WSIRN Ep 88: Overlooked books that deserve to shine

Today I’m talking with Amena Brown, a spoken-word poet who writes all her poems to jazz music. When she was a little girl, Amena dreamed of becoming a stand-up comedian, and that doesn’t seem like a stretch to me! She brought a lot of big laughs to our conversation today, as we discussed our favorite comedic memoirs by fabulously funny women, pushing the limits of a book’s form, and FEELINGS in books we just can’t find the words for. Plus, I give a book recommendation… that isn’t a book at all. Another reason to be excited about today’s episode? We’re announcing the winners of the Deluxe Reading Journal Kit giveaway! We’ve been waiting weeks for this — so let’s get right to it.



What Should I Read Next #88: Overlooked books that deserve to shine with Amena Brown

Connect with Amena Brown:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook
Check out Amena’s most recent spoken word album.

Books mentioned in this episode:

Some links are affiliate links. More details here.

• How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself, by Amena Brown
• Bossypants, by Tina Fey
• Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
• Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, by Issa Rae
• Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength, by Chanequa Walker-Branes
• For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, by Ntozake Shange
• When The Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions, by Sue Monk Kidd
• Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling
• Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
• We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
• Head Off & Split, by Nicky Finney
• The Street, by Anne Petry
• Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson
• Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

Also mentioned:

• Love Jones
WSIRN Ep 69: The library is running my life (with Carolyn McCready)
• On Being: Where Does It Hurt? (with Ruby Sales)


Leave A Comment
  1. Kim says:

    My reaction to Beloved was the same! I almost felt guilty for it, too, because I kept being told it was “all that”. I liked Jazz and The Bluest Eye. I kept waiting for the Ah-Ha for Beloved but it never got past “Huh?”.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Amena should try : “Who Thought This Was A Good Idea” by Alyssa Mastromonaco. It is a political memoir written by a former Obama Deputy Chief of Staff. Super good read about a real deal female who wielded a crazy important position, written about with a sense of humour: the author acknowledges that Mindy Kaling’s book inspired her own writing and the two of them are now friends. Also some nice political nostalgia from a more civil era for bonus points.

  3. Ginger says:

    I have a couple of humor suggestions for Amena. Not exactly unknown, but I do think Nick Hornby is underread. He’s literary, but his fiction and columns for McSweeney’s never fail to make me laugh (plus, he LOVES music). And in the spirit of recommending not-books, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, an Amazon original series (they’ve just released the pilot episode so far) cracked me up about a woman trying to break into stand-up comedy in the late 50s.

    I think I’m going to have to listen to this episode again, just to soak in some more of Amena. One of my favorite guests of late!

    • Andrea says:

      Great episode off the beaten path! I’m especially looking forward to checking out Too Heavy a Yoke and Amena Brown’s book, but I’m excited about many of intriguing author’s mentioned that I’d never heard of. Also, I’m planning to hear Toni Morrison speak in the fall and this episode convinced me I need to revisit her books, which I haven’t read since me college days.

  4. Cassie says:

    I really enjoyed listening to this episode! She’s probably read it, but I just finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I feel like it definitely falls into the category of a book full of an unspoken “ache”.

  5. Beka says:

    I love poetry and but haven’t read a lot of modern poets lately. So I’m looking forward to reading some of Amena’s poetry. I am on a “strong-powerful women” vibe of late. And I loved the way Anne phrase “crafter of words”. I think that is one reason I love reading so much. This shall be one of my new favorite phrases 🙂

  6. Deb says:

    Beloved was the same for me. I’m actually relieved to hear others didn’t “get it” as I felt I must be missing something!

  7. Maria B says:

    Loved this episode – Amena should DEFINITELY read “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. WHIIIIIITE TEEEEEEETH (that was me sighing the title with great emotion.) It’s so, so so so good. Zadie Smith is a WOC and it’s all about the immigrant experience as Haitians and Indonesians in the UK, so there’s coming-of-age, race issues, women’s issues, sex, drugs, rock n roll etc. But the very best part of this book is the prose. It actually reminded me of spoken-word poetry. It’s as if Smith is talking to the reader – she’ll sometimes end paragraphs with interjections like “here’s the point:” and other non-sequiturs. IT’S SO GOOD AND BEAUTIFUL. (I haven’t read Swing Time yet, but maybe that’s a good one too?) Thanks for all the other rec’s!

  8. This had to be one of my FAVORITE episodes of the podcast. Amena, let’s be friends. Your laugh made me so happy the entire time I listened to this, and I loved hearing about your picks. I’m also a huge fan of comedic memoirs written by women — Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling are some of my favorites too.

    I’ve just ordered your book (I can’t wait to read it!) and I don’t have any recommendations to add (at the moment) but I just wanted to drop in to say how much fun it was to listen to this episode!

  9. Jill W. says:

    I think you might like A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel or Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened or Laurie Notaro’s essay books, starting with the Idiot Girl’s Action Adventure Club.

  10. I know this episode was fun and light, but it struck me to my core. You were both so open about your struggles and the insights you found along the way. I’ve been working on a book of memoir type essays and was feeling stuck, until you, Amena, related your experience of writing your nonfiction book. I was broken open. As an introvert, it’s sometimes hard for me to share my deepest emotions in my blog, and even in my fiction. Thank you both so much for this lovely interview. I don’t have any suggestions for you Amena, I just wanted to say thanks. I wish I liked and could write poetry, but to each her own, I guess.

  11. Samantha says:

    Such a wonderful episode. I feel the same, there was some real depth here as well as plenty of laughter. I love the person who recommended A Girl Named Zippy, which I’ve been meaning to reread. I just read Jubilee by Margaret Walker this year and it was painful but edifying and a good story, most of all.

  12. Suz Priestas says:

    This episode was amazing! I have thoroughly enjoyed all your podcasts, but this one was special. I am going to check out Amena’s book for sure! Thanks for having such an interesting & genuinely fun guest on your show 🙂

  13. Danica says:

    I have to say that I agree about your feelings on Beloved. I had to stop and listen again, because originally I thought that it was a book that you loved. I still have a visceral reaction when I hear about that book – it was just so what? just happened … and how you mentioned figuring out who was alive or dead, etc. However, you have inspired me to finally pick up some of Toni Morrison’s other books and try them out.
    Here is my recommendation if you haven’t read it (though I would not be surprised if you had) – Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston.

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