Today’s guest discovered the joy of reading as a child listening to audiobooks on 45s. As an adult, audiobooks remain a crucial piece of her reading life, especially listening to books in the car with her boys or tackling some self-help titles on her commute.
Tiffany Uzor loves to read anytime she can, and she finds herself reaching for new books frequently. In fact, Tiffany describes herself as a serial starter—she’s up for beginning any book that sounds interesting, and as a mental health therapist, she’s especially drawn to stories that probe complex human relationships. Books that draw her in immediately or transport her somewhere else are especially appreciated!
As much as Tiffany loves audiobooks, she’s found one area where she struggles. Tiffany’s noticed that listening on the go, especially during her commute, makes it tricky to keep track of what she loves in a reading experience in the moment, and she’s eager for some ideas to address this challenge.
During my conversation with Tiffany, I’ll offer techniques that may help her capture bookish notes and quotes more readily when she’s on the go. And, of course, I’ll suggest some titles that speak to the types of stories and voices she wants more of in her reading life right now.
Connect with Tiffany at her website, www.dfwtalktherapy.com
TIFFANY: What typically happens is I read, read, read, read and then somebody will ask me, hey, Tiff, what are you reading lately? And then [LAUGHS] I overwhelmingly give all these things … [BOTH LAUGHS]
[CHEERFUL INTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers. I’m Anne Bogel, and this is What Should I Read Next? Episode 321.
Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader: What should I read next?
We don’t get bossy on this show: What we WILL do here is give you the information you need to choose your next read. Every week we’ll talk all things books and reading, and do a little literary matchmaking with one guest.
Readers, we’ve talked about the impact of our disrupted supply chain before—between shipping delays, inventory challenges, and a whole bunch of boxes that literally sank to the bottom of the ocean, it’s harder than ever to predict the arrival of fresh, new books in your local bookstore (or your mailbox). In these times, pre-ordering is more important than ever!
With my new book journal for kids, My Reading Adventures, now available for pre-orders, it’s a great time to remind you how pre-orders help. Not only can you know that your 8-12 year old reader will have a fun and inspiring new journal in their hands come August 2, you’ll also know that by pre-ordering, you’re giving a signal to publishers and retailers that you care about books like this! That impacts not only what kind of books they print in the future, but how many copies of THIS book they print right now so they’re ready for you to purchase come summer. In the 2022 publishing landscape that is more important than ever.
Find out more about this journal, My Reading Adventures at modernmrsdarcy.com/kidsjournal. Pre-order there or wherever you buy your new books. That's modernmrsdarcy.com/kidsjournal.
Today’s guest got her start as a young reader listening to audiobooks on 45s and she’s still a big audiobook fan–listening to books in the car with her boys or tackling self-help titles on her commute.
Tiffany Uzor is quick to hit play whenever she has time. She’s often starting new books. In fact, Tiffany describes herself as a serial starter—she’s up for beginning any book that sounds interesting, and as a mental health therapist, she’s especially drawn to stories that probe complex human relationships. Bonus points if they pull her in immediately, or transport her to another place.
But as much as Tiffany loves those audiobooks, she finds they have their challenges: she’s looking for ways to better keep track of what she loves in a reading experience in the moment—especially if that moment happens in the middle of her commute, when she can’t easily stop to take notes.
During our conversation I’ll offer Tiffany techniques that may help her capture bookish notes and quotes more readily when she’s on the go, while also sharing titles that speak to the types of stories and voices she wants more of in her reading life right now.
Let’s get to it.
Tiffany, welcome to the show.
TIFFANY: Thank you, Anne. I'm so happy to be here.
ANNE: Tiffany, what brings you to What Should I Read Next right now?
TIFFANY: Well, I'm wanting to discuss books in real life with the people around me. Any tips you can give me to help me improve my reading life, I'm going to take it. So that's why I'm here.
ANNE: I want to say I'm noticing that I asked you what brought you to the show right now and I think that question got embedded in my brain from Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb. I was just talking with a friend who's thinking about going to therapy about, like I have all this stuff, like why would I go now, where do we even start? And I was telling her about that antidote from the Lori Gottlieb book, which seemed so fitting because of what you do professionally.
TIFFANY: Yes. I am a mental health therapist and I own my own practice in Dallas, and when I'm not seeing clients, I'm a mom to three boys and I also take care of my mom.
ANNE: How old are your boys?
TIFFANY: 17, 14, and 12.
ANNE: Oh, gosh. That sounds like a lot of fun and like a lot.
TIFFANY: It is a lot. My heart goes pitter-patter all the time, specifically with my oldest because everything that they do is new and you feel like ugh, I'm just ruining this. I should do it a million other ways. I feel like I'm messing it up all the time, but I'm hanging in there, but yeah. They are so much fun. I love being a boy's mom. It is just the adventure of a lifetime. I love it.
ANNE: Now tell me a little bit about your reading life. Have you always been a reader?
TIFFANY: I've always been a reader. I remember growing up, my mom actually had this bookshelf built for me in my room, specifically I have those Mr. Men and Little Miss books.
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Yes.
TIFFANY: The golden books with the golden spine, books with records in the back, and I remember Saturday mornings after watching cartoons I would listen to those books and I think that's a part of the reason why I so enjoy audiobooks now because I started listening to books that way.
ANNE: Tiffany, I didn't know what I was missing in my childhood until I got married and my husband brought his collection of books with 45s records into the household. I did not have these growing up.
ANNE: I'd love to hear your favorite as a child.
TIFFANY: Thumbelina was probably one of my favorites.
TIFFANY: I was an only child [LAUGHS] so I had to fill the time up by myself and audiobooks were awesome, so I remember Thumbelina, playing that over and over. Where the Wild Things Are was not an audiobook, but that book visually and the words and the story about Max just always took me to a different place and I just love that about books.
ANNE: Oh, I love the image of young Tiffany sitting by the record player.
TIFFANY: And sometimes my mom would sit next to me and I had a host of dolls, so I would put them around me and we would all enjoy the book together.
ANNE: That sounds really formative.
TIFFANY: Yeah, so then I was in gifted and talented in elementary school like second and third grade so I had this teacher, Mrs. Fon. Every week she would get newspapers for the entire class, and everyone took home a newspaper and we had to read a newspaper article and we had to write about it. So every week I had to read a newspaper article, and every month I had to do a book report, so from very early I was always reading, and then I remember middle school getting into The Baby-Sitters Club books.
TIFFANY: I read The Baby-Sitters Club and then I ventured off a little into like Ruth's and The Color Purple. I tried to get into Stephen King Cujo but it was just like what - what is going on with [ANNE LAUGHS] ... Is this supposed to be a book about a dog and he got bit by something, and I'm like what is happening in this book? It was crazy. But Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, all those things, I remember reading in high school and I just really, really loved them.
ANNE: What about your reading life today?
TIFFANY: So I will say in my reading life today I am what is called a serial starter. [ANNE LAUGHS] I start a lot of books, and then I DNF, and then the one that grabs my attention is the one that I will stick with. I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my ride to work and home, and so a book that I can find in hardcopy as well as in audio helps me a lot because that is ... I spend a lot of time in the car and that's one way I get through a lot of books.
ANNE: It sounds like you don't think this is any coincidence that you were basically brought up to be an audiobook lover.
TIFFANY: Oh, no. Those memories when you have a great narrator, oh, it just ... Again, it just delivers you to this whole other place and so I've always loved audiobooks. Introduced my children to audiobooks when they were growing up. We used to go to the library every week. We were homeschoolers for about seven years, and we used to go to the library every week and give these stacks and stacks of books, but at that time they had these ... I think they were called playaways. Playaways are these little things, smaller than a cell phone, and you stick your headphones into them and you can listen to the book. I would read books to them or I would get the books for them either on CDs or the playaways and they would listen to them. We listen to books in the car now and they love it and so it's just something that I remember as a kid enjoying great books and that I always wanted to share with my kids.
ANNE: Oh, they're lucky to have that from you.
ANNE: Is there something you're listening to right now with your kids?
TIFFANY: There is not something ... We started The Hobbit but we haven't been able to finish it, and when they've been in the car recently we haven't been playing it, but my youngest one just recently last month was like can we finish The Hobbit? And so we started it over but we'll have to make sure we finish it.
ANNE: Tiffany, you mentioned being a serial starter, and I'm interested in hearing if you see that as a smart strategy that works for your reading life, or as more of an infliction?
TIFFANY: I don't see it as an infliction per se, but that means that my list of to be read is just so long. Like most readers, there's just so many books, so little time. I know when I need to abandon a book, but if I read something and it's interesting but something else grabs my attention, then I just put it to the side and I come back to it. I'm always reading like five to six books at a time. Always, always, always.
ANNE: So it sounds like it's pretty easy for you to sample widely because you're just willing to give many things a try.
TIFFANY: And that did not happen for me until after college. Before college I was a one book at a time. I couldn't think of picking up one book while I was reading something else, and then after college I was like why not? And I tried it and it has been such a wonderful thing. I'm like wow. I can give my attention to multiple books at a time, and so generally what that looks like is I have an audiobook that I'm listening to in the car, one or two books that are on my nightstand. A couple of books downstairs where I sit on the couch and so anywhere I am, I can just pick it up from there.
ANNE: So it sounds like it was a discovery born of necessity.
ANNE: Okay. Okay. I'm glad you discovered that about yourself. I'm really curious to hear what makes a book stick for you. If you start so many, what is it about a book that compels you to actually continue it?
TIFFANY: I like books that pull me in immediately. I like books that transport me to another place immediately also.
ANNE: Well, Tiffany, are you ready to dive in to your loves?
TIFFANY: I am.
How did you choose these books for today?
TIFFANY: I posted on the Modern Mrs Darcy forums, I asked a question there about people who don't consider themselves to be rereaders. If they're going to reread books, how would they go about it because I don't consider myself a true rereader, though I do reread books. I know that's confusing. [BOTH LAUGH]
ANNE: Did you hear me? Did you hear me formulating a question? [BOTH LAUGH] Tell me more.
TIFFANY: I will reread a book but it has to be more of an informational text. So if it's a self-help book, maybe an organizing, a decorating, or something that helps me in an area of my life, like how to stay organized, I will reread a book like that. But if it's a novel or a collection of essays or a collection of poems, I don't typically revisit those types of books if that makes sense.
ANNE: You want something measurable that you're going to get from it when you revisist it.
TIFFANY: So I decided because I was listening to a particular episode about rereading and I thought I'm going to try that for 2022, and so I put together a list of some books and my first one of my favorites was Cane River by Lalita Tademy. I looove that book [ANNE LAUGHS] and I read that one almost 21 years ago and I could not put the book down, but what I loved about it was this book introduced me to historical fiction. I don't think I had really explored historical fiction prior to Cane River. Cane River has maps and pictures and I love, love, love books that have that kind of information where you can flip back and forth and see what's happening on the map and see the pictures and see the people. I love things like that.
ANNE: What put this book in your path?
TIFFANY: So I am an avid Oprah fan and it was Oprah's book list.
ANNE: Oh, thank you, Oprah. Okay, have you read the rest of the trilogy?
TIFFANY: Of Cane River?
ANNE: Uh huh.
TIFFANY: So there was Red River, and I read that one, but I didn't know there was a third.
ANNE: Think it's called Citizens Creek. I mean, they're like loosely related.
TIFFANY: Okay, so I enjoyed Cane River. I enjoyed Red River, but I haven't read Citizens Creek, but I do have it at home.
ANNE: Tell me more about the story. What was it that drew you in?
TIFFANY: It was the women and the relationships of the women and the stories and all the things that happened there. Her mom's family history being told from generation, generation passed down, and then Red River is her dad's story.
ANNE: So are you thinking you may revisit this book in 2022?
TIFFANY: It's one of my novels that I'm going to reread. I'm going to give it a try and you know I'm shaking in my boots like oh, gosh. [ANNE LAUGHS] What if I hate it?
ANNE: Yeah, that is a real question.
TIFFANY: It can happen. I mean, I'm truly a different person than I was 21 years ago, so it's possible. I may not feel the same about it but I'm going to try it because I love your show and so many of your guests talking about rereading books. I'm even reread a particular book once a year and I'm just fascinated by that so I'm going to give it a try. I don't know how it's going to go, but I picked five that I'm going to reread.
ANNE: Ooh. We're going to talk more about that shortly. First, tell me about the second book you loved.
TIFFANY: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I actually found that book after I found Cane River 'cause I was looking for another story to just pull me in and I loooved this story. I loved it because it was a play on a biblical story and the spin it took on the biblical story just took me out. I wasn't expecting that at all. I loved the women's relationships in The Red Tent and how they were there for one another. I read this book in my journey prior to figuring out that I wanted to be a therapist and I just love how each of them had purpose and the different things that they were doing in their relationships and I just loved this particular display of women's relationships and it just drew me in. It's one of those visually I felt like I could see the places that they were. I could see life in The Red Tent. I could see all the things that were happening in the story and I really enjoyed that.
ANNE: Oh, that sounds like a wonderful reading experience.
TIFFANY: Mmhm. This was one that I wanted to reread and I actually started this one this week, but this time I'm listening to it on the audio version and it's been a different experience for me. 'Cause this one has been quite a few years too, I don't know 15 years plus.
ANNE: Uh huh.
TIFFANY: I'm like oh my gosh, I’ve forgotten so much. [ANNE LAUGHS] Which I wasn't expecting. I thought that I would hear the first couple of pages or first couple of lines and be like okay, I remember everything, but that hasn't been the case. Listening to it versus reading it, it's good. There's music in the audio. It's a different experience than when I read it years ago.
ANNE: Tiffany, what did you choose as your third favorite?
TIFFANY: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. David Sedaris is my go to author when I have nothing else to read and I want something funny. He is the guy that I go to and I have now read everything that he has published, but it could be anything in that spot from him. It could be When Engulfed in Flames. It could be Me Talk Pretty One Day. It could be any of his books that are there. I looove essays. I looove his journal entries. I looove observations of life and how they are conveyed on the page. I just love, love, love anything that he does. His voice is just necessary for me and so when I need a reset, I can pick up a David Sedaris book. It's always going to be a good read when I don't have anything else to read.
ANNE: So if you've listened to all his stuff, you have listened to a lot of David Sedaris.
TIFFANY: Mmhm. Mmhm. I just found out – I think he has something new that's coming out.
ANNE: I think you're right because he does so much speaking and travels a lot to do it and I remember seeing travel stuff.
TIFFANY: I feel like he's one of those where he's chronicalled so much of his life and so I'm always anticipating what is he going to cover in this book. I just finished his the Best of Me last year which was a collection of his work. I think the best of his work, but always looking forward to ...
ANNE: [LAUGHS] Oh, when you say that, I just picture myself walking in the snow in my neighborhood just inappropriately laughing [TIFFANY LAUGHS] as my neighbors walk by with their dogs. That sounds on the surface really different from Cane River and The Red Tent, except you said that you really love the way that the relationships are addressed in that book, and David Sedaris writes so much ... I mean, I can't believe how much he writes about his fam – I'm so glad he does – but I can't believe how much he writes about family relationships.
TIFFANY: Mmhm. His dad, his brother, his sister, two of his sisters. This is not one that I intend to reread but I would probably reread Me Talk Pretty One Day or When Engulfed in Flames, but it's not on my list this year of the top five that I'm playing to reread. No, it's not.
ANNE: Alright, we're going to get to those other three books. But first tell me about a book that wasn't right for you.
TIFFANY: I don't know hooow people pick these books, but one that I chose that wasn't right for me was Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward and I think it wasn't right for me specifically because I listened to it on audio and there were so much happening, so many different voices and it was just hard for me to keep up. I think if I had read it on the actual text copy it may have been easier to follow.
ANNE: Mmhm. That is good to know. So you love audiobooks, but you're not an only audiobooks reader clearly.
ANNE: Okay. How do you decide what to read on audio versus print? I imagine you've had other experiences that have really informed what direction you go.
TIFFANY: That's another one 'cause I'm also a serial starter with audiobooks [LAUGHS] as well. Typically when I find a book or I hear about a book that I want to read I do a couple of things. I go automatically to my library and I see what format they have it in. If they have it in an audiobook then I select it, and then if I try to listen to it and it's not working for me for whatever reason, then I still keep it on my list of what I want to read, but then I'll go back and I'll try it either in an ebook or hardcover.
ANNE: Tiffany, what have you been reading lately?
TIFFANY: So I am currently reading The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner.
ANNE: Uh huh.
TIFFANY: From Book of the Month. I've been a part of Book of the Month for a while so I'm always collecting all these books that I’m never gonna have time to read [BOTH LAUGH] but that was one of my selections and I'm a part of historical fictionistias on Goodreads.
ANNE: Oh, I don't know about this.
TIFFANY: They do a vote and people vote for what we want to read collectively, and so that was the one that was chosen and so that's good. So basically, it like jumps back and forth back in time to present day. We know that there is a girl, Nella, who runs an apothecary shop and then there's a girl in present day who's going through a rough time in her marriage that finds herself in London and she goes what's called mudlarking I think it's called and she finds an apothecary bottle. She's doing some research about where this apothecary bottle came from and it's jumping back and forth in time. Really, really good.
ANNE: Good. I'm glad you're enjoying it. Tiffany, what do you want to be different in your reading life?
TIFFANY: Several things. I want to discuss books more in real life with people, and I am involved like I said in Goodreads and then on the Modern Mrs Darcy forums. It's not the same as discussing books with people all the time, but I would like that to be a little bit different, but I want to do a better job of reviewing the books that I read and because I listen to books a lot on audio when I'm driving, it's so hard for me to capture my thought about something because I'm driving, and then by the time I get to work, or by the time I get home, I'm not in that same spot in the book and so what I love in that moment has gone and I don't want to pause at minute 58 48, you know, because I want to keep listening to the book. I'm wanting to find ways to do better reviews of what I'm reading which is difficult because like I said I listen to a lot of audiobooks.
ANNE: What's your app of choice?
TIFFANY: So I use Libby and I use Overdrive. Another thing that I would like to be different is I want to find more Nigerian writers if their work is narrated by Nigerian persons that read the book, the audiobooks.
ANNE: What spurs that interest?
TIFFANY: So my husband is from Nigeria and I've been to Nigeria several times. When I read books by Nigerian authors, if there's Pidgin English in there, I get it. I understand it. I know what they're saying, but if I listen to the book on audio and that person isn't from Nigeria, they don't get the pronunciations correct and it's in my head like no, no, no that's not correct. So it's something about hearing Nigerian writers when they read other Nigerian writers. I really like that.
ANNE: So you know what you're listening for and you know if it's right and you want it to be right.
ANNE: Alright. Tiffany, [SIGHS] where are we going to start? Let's review your favorites again. You loved Cane River by Lalita Tademy, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, and Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. Not for you was Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward and you think that had to do with the format, not necessarily the book, and then right now you're reading The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, which really reflects your great love of historical fiction, which continues. Okay, and you're looking for ... Well, books that you love and with a specific request for a Nigerian novel on audio read by an Nigerian author, and then also some reading life requests for things you'd like to deepen, get familiar with in your reading life.
TIFFANY: I'm ready.
ANNE: Okay. Talk to me about discussing books with other people. For you, do you feel like this is a feeling comfortable doing it, feeling comfortable like knowing how to start and continue those conversations, or is this finding the person or people?
TIFFANY: I think it's a little bit of both. I was a part of a book club years and years and years ago. My children were babies at the time and it was awesome. It was called The One Rule book club.
ANNE: You're going to tell me the one rule, right? [LAUGHS]
TIFFANY: The one rule was that [LAUGHS] you must love wine which I don't, which is really funny story. We would get together and whoever's turn it was to host, whatever book we were reading, you had to have a meal that was inspired by the theme of the book. We would go to, you know, Mediterranean restaurants or have all sorts of things. It was just the best, and people actually read the books and so we could have those discussions, and it was just a fantastic time. And so I liked to hear how other people read certain things and what they took from it and then discuss. I miss connecting with people around books in that way. I just don't have a lot of time. I'm all over the place, but it would be nice.
ANNE: Yeah, definitely. I know a lot of people are listening and nodding their head right now. Listeners, we would love to hear how you have connected with book people and found you know, the one person you love talking about books with and your tips for engaging in great bookish conversations. Show notes are at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/321 and that would be a great place to leave tips for Tiffany and for all of us so we can see them.
Tiffany, I know that if I were in your Dallas life, I would love to hear you talk about books the same way you're talking about books today and my best advice to readers wanting to connect to people, you know, in their daily lives about books is to talk about what you're reading and enjoying or reading and not enjoying because that makes wonderful conversations as well. My hope would be to discover there's some people in your life that love talking books and you don't actually know it yet.
TIFFANY: One of the goals for me this year with the Modern Mrs Darcy forum is to be more involved because I'm there but I haven't been as involved and something I've heard is like a buddy read. Like that may be a good place for me to start or find a buddy, read something together and then be able to discuss as well as find the books that are being talked about and then mark it on my calendar so that I can actually join the discussions.
ANNE: Is that something you've done before?
TIFFANY: No. Not specifically. What typically happens is I read, read, read, read and then somebody will ask me, hey, Tiff, what are you reading lately? And then I overwhelmingly give all these things [BOTH LAUGH] because that's the only time that I can just discuss what I'm reading and then I make all these recommendations [ANNE LAUGHS] of books that they should read. They won't ask me again for another couple of months and then I do the same thing, but then I get kinda insecure because I'm like I don't know if that's too much or if you know, I don't know, so.
ANNE: So what I'm hearing is that you have this pent up book talk
ANNE: That maybe you want to not like wait until it just erupts.
TIFFANY: [LAUGHS] Yes.
ANNE: I say that with great affection and relatedness here. Let's talk about audiobooks and taking notes. I still, like I can still picture myself driving listening to a couple different audiobooks knowing exactly where I was and kinda knowing what the book said and not knowing at the time how to use the bookmarks feature and just like so wishing I could go back and look at those sections so I want to say like I hear you. But nor do I like want to read the whole book again, or you know, a third of it to try to find that one point.
If you're not yet familiar with the bookmarks feature on Libby and it's safe for you to use it while driving, I would really encourage you to give it a try and here's how it works. So it's just a little bookmark. It looks kinda like a flag on the bottom of your screen. You can do a quick Google like how to bookmark in Libby. I actually made a video for YouTube that's on how to use the bookmarks feature in Audible and Libro, but it's very similar.
ANNE: So all you do is you reach over and hit a little flag that says save this spot and you don't have to say why. It doesn't stop your audiobook. It keeps going but then later when you get to the office, or I usually end up doing this when I finish an audiobook, like right before I like send it back to the library or I delete it as one of my current downloads, I just go back and … Or listen to my bookmarks. Sometimes I'm like ooh, I'm not sure I understand that. I want to come back to it later or sometimes it'll remind me of something else, but usually they said something like really just mm, perfect, and I want to capture it in my journal. That's when I often use the feature myself. It's the bookmarks feature on Libby.
TIFFANY: See, this is why you are the literal book whisperer, Anne, because I am in my car hitting the backup feature 15 seconds for like 50 times 'cause I want to hear it [LAUGHS] over and over and over and now I had no idea that the bookmark feature. This is awesome.
ANNE: I mean I wish I'd known about it back then. It's only in the past couple of years that I've realized how that works and you know, Tiffany, in both our defenses, this feature has not existed for forever.
ANNE: But another thing you might do, and this may or may not work for you because it would involve switching apps like this is a little more phone in your hand kind of thing which is not going to be safe in certain situations, but could be in others. Like I listen to audiobooks when I'm walking the dog a lot, you know, so it's not that I can't use my hands. It's just I don't want to. Especially when it's like 19 degrees out.
But you could also send yourself a quick voice memo that said like ooh, in chapter whatever at the 58% mark, the author is talking about this thing and I want to go back and look at it for this reason, but just sending yourself a quick voice memo, you can do it on an iPhone with the voice memo feature. You can do it Voxer by just sending a message to yourself. That could preserve what you're thinking right then.
ANNE: I often think I'll definitely remember that later and then I don't. So the voice memo is just a nice backup. So the bookmarks features is definitely easier and made from failure purposes but if you have a little more you want to say to your future self that voice memo option could really work.
TIFFANY: Okay, great.
ANNE: Now, Tiffany, I want to see what you think of these books I'm thinking of but first, please tell me the three additional books you're thinking of rereading.
TIFFANY: East of Eden by John Steinbeck I'm planning to reread. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston, and then Let Your Life Speak by I can't remember his first name but last name Palmer.
ANNE: Yeah, Parker Palmer.
TIFFANY: And then the last one, which I've read everything from her as well, Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Those are the ones that I'm rereading.
ANNE: I'm just sitting here grinning rather silly thinking about the variety of experiences you have awaiting you. I'm so curious to hear how the rereading works out for you.
TIFFANY: I'll keep you posted.
ANNE: Okay, I love to hear.
So you love historical fiction. You love novels that pull you in immediately that transport you to another place, and I know that you read nonfiction as well, I think we're going to focus on fiction today. We're going to start with the one I feel most confident about and I hope we don't fizzle from there but here we go. Have you read The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin?
ANNE: This is a Nigerian novel and she narrates her own audiobook.
TIFFANY: Okay. Awesome.
ANNE: And I'm always fascinated when novelists narrate their own audiobooks because that's – it's not common. Now I read this in print, so I hope you love the audiobook. This came out in something like 2010. I think in the interim there's been ... There might be a stage adaptation if that intrigues you, or readers, if you have heard of that. This is the story as you might imagine of a polygamist family. The husband is Baba Segi, and he has three wives for a long time, but then for reasons you see in the story, he adds a wife. She is a university graduate and the other wives find her highly intimidating, really like fires up their competitiveness that she is a university graduate and it wouldn't be unheard of for a university graduate to marry into this family to be a fourth wife but it's not common.
Two years in, she still hasn't gotten pregnant. The whole idea of adding these wives to your family is so ... Well, for Baba Segi is so that he can have more children. But that hasn't happened for her, so Baba Segi drags her to the doctor because he knows like this is the language you have to speak to her. This is the person that he will listen to because she is a university graduate, and he does this after urging from his mentor, like this is how you need to handle this pesky situation about your wife who's just not doing her duty as a spouse.
ANNE: But what they discover in the course of that investigation threatens to completely destroy the home. This novel is set in Ibadan. She said she wrote this because she wanted to explore and show readers like what a polygamist family might look like in modern day Nigeria. The comedies and tragedies that ensue, but the thing I really like about this book is that it focuses on those complex human relationships, especially, not only, but especially female relationships in the family because everybody in the family gets a turn. In the wives case, it's multiple turns to tell their story. The competitiveness between the wives 'cause everybody wants the husband's attention. The alliances that form and disband. They make for really good reading.
There's a lot of drama in this novel, like a lot, like there's a lot of fireworks as the revelations start coming as to what is going on here, and what the wives have done to each other and on their own and each other's behalf. There are certainly hard things that happen in this novel, and readers that want to avoid certain content should definitely do a little research on this book. I don't want to give anything away that's not revealed in the story until much later. I think you might really enjoy this. How does that sound?
TIFFANY: It sounds good.
ANNE: That was The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin. The next story I'm thinking of are the same reasons but this is definitely a different incantation of
them is Conjure Women by Afia Atakora. Is this a book you're familiar with?
TIFFANY: No, Anne. This is awesome. I'm so excited.
ANNE: Okay. I'm really glad to hear it. So this is newer. This just came out maybe two springs ago. It's set in the same kind of landscape as Cane River even though the story itself is very, very different.
ANNE: So she said that she wanted to write a story about a time and place that we don't speak often enough that like really has parallels to our current situation today and this novel is set in the decades before and after the Civil War in the United States in the American south. So in the present timeline in the story, which is set just after the Civil War, there's a young midwife and healer and her name is Rue, and in the past timeline of the story – and these are braided together in the narrative – we get to know Rue's mother who was also a healer. As Rue grows up she takes her mother's place even though she really doesn't want to for reasons that'll become clear in the story, but then in the present timeline there are three things that happen that really rock Rue's world and the community itself.
There's this strange child born under mysterious circumstances that the baby doesn't look like people expect babies to look. There's a charismatic healer who arrives in the community, and then lots of people begin to get sick when this strange sickness begins making its way through the town and all of a sudden, Rue, who's always been respective at the community is now a source of fear and suspicion and that makes her position suddenly very precarious.
We get to see three different periods of time, so we have this period right after the Civil War. We have the period when her mother was a healer before the war, and then Rue attains her freedom and has to figure out a path forward after the war. There are so many secrets in this book that are revealed, it reveals slowly and then all at once. There are lots of layers, extremely complex relationships and just like in Cane River, and also in Baba Segi's Wives story, the relationships with the women are really central to this story. It's really that plus the combo of the historical fiction that makes me think it might be a good book for you. Takes you to a different time and place.
TIFFANY: Sounds amazing.
ANNE: That is Conjure Women by Afia Atakora. Have you read The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan?
TIFFANY: No, I haven't. Haven't heard of it at all.
ANNE: I think I like the sound of this for you. Alyan is a poet. That's where she got her start as a writer. This is her second novel. The first was Salt Houses. Which is lovely, but I really like this one for you because I mean, honestly, it's because I love it more and I think …
ANNE: And I think that you may too, but this is the story of a complicated family that spread around the world at this point. This is a diaspora story, really, and I mean she tells a compelling story with lots of narrative drive. I listened to this on audio, actually, it was amazing in that format. It's narrated by Leila Buck who did a fantastic job.
Alyan is Palestinian American, and this is the story of a Palestinian husband and wife who have a secret history that the children don't know anything about. The kids always think yeah, yeah, mom and dad, whatever, and they just … They've been married for 40 years. They're happy enough. It's fine, but going back and forth in time, you see the children dealing with struggles in their own lives today and just like totally normal, I mean, you know interesting because this is a novel. But the oldest daughter is a microbiologist in Brooklyn. Mimi, the son, is a musician, or he wants to be a musician in Austin, and one daughter is a singer and musician who's like ... She's a star. She's internationally famous, but they have their own relational struggles and then you know struggles within the family, relational dynamic.
And their mom for reasons [LAUGHS] it increasingly becomes clear are veiled, wants to bring everybody back to Beruit, to do something that doesn't really make sense, but the kids go along with it and so everybody ends up reuninting in Beruit, but then end up their own problems with them and of course the kids of this, you know, a bright Palestinian family like they don't want to tell their parents that they're having these struggles. In fact there's one, the musician Naj, like she hasn't told her parents she's gay 'cause she just ... You can't do that to Palestinian parents, at least that's what she thinks.
But the way that she writes about the complicated politics and social pressures around her parents' heritage and Lebanon and Syria and Palestine's combined history – you can't see me like folding my fingers together – like the way that's all intertwined in terms of history and caste and tribes is so fascinating and I know very little about this, like I'm definitely someone who's getting a lens on history through the pages of a novel here. I do like knowing that Alyan knows what she is writing of and is writing from that heritage herself but really it's the juicy family dramas that shine in this book and I think that's the thing that you would really enjoy it for.
TIFFANY: It sounds great. It sounds great. Lots of choices here for sure.
ANNE: Well I hope you enjoy it. And like Baba Segi, not so much like Conjure Women, but like Baba Segi, this novel definitely has the comedies and the tragedies. It's really poignant but also there are funny moments. I hope you enjoy it.
Tiffany, of the books we talked about today. They were The Secrets Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin, Conjure Women by Afia Atakora, and The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan. Of those books what do you think you may [LAUGHS] I wanna say give a start. What do you think you may pick up next?
TIFFANY: I'm gonna pick up Conjure Women. Sounds good.
ANNE: Well I can't wait to hear what you think. Tiffany, I wish you well on your rereading adventure for 2022. I'm curious to learn what you find out and I so appreciate you talking about that and all your reading life with me today.
TIFFANY: Well thank you so much, Anne. It's been a pleasure. You don't know how you've made my day, my month, my year. This is amazing.
[CHEERFUL OUTRO MUSIC]
ANNE: Hey readers, I hope you enjoyed my discussion with Tiffany. Let us know what you think she may enjoy reading next by leaving a comment on our show notes page at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com/321. That’s also where you’ll find the full list of titles we talked about today.
Connect with me on Instagram at annebogel, Anne with an E, B as in books, O-G-E-L, and follow the show at whatshouldireadnext. We love it when you tag us when you’ve listened to an episode or been inspired by something in our feed.
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Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening.
And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
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