Episode 11: Whitney Conard and The Unread Shelf Project

Show Notes: On this episode, we get to talk to Whitney Conard, who you may know from instagram as @TheUnreadShelf. I am excited and honored about talking to her for many reasons, including that we both live on the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro, she has such an influential and positive presence on “bookstagram,” she has great book and tea taste, and she has an amazing project that I can’t wait for her to tell you more about. If you have a shelf of books at home that are just waiting for you to read them, this episode is for you.

I do use affiliate links for both Amazon and Bookshop.org so I may be compensated for purchases made through my links contained in this blog post. Thanks! 

I am delighted to be able to interview Whitney on today's podcast. I first "met" Whitney when she was a guest on Anne Bogel's What Should I Read Next podcast episode 158.  At that point I was only hanging out on instagram on my personal account and hadn't an inkling that I would start a bookstagram or a podcast. But Whitney's posts are gorgeous, and her encouragement to read books that you own on your own shelf is timely and needed.

Fast-forward to almost a year later. I had started my bookstagram account and entered a a giveaway of hers, which I ended up winning. When she saw my mailing address, she ended up dropping off the books at my house while I was at work instead of mailing them, because it turns out we only live about 15 minutes away from each other. Here's the post where I enthusiastically shared about my new books!

A few months later, I found a mystery set in India in a little free library. When I read it, I thought immediately about Whitney and her love for Indian food and mystery novels. I ended up asking her for her address and dropping it off at her house while she was at work. Here are my photos of that adventure.

So if you're following along, we are friends on Instagram, we've been to both of each other's front porches, and we've swapped books. But we've still never met in person. We were basically quarantine friends before it was cool! Hipster quarantiners...whatever.

Anyway, I'm really excited to be able to talk to Whitney on this episode and hear more about what she is up to currently with her Unread Shelf project.

I've been following along with her project in 2020, and so far here are the books I've read:

  • January's challenge was any unread book, and I read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. I had found it in a little free library and it was a middle grade novel about board games and libraries, which I very much enjoyed! 
  • February's challenge was a book gifted to you. For that I read Deleted by Ruth Mitchell. The author had sent me her book to review. It was a futuristic YA where mind-reading was real and a girl's life was in danger because of it. Thought-provoking and fascinating! I've since sent my copy of this book to my friend Hannah to read. 
  • March' challenge was the book that has been on your unread shelf the longest. I chose The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell. I had been reading through it one chapter a week with my boss at my previous job and was only a few chapters from the end when I ended up leaving that position. So this half-read book sat on my shelf and stared at me for several months and it was time to finish it. It was such a relief to finish it! It was genuinely a good book, but the emotional weight of it being unfinished was lovely to have lifted. 
  • April's challenge was to read the most recent book you've acquired! I loved this challenge because I usually feel weird reading a book I just acquired when I have so many more waiting for me on my shelf. This challenge removed that guilt. I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is one of my favorite books this year! I am so glad I did not wait to read it. 
  • May's challenge was to read a backlist title. This means the author as another, more recent book. For me this is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Whitehead also has a newer book out called The Nickel Boys, so his pulitzer-prize winning book from 2016 is now considered backlist. I meant to have this book finished in April because before the pandemic it was supposed to be our local book club's April discussion book. But those best-laid plans were delayed and I didn't finish this book until May. 
You don't have to start at the beginning with this challenge! June's challenge is to read a book from a series and she has all the information about the monthly challenges right here

I already have plans for the August challenge of a buddy read to read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin with a couple friends from instagram. If you want to join in on this buddy read, let me know in the comments or email me! 

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Today is a holiday here in the US, but it’s actually my first official day teaching my online course πŸŽ‰ Here’s my home office, all set up for work! • Last month I created an online course called Working With Publishers: Building Meaningful Partnerships Between Publishers and Bookstagram. It’s a really long title for a simple goal: how to make requesting and reviewing books easy and enjoyable, both for you and for the publisher. • Today the course opens to my launch group, and over the next few weeks, we will learn together how the publishing industry works, what they look for in Bookstagram accounts, how request books from the right person, and how to write helpful reviews (even if you didn’t like the book). An amazing group of readers signed up for the first round, and I’m so excited about working with them over the next few weeks. • I’m deeply thankful for all the people who took my survey and chatted with me via Zoom during my research for the course - both people from my follower list AND the publicist and marketers who work directly with Bookstagram. You know who you are; I can’t say thank you enough. • If you’re interested in learning more about the course, you can head over to the link in my profile or go to theunreadshelf.com/resources to sign up for the next class wait list, which opens in June. #theunreadshelfschool • I also want to know - what would YOU like to learn about working with publishers? Drop a comment below! πŸ‘‡πŸ»
A post shared by Whitney | The Unread Shelf (@theunreadshelf) on

Whitney is working on developing some amazing content for readers, bloggers, and bookstagrammers. She already has a very handy free guide to NetGalley available, and she has just begun offering an online course about working with publishers. This resource was born out of requests from her community and has so much research and information from actual publicists, marketers, and professionals in the publishing industry. She put a ton of work into it and is continuing to look for ways that bookstagrammers and publishers can work together in a mutually beneficial way. Check out her instagram account and blog for more information about all of that!

An Unread Book Bingo card is also available, which Whitney says helps her seek out books on her unread shelf differently than she otherwise might. (You choose books differently when you're looking for a mystery book with a red cover, for example.) You can find get the bingo printable here!

During the interview I learned that Whitney’s favorite subgeneres are Detective or police procedurals set in Ireland or the UK and mid-twentieth century British literary fiction about middle-class women’s lives. About them she says "The problems that women face are so much the same, and these writers tend to handle this a subtle but profound way." Some of Whitney's favorite books come from Persephone Books and Virago Modern Classics.

Books I recommended to Whitney:

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott: This essay collection is also somewhat of a memoir, and meditates on a variety of themes from motherhood to career. Perfect for picking up and enjoying an essay once in a while, or for reading straight through. I also very much enjoyed Mary Laura Philpott's book talk on the Stay at Home Book Tour and the essay that was published in the New York Times at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak titled This Togetherness is Temporary.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean: I found this book fascinating when I read it and I thought it might be right up Whitney's alley. I was correct, as she had just ordered it from Book of the Month recently! I found the history and mystery-solving interesting as the author explored the circumstances surrounding the LA library fire. Not only that, but she also documented many more parts of library history in this non-fiction work that feels more like a novel.

The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams: I love the group of feisty women who make up the mystery-solvers in this cozy mystery. One owns a bakery, one owns a bookstore, and the other women get looped into their group when a mysterious death happens and they want to solve it. I know Whitney loves enjoys tea, baking, and mysteries so I hoped that this would be a fun, easy read for her.

Books Whitney recommended to me:

A Dangerous Duet and A Trace of Deceit by Karen Odden: Whitney said these are historical fiction mysteries set in Victorian England, with a pianist and an artist, both women, who end up in the middle of a crime investigation. This description reminded me of the Veronica Speedwell series that I've been reading! I'm excited to read these books that Whitney recommended.

The Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James mysteries by Deborah Crombie: I've read the first two in this series, A Share in Death and All Shall Be Well, but there are 17 more awaiting my attentions and I've been told it is recommended to read them in order as the detectives' character arcs develop over time. This is one of Whitney's favorite series, and she even got to do an interview with the author, which you can watch on her IGTV. She encouraged me to keep reading!

Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel by James Markert: a book of magical realism surrounding a family and an old hotel, with a fountain that seems to be restoring memories. Whitney remembers how this one made her feel.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley: The story of a solitary green notebook that brings together six strangers and leads to unexpected friendship, and even love. Whitney, on her Instagram post about this book, said she would recommend this book for readers who liked Elenor Oliphant is Completely Fine and A Man Called Ove. When I saw this, I asked her for more about that comparison, because I really appreciated A Man Called Ove, but I got a few chapters into Elenor Oliphant and quit. After further discussion we concluded that I would probably appreciate The Authenticity Project for its likable-but-flawed protagonists that form an unlikely friendship and try to improve themselves. With that in mind, I am looking forward to reading this one as well!

We talked about some of the books I liked and disliked, and I mentioned that the From the Front Porch podcast is where I heard about The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which is on my least favorite books list. I read the book because Annie said everyone on her entire bookstore staff enjoyed it! But it wasn't for me.

Are you participating in Whitney's Unread Shelf Project already? Or is something you're interested in? I'd love to hear about what you are currently reading. Drop me a note in the comments below! 


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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