Anne Bogel isn’t a librarian, a teacher or a book critic — and yet hundreds of thousands of people seek her advice on what to read.
In 2011, Bogel launched what’s become one of the most popular bookish blogs on the Internet, Modern Mrs. Darcy. The site, which draws more than 900,000 page views a month, features recommendations, advice and quirky lists such as “17 Books I read in 24 hours or less”; readers can sign up for classes on book journaling, join a book club and subscribe to a monthly newsletter. In 2016 Bogel started “What Should I Read Next?” a weekly podcast where guests share their favorite — and least favorite — books — and hear suggestions about, well, what to read next.
In 2015, Bogel left her part-time office job to turn her evolving reading empire — supported by advertising and sponsorships — into a full-time gig. And last month, the 40-year-old mother of four released her second book: “I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life,” a charming meditation that draws on her years studying readers’ habits. (Her first book, “Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything” came out last year.)
“My underlying goal is to help people get more out of their reading life,” Bogel said in a phone interview from her home in Louisville, Ky. “Because I really think if you’re able to get more out of your reading life, you can’t help but get more out of the rest of your life. When you talk about books with people, it’s such a shortcut to talking about what really matters — life and death and love and loss and questions of identity and decision-making.”
Bogel, who has a degree in Christian education, has found podcasting the most gratifying way to answer her followers’s most common question: Can you recommend a great book? She treats each guest’s picks thoughtfully, analyzing the subtle threads among a readers’ favorite books. “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, you like World War II historical novels, let’s pile on a bunch more of those,” she says. “I’m looking for what you may not perceive but is definitely there, and that often has to do with tone, character and theme.”
For example, one recent guest’s favorites were “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas; a Canadian mystery series; and a Gretchen Rubin happiness book. Superficially, they don’t have much in common. But Bogel discerned a tendency toward books that examined what was happening beneath the surface of the characters’ lives. Her recommendations included “Ballad of the Whiskey Robber” by Julian Rubinstein, a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction book about a Hungarian hockey goalie in the late 1990s; “The Likeness” by Tana French; and “Morningside Heights,” the debut novel by Cheryl Mendelson, best known for her writing on housekeeping.
So what books stand out to the woman who’s made a career of reading — and logs about 150 books a year? She names her favorites easily: “Crossing to Safety” by Wallace Stegner; “Hannah Coulter” and “Jayber Crow” by Wendell Berry; and “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. She hesitates to share a book that didn’t work for her but settles on Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights.” Her most recent reads include “Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver and the textbook-like “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Donald Shoup.
Bogel says she’s proud that her work has helped foster a community of readers. “Something I’ve been really pleased to hear from readers is knowing that they truly aren’t alone,,” she says. “ So many readers have told me they’ve been surprised to find that they do know people who love reading; it just wasn’t something that had ever come up because it’s something you do by yourself.”
Angela Haupt is a writer and editor based in the District.