Upcoming Shows 2024

 11-Jan : Cory Doctorow,  The Internet Con 

Remember when wasting time on Twitter and Facebook was… fun? When we thought a future of connection awaited us, with endless promise? Those hopes have not aged well, have they? Twitter, Facebook and other Big Tech platforms made things easier… and then, when we weren’t looking, those easy-buttons became bricks in a prison wall. Just try leaving, they seem to say (I have left FB and then had to come back again for work, so I know this first hand). As Cory Doctorow puts it in The Internet Con, “They hold hostage the people we love, the communities that matter to us, the audiences and customers we rely on.

The impossibility of staying connected to these people after you delete your account has nothing to do with technological limitations: it’s a business strategy in service to commodifying your personal life and relationships.” He says we need to take control of this mess. But how? The solution, it would seem, is “interoperability.” A really simple example is demanding that Apple make their power ports compatible with the ports that work on everything else. “Use any ink in your printer with any paper, use any socks with your shoes, anyone’s gasoline in your car, put any lightbulb in your light socket,” he tells us. The platform prison is built of deep separation, and it builds divisive-ness right into the design. Join us January 11th and talk live to Cory Doctorow about this award winning, eye-brow raising, con-busting book! But that’s not all!! We will also talk about his new SciFi novel about fear and hope for the future: The Lost Cause. Maybe we can start 2024 by taking the internet by storm.

25-Jan: Bethany Brookshire,   Pests

Let’s imagine you’re nestling down for a good nap. You’ve already been to the market for food stuffs, you have filled your larder, and you even managed to get some brand new bedding. It’s cold out, and you are definitely ready for a long winter’s nap—when suddenly, someone rudely breaks into your home. Screaming. And maybe standing on a chair. Even though you’re just a common house mouse, minding his own business in someone’s sock drawer. Yes, we think of mice and rates and other critter as “pests”—vermin—the bad guys. Are they, though? Bethany Brookshire tackles this question in PESTS: How humans create animal villains.

“Pests — the mice, raccoons, and seagulls of the world — are not irritating by nature,” Brookshire begins. Rather, she explains, “they are animal winners on a planet full of loss. When your habitat is full of parking lots, brick apartment buildings, and carefully tended gardens, survival isn’t about staying sweetly in the woods and meadows. Instead, evolutionary success looks a lot like raiding our trash, nesting on our buildings, and eating our gardens down to nubs.” Nature, you see, evolves WITH us. We learned a bit about this in The Natural History of the Future last year; we make these environments; we destroy natural ones. And sometimes, the animals we like (our beloved cats, for instance) are actually little destruction machines wreaking havoc on natural fauna. What we call a pest and what we call a PET comes down to how we personally interact—but there’s so much more to the story. Join us on Jan 25th for a livestream and chat with Bethany Brookshire as she breaks down the science of our imagined foes.

8-Feb: Camper English,  Doctors and Distillers 

Ever read The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart? I have. Several times, actually. Well, guess what book SHE is reading? “At last,” she writes, “a definitive guide to the medicinal origins of every bottle behind the bar! This is the cocktail book of the year, if not the decade.” What hallowed tome is she referring to? Folks, it’s a book so perfect for Peculiar Book Club that if it didn’t exist, I’d have to make it up: Doctors and Distillers by Camper English, the MEDICINAL history of beer, wine, spirits, and cocktails. BE STILL MY HEART. It’s true that, as a medical historian, I’ve always known alcohol was among our earliest medicines—and that it remains crucial to not a few today. But this story goes all the way back—to Egypt—and then a bit forward—to alchemists and monastic apothecaries. It takes a side road into germ theory, and then pops back out in forensics and the dangers of risky prohibition cocktails. What was alcohol meant to cure? Let’s see; wounds, worms, snakebite, malaria, scurvy, plague… Of course, we at the Peculiar Book Club feel it helps prepare you to read more weird books. Join us live on Feb 8, a month that could use a good cocktail, and speak live to Camper English about this book—and his most recent release, all about ice. Because really, what’s a cocktail without proper ice preparation? 7pm Eastern youtube livestream, only on PBC.

22-Feb: Paul Craddock w/Lindsey Fitzharris,  Spare Parts      

Transplant surgery; we don’t always realize what a miracle it is. Just imagine, a body cavity, awaiting an organ. Here it comes, separated form everything, gray and for all intents and purposes, “dead.” The kidney is implanted into a human body, clamps and devices removed, and (writes Paul Craddock) “in a matter of seconds the kidney turned from gray to pink, then almost red—as if life itself had cascaded from one man’s body into another’s.” It’s heady stuff, but we tend to take so much of it for granted. I know from my own research that transplants go back rather a long way… but I hadn’t realized they went all the back to PYRAMIDS. Sanskrit texts talking skin grafts, nose grafts from arm skin in the 16th century, blood transfusion in the 18th and teeth in the 19th (we really have to ask him about rooster teeth). Of course we’ll talk about Galen, and about body snatching, and about the surgeon Carrell putting new legs on old dogs (sort of). The history is sometimes gruesome and sometimes shocking and always fascinating, but so too the future just out of our grasp. Will we be 3d-printing body parts in the future? Closets of extra bits of us? You never know! On February 22nd, you can chat live with Paul Craddock—but we have a surprise! This is the first of our AUTHORS HOSTING AUTHORS series, and your host will be Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art, Facemaker, and her recent children’s book Plague Busters! It will be a night to remember—VIP show, so don’t forget to register with us on Patreon! 6pm EST.

14-Mar: Sheril Kirshenbaum,  Unscientific America     

The earth is not flat. Vaccines work and they don’t make you magnetic. Global warming is real. Covid is airborne. But you will hear a great deal to the contrary, too, from vaccine and climate deniers, flat-earthers, and plenty of conspiracy theorists willing to die on the hill of their chosen belief. Why? What happened? I thought it might be interesting to do a little time travel. What if we looked a book arguing for science and the humanities to join forces and stop science misinformation… BEFORE Covid. Heck, before Twitter was much of thing, even. Before the social media monoliths we explored in Cory Doctorow’s recent work. Let’s go all the way back to 2009—when I was still a graduate student—and revisit a collaboration between a journalist and a scientists: Unscientific America. We’ll talk live to Sheril Kirschenbaum, host of SERVING UP SCIENCE on PBS, executive director of ScienceDebate, a national nonprofit that encourages politicians to address science and innovation, and director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin. A prolific writer and scientific thinker, she brings a lot to the table when it comes to getting science on the ballot (and into the public). How has Unscientific America changed? What do we make of this new, science denying world? Bring your questions and your debate hat and let’s get political! Only on PBC.

11-Apr: Dan Levitt,  What’s Gotten Into You?          

You know those amazing science document-aries you love so much? National Geo-graphic, Discover, Science, and History Channels? Yeah, you need to thank Dan Levitt—responsible for producing such shows as Unsolved History (2002), Great Transitions: The Origin of Birds (2015) and Naked Science (2004). That one sounds right up our street. Well, now Dan has decided to give us a new kind of scientific candy crunch: WHATS GOT INTO YOU, a book about, well, YOU. A 150-pound human body contains 60 elements, including “enough carbon to make 25 pounds of charcoal, enough salt to fill a saltshaker, enough chlorine to disinfect several backyard swimming pools, and enough iron to make a three-inch nail.” On the open market, our body chemicals would bring about $2,000. And.. here’s the kicker… the stuff that makes up you and me has been evolving since the Bing Bang. You are made of actual bang dust. “Carl Sagan once famously said we are made of star stuff,” Levitt writes in his introduction. “This is the improbable story of how it happened.” It’s a journey of atoms, astronomy, physics, biology, and chemistry—and you are invited! Join us to chat live with the author on April 11, only on the Peculiar Book Club! (Of COURSE there will be cocktails).

25-Apr: Greg Melville,  Over My Dead Body 

Grave yard. Cemetery.  These are some of my favorite things! But walking through graveyards isn’t just about getting your goth on. Cemeteries tell our human history—and they tell national history, too. Take central park for instance. In 1857, it was Seneca Village, a “rare haven of Black ownership” stretching from West 82nd to 89th Streets. NY took it over, seizing it for a park. And that means part of the park is also a burial ground, and tells the story of how black people were treated even in the supposedly free north. And that’s just one little tidbit from a book that is sure to be near and dear to our Peculiar family: Over my Dead Body by Greg Melville. The chapters take us on a journey, via cemeteries, around the country, from the mass graves at Colonial Jamestown to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery, the racially segregated Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah, Ga., Hollywood Forever and even a digital graveyard, i.e., Facebook. Aptly put by the NYT, the book is a social history: “What does the act of memorializing, who is remembered and who is left out, tell us about how people lived, what they valued, and the way we live now?” Also… did I mention there are cemeteries? Join us live to chat with Greg through our YouTube livestream—I can promise you a themed cocktail! Only on the PBC.

9-May: Marc Hartzman,  We are not Alone           

Ever look up at the night sky and wonder what else is really out there? Or, like me, do you watch shows like Resident Alien with Alan Tudyk and realize you might actually be the extra-terrestrial (I mean, it would SO much sense). Seriously, though, do we just laugh off the X-files and move on? Note: we did have X-files producer Frank Spotnitz on our first season). Are UFOs hogwash? We have all been prepared to say so, at one time or another. Then, After decades of cover-ups and denials, in a June 2021 report, the US government finally admitted that UFOs are real. WHAT? Little green men? Not quite! It’s exactly what hey stand for: flying things that we cannot identify. If you hope for a way to sift through the fact and fiction of outer-space possibilities… you’re in luck. I can’t think of any higher praise that being labeled “one of America’s leading connoisseurs of the bizarre” but that’s all in a day’s work for Marc Hartzmann, who returns to MBC with his latest: WE ARE NOT ALONE. Are their alien abductions really? Is Area 51 hiding something? Life might be out there—and it probably won’t be anything like we expect. Bring your questions and join the livestream with Marc Hartzman, only on the PBC!

13-Jun: Liz Faber w/Rebecca Gibson,  The Computers Voice

“Siri, what does it mean to have gender?” We have become very used to the dis-embodied voices that surround us, from the voice answering to ‘Siri’ to the one giving us directions on our GPS apps. But have you ever stopped to wonder why some of these voices are coded “male” and others “female?” The tech isn’t gendered, but the voices are—and it’s true in fiction as well as fact. Consider “Vicki” from I, Robot, or HAL from Space Odyssey. Why does Star Trek have a female-coded central ship computer? Is it because, as Faber suggests, space is hostile and the ship womb-like and nurturing against the coldness of space? Food for thought, isn’t it? Modern science understands gender as a social construct rather than an actual difference between one sex and another (and another)—that’s why it has been so subject to change over the centuries. Consider the 18th century gent with his hair curlers and lace, tights and heels, penchant for poetry and fainting with feeling. So why bother “gender coding” our technology at all? What’s it doing for us—or against us? To find out, we’re reading THE COMPUTER’S VOICE by Liz Faber, a brilliant analytical romp through feminist psychoanalysis and trippy space operas. Join us live—and you also get to speak with our guest host Rebecca Gibson, author of THE BAD CORSET, A FEMINIST REIMAGINING (hint, the corset wasn’t as bad as you think). Join us for an AUTHORS HOSTING AUTHORS event! There will be feminist cocktails.

27-Jun: Anthony Chin-Quee, I Can’t Save You   

What happens when racism is not a bug in the system—but in fact IS the system? And how do you save others if you need, first, to save yourself? This fascinating and peculiar memoir uses a “deliberately messy assemblage of shifting narrative perspectives, poetry, anecdotes, and hallucinatory performance” to tell the story of a high-achieving person of color, courted by prestigious medical institutions, but then denied critical support once there. Fighting through burnout and the grueling pace of residency, our narrator finds himself a cog in a bureaucracy that sees patients as broken bits on an assembly line. “With ninety-ninth percentile MCAT and Step and Board scores as entrance keys to the profession,” writes author Anthony Chin-Quee, “we too often neglect to screen for traits that truly matter: the self-awareness and strength of character necessary to weather the devastating emotional trials that are sure to come; the humility and grace required to be an effective, collaborative, and avid lifelong learner.” Chin-Quee’s memoir, I CAN’T SAVE YOU, doesn’t just present the trauma of our medical education system, but the trauma of living and of caring in a narrative described by NPR as “the structural equivalent of a mixtape or shadow box where the author’s phobias, formative memories, and Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man intersect.” Guess what, y’all, it’s Medical Humanities. Yes, like that journal I happen to be the editor in chief of… and I cannot WAIT to chat live with Anthony about how we have lost—and how to regain—the human at the center of medicine. Don’t miss this livestream on Jun 27th, only on the Peculiar Book Club.

11-Jul: Zara Stone,  Killer Looks 

How much do looks really matter? In society, whether we like it or not, how we look affects how we are treated—and even what opportunities we might have in life. A one-time New York prison commissioner, Henry Solomon, once stated that “physical defects…might conduce to crime” because a man with a poor physical appearance would have an easier time stealing a dollar than getting hired to earn one. That outlook wasn’t new then, and it hasn’t really gone away. In Zara Stone’s amazing book KILLER LOOKS, she writes that “people have instinctively understood the societal benefits of conventional beauty” as a kind of social currency. It’s literally like having money in the bank. “Beauty privilege is real,” she writes, “and it’s real uncomfortable.”

By the early 1980s, cosmetic surgery was firmly established as a path to economic success. Looks were so important that a new branch of therapy was created: cosmetic behavior therapy. If that sounds strange, just wait. Imagine a program that offers cosmetic changes to inmates as a means of lowering the crime rate—that instead of teaching us to lose out biases about looks, society is pretty willing to give in to it. Do looks really affect crime rates? More likely, appearance bias instead creates a situation where a person is both less likely to have opportunities AND more likely to be accused or arrested for a crime. What does appearance bias mean for us now, or for the future? Find out on July 11th, live with Zara Stone only on the Peculiar book club!

25-Jul Daniel Kraus w/Mary Roach Whalefall   

Just imagine for a moment—you are swimming in the cold dark of the Pacific Ocean, trying to find the lost remains of your father. But you aren’t alone. There are shapes moving in the gloom, great, dark shapes. Shapes with mouths. That’s what happens to Jay Gardiner in the latest novel by award winning author (and collaborator with Guillermo del Toro) Daniel Kraus. Caught first by a giant squid, then swallowed whole by a Sperm whale, Jay has one hour to get out alive. If he can get out of his own head, first.

The thing is, If you were swallowed by a whale… it would be a VERY big GULP. And you know who can tell us about gulps, right? Mary Roach. Because on tonight’s special VIP edition of Authors Hosting Authors, Mary will talk to Daniel about the ins and outs of being, well, in—and out. Because while the story might be fiction, the trial of our protagonist is based in scientific FACT. Join us for a wild night and learn the best possible escape routes out of an 80 ft, 60 ton whale. You never know when that will come in handy! Two amazing authors in one amazing show—July 25, only on PBC.

22-Aug: Dean Jobb,  A Gentleman and a Thief

Suave and movie-star handsome, Arthur Barry charmed New York celebrities as he planned and executed some of the most brazen and lucrative heists of the 1920s. Think Cary Grant’s character was clever and slick in the Hitchcock classic To Catch a Thief ? This gentleman thief was smarter, smoother. It sounds like fiction. But it isn’t. Barry was real-life con artist who donned a tuxedo to crash the parties of the rich and famous as he planned his burglaries. Known as a “second-story man,” he could even slip in and out of bedrooms undetected as his victims slept only inches away! “I know he’s terrible, but isn’t he charming?” – wrote Robbery victim Dorothea Livermore. Barry was, shall we say, the aristocrat of crime—and a modern day Robin Hood. Well, except for the giving it to the poor part. In a span of seven years he stole diamonds, pearls and other precious gems worth almost $60 million today—in a whirlwind of roaring 20s decadence. Don your dapper attire, raise a coup cocktail glass—and join us for the latest by the brilliant Dean Jobb: A Gentleman and a Thief! Aug 22, only on PBC.

12-Sep: Amit Katwala & Patti McCracken w/Deborah Blum,     Tremors in the Blood/Angel Makers 

You asked and we delivered! Pulitzer-prize winning science journalist Deborah Blum—author of The Poisoner’s Handbook—returns to PBC! This time, she comes to us as HOST! Two additional authors will be joining us, picked by Deborah herself: Amit Katwala as author of TREMORS IN THE BLOOD and Patti McCracken for ANGEL MAKERS. Where did lie detectors come from? Are they really accurate? The history isn’t just fascinating, it’s evocative—and bears an interesting connection to artificial intelligence. Everyone wants a machine that tells the truth. But chillingly, it turns out that machines can lie, too. Our next thrilling true-crime narrative takes us to a small town in Hungary. McCracken follows a trail of white powder—the colorless, odorless, deadly poison arsenic. Distributed by a wily midwife to women who needed a ‘cure’ for abusive spouses, the little vials emptied and the grave yards started filling up. What caused a group of housewives to become a murder ring? Who were these “angel-makers” and how did their crimes (at least 160 dead) go so long undiscovered? Join us Sept 12 for a livestream you won’t forget—murder, mayhem, machines and authors hosting authors! A VIP event, only on PBC.

26-Sep: Lucy Santos,  Chain Reactions 

Tracing uranium’s past, and how it intersects with our understanding of other radioactive elements, this book aims to disentangle our attitudes and to unpick the atomic mindset. Chain Reactions looks at the fascinating, often-forgotten, stories that can be found throughout the history of the element. Ranging from glassworks to penny stocks; medicines to weapons; something to be feared to a powerful source of energy. This global history explores the scientific history of the element, but also shines a light on its cultural and social impact.

By understanding our nuclear past, we can move beyond the ideological opposition to technologies and encourage a more nuanced dialogue about whether it is feasible – and desirable – to have a genuinely nuclear-powered future.

Lucy Jane Santos’s upcoming book Chain Reactions: A Hopeful History of Uranium will no doubt be a “glowing” success! Lucy looks beyond the familiar narratives to explore an alternative history of uranium in a lively, accessible way. Her previous work includes Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium.


10-Oct: Maria Dong,  Liar, Dreamer, Thief 

Katrina Kim may be broke, the black sheep of her family, and slightly unhinged, but she isn’t a stalker. Her obsession with her co-worker, Kurt, is just one of many coping mechanisms—like her constant shape and number rituals, or the way scenes from her favorite children’s book bleed into her vision whenever she feels anxious or stressed. But when Katrina finds a cryptic message from Kurt that implies he’s aware of her surveillance, her tenuous hold on a normal life crumbles. Driven by compulsion, she enacts the most powerful ritual she has to reclaim control—a midnight visit to the Cayatoga Bridge—and arrives just in time to witness Kurt’s suicide. Before he jumps, he slams her with a devastating accusation: his death is all her fault. Horrified, Katrina combs through the clues she’s collected about Kurt over the last three years, but each revelation uncovers a menacing truth: for every moment she was watching him, he was watching her. And the past she thought she’d left behind? It’s been following her more closely than she ever could have imagined. Don’t miss this gripping thriller of a novel that explores the tenuous nature of our mental health—and might just cause us to question our own seeming realities. Live chat with author Maria Dong on Oct 10th—the perfect book for starting off the spooky season!

24-Oct: Brandy Schillace,  The Framed Women of Ardemore House  

An abandoned English manor. A peculiar missing portrait. A cozy, deviously clever muder mystery, perfect for fans of Richard Osman and Anthony Horwitz.

Jo Jones has always had a little trouble fitting in. As a neurodivergent, hyperlexic book editor and divorced New Yorker transplanted into the English countryside, Jo doesn’t know what stands out more: her Americanisms or her autism. After losing her job, her mother, and her marriage all in one year, she couldn’t be happier to take possession of a possibly haunted (and clearly unwanted) family estate in North Yorkshire. But when the body of the moody town groundskeeper turns up on her rug with three bullets in his back, Jo finds herself in potential danger—and she’s also a potential suspect. At the same time, a peculiar family portrait vanishes from a secret room in the manor, bearing a strange connection to both the dead body and Jo’s mysterious family history. With the aid of a Welsh antiques dealer, the morose local detective, and the Irish innkeeper’s wife, Jo embarks on a mission to clear herself of blame and find the missing painting, unearthing a slew of secrets about the town—and herself—along the way. And she’ll have to do it all before the killer strikes again…

14-Nov: Rachel Feltman/Leigh Cowart,  Hurts So Good  

Can pain… be pleasure? I was never one to experience a runner’s high, or to enjoy ‘feeling the burn’ after a workout. But are there ways—or times—when pain provides something extra, or even extraordinary? Leigh Cowart sets out to ask and to answer this very question. Sure, we might first think of masochism as something to do with sex—but it gets out of the bedroom plenty. Cowart talks about Black Plague flagellants, ballerinas dancing on broken bones, ice bathers, and competitive eaters choking down hot peppers while they cry. Why do people engage in masochism? What are the benefits and the costs? And what does masochism have to say about the human experience? Cowart gives us a fascinating, at times hilarious, exposition on something they (a science writer) chooses to experiment with as well. We follow Leigh on surprising journeys into the pain/pleasure matrix as they unravel how our minds and bodies find meaning and relief in pain. Call it a quirk in the programming. Call it sexy. Call it natural. Pain for pleasure certainly provides food for thought—and some awesome cocktail ideas, too, for that matter. And that’s not all! Also joining us will be alum Rachel Feltman, as part of our Author’s Hosting Authors events! You won’t want to miss these two as they talk about the intimate details of our pain/pleasure sensory system. Join us live on Nov 14th for HURTS SO GOOD.


12-Dec: Bill Schutt,  Bite: An Incisive History of Teeth, from Hagfish to Humans            

If you follow the Peculiar Book Club Facebook group, you’ll know Bill Schutt is EXACTLY our kind of weird. He’s a vertebrate zoologist and author of six nonfiction and fiction books, including Pump, Cannibalism, and Dark Banquet! Recently retired from his post as professor of biology, Bill’s now a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. He knows ever so much about bats (our favorite night wings) and in this latest book, an “incisive” history of teeth (from hagfish to humans), he delivers a mouthful. Come on, you KNOW there will be puns in a book about teeth. Did you know crocodiles regrow theirs? Sharks, too. (And we can hope he’ll throw in some facts about the Promachoteuthis Sulcus Squid, which looks like some combo of starfish and opera singer.) Join us for a fascinating lesson in denticulation! And sink your tusks into a good book.