-than-life characters who created the modern circus and discuss what's happening in the world of new circus. Then we share the many books that confirmed our desire to run away with the circus.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

You can follow us at:


May 11, 2020
Ep 11 — Cuba: Castro, Conga, Cars, and Cigars

Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, with sparkling beaches, lush jungles, and mountainous forests populated by animals found nowhere else on earth. It's a beautiful place with a tough history: colonization, liberation, independence, revolution, and finally, communism.

But the island itself is colorful and welcoming. The capital city of Havana is a candy-colored dreamscape of pastel buildings, curvy American cars from the 1940s and '50s, and everywhere: smiling, friendly people. The weather is hot and humid, so the rum cocktails are cold and sweet. Cigar smoke drifts out of doorways and through balcony windows.

And then there's the music. Salsa and rumba and cha cha cha. Afro-Cuban jazz and mambo and timba. Guitars and maracas and bongos and cowbell. And literal dancing in the streets.

In this episode, we discuss books that transported us this island nation: a suspenseful police procedural, a thrilling hour-by-hour recount of the Cuba missile crisis, a sweeping family saga and ode to storytelling, a journalistic memoir of life in modern Cuba, and a boozy murder mystery that travels back to the glamorous (and dangerous) nightclubs of the 1950s.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

You can follow us at:


Apr 27, 2020
A Message from Self-Isolation in Prague

We're usually all about curiosity and fun facts and armchair travel and great books on our podcast. But in this mini-episode, we take a few minutes to talk about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and give you a brief update on how things are in our home.

We're both healthy, although a bit sadder than usual. We're extending all our empathy to you and yours — and hoping with our whole hearts that you're all healthy and safe.

We also want to shout out very loud thank you messages to all of the people who continue to work so that the rest of us can stay safe at home. To healthcare workers, grocery store staff, delivery people, sanitation teams, truckers, and everyone else who is making sure the services we rely on keep functioning, our deepest gratitude.

And to you, thank you for listening. We're grateful to have you with us.

You can follow us at:

Apr 20, 2020
Ep 10 — Sweden: So Happy, So Murdery

As of April 2020, Sweden is the seventh-happiest country in the world. And it's no wonder! Its residents enjoy one of the highest standards of living on the planet with low unemployment, one of the world's longest life expectancies (80.6 for men; 84.1 for women), a commitment to caring for the environment, and a strong sense of community. Ninety-one percent of Swedes agreed that they know 'someone they could rely on in a time of need.'

Plus, there's ABBA.

Which is all very sweet and life-affirming. But also raises the question: Why are Swedish novels so murdery?!


In this episode, we discuss everything that makes Sweden one of the happiest and most liberal places on Earth. Then we share the books that transported us there: a historical novel steeped in royal intrigue, a coming-of-age story rich with atmosphere (and food), and examples of excellent Scandi noir, including a classic of the genre set in Stockholm, a twisty whodunnit in an isolated village, and a missing-persons case set in the forest during Midsommar.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

You can follow us at:


Apr 13, 2020
Ep 09 — Chicago: Baseball, Hot Dogs, Industry, and Infamy

Today, we armchair travel to the Windy City for a deep-dive into what makes Chicago different from every other city in America. We break the rules a little bit and discuss six books we love that explore Chicago's culture, food, and history of rabble-rousers and heroes.

Chicago is a representation of everything that makes the United States the awesome and challenging country that it is. There's a tradition there of firsts — the skyscraper, the telegraph, the Twinkie — and a commitment to industry with railroads and shipping and meatpacking and teamsters.

There's also a sobering history of race riots and gangsters. Daring muckrakers and corrupt politicians. Life-affirming jazz and blues musicians and baseball. Hot dogs, deep-dish pizza, and Italian beef sandwiches. And a population made up of immigrants from all over Europe that have spawned high-spirited, tough-minded native Chicagoans.

We cover all of this and more in our discussion of books and life in Chicago.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about, visit show notes at

You can follow us at:

Mar 30, 2020
Ep 08 — Russia: Revolution, Hope, and Vodka

Russia is the largest country in the world. And its culture is dominated by larger-than-life historical figures, giants of literature, and sweeping landscapes. Both intentionally and inadvertently, Russia has had a massive impact on the rest of the world.

For centuries, the capital city of Moscow and former capital of St. Petersburg (a.k.a., Leningrad) have been fodder for stories of entitled tsars, idealistic revolutionaries, murderous dictators, Cold War spies, and modern political machinations.

But this Slavic nation is also known for the warmth and grit of its people, its comfort food (pickles and vodka and caviar and sausages and potatoes and borscht and buttery Chicken Kiev), and the darkly moralistic fairytales of its folklore.

In this episode, we discuss books that gave us a peek inside life in Russia: a threaded short story collection that spans history, two tales of WWII (during the Siege of Leningrad and a posh hotel in Moscow), a contemporary coming-of-age story, and a retelling of the legend of Koschei the Deathless, Russia's answer to Western fairytale villains.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about and info about our guest, visit show notes at

You can follow us at:


Mar 16, 2020
Ep 07 — Morocco: Couscous, Camels, and the Kasbah

Morocco can seem like something conjured from a dream. The twisty alleys of its old-town medinas hold secrets around every corner. Its markets are infused with the aroma of spices and the lilting melodies of musicians, with jewel-colored leather and scarves and rugs as far as the eye can see.

Morocco's history is just as colorful. Nomadic peoples like the Berbers and the Tuareg (a.k.a., the Blue People) were roaming and riding the Sahara desert for centuries. The cities — Tangier and Casablanca, Marrakech and Fez — were well-known havens in and around the World Wars for secret agents, ambitious businessmen, and glamorous movie stars.

In this episode, we discuss books that transported us to Morocco, including two very different — but equally moving — memoirs of personal adventures; a historical novel featuring two strong heroines and a mysterious amulet; a poignant look at the fading art of Moroccan storytelling; and a contemporary thriller about a traveler's worst nightmare.

We also talk Moroccan food and travel with Amanda Ponzio Mootaki, a.k.a., MarocMama, the founder of the MarocMama web site and Marrakech Food Tours.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about and info about our guest, visit show notes at

You can follow us at:


Mar 02, 2020
Ep 06 — The Sea: Tales of Poets and Pirates

The sea is a metaphor for everything that's important to us: for adventure and creativity and love. It's fascinated humans since the beginning of time, inspiring poets, historians, and novelists, as well as adventurers, conquerors, and pirates.

In this episode, we discuss essential words and phrases associated with the sea — including an introduction to the first poet (a lady poet!) — and recomend books that made us feel the ocean breeze and smell the salt in the air.

Then David chats with B.J. Porter, an American father and husband from Ohio, who sailed with his family halfway around the world in their boat the Evenstar.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about and info about our guest, visit show notes at


Feb 17, 2020
Ep 05 — Scotland: Wraiths, Rebels, and Royalty

A rebellious national spirit, a predilection for ghost stories, an affinity for smart plaids, and an appreciation of a wee dram o' whisky — Scotland is all this and so much more.

In this episode, we discuss books that swept us away to Scotland: an Edinburgh ghost story, a memoir by one of Scotland's most beloved sons, a story collection that celebrates the Scottish tradition of oral storytelling, and two books that explore the unique communities on islands in the Outer Hebrides.

We also chat with Tom Hodges, the owner of one of our all-time favorite bookshops, Typewronger Books in Edinburgh. He walks through his Bohemian days in Paris, his decision to start the bookshop, his history with typewriters, and his favorite books set in Edinburgh.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about and info about our guest Tom Hodges, visit show notes at

Feb 03, 2020
Ep 04 — Mexico: Folklore and Beachy Paradise

Mexico is an inspired background for stories that explore the joy (and challenges) of family and the magic of everyday experiences.

In this episode, we discuss two wildly different family sagas. One is set during the Mexican Revolution and infused with magical realism; the other travels back-and-forth in time from contemporary Mexico City to the 1940s and '50s. We also recommended a moving coming-of-age story set in Chicago and Mexico, a detailed history of chocolate (!), and an un-put-downable beach read.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we discuss, visit show notes at

Jan 23, 2020
Ep 03 — Japan: Family Honor and Super-Cute Stuff

Rooted in tradition and family, the culture of Japan provides rich fodder for stories that grab hold of you and won’t let go.

In this episode, we take a deep dive into WWII-era Japan with a family saga and a nonfiction manga comic — both populated by unforgettable characters, sweeping historical events, and big feelings. We’ve also got a culture guide to all things geeky, a workplace-romantic comedy about making a dictionary, and a slim novel with a mighty impact.

We also chat with award-winning graphic novelist Tillie Walden about her extended stay in Japan and manga, the Japanese comics form that made her fall in love with comics.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we discuss and more on our guest Tillie Walden, visit show notes at

Jan 22, 2020
Ep 02 — Restaurants: Hot Stoves and Steamy Relationships

In a restaurant kitchen, the chef is the ultimate authority, a figure that can inspire fear, rebelliousness, and a cult of personality. But it's not only the kitchen boss that makes restaurants a hotbed for excellent stories.

In this episode, the books we share will introduce you to relatable and loveable characters. The settings include a Chinese restaurant in Maryland, a Lebanese café in Los Angeles, the last night at a Red Lobster in Connecticut, and a fine-dining experience with an unforgettable waiter in Oslo, Norway. We also get into the nitty-gritty of restaurant life with a nonfiction book — written by an accountant (!) — that's surprisingly compelling.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we discuss, visit show notes at

Jan 21, 2020
Ep 01 — Prague: Castles and Cobblestones

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, home of the world's best beer, stunning architecture, and oh, yeah: ancient secrets.

In this episode, we've got two books that transported us directly into communist territory during the Cold War, crime stories that explore the shadowy side of Prague, a fresh look at two Czech heroes of WWII, and more — all of which hit us right in our feelings.

We also chat with travel writer Mark Baker. He's lived in Prague for more than 20 years and gives us the inside story on the city's bookshops, spies, and ghosts.

For more on the books we recommend, plus the other cool stuff we talk about and info about our guest Mark Baker, visit show notes at

Jan 20, 2020
ep 0: Introducing Strong Sense of Place!

In this mini-episode, we introduce ourselves and talk about what the phrase 'strong sense of place' means to us. We'll also discuss why we started this show, our no-spoiler guarantee, and why we think you'll like this podcast.

Starting January 20th, 2020, we're on a trip around the globe, one great book at a time — please join us!


Jan 10, 2020