Kirk Caudle is the host and founder of the Mormon Book Review podcast, which was recently brought under the umbrella of BYU’s Maxwell Institute. In addition to running the Mormon Book Review, Kirk has taught New Testament for the past three years at his local LDS Institute and serves as the co-chairperson of the Mormon Studies Special Topics Session of AAR Pacific Northwest. Kirk lives with his wife and children in Portland, Oregon.
Chris Smith: Thanks for being with us, Kirk. You recently caused a bit of a stir when your Mormon Book Review podcast was officially brought under the auspices of BYU’s Maxwell Institute. But before we get into that, why don’t you begin by giving our readers a brief rundown of the history of the podcast? How long has the Mormon Book Review been around, and how and why did it get started?
Kirk Caudle: I started the Mormon Book Review in October 2012 after seeing a void that needed to be filled in the Mormon Studies world and in the Mormon podcasting world in particular. I listen to my fair share of Mormon-themed podcasts, and there are a few of them that I really enjoy. I noticed, though, that none of these podcasts focused specifically on books and academic discussion. I decided to fill that niche. There are so many great thinkers in the Mormon Studies world today. I wanted to help their voices be heard. That’s why many of my earliest interviews are with some of my favorite thinkers in the field. Names like Joseph Spencer, Adam Miller, and Samuel Brown all come to mind. Besides just filling a niche, doing the podcast keeps me up on the latest literature in the field and keeps me in constant conversation with the people producing that literature. It is quite a bit of work at times, but I really have a blast doing it.
CS: How did the podcast come to be adopted by the Maxwell Institute?
KC: I think they brought me on board because they liked what I was doing and wanted to support it, and because my show has always been pretty academic in tone, so it seemed like a good fit with their institutional objectives.
CS: What makes the Mormon Book Review more academic than some of the other podcasts out there that deal with Mormon history or culture?
KC: A lot of the shows out there focus on controversy, culture, or personal narratives. Personally, I prefer to bring on authors and actually interact with their books. After all, some of these books can be very difficult to read if you are not already familiar with the subject matter. My goal is to give the authors of great books a voice and give them a chance to connect with a wider audience.
I suppose one of the reasons for this is my own personal bias. I’m an academic and I like academic Mormon Studies. Plus, many of the people who have appeared on my show have been personal friends/acquaintances and I really think that gives the show a natural feel. I like to think of some of my interviews as nothing more than a thirty-minute conversation that I would be having with a friend about his or her new book that was just published as we sat around together for dinner at a conference or something. With that said, some of those dinner conversations are even better than the ones that I have on my show; I often wish that I had a recorder for some of them! I am truly blessed to be able to associate with so many fantastic people that continually challenge my own thinking.
CS: Has joining forces with the Institute required you to make any changes in the way you conduct the podcast?
KC: Originally I envisioned the show being a hodgepodge of me talking with various authors of books dealing with all aspects of Mormonism. For the majority of the show’s short history, I think that was true. However, now that I’m with the Maxwell Institute my shows will almost all be exclusively academic in tone. The other change would be that I am only producing two shows per month. Because of this I’m now much more selective with the guests that I’m able to bring on. Therefore, I usually plan my shows months in advance. So if you are an author of an interesting book coming out in the future, it is never too early to contact me.
CS: I hear you’re thinking of writing a book about your experiences as a person with Tourette Syndrome. Would you be willing to say something about how Tourette Syndrome has shaped your experiences as a Mormon Studies scholar and a podcast host?
KC: Now this is a fantastic question Chris, and believe it or not, you are the first person ever to ever ask me about Tourette Syndrome in an interview. Kudos for having the courage to do so! I have toyed with the idea of a writing a book about my experience with Tourette Syndrome for years, but I was never very serious about it. However, in the past month or so I have seriously been considering putting this project together after so many of my friends have supported the idea. Most people know very little about Tourette Syndrome and the effects (especially the unseen ones) that it has on a person.
As far as Tourette Syndrome and Mormon Studies, I’m not sure what to say on that. Actually, I have never even considered an answer to this question before now. I suppose that one thing having Tourette Syndrome has done for me is that it’s made me more social. When you have Tourette Syndrome, you have to get used to people staring at you and wondering why you are coughing, wincing, shaking your head, or grunting. This happens everywhere: at school, at church, in the store, etc. Because I grew up with people constantly staring at me, I became strangely comfortable with it and now I’m comfortable in most social situations. In that way, I guess I’m a bit different from many people with a disability. I have no problem with walking up to people and saying “Hi,” or presenting my ideas in front of a group. I think this has helped my networking skills in the Mormon Studies field.
CS: Do you have any advice for young scholars out there who may be thinking about getting into the podcast business?
KC: I have three pieces of advice. First, don’t do it for the money because there’s little or none to be had. I am lucky enough to have a university paying me to do what I do, but I’m in the very small minority. Second, do it because you love it. In fact, just do what you love doing in general. To steal a phrase from Joseph Campbell, “find your bliss.” Producing a podcast is tons of work and you will get burnt you out fast if it is just a hobby. Finally, don’t copy what others are doing. Think about what you love and then ask yourself, “is anyone else already doing this?” If the answer is no, then you might have something there.
CS: Thanks so much for answering my questions, Kirk!
KC: Thanks, Chris. I appreciate you talking the time to talk with me.
For more information about Tourette Syndrome, Kirk recommends the Frequently Asked Questions page at the website of the national Tourette Syndrome Association.