Gays Reading

Douglas Westerbeke (A Short Walk Through a Wide World)

April 02, 2024 Brett Benner, Jason Blitman, Douglas Westerbeke Season 2 Episode 46
Douglas Westerbeke (A Short Walk Through a Wide World)
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Gays Reading
Douglas Westerbeke (A Short Walk Through a Wide World)
Apr 02, 2024 Season 2 Episode 46
Brett Benner, Jason Blitman, Douglas Westerbeke

Jason and Brett talk to Douglas Westerbeke (A Short Walk Through a Wide World) about the research that went into setting up his modern fairy tale, the impact of technology on storytelling, and the importance of staying curious.

Douglas Westerbeke is a librarian who lives in Ohio and works at one of the largest libraries in the US. He has spent the last decade on the local panel of the International Dublin Literary Award, which inspired him to write his own book.


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Show Notes Transcript

Jason and Brett talk to Douglas Westerbeke (A Short Walk Through a Wide World) about the research that went into setting up his modern fairy tale, the impact of technology on storytelling, and the importance of staying curious.

Douglas Westerbeke is a librarian who lives in Ohio and works at one of the largest libraries in the US. He has spent the last decade on the local panel of the International Dublin Literary Award, which inspired him to write his own book.


**BOOKS!**
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page:
https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading | By purchasing books through this Bookshop link, you can support both Gays Reading and an independent bookstore of your choice!

Join our Patreon for exclusive bonus content!

Purchase your Gays Reading podcast Merch!

Follow us on Instagram
@gaysreading | @bretts.book.stack | @jasonblitman

What are you reading?
Send us an email or a voice memo at gaysreading@gmail.com

Jason Blitman:

I'm in the middle of this book and I looked at the stack of books that I need to read for our interviews that are coming up this week, and I just got so overwhelmed, but I'm loving the book that I'm currently reading.

Brett Benner:

Okay, I, I actually have to tell you, I'm so glad you said that because last night I finished the book I just told you about and I really, really, really wanted to start this okay, really badly. I can't because

Jason Blitman:

We're being, we're being cryptic for our listeners because we don't want to give our

Brett Benner:

anything away. No, we don't. But I, I, I can't. I can't because I looked at the next two weeks and we have

Jason Blitman:

We have like big books that we need to read. There's like

Brett Benner:

huge books with our, with authors coming in. And so I had the same thing. So I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one. Cause I was,

Jason Blitman:

I, I do want to shout out the book that I'm in the middle of because I feel like it, it didn't really get any attention at all. And I'm in reading and I feel like I know why, but it's called True North. it's a novel by Andrew J. Graff, and the, logline is a heartfelt novel of marriage and whitewater rafting, following one couple as they navigate the changing currents of family, community, and the river itself. and it's this really lovely family story, and I gotta say, the cover does not match the vibe of the book. It like sort of does, but the cover almost looks nonfiction.

Brett Benner:

it does. I'm looking at it now.

Jason Blitman:

yeah, and it's not, it's this, it has you know, I talked about this in an, in an earlier episode about some of these family stories that I love. Most recently it was Mercury by Amy Jo Burns and Connelly's of County Down, by Tracy Lang, like those sorts of vibes. And yeah, this cover's giving memoir, and it's not that at all.

Brett Benner:

It is. It's giving memoirs. It's also giving like opening scene of the river wild with Meryl Streep.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. But fully enjoying it. True North. It came out in January. Working my way through that.

Brett Benner:

Okay. I understand.

Jason Blitman:

My dog is tangled up in my wires.

Brett Benner:

Oh,

Jason Blitman:

So many exciting books coming out today, including, today's guest, Douglas Westerbeak's A Short Walk Through a Wide World, but also, next week's guest, Holly Gramazio's The Husbands comes out today.

Brett Benner:

yep. also table for two, a more tolls new book, which interestingly, Chip and I will last night watched the premiere of, a gentleman in Moscow on Showtime, which is the adaption with Ewan McGregor, It's really good. You know, I read the book so long ago and ship kept looking at me. He's like, so what happens? And I said, this was like 15 years ago. Like I have vague moments of memory about this book, but it's a really well done but anyway, it's big week for a more, um, also. Nosy Neighbors by Freya Sampson comes out. Another book I loved, which I find it's so fascinating, non fiction book, Sociopath by Patrick Gagne. That comes out today and good golly, it's fascinating non fiction story of a woman who recognizes very early on that she's different and it turns out she's a sociopath.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, I'm so excited to read that. Another nonfiction that comes out today that I lit to the audio of that was super fun, is called The Mango Tree by Annabelle Tomatic the, the log line is it's a memoir that navigates the tangled branches of Annabelle Tomatic's life, from growing up in Florida as the child of a Filipino mother and deceased white father to her adult life as a med school reject turned food critic.

Brett Benner:

Oh, wow.

Jason Blitman:

basically the book starts out with her getting a phone call from, from the local prison and finds out that her mom is in jail for shooting at somebody who attempted to steal mangoes from their mango tree. So it just

Brett Benner:

going to, that's gonna be me.

Jason Blitman:

so that was super fun. I'm excited for nosy neighbors because it's being billed as like, If you're a fan of only murders in the building

Brett Benner:

Totally.

Jason Blitman:

and the Thursday murder club books, and I'm, I'm super into it. So I'm excited to check that out too.

Brett Benner:

I also love her name, by the way. Freya. Samson. It's a great name.

Jason Blitman:

so much shouting out about books, I forgot to do my, my weekly spiel, which is If you like what you're hearing, share us with your friends, follow us on Instagram at gaze reading, subscribe to gaze reading wherever you get your podcasts. And if you're so inclined, you can write us a review or even just click the little five stars button. That's always helpful to get more folks aware of us.

Brett Benner:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah, so a short walk through a wide world, is one of Jimmy Fallon's books. top 16 for his potential book club pick, his next Fallon book club pick. as of today, narrowed down to one of the top eight,

Brett Benner:

oh, they did? They narrowed it. Oh, I have to

Jason Blitman:

they narrowed it down. So if you wanted to vote, you can go to Fallon book club. com and vote for Douglas Westerbeaks, a short walk through a wide world for the Fallon book club. We're so excited for him.

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

So a little about Douglas, He is a librarian who lives in Ohio and works at one of the largest libraries in the U. S. He spent the last decade on the local panel of the International Dublin Literary Award, which inspired him to write his own book.

Brett Benner:

Awesome.

Jason Blitman:

that's his little bio.

Brett Benner:

That's awesome.

Jason Blitman:

was so sweet.

Brett Benner:

He was. He was great.

Jason Blitman:

and so now let's let everyone, uh, listen to him. I'm Jason

Brett Benner:

I'm Brett.

Jason Blitman:

and enjoy this episode of Gaze Reading. You know, we did

fonce. com fonce. com. au music music Music Music Music Music you

Jason Blitman:

Shall we meet Douglas?

Brett Benner:

Yes. Douglas. I hope I did that correctly. Yes. That's a cool screensaver. Looks like a flower.

Jason Blitman:

No, it looks

Douglas Westerbeke:

Oh, here I am. That was,

Brett Benner:

we were admiring your screensaver.

Douglas Westerbeke:

I heard that. It's it was actually fireworks. I shot it with this long

Brett Benner:

Oh, cool.

Douglas Westerbeke:

made these really cool shapes. So that was one of my favorite ones. That was, it was pretty cool.

Jason Blitman:

Very

Douglas Westerbeke:

are you guys?

Brett Benner:

Good. How are

Jason Blitman:

Good, how are you?

Douglas Westerbeke:

I'm good.

Jason Blitman:

First of all, congratulations. April Indie Next Pick, starred Kirkus Review, starred Publishers Weekly Review, a Barnes Noble Discover Pick for April 2024, one of the 16 contenders for the next Fallon Book Club Pick.

Douglas Westerbeke:

I don't know what I did.

Brett Benner:

You wrote a book? Sure

Jason Blitman:

interesting, because I was debating saying this'cause I don't want you to take it the wrong way, but reading the book, knowing your history, really felt like if you're ever gonna write a book, this was the book. Even if you never write another book, you, this was your heart, your soul. I was like, this is the guy who works at one of the biggest libraries in the country and like his. He's clearly loves books and loves literature and love storytelling and wanted to write a book. And this is it capital I T here it is. And it's almost like you don't ever need to write a book again. I would be happy to read another one of your books but that sort of, and there's something interesting about the concept of writing a book as though you're never going to write another book.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah. That thought had occurred to me because like I have lots of story ideas and, but that one struck me. Because I was I was in Hollywood for a while and I was a screenwriter. I've been optioned a bunch of times, but nothing ever got produced. I gave up and my mom would always tell me, you should try writing a novel. And I'm like, no, only real writers do that. So I like ruled it out. And then for the longest time, and then I started working at the Cleveland public library. And my boss in the literature department, Amy Dawson says, you know what? You should join the Dublin literary committee. Cause what they do for any, for people who don't know the Dublin literary committee is It's a book award, and how they choose it is they have libraries all around the world read a bunch of books and they have, they all vote for their own favorites, and they submit them to the headquarters in Dublin, so here in Cleveland where I was we were doing the submission, we were reading, 50 100 books a year, and We debate them all, pick which ones we like, and we'd send the top, our three favorites to Dublin and so on and so forth. But what happens, I'm reading a hundred books a year now, plus all the stuff I'm reading regularly and non fiction and classic stuff as well. And it really demystified writing for me because at first I was, a gog. I'm reading all these amazing books, but then after a while you start, you're starting to get a little more picky and you start to having standards. I'm not, that's not my thing. I don't like the way they did this. And then all of a sudden you realize, You know what? I could probably do this. Maybe it's not so bad. And then you really start working so hard at it. And I have lots of story ideas from my days in Hollywood. And I went through all my story ideas. I'm like, okay which one of these would make a great novel? And that one really jumped out at me because my worry was I wasn't gonna be able to do a novel like Like actually physically long enough that would count as a novel. I didn't really sure if I was going to be able to pull it off or not. And I knew this one this one had lots of stuff happening in it. And you could delve, there are plenty of things you could delve into on the side, just a little bit off topic. And then, get back to the story. So I have these brief asides that are through it. And I just knew there was a ton of material in there. So in a way, and I'm a little nervous because in a way you're right. I don't know how exactly. How I'm going to top that, but I'm going to work at it because I've already, I've already written a second novel. I'm working on a third. So I hope they're, I hope they have the same kind of uh,

Jason Blitman:

the implication wasn't that you shouldn't write another book, but it, the heart of it was just pulsing through the whole thing very much in a if I'm never going to write another book, I'm putting my heart and soul into this. And you really thought that for our listeners who are unfamiliar, can you, what's the elevator pitch for a short walk through a wide world?

Douglas Westerbeke:

Oh yeah, let me give you an elevator pitch. So Aubrey Torval is living in 1880s Paris. She's a little nine year old girl. She's sitting at the family dinner table when all of a sudden she gets really ill. And so her parents, they freak out. They take her to the hospital and the doctor looks at her and says I don't know what's wrong with her. She seems fine to me. So they take her back home, but she can't even step inside the house. She gets really sick. She's coughing up blood. It's pain like she's never felt before. They take her to the doctor and now she's even worse. And they're, holding her down, poking, prodding her, trying to fix her. And she just can't take it anymore. So she runs off into the streets of Paris at night and she feels better. And she realizes it's this active exploration, this going someplace she's never been before that cures her. And so she spends the rest of her life wandering around and around the world, constantly on the run from this disease, which, you know, is an epic adventure, right? and so the question is, how do you live a meaningful life when you feel like you're living a lifelong punishment? And so she's got to grapple with that on top of everything else. It's got one foot in the adventure of travel and the adventure of all this, and it's got one foot in the misery of it. And I guess that's my elevator pitch. How'd I do?

Jason Blitman:

I've heard you say the question of how do you live a meaningful life in what feels like a lifelong punishment question before and I think, this is not a spoiler, the title gives this away, but there's a quote in the book that I think really defines it, it's if you can't make your life meaningful, make it extraordinary.

Douglas Westerbeke:

That was a great quote. I'm glad that's the first time someone's read that back to me. I like that

Jason Blitman:

Well, You're welcome.

Brett Benner:

That's the tagline. That's the tagline when this is a Netflix series, and that's what they'll use over the trailer. That's the clip right there.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Oh, that's brilliant. I'm going to, I'm going to mention that

Brett Benner:

Of course that's what it was. You know what I mean? As you see her climbing this mountain. So

Jason Blitman:

right. Yeah. It's the idea of all of our lives are limited. We all know that it's part of life is death and in order to make our life meaningful it's something about, making it extraordinary. And what does that mean to you? And there are so many questions that get asked in the book. Literally, but what does home mean? And what does time mean? And what do relationships mean? Did you, do you feel like you reflected on those things differently post writing the book?

Douglas Westerbeke:

I'm loving this conversation already. So yeah.

Jason Blitman:

We don't fuck around!

Douglas Westerbeke:

So yeah, these are the, these are a lot of the things I was thinking about. You were saying what does love mean? And so I actually designed the book so that. She's in a unique situation. In any given story, you get a chance to give describe one or maybe two love stories in it or something like that, right? But here, she's going around the world. She can't hang out with anyone. And when she does, I have to design it. So it'll be like a long train ride or maybe they'll be traveling together on the road for a while or something like that. But I stick them together for a while. Cause that's the only way you're going to have a meaningful relationship. You need the time. And so she only has a handful of those throughout her life, really. And so I looked at it. as like an opportunity to like really throw in all the varieties of love that are out there. So like her first one would be very possessive love. And frankly, it a, almost a childish love in a way just occurring to me now, Uzair was a very possessive love. And then Lionel is a very romantic love. It's on a train all these love affairs on train, they're on, they're instantly romantic.

Brett Benner:

Yes.

Douglas Westerbeke:

And then you've got platonic love with the prince. You've got an unrequited love with Marta. You've got a love in old age. You've even got a love without words in it. But that's, and that's also a familial love because it's all about the family when she's in Tibet. So it was interesting to me because, you get to explore all these things. You wouldn't get to do that in another story because in any other story you get one love story and that's it. And and in a way it's also a bit of a fantasy too, because, now you've gotten the excuse, nobody's gonna hold it against her. And you can't really blame her. She's in this predicament. So it, yeah, it's like one of these chances you get to run with. And I'm a firm believer in running with something. If you've got it, milking it for all it's worth.

Jason Blitman:

But did that change the way you engage in your relationships?

Douglas Westerbeke:

No, not me. I'm already married, so I have no choice.

Jason Blitman:

I don't mean, but that's exactly my point. Did you open yourself to different kinds of love, to different kinds of relationships, see the world in a different way?

Douglas Westerbeke:

I think it was there. I think. I've had enough of my own personal experiences that I've I know about a lot of this stuff, I've got friends who have been through these kinds of relationships, I've seen it all, but for one person to one after another, to go through them all like that directly, that upfront, not hearing it like stories from their friends or something like that, but actually like living on their own is a different thing that you don't get to do very often. We all were young, we all had fun and all that sort of stuff. So we know a lot of the, a lot of this, a lot of these relationships exist. We've experienced a bit of them at a time here and there. It's enough to To write with, and then when you write it, you get to really explore it. And

Jason Blitman:

It's interesting. Brett, I don't know if you felt this way, but I feel like it almost helped me reconcile relationships that meant something to me that no longer exist. Some of my best friends in elementary school that I never saw again, never heard from again, never connected with ever again, but there was this time that meant something and shaped me,

Douglas Westerbeke:

yeah. Oh, I see what you're saying,

Jason Blitman:

Clicked into that reading the book thinking, Oh, you don't have to gather friends or loved ones or chosen family forever, right? You don't have to, you don't have to carry them along with you, but you can take with you what is intended in a time and place.

Douglas Westerbeke:

There are certain relationships that are there for you at the time when you needed them. And you look back and you think, yeah, that was just what I needed at that time. Thank you so much. That kind of, yeah.

Brett Benner:

But there's also the, but there's also,

Douglas Westerbeke:

that, yeah.

Brett Benner:

and there's also the narrowing as you get older and certainly she ages during this. of the less than, everything begins to distill down. You need less people. There are less people, and it's also that whole idea of, when we die, regardless of who's around you, you're going that journey by yourself. Do you know what I mean? So it's an interesting trajectory for her. Had you planned out when you started this, your locations, or did some of this come organically and think, Oh, this would be cool to put her in this kind of situation, this would be cool. Was it a linear thing for you? Or,

Douglas Westerbeke:

I'm a huge pre planner. So I like, I did a one page outline, then I did like a 20 page outline that I like a hundred pages and two. And I just, until it was a novel, I just kept adding layers and just but I always start with a one page outline. It's usually like 30 something scenes. And I, and actually the original outline was way more complicated than this one. And I had to simplify it because right now it's the structure, it's all fragmented, she'll, knew I wanted to be fragmented right away'cause I knew I wanted to start off like in that marketplace with her getting sick.'cause that's a grab of an opening. And then from there it was easy to imagine, okay, this is gonna be a story where she tells people along the way about her story. And so she'll meet the holcomb's in that boat and and Siam and she'll tell them the story of her childhood. And then she'll meet Lionel on the train and she'll tell her him the story of Zer. So there's a, the current story and then there's a story embedded within that story. And it goes. like that five times until we get to the various stages of her life. What I'm discovering. I always do in interviews is I talk myself until I forget what the hell I was answering. Yeah. Oh,

Jason Blitman:

think you answered it. Brett asked about whether or not you planned it out, and the answer is yes.

Brett Benner:

You answered it.

Douglas Westerbeke:

So I

Brett Benner:

You absolutely answered it. You'll

Douglas Westerbeke:

the

Brett Benner:

I do the same thing with my questions. I'll start and be like, wait, what was I even asking?

Douglas Westerbeke:

I, I'm doing this all the time. It's really throwing me, but yeah, so the original outline was even more complicated. It was like stories within stories within it was just until you forgot who she was talking to. And it was actually really fun to write, but it was very complicated. I had to simplify it for a novel. You could have done it in a film, but for a novel, it's a different kind of medium. And so you had to do it. You had to simplify it a bit.

Brett Benner:

I love her so much, but was it always going to be a woman?

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah. I started off with a woman. I write, actually, women characters a lot, I'm discovering. It's 50 50, I think. But, it was not that hard, so for example, it's because it's her whole life, right? She starts off like this spoiled, headstrong kid, and then she's a sullen teen, and then she's like this outgoing, fun loving adult, making friends everywhere she goes, and then she's like this kind of hermit in her old age. And it's not that hard because I remember what I was like as a kid. And I was, I had, I was like that. I was a lot like her when I was a kid and I had my sullen moments when I was a teen. And I remember my mom when she was an adult. And so there's a lot of my mom in there. I remember my grandmother when she was older. And so it wasn't that hard, right? In fact, She was the easiest character to write, because somebody asked me who were the easiest and the hardest characters to write, and the ones that get the shortest amount of time are tough, and I have to start, Introducing plot elements all at the same time all in 50 pages, maybe 75 pages, something like that, which is a short amount of time to do all that in. But with Aubrey, I had the whole book, I had her whole lifespan, so she came really naturally to me and it was fun to write her. The others were

Jason Blitman:

turned into an explorer, which you are a bit of an explorer yourself, no? Do you have highlights?

Brett Benner:

Yeah. Where are your favorite places?

Douglas Westerbeke:

all my favorite places. I love Japan. I love Iceland. So you get me all nostalgic because I really want to go back to both places. My daughter

Brett Benner:

so did she. So did she. So yes,

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah. Yeah, people are always asking me are these places that you've been before? And it's a bit of a mix. I would say it probably leans towards places I haven't been before, because I wanted this book to be as much of an adventure for me as it is

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. It's, I imagine, fun to imagine that.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Oh my God. I love the Himalayas. I loved research. The problem with researching is like it's a rabbit hole. You can do it forever. It's so much fun.

Jason Blitman:

And then all of a sudden you just wrote a book about the Himalayas.

Brett Benner:

Right.

Douglas Westerbeke:

There's there's a, there's that short scene in and. Where is it? In the Yukon, where she's like at that brothel and she's dancing with all the ladies and all that. I read like a whole 400 page book just for that short scene because the book was so fascinating. And this is when I was doing Indie, I found an amazing book. It was all photographs taken by a court photographer. And a Raj palace. And he, and there were little short stories under each of the photographs describing what had happened, why you'd taken the picture and the British had visited that day and they went for a joy ride and the guy's automobile and they ran over an old by accident. This is the pleasure of researching. It's so much fun. And you're spending weeks, like not writing because you're doing this research only like a fraction of which actually gets into the book. But it's, so it's fun, but you can't stop. It's a blast.

Jason Blitman:

That research is so important because you're taking this character around the world and not only is she going around the world, but it is the act of exploration heals her, that cures her. Metaphorically, did you find, do you find that to be true for yourself when you travel?

Douglas Westerbeke:

I'm like a lot of, I'm like everybody else. I love traveling, right?

Jason Blitman:

Not everybody loves to travel.

Douglas Westerbeke:

that's true. So I was going to, that's exactly right. I was about to say. So like my dad is older now he's retired and he spent a lot of, he had to travel a lot for work and now he just wants to stay home, chill. My wife is the same way. She has to travel for her work. She just wants to be home with her family and her kids and all that. I totally get it. I remember when I was in China I was taking my kids. They're like, early teens, I think at the time. And we started, my wife is from China. So we go there a lot, but we started in Southern China. We took three, four weeks to see the country. We saw, started off and way in the South, up to Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing, by the time we got to Beijing, we were so worn out. We sat in a hotel, actually it wasn't a hotel. It was a hotel and then my in laws place, but we did nothing. We just, We, there's no great wall, there is no forbidden palace, we like slept, we were like worn out, so imagine doing that your whole life, it's just insane. So I totally understand people get worn out by travel, even the people who love to travel get worn out by travel, because it's meant to be temporary. You go somewhere, you need a break, you might find something you love about the place that you take home with you, the food, some of the culture, some of the ideas, but in the end. You're coming back home and maybe you're taking some of those ideas with you. Maybe you're rejecting them, but you're always coming home. And yeah, but personally I also have a I have family members who do nothing but travel like every other month they go somewhere. And it's like

Jason Blitman:

And do you think they, do you think they find it healing?

Douglas Westerbeke:

Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure they find it. I think it's like part of their life now. It's like they do it so often. It's ingrained. And which is what happens to Aubrey too, of course. And in a far more extreme, stream case. But

Jason Blitman:

It's funny. We were just talking about something similar with an author who, oddly enough, her episode will come out after yours, but the idea that if something is abundant, can it be special?

Douglas Westerbeke:

yeah, that's a great, that's a great concept. Oh, I wish I thought of that one.

Jason Blitman:

You do though, right? Cause the idea, it's just like traveling the whole world. And I think a lot of us fantasize about traveling the world and what that could mean, quitting our jobs and traveling the world. But if every day is, traveling, then does it ever? It's not certainly not vacation.

Brett Benner:

And it's not that it's, to me, it's not the destination. The destination is, where you're headed. It's the getting to the destination. That's the part that's the challenge. And that's the part, especially now, certainly in this, so much of it's on foot, right? She talks about that. You said there's a great quote, which I was going to read the whole thing, but she said she traveled mostly by foot. It was hard to be more intimate with the earth than that. And it's so great. But to think about that now, people are, loathe to walk up to them, to the corner. They're like, I'll just drive her. I'll take an uber. So

Douglas Westerbeke:

It's why I said it in the 18, I began it in the 1880s, because if I had done it today, we all, she'd be sitting in airports the whole book, but back then it's boat, it's train, it's a lot of walking, there's a lot of unexplored world out there, and yeah, it would have been a very dull book if I'd said it today, I think

Jason Blitman:

I'm talking about where you're setting it. The epigraph of the book is a quote from the wind in the willows. And I think you from the beginning set us up To, to read a modern fairytale.

Douglas Westerbeke:

yeah. Yeah, I hadn't thought of it because I remember just like, do you want to the opening quote there and I was like, I don't know what I'm going to put, but I found the wind in the willows quote, but yeah, it was a perfect. I'm so glad it came from the something like the wind in the willows because it's a great. It's even got half my title in the quote

Jason Blitman:

I'm happy to read it just for, since we are in audio medium, I'll just read it for our listeners. Beyond the wild wood comes the wide world, said the rat. And that's something that doesn't matter either to you or me. I've never been there and I'm never going. Not you either. If you've got any sense at all. Don't ever refer to it again, please. from Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Thank you, Kenneth Graham, because it's a great, it's a great line.

Jason Blitman:

And I think just the idea of the world is scary. Don't go.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah. Don't do it.

Jason Blitman:

And I think when you're young and someone says, don't do it,

Douglas Westerbeke:

you

Jason Blitman:

want to do it. And so I think even just as a reader, you're like, okay, get me in this world, take me on the journey. So you really set up this new fantasy fairytale

Brett Benner:

stakes with extremely high stakes I literally life and death I

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

and fairytales are hard to come by when there's modern technology. So you have to

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah. Yeah. I'm noticing like, I'm, there's a resurgence in like old, so you've seen these dungeons and dragons movies and token and all it is, it's kind of resurgence of the old days because. Things are so modern and back then it felt more alive somehow, right? Even if it's a fancy world, maybe token doesn't count for that reason, there was ever since that, maybe it was Braveheart that started, I'm not sure what it was, but something started at all where we all went back in time. We're all doing period films because we feel a little more alive back then. I have this theory of technology that every time we have a major technological advance, our IQ drops a little bit more. We are, you read the old Jane Austen books and they're all sitting in the parlor, reading their books. And it's a bit of an antisocial activity, right? Cause you're just sitting there by yourself, but it's also rude to interrupt and make noise. I remember a scene from I think it was pride and prejudice, but And then came theater and that was, pillared and all that sort of stuff, no woman on stage and all these rules and all this stuff because the queen or the kingdom and And then you have radio and that changed everything and then you have television and now we're all glued to television sets And then there's the internet and now there's like screens and online gaming and everybody's gone, it just seems as the stuff advances, we're declining at the same time, because it does that to you, it's I'm complaining about my kids spending too much screen time, just like my parents was complaining about me watching too much television. And now I'm like, begging my kids to watch television, just so they'll get off the computer screen.

Brett Benner:

know or watch television with you and this is the interesting There's such an interesting attitude because with this book and her and everything you're talking about with technology and none of it, she's reliant on other people and she's forced to interact with other people, whether she wants to or not, just to literally survive. And that's just such a different thing. It's the difference between, I used to say, living in New York versus living in Los Angeles. But I remember living in New York. You were in constant Contact with people at all times when you walk out of the house immediately Literally, you know in LA you're in a bubble of you get in your car, it's much more reduced and you don't have to interact as much as you throw everything in your car and you're removed But for her it's such a fascinating thing that we're just not used to of You How much she has to be reliant and interact and put herself out there in order to keep going.

Douglas Westerbeke:

And how much she has to be alone at the same time. She's very lonely. And so when she does have these moments of contact, at least as she went, as she gets older, like in her middle age, I would say she's, she makes the most of it. She stops being that sullen teen. And for a long time, she's Oh, she's got company. She's going to make the most of it. She's going to drink with them. She's going to dance with them. She's going to do everything she can because she knows she's going to be out on her own again in two days or whatever.

Brett Benner:

and she has no mood elevators or anything.

Douglas Westerbeke:

None.

Brett Benner:

She can't call her psychiatrist and be like, Oh my God, I'm in the Himalayans and I can't.

Douglas Westerbeke:

I had the worst day.

Brett Benner:

That's exactly. That's right.

Jason Blitman:

It's something going back to one of the metaphorical questions that I was talking about earlier is the idea of what is home, and I think that yes, she was lonely, but I also think it was imperative for her survival to live in that discomfort and also understand that like home is within her. And so wherever she goes, that sort of, it's she's her own home and that's, while lonely, challenging, but also, I think a nice reminder that the physical space isn't necessarily what defines the thing.

Douglas Westerbeke:

So I have this so most stories to me, most stories are stories where you're living a nice, comfortable existence and something upends it. And now you have to go out and you have to figure out you're out there in the chaos of the world now, trying to get back to like where you were when you were enjoying your nice, comfortable existence. And so like the Odyssey is an obvious example, right? So he's dragged off to war, then he's 20 years, he's off there and he eventually gets home again, right? And everything's happy and all that back to the future. He goes back in time, he gets back to his family again, everybody's even better off than before. She doesn't get home again. And so it is a different kind of story. She has to find her own kind of home. And

Jason Blitman:

And again, this, no spoiling anything but while she might not get, Home, again, in terms of literal, physical location, that doesn't mean she doesn't find home, right? And I think that's again, similar to thinking about how I walk around the world I think for me, I was like, oh you can redefine what these things mean to you. I say this a lot, but for me, there's a big difference between family and relative,

Douglas Westerbeke:

right. Yeah. Me too, actually. And yeah. And so Yeah, you're making me think about stuff now because when I do travel, like I could easily, I can move to Seattle tomorrow and I think I could easily make a home. I love that. It's a great city. I would, I could easily make a home there. I could easily make a home in parts of Utah with the beautiful landscapes or wherever and you can make your own home and start again. And um,

Jason Blitman:

It's also, it's very interesting the way that you are even saying it the phrase make a home, that it is something physical.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah. All right. Was that good or bad?

Jason Blitman:

No it's neither. It's, again, it's different for everyone. And for you, home is something physical. And I think for me, I don't know if it's, I don't know if it just means a place that I feel safe. I don't know if it means a place that I feel safe and my husband is there. I don't know. I, these are the questions the book is making me ask

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah. There's a scene where, Oh, I'm sorry. Go

Brett Benner:

No, go ahead. Go ahead.

Douglas Westerbeke:

There's a scene later in the book and I don't mean to give too much away, but she's having this conversation that she has with this voice in her head here and there. And then there's, they're saying like I have nothing like you got your spear. It's okay, I have nothing but my spear. But if you were to have all your, these things that you miss back how would it change anything? And she can't answer it because she doesn't really know. And it is, it does open up that question. Is it the possessions you have? Is it the stuff you carry with you on the road? Is it the place? Is it the people? There's a passage, it's actually one of my favorite passages, is They're asking, how do you know a place? Is it in the culture? Is it in the sites? Is it in the landscape, the geography? Is it in the people you meet? Is it in the great architecture and the great works of art? Or is it in little things, the animal that crosses your road in the middle of the night? Or whatever it is. How do you, what's the measuring by stick, by? By which we know the world and it's an open question. I have no answer'cause I go to places, like I said, I loved Iceland and Japan when I went there, but did I know the place? I was just there a short while I lived in Canada for quite some time. Do I know it all that well? And how do you know it? I was a college kid. I don't know if I knew it that well. And so then you have the follow up scene where the guy's actually just sitting in his a. He's describing how he was sitting in his room and he realized he'd never really taken a good look at his room. So he explores his room as opposed to Aubrey exploring the whole world and he sees things he'd never saw before, a little spider in the corner and, the texture of the lampshade and things like that. It's a hard question to answer.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. And you don't need to. And I think that there's, it's just something to sit with something else that you do. There are two different lists that you talk about in the book. One of them is the list of things you won't do as in, that there are things in your life that you're never going to get to. Because life is so short. are there any of those things off the top of your mind that you see on your list? Like that you're, that you just know, Oh I'm, that's never going to happen for me.

Douglas Westerbeke:

I'm sure there are.

Brett Benner:

Besides read all the books.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Okay, yeah, that's an excellent, that's a great example,

Jason Blitman:

That's a cheating example.

Douglas Westerbeke:

it is a cheating example, but it's like perfect, because, I worked at the, I was working at the Cleveland Public Library, and when you're working there, you get the books coming across your desk, and you read them, and it's fascinating, and you hope you get a chance at the end of the day to read a couple of this stuff, especially if you're like a super curious person or something like that, and then you got to realize at some point, you're reading all this stuff, and you feel yourself getting, more knowledgeable and smarter day by day, but then you realize. I've only read the fraction of a fraction of the number of books here. It's like 10, 000 items in this book. I'll never know them all. And that's actually, that's all through the book, I think. It's particularly towards the second half of it where she realizes she just can't know everything and she can walk the world forever and not know it. And in my life, yeah, the list of actually, if you think about the list will probably be infinite. I'll never know what it's like to live in, I don't know Mexico or something, or there are lots of places that, and you know, and I'm thinking in terms of travel

Jason Blitman:

You're right.

Brett Benner:

Right.

Douglas Westerbeke:

I would love to like, live up in the Arctic for a year just to see what it's like to have 24 hours of daylight and then 24 hours of darkness. And just to experience it, I would love to go down to the, and raft the jungle. I would love to do all these things. I'll never get to do it. It's probably why I write about them.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

this into a book tour?

Douglas Westerbeke:

I'll do a book tour in the Amazon

Brett Benner:

Let's be very specific about where you want to go.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah, exactly.

Jason Blitman:

no, not even a book tour. You could do a book tour

Brett Benner:

That's amazing. That's amazing.

Jason Blitman:

you take a group of people to all the places in the book.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Oh, that's brilliant. Oh, I'm getting right on this.

Jason Blitman:

Yes. Come on, Avid Reader Press. Let's

Brett Benner:

that's exactly the short walk through a wide tour, that's what you call it.

Jason Blitman:

short tour through a wide world.

Brett Benner:

Wow.

Douglas Westerbeke:

I am sending out an email right now.

Brett Benner:

Exactly.

Jason Blitman:

Okay, so the other list that you talk about is a list of things we'll never know. And that, I think, my brain a little bit. And you list a lot of examples in the book. So I won't give any, I'll give one of them away because some of them really were interesting to chew on. But one was uh, who ate the first fig? We're never going to know who ate the first

Douglas Westerbeke:

I was wondering what you were referring to, and now I remember the line. That's

Jason Blitman:

And I think, and there's just so much and it's, it ties into the idea that we all die anonymously.

Douglas Westerbeke:

that's exactly what I was about to say. I think about people and their deaths, and we all do it alone, not, we can't do it together. And I think of people who have died and didn't get to tell their story, because, and it could have been an amazing life that they had, or an amazing death that they had, and they don't get this, because we all want to share these things with each other, and some things we just don't get to. And yeah, that's, it's almost like a haunting idea that, this is, these are, it's an individual experience you never get to share. Yeah, and I, I was thinking there is a guy who fell overboard one night in the Afora sea somewhere and never, and nobody noticed until the morning and he's got his own story out there. We'll never know. I remember watch or reading the book, a perfect storm. And he was like, he was just hypothesizing through the whole book, but we'll never really know. And your heart goes out to these guys and you wonder what their last moments were like. And, It got me when I was, when I started thinking about that stuff.

Jason Blitman:

It's not an uncommon thing for us to think about in the gay community with HIV and AIDS, wiping out an entire population of artists and scientists and thinkers. Fran Lebowitz talks about how not only did we lose artists, but we lost Audiences, right? And like people to consume content and art and books and whatever, and losing some of the most interesting people and what stories they had to share, right? So like, that

Douglas Westerbeke:

And it's been going on throughout history. World War II, the concentration camps, World War I, like I, there's a great composer of George Butterworth who got killed by, he is only like 20 something. He'd written some beautiful pieces, just a handful of them. He was just getting his speed killed by a sniper in World War I. And it goes on forever. Cause That's just the stuff we know about. Imagine the Mongol hordes. They killed like everybody in their path. And

Brett Benner:

My mom, before she passed, she'd started dementia and spending time with her was such an interesting thing because she began to travel into her past and not know it a lot of times. She'd start to say things like, I hate the fact that he's hanging with that. He was hanging with, he's been coming home so late. It's not good for us. And at first I was like what are you talking about? And realized she was in her past. And so I, I started to ask her questions because I wanted to draw out these things and what her past was and who she was, this is the person who raised me and I have my own relationship with her, but there was so much more that existed before. Certainly before I ever came along, cause I was the last.

Douglas Westerbeke:

That's a, that's actually a great story. And yeah, I think there are a lot of people go through that, their loved ones in their last moments. And cause we've had a lot of that in my family too. My, my mom, if it's the same thing and yeah. And now, and once they're gone, you realize how little you knew. And you wish you did and you can't go back. It's all gone and that's their life story and this is so when I came up with this conceit of the libraries, it's this is the kind of stuff that kind of inspired it. We all have these great life stories or tragic life stories. I suppose all kinds of life stories and we don't get to really share them. That's a lot of the time. Oh

Jason Blitman:

And the book is so much about telling your story, but also living your life, and also, finding yourself, and finding your place, and finding your people, and what do all of these things mean. There's a playwright named, an actor named David Cale, who a few years ago wrote a play called We're Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time, and it was this beautiful one man play with some music where he tells the story of His mom and her murder and growing up in random London, little town outside of London. And it's exactly what you're talking about, but the title alone, we're only alive for a short amount of time. is something that ever since seeing the play is my new my new YOLO, right? I don't, it's not you only live once, it's you're only, we're only alive for a short amount of time and so how do we want to choose to live that short time?

Brett Benner:

Die

Douglas Westerbeke:

What was that?

Brett Benner:

carpe

Jason Blitman:

diem. Yeah.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah. Yeah. And it's also a matter of like do you want to be like a side character in your own life? You want to be the hero? You want to be the villain? You've got to write your life the right way. And I would love to take credit for that, but actually it's Viktor Frankl. Man searched for being, the man went through the concentration camp, he became a psychiatrist, he saw death all around him, and he noticed, there are the people who are sensible, who wrote a good story for themselves. tended to survive. And the people who are either, Oh, the world will end on March 27th for some reason. And they didn't make it because when it didn't end on March 27th, they lost hope and they died. And the same thing, he just saw the same thing happening as as a psychiatrist, people were writing bad stories for themselves. And so the theme of my, that made a huge impact on me when I read that as a kid. And yeah. For Aubrey, and it became so, maybe symbolic, because, you got the libraries are full of all these people telling their stories, including Aubrey at the end, and you've got to tell it the right way. If you don't, if you mess that up, you're going to mess up your life at the same time. And she meets characters who are doing it too. Uzair writes a really bad story for himself, and this is how he ends up doing the wrong thing and so on and so forth. And that makes all the difference. It's this internal monologue you have in your head. You've got to do it the right way. Otherwise you live a tragedy or something. And, or, yeah, you don't want to be there. You could end up the villain in your own story.

Jason Blitman:

and the idea of writing your own story, I think just every, our listeners are very smart, but just to like really emphasize we're not talking literally writing here, right? Like we, we own the pen and the paper daily, and it really spoke to me, Aubrey says I'm better because I've run off and When I was a kid growing up in South Florida I didn't apply to a single college in Florida because I wanted to push myself. If I didn't get out, I wasn't convinced I'd ever be able to, not because Florida was going to suck me in, but because it's easy. It's easy to take the easy way out. It's easy to stay where you're comfortable. And so I think I'm better because I ran off and I

Douglas Westerbeke:

the same thing. I only applied to places way, way far away. California, Canada, and all these

Jason Blitman:

Where did you grow up?

Douglas Westerbeke:

I grew up in Boston

Jason Blitman:

Oh, sure.

Douglas Westerbeke:

and it wasn't like I had a terrible life. Boston's a great city and I have family here and I love my family and all that, but I wanted to see places and I didn't want, I'd seen Boston. I was done with it. It's hard to be done with. It's such a great sound, but I was, and I wanted to see what. California was like, I want to see what other places

Brett Benner:

And not to pull this full circle, but now is your daughter's exploration, taking her closer to home or further from home in terms of what she wants to look at.

Douglas Westerbeke:

they're both further from home. She has one school in mind in Ohio, just because she likes the campus and her little, her brother's a couple years younger than her. It's like, why would you want to stay here? He's everybody's, everybody, the parents, her little brother, we're all pushing her out. Really? And then she's all for it. So she's like where she's even thinking of international schools. So we'll see.

Brett Benner:

Yeah, no, I think it's so critical. I think it's so important for that next phase to find your wings. And exactly what you're talking about, Jason, even if it's not looked at as getting out, it's just to find your way. And I know my son had a really hard time first year at Kenyon because he was 2, 500 miles away, really tough. But like next fall, he's going to Madrid. So it is setting this adventure. It makes me think too, like with her, with Aubrey and the sense of adventure and Jason, what you're talking about of writing your own story. I look at as we age and as we get older, which I'm so constantly aware of. And I have my mother in law living with us part of the time and she's 94 years old. But she's pretty incredible to me in this. She has never stopped being curious about the world, curious about the people in it, and that really has kept her mind and body so sharp that It to me is a testament and it's what this woman is in this book, where this sense of adventure and a sense of always looking to the next and always finding something to keep yourself active and keep yourself engaged. Like you're saying you're not putting your story as a victim or leaving your story as something that's passive that you are the centerpiece and you're the star of your own story.

Douglas Westerbeke:

There's a book about survival. I can't deep survival. I think it's called by Lawrence Gonzalez. And because I tend to write a lot of these. Grueling survival stories. But I read it and it was really fascinating because he was saying a lot of survivors and a plane will crash and, some of the survivors, the ones who make it and the ones who don't, he, and he was noticing this pattern that the people Who even in the worst circumstances look around them and they admire the world around them. They'll look at the trees and they'll say, oh, the jungle that they're stuck in. And, but they'll say, wow, it's a beautiful jungle. Those tend to be the people who make it. And it's part of that curiosity you were talking about. They stay curious, even though it looks hopeless. There's still something about the world that they recognize. And that keeps them going. It keeps them getting out of bed in the morning and all that. yeah, it makes a difference.

Jason Blitman:

when I was a kid, it was, I needed to prove, not just prove to myself that I could get out, but that I, But that I could work the muscle to then be able to do that for the rest of my life. And I went to school in Chicago, which again, wonderful city, could have stayed in Chicago for a very long time. But at the time I could see the ceiling. And I was like, you know what, I'm Even though the ceiling's far away, I was, not peaking right after college, but it was still there, even

Brett Benner:

It was a Sistine Chapel.

Jason Blitman:

But then moved to New York city where this, where you couldn't, you can't see the ceiling in New York city. It's impossible. And we was able to do that because of, that earlier decision and was able to then move across the country because of that earlier decision. And now I think, after reading the book, after this conversation, realizing that the idea is in fact to shorten that list of things I won't ever do.

Brett Benner:

Sure.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah, that would be nice. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

I don't ever want to wonder what would it have been like to live in California. I've that's off the list of things I'll never do.

Brett Benner:

you have inspirational wonderlust.

Jason Blitman:

it's not, Wanderlust, yeah, but I think it's just anything, it's like, what are those things that you're afraid of? What are those things that you think you'll never do? And, I think Douglas writing a book is probably one of those things that you thought you'd never do. And then reading so much, it's,

Douglas Westerbeke:

it was something I thought I couldn't do. yeah. I'm in full agreement of that. I admire this attitude.

Jason Blitman:

but that's the other thing, right? We're only alive for a short amount of time. So we have to think about it in that way.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I don't know what to add. I think you're, you've been brilliant.

Jason Blitman:

are there things in particular that you're looking forward to in our last few minutes with you with the book coming out or that hope to happen or, I don't want to ask the question of what do you want people to take away from the book? Because first of all, Brett and I have sat here and told you what we've taken away from the books.

Douglas Westerbeke:

I'm like, what I want right now is like, The chance to work on my next book,

Brett Benner:

Yes.

Douglas Westerbeke:

I'm I'm like halfway through this one and I'm, I can't finish it. It's, but it's okay because so much amazing stuff is happening with this book. It's all right. That I take out the time because it's stunning to me what's happening. I'm blown away and I'm deeply grateful and humble to all these folks who are helping me out. It would not have happened without. Without Avid Reader Press and without my agent and without British Literary Awards because that those are the awards that actually like, like my book and that's what got it out there and

Jason Blitman:

And these little things, these little pieces that sort of were the steps along the way and the boss at the library

Douglas Westerbeke:

my Amy

Jason Blitman:

should do the Dublin Book Awards.

Brett Benner:

I just love that your world, because we're talking about the world, that your world has been so small and insular. And even like looking up stuff about you, there's very little about you out there. And suddenly this whole expanse that's starting because of this book and because of what you've

Jason Blitman:

Cause he's just a regular guy.

Brett Benner:

Yeah, I know that. I understand

Douglas Westerbeke:

how I see it.

Jason Blitman:

For now.

Brett Benner:

yeah, but it's suddenly like that kind of thing is suddenly getting much wider. It's very exciting whether you like it, whether you like it or not.

Jason Blitman:

Douglas, such a

Brett Benner:

Congratulations.

Douglas Westerbeke:

Absolutely. My pleasure was mine. This is, this has been fun.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, I'm glad. And good luck on the rest of your tour with your

Douglas Westerbeke:

Thank you. Hell yeah, that's right. Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

Your tour with your daughter, book tour, all the things to come. And I hope, you get to check off. things from your list of things you'll never do. Here we go.

Douglas Westerbeke:

I got one down anyway. You. Thank you. That was a lot of fun.

Brett Benner:

Go out and get this book.

Jason Blitman:

You could find that and all of the other books we talk about in our bookshop. org page. The link to that is in our show notes. People have said they don't know how to find the show notes. you can also

Brett Benner:

down,

Jason Blitman:

Well, it's not always just scroll down. It's like, you have to scroll within the, the section of the episode, not this, not the whole show. So look within that one thing, but also you could check out the link tree on our Instagram page. So follow us on Instagram. That's, that's it. Those are all the things.

Brett Benner:

Those are all the things. You got all the things.

Jason Blitman:

I got all the things. have a wonderful rest of your week, everyone, and we'll see you next week for Holly Gramazio. Bye!

I'm just gonna hang out with you. I'm gonna, uh, I'm gonna hang out with you.