Ep 1: Luvvie Ajayi Is Judging Us, and We Like It

Luvvie Ajayi, author of I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual counts Oprah, Bono, and Shonda Rhimes among her biggest fans. In this episode, the comic phenom opens up to Roxanne about meeting the top media queens in the biz, moving to the United States from Nigeria, and raising awareness of HIV/AIDS among women.

Also in this episode, our very first installment of “What’s on the Front Table,” a segment about that coveted spot right in front of independent bookstores. Lissa Muscatine, former speech writer for Hillary Clinton and current owner of the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., tells Roxanne what’s on their front table.

Books in this episode:

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual By Luvvie Ajayi

The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke By Angela Nissel

We Should All Be Feminists By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Hillbilly Elegy By J.D. Vance

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right By Arlie Russell Hochschild

The Fight to Vote By Michael Waldman

Swing Time By Zadie Smith

Luvvie’s blog: http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/

The Red Pump Project: http://www.theredpumpproject.org/

 

Read the Transcript

Just the Right Book Podcast
Ep 1: Luvvie Ajayi is Judging Us & We Like It
Published 12/14/2016

 

Beginning of Recorded Material

Luvvie: My favorite shoes, of course have to be red.

Roxanne: Of course.

Luvvie: I’d say they would be some red wedges.

Roxanne: Mmm.

Luvvie: Yeah. They would be some red wedges.

Roxanne: Suede or leather?

Luvvie: Leather. Leather, and I would say the front of them would be some wing tips.

Roxanne: Oooo.

 

Roxanne Coady: I’m Roxanne Coady and welcome to Just the Right Book, a podcast for enthusiastic and engaged readers that will help you discover new books in all genres, give you unique insights into your favorite authors, and bring you up to date with what’s happening in the literary world.

One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Seuss, and it goes, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.” It’s not. Luvvie Ajayi’s statement is to do something that matters. Both she and Dr. Seuss have it right.

I recently had a chance to speak with Luvvie, and she told me what brought her family to the U.S. from Nigeria and what it was like meeting the top media queens in the biz. Later in the show, our very first installment of “What’s on the Front Table,” a new segment about that coveted spot right in the front of independent bookstores.

Luvvie Ajayi is an award-winning writer and creator of the very popular and very funny blog Awesomely Luvvie, which inspired her debut book, I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual. Her book debuted on the New York Times best seller list, probably helping along by 500,000 readers a month on her blog. Luvvie, thank you so much for joining us on Just the Right Book, and I hope you don’t judge me too harshly.

Luvvie: You’re good. You’re good.

Roxanne: So 500,000 followers. How long have you been blogging and what got you started doing that?

Luvvie: I’ve been blogging for 13 years.

Roxanne: Wow.

Luvvie: Yeah, yeah. A long time. I started blogging back in college. I was basically kind of peer pressured into doing it by my friends because I was a columnist in the school paper. My friends just knew I was naturally goofy and they were like you should start a blog. I was like all right. Back then it was called web logging.

Roxanne: Right.

Luvvie: I went on Xanga. I fired up a new site and I basically have my entire college career documented. I was writing about whatever randomness I felt like writing about college life. Exams I wasn’t studying for. I did that throughout my undergrad career so when I graduated, I deleted that blog because I was like I’ve outgrown this and started a new one on August 8th, 2006. That blog became awesomelyluvvie.com.

Roxanne: You have a lot of fanatical fans, and I have to say, I guess you can’t call it binge watch. I binge read your blogs to get a sense of your voice. I’d been reading about you, but I hadn’t been following your blog. I was struck by a number of things. One was your wit. The other was your energy. The other was the extraordinary way you have to tell the truth. Which of those qualities do you think have made these 500,000 people a month your fanatical fans?

Luvvie: Oh my goodness. I think it’s a combination. A lot of them are readers who they actually named themselves Luv Nation.

Roxanne: Not a bad thing. Not a bad thing.

Luvvie: Yeah. Yeah, not a bad thing at all. Really a lot of times they tell me I am their best friend in their head. I’m the person who says what they were thinking and dare not to say. When I write, you feel like you’re basically at brunch with me and you are right in front of me because I talk to people, not at them. Yeah. That’s what really makes people drawn to my blog. They’ll find one piece and then end up there reading five or six.

Roxanne: You know, one of the things it made me think about is there’s a couple of different advice columns. Cheryl Strayed had a “Dear Sugar.” One of the things it made me think about as I read a blog and I thought wow, I bet a lot of people want to be asking you for advice. I mean, probably they want you to just use your magic wand and fix their life, but can you imagine starting an advice column where you’re really one on one helping these people, but it’s public?

Luvvie: I’ve actually thought about it. It’s so funny that you said that. I’ve actually really thought about having an advice column.

Roxanne: You’d be genius. Luvvie, you’d be genius at this because here’s the thing. A lot of times, most of us, maybe you on a bad day, we like to fool ourselves, right? We like to make up why things aren’t going right or why we always have bad boyfriends or why we hate our job. I bet you’d be really good at setting them straight and having them think about it in a different way.

Luvvie: I’ve actually really thought about it. It’s so funny that you’re bringing this up and I think you might prompt me to do it. What’s funny is when I was writing for the school paper, I had an advice column.

Roxanne: Oh. Well, you know, you just have … The thing that I think in reading the book I was struck by is a lot of times we have to hold up some image of ourselves and I think what you do is make it safe for people to feel safe about who they really are. Then as you are clear about is when you’re yourself, you’re most likely to have really good things happen. It’s when you’re trying to be like something else.

Luvvie: Absolutely. I think that’s one thing about my writing, too. A lot of people are like oh my gosh, half the things you say, I couldn’t get away with saying it. I’m like it’s because the humor kind of gets people’s defenses down.

Roxanne: Exactly.

Luvvie: They’re more receptive to the message. Everything I say is from a place of thoughtfulness and love. Even though I’m the person who keeps it real, I’m not the person who uses that as an excuse to be a hateful shrew. I’m the person who just is very direct about how I say it. Sometimes people are like that is actually refreshing to hear that.

Roxanne: I think that’s true. The other part of it is I noticed in one of the articles I read about you that you were quoted as saying if I have a contribution to make, it’s to get people to think hard truths even when it’s difficult.

Luvvie: Honestly it’s what I also try to do with the book is I think we just need to turn the mirror on each other and point out what we’re doing that’s absurd. A lot of comedy is just pointing out the absurdities of the world and making commentary around it. It is one of those things where tough conversations, we have to have them as opposed to avoiding them because here’s the thing. Once we have them, we might breathe a sigh of relief. We’re so afraid of the actual conversation itself so we just do everything we can to not have it. That’s counterproductive. My thing is if I can make people have these tough conversations in thoughtful ways so at least you can get it off your plate. It’s one less thing to do.

Roxanne: Yeah, and you know I wonder. You have a chapter in here on racism. One of the things that you said was how do we fight racism and racial injustice. I’m not sure, but I think part of it has to be racists recognize themselves and that everyone sees how they are contributing to the system. Let’s just throw all the cards on the table. But I think you could start even at what might seem like a lower bar. I’m a white person. I don’t remotely consider myself racist, but I bet there are things that I do or say that probably smack of racism inadvertently.

Luvvie: Right.

Roxanne: Let’s even start with people who would be sick if they thought they were doing something that was racist. That’s a good place maybe to start a conversation. Start with people who already want to do it the right way.

Luvvie: Right. This is why I have the privilege chapter in the book to is a lot of times we hear about privilege and we think it might means we are somehow doing something personally harm others. When a lot of white people hear privilege, they’re like wait, but I’ve been working hard. That’s not the point.

Roxanne: That’s not the point.

Luvvie: I think just breaking down this giant concept. People hear it and it just feels like this abstract concept. Then just breaking it down into examples that people can kind of relate to. Even using the example of walking into a store and being able to get BandAids that are considered nude and that nude is your color as opposed to anybody else’s. Even that is a privilege

I even use myself as an example. I do a lot of speaking engagements at conferences and a lot of times, they give me those mics. You know? Those mics that come across your ear that have the little thing that comes across your mouth. The whole point of the mic is that it’s hands free. When I was at the Boston Book Festival in the beginning of October, I put on one of the mics, and it was tan, right? The week before, I had spoken at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. When I was there, they brought me mic choices, different shades of brown to pick from.

Roxanne: Whoa.

Luvvie: I was like wait a minute. You mean this whole time, this mic was supposed to actually match my skin tone? I just assumed that they were supposed to be tan just because that’s how they manufactured them. No. The point of the mic is that they’re not supposed to be visible. I had no clue that this mic this entire time was supposed to match me until I was given the choice.

Even talking about that is just saying that when you’re able to move in the world without noticing your skin tone and without noticing that you’re noticing that you’re not represented, that itself is a massive privilege that you have if you’re a white person.

Roxanne: Yeah. You know, I think about it because my parents are immigrants and I came here and felt very, you know, I was born here, but my parents had just gotten here. They didn’t speak English. I felt very much like an outsider, but I didn’t look like an outsider. I sort of could get lost in the crowd, and I didn’t have the blonde hair and the blue eyes I wanted, but I could sort of disappear into the crowd and not seem any different. When you’re young, it seems to me or at least for me, you don’t want to be different. I wanted to be named like Betty or something.

Luvvie: Right. I definitely understand that because I was born and raised in Nigeria and came to the United States when I was nine. Imagine a nine-year-old who is coming from a different country, has a different name that’s not that easy to pronounce for everybody, has a strong accent. At nine, I was like oh God, I don’t want to be different.

Roxanne: How was it? What was it like?

Luvvie: Oh my goodness. It was jarring to me because it was the first time I was ever the new girl and it was the first time I ever felt like I have to doubt myself or the person that I am is somehow laughable because kids would tease me about my accent. They’d tease me about the food I was bringing to lunch. I wasn’t bringing sandwiches. I was bringing rice and stew.

For me, how I learned to overcome is one, I was funny so I made friends easy, but two, I also mimicked how my friends spoke to lose my accent. By the first year of high school, I didn’t have a strong accent like I had before. I was able to mostly blend in as long as I wasn’t angry or super happy because that’s when the accent comes out of nowhere.

Roxanne: What brought your parents to the United States?

Luvvie: My sister was supposed to be starting college and they didn’t want her to go to college in Nigeria because at that point, there was a bunch of strikes in universities. They thought it was a good time to come here.

“Oh my God, please go get a map.”

Roxanne: Did people make up things about what the assumed your life in Nigeria was like?

Luvvie: Absolutely and that’s why I wrote that chapter on Africa in my book. Yeah. People asked me questions like, “Oh my gosh, do you have lions that you play with?” I was like I have never seen a lion before. In fact, the only time I saw a lion was on Disney’s “The Lion King.” They were like,”Oh my God, you had TV? Yes, I’ve been watching Disney since I was two. Yes, we had video tapes. We had VCRs. Yes, we have television. We have electricity and understanding that. Oh my goodness. Wow, being African is something to be made fun of? That was new to me.

Roxanne: Yeah, and tough I bet.

Luvvie: Yeah, and also they would mix being Nigerian with being Jamaican. I was like, “It’s not even the same continent. Oh my God, please go get a map.”

Roxanne: At what point did you feel not self-conscious about that or different or didn’t care?

Luvvie: College was really I really started embracing that part of me because I saw other people who were African and who embraced their culture and I realized you know what? This thing that makes you different actually makes you kind of awesome so hold onto it.

Roxanne: Yeah. It takes a while though to figure that out.

Luvvie: Right because again, when you’re young, you don’t want to be the odd man out. You don’t think being different is cool. You want to be just like everybody else and rock the same hairstyle and the same shoes and talk the same, but then the older you get, you start realizing the value of that uniqueness.

Roxanne: Exactly. What is your favorite chapter in the book?

Luvvie: My favorite chapter in the book. The one that makes people laugh the most actually has been chapter three.

Roxanne: Oh, about bae?

Luvvie: Yeah, which is “When Baehood Goes Bad.” Yeah. That one is the one that people quote to me the most.

Roxanne: Why do you think?

Luvvie: Because they see themselves in this very much or they see somebody they know in it. It’s the chapter where I talk about the bad relationship decisions we all make or our friends make that we’ve seen happen. Essentially you either have to sit there and watch it unfold and be there to be like yeah, it’ll be okay, or you tell them the truth and they see the light. Either way, I think we all have gone through terrible relationships when we know better, but the reason we kind of stayed is they have a certain appeal.

Roxanne: Do you find people make the same bad relationship mistakes over and over again or they invent new ones?

Luvvie: Oh man. Over and over again. Absolutely. We’re like creatures of habit so we end up doing the same things, dating the same people, but in different packages. It’s just human nature until we finally snap out of it like okay, I’ve had enough of this foolishness. I’m going to go do better and pick better people

Roxanne: Now what’s it like? You’ve got the biggest media queens on the planet like Oprah and Shonda Rhimes in your corner. You’re on Oprah’s SuperSoul 100 list and Shonda first noticed you when you were doing “Scandal” recaps. Does that feel surreal? Does it feel right?

Luvvie: It feels surreal in the way that’s like the person that you’ve admired for a long time is now a fan of yours. That’s surreal. It’s super unreal. Anytime I get an email from Shonda, I’m like what? I see her name in my email and I’m like I can’t believe I got an email from Shonda Rimes.

Roxanne: Have you met them?

Luvvie: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Funny enough, I met Shonda two years ago in person at an event, Essence Black Women in Hollywood, and she fan-girled over me and was like, “Oh my God, I love you.” I was like what? Then Oprah, being on her SuperSoul 100 list, went to LA for a brunch for the honorees. Her team loved me and they had me come back to actually interview her on the OWN TV lot.

Roxanne: Oh, that’s right. That’s right.

Luvvie: Yeah. That was incredible.

Roxanne: Now how were they in real life compared to what you expected?

Luvvie: They were exactly what I expected. Even better. Both of them are very self-assured, and I love when I see women being that way because we’re not expected to be. People will ask, “Oh my God, why are you so confident?” Why should you not be? It’s powerful to be in the presence of powerful women. It’s just one of those things that is like I get back to my room after the day and I’m just like wow, that was amazing. That was so affirming.

Roxanne: And it’s inspiring.

Luvvie: Oh my goodness. Absolutely. It just tells me that I need to keep on doing what I’ve been doing.

Roxanne: Because they didn’t spring a hole that way I don’t assume.

Luvvie: Right. It’s because they focus on doing good work over the years. I think that’s one thing that both Oprah and Shonda have been about is just creating good content for people to consume.

“I think it just comes down to having conversations”

Roxanne: Talking about doing good things, tell us about your nonprofit that you’ve spent so much time on called The Red Pump Project.

Luvvie: Yeah. The Red Pump Project is my seven-year-old nonprofit, and we raise awareness about the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and girls. I started it with a friend of mine, Karen, because I ended up finding out that one of my friends had 20 cousins who had been orphaned by AIDS related complications. Their parents died from AIDS related complications and they live with her grandmother in Malawi. For me, it was one of those things that’s like, “Oh, I didn’t even know HIV and AIDS was still a problem.” I had stopped hearing about it.

Karen had one of her really close friends end up telling her that he’s HIV positive and his brother was, too. We were just like how would their parents feel? How was their mom feeling? We realized that women really bear the brunt of any epidemic, but this one in particular because even when we’re not the ones who are infected, we’re the caretakers. We’re the moms, the aunts. Then you know society doesn’t really give women space to be sexual even though they want us to be sexy.

Roxanne: Right.

Luvvie: We wanted to really create this organization to decrease stigma, to talk about it openly, to make it to be where women don’t feel the shame. If they’re living with it, hey, don’t feel the shame. We’re standing with you. If you’re not living with it, don’t get it and here’s how you keep yourself safe. Yeah. Red Pump is national. We have a team of women across the country doing workshops on empowerment education around the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

Roxanne: Well congratulations for doing that work because I’m like you. I started reading about Red Pump and I thought gee, I kind of thought that we had gotten that all set.

Luvvie: No.

Roxanne: The other thing you’re bringing up or you talk about the problem with the way we’ve gotten with social media. I thought about that. I was watching the music awards last night and there was a number that I found highly sexual. It made me wonder. I mean I’m a woman in my late 60s so it could be that I’m just like old and cranky, but it made me wonder about what do performances like that say to young women about who they ought to be? To your point, we want our women to be sexy, but not sexually active. What message is that sending? Is that okay? Does it make it safe? Does it make it all right? Does it sort of tip the scales?

Luvvie: I think it’s important for messages to be varying. If it was just that message constantly, which a lot of music really is just about sexualization of women’s bodies. That’s when the problem comes. It needs balance. It needs to show other viewpoints. Yes, you can show the sexy, but then show something else to have a variety of perspectives. That’s what I think is always wrong is when the singular story is being told about anything.

Roxanne: Right and I worry that there is only a single story that young women might be seeing or hearing and the pressure on social media for them to be a certain way.

Luvvie: Yeah. It’s one of those things where we also have to be discerning about the media we’re consuming and how it’s effecting us. Some of us are better equipped or better prepared or have been trained to know how to absorb certain messages and throw some away, but others don’t have that. It’s one of those things where we then have to police the type of content we consume or we’re allowing our kids to consume because they’re super impressionable.

Roxanne: Yeah. It’s something I worry about and I think parents, we had an author at the bookstore that I’m with who talked about this issue with social media and girls. We had 600 moms show up trying to understand how they can help their girls manage through this where they’ve got peer pressure to be some way, they’ve got their own motivations. Then there’s the parents trying to figure out how they can help them.

Luvvie: Yeah. I think it just comes down to having conversations about it.

Roxanne: Yeah. That’s what they said.

Luvvie: Okay, what do you watch? How does that make you feel? What do you take from it? Just being really open and having that debrief is important.

Roxanne: Well, you know I do think it’s a huge value, Luvvie, that you’re doing what you’re doing because I would recommend parents reading your book because I think it would give them context for conversations with their daughters or their sisters. You do a great job of making it safe to say things that they might not otherwise say because they don’t think anyone will believe them or they don’t have the right to say it or it would be embarrassing. I really appreciate and admire how you’re changing that landscape for people to have those conversations.

Luvvie: Yeah, I’ve gotten a bunch of messages from parents who’ve said I’ve read your book and I realized I need to share this with my teenager. Yeah. People have actually been giving the book to their teenagers to read. I went to an elementary school to speak, to a high school also. High schoolers. A librarian was like, “Oh yeah, no, the kids have to get this book so they have a stock because my book, even though my audience is mostly adults, there’s a lot of things that could spark conversations in there with kids, and I think kids of like 16 years old could easily read this book.” Some people have actually had their 13-year-olds read this book.

Roxanne: Oh, I absolutely think 15- and 16-year-olds, and if they are really out there in the world, I don’t know why a 13- or a 14-year-old. I think that would be up to the parents, but 15 or 16? I think particularly if the parents read it at the same time it would be really valuable. I’m always amazed when customers come in the bookstore and they’re picking out a book and they go oh, I don’t want it if it’s got oral sex in it or if it’s got this or that. I’m like you really think your daughter doesn’t know about this?

Luvvie: Right.

Roxanne: But if they read it at the same time, it would give them a great basis for conversation.

Luvvie: Yeah. The funny thing is, my book is not even that explicit.

Roxanne: It isn’t.

Luvvie: It’s one of those things where absolutely I encourage parents to get this for their teenagers. There are a lot of concepts. I think one of my gifts is being able to explain very big concepts in relatable ways. My whole thing is I don’t want to just be speaking to the choir, preaching to the choir. I want it to be where someone who’s even never picked up my work can pick up this book and perfectly understand what I’m saying.

Roxanne: Exactly. I have a couple of closing questions for you. One is as we mentioned, “I’m Judging You” quickly became a New York Times best seller. Your fans are already anxious to find out what’s next for you, but I think we decided, right?

Luvvie: That’s for me, yes, but this advice column? I need to work on that.

Roxanne: I think you’ve got to get this going.

Luvvie: Oh yeah. I’m wondering if I should do it on my site or if I should do it in a national magazine on their digital site so maybe like a Marie Claire or Glamour.

Roxanne: I’m seeing it in a magazine in print and digitally on their magazine. “Dear Luvvie.”

Luvvie: I’m with that. I am so gonna pitch that to somebody and see. I’ve been thinking about it. I just hadn’t made a move on it.

“One of my favorite books ever is The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel”

Roxanne: I have two more questions for you. What’s the book that changed your life?

Luvvie: The book that changed my life. I would say “The Broke Diaries” or a couple of a books. I love reading because I feel like if you’re a writer, you have to consume a lot of reading. You have to read a lot so I do that. One of my favorite books ever is “The Broke Diaries” by Angela Nissel. It was the first book that ever made me laugh out loud in public. Angela Nissel was in college and she actually had a blog. She used to write about how broke she was. For example, I remember one line that had me really laughing and it was a line where she said she opened up her cupboard and found a grit. Not grits, but a grit. I was like oh my God, that’s hysterical.

Reading her book really kind of showed me even without me understanding that it was showing me that women could write humor and actually be published in this. For me, I kept in the back in my head that I was like okay, eventually I could actually probably do this because this book shows me that I could do this. I’ve always kept that book as my forefront. I actual end up meeting Angela and designing her website. She ended up being the writers on one of my favorite shows ever, “Scrubs.” In one of those full circle moments, she ended up blurbing my book and writing a quote about how much she loved my book.

Roxanne: Nice full circle, huh?

Luvvie: Complete circle. It was so good. We finally met in person this year, and it was like I’ve known her forever.

Roxanne: That’s great. I love stories like that. I don’t normally ask our authors this question, but I know you’re a shoe maniac.

Luvvie: Yes, I am!

Roxanne: Describe for me your favorite shoe.

Luvvie: Oh my goodness. Red Pump is called the Red Pump project because we use red shoes as the connotation starter and people come to our events wearing red shoes, so my favorite shoes of course have to be red.

Roxanne: Of course.

Luvvie: I would say they would be some red wedges.

Roxanne: Mmm.

Luvvie: Yeah. They would be some red wedges.

Roxanne: Suede or leather?

Luvvie: Leather. Leather and I would say the front of them would be some wing tips.

Roxanne: Oooo. How high would the wedge be?

Luvvie: They would be about four inches.

Roxanne: And you don’t trip?

Luvvie: No.

Roxanne:

You’ve got good balance.

Luvvie: Have to.

Roxanne: You gotta do it. Well, Luvvie, this has been just a pleasure to get to speak with you. I really appreciate you coming on the show. I’ve loved reading your blog. I’ve loved reading your book. I really look forward to watching you continue to make the kind of impact that you’re making and really helping to make the world a better place.

Luvvie: Honestly, I feel like we can all make the world a better place.

Roxanne: We can all try.

Luvvie: We can all try. You don’t have to start a nonprofit. You don’t have to write a book, but I think in our everyday lives, there’s things that we can do actively make either somebody else’s life a little better or the world a little bit let sucky. That’s honestly what I want people to think about every single day. That’s what I’m hoping I’m encouraging folks to do while they’re laughing, of course. I think laughter helps all along.

Roxanne: Well I think you’re off to a hell of a start, Luvvie. Thank you very much.

Luvvie: Thank you for having me.

Roxanne: Okay. Good luck.

Luvvie: Thank you.

Roxanne: I’ll look for your column.

Luvvie: Yes!


“We have devoted our front table to a display of books that we call Don’t give up. Stand up.”

Roxanne: It’s now time for our very first installment of our segment “What’s on the Front Table?” The front table in the bookstore is where we as booksellers put out the books that we think we love, that we think people have been reading about, we think they’ll want to know about. It is the first place that we get the opportunity to, we’ll call it talk to a customer.

We are joined today on Just the Right Book by Lissa Muscatine who is the owner of Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. Politics and Prose, for those of you who don’t know, is an iconic bookstore that’s a model for the rest of us in the industry. Lissa and her husband, both Washington Post journalists, bough Politics and Prose, Lissa, how many years ago?

Lissa: Five and a half.

Roxanne: Wow. Five and a half years ago. Lissa is also a former speech writer for Hillary Clinton and then took the plunge into book selling. We could probably do a whole show on second careers or third careers taking over a bookstore, but in the meantime, Lissa, welcome to Just the Right Book.

Lissa: I am so excited to be on this program with you, Roxanne. By the way, for those of you who don’t know, Roxanne is the icon. She is our mentor. We’ve learned everything we know from you so thank you for being so generous a teacher of ours.

Roxanne: Well, we all have to do it. It’s a small industry. Lissa, you are our debut person for a segment called “What’s on the Front Table and Why?” This is a show all about reading and great books and why people are reading and things going on in the industry and things going on in bookstores. One of the things that independent book stores like Politics and Prose or R.J. Julia or Books and Books or Powell’s are all about is independent judgement either because we’re bad business people or we’re fiercely independent. We don’t do that. We put books on the front table because we love them. We think our customers will love them or we think they have great jackets.

Learning about what’s on the front table at the bookstore I think is a glimpse kind of inside a bookstore about what’s exciting, what’s got a buzz about it, what’s provocative, or the right book for the time. Lissa is our guinea pig here, and we’re going to ask you, Lissa, what’s on your front table?

Lissa: No pressure whatsoever being the guinea pig of course. No, it’s a great question, and I think you summed up exactly kind of the way we come about these decisions. Sometimes it’s just what we really love. I would say right now though it’s the third thing you mentioned at least when it comes to our store. Of course, we’re in Washington so we’re kind of in the hot seat. There’s nothing happening at all in Washington right now as you know.

We feel very much that we want to reflect and respond to current events and things that people are talking about, things that are troubling people, things that people are excited about. Of course, the election has really shaken a lot of our customers quite frankly not to mention I think a lot of the country. We’ve been very, very determined to make sure that Politics and Prose and as an independent bookstore, it’s a refuge for people. A place where they know that they can learn and stay informed and have constructive discussion across the political spectrum by the way on a range of issues.

We feel a real determination to make sure that we uphold that mission and that we do that with extra energy right now in this particularly divisive and challenging moment for the country. We have devoted our front table to a display of books that we call Don’t give up. Stand up. Read up. It includes books that are really about political engagement and activism and also about trying to explain the populous anger and rage, energy, whatever you want to call it that has given rise to Donald Trump here in the United States, but also to some of the movements around the world that have elected similar sorts of people. That’s what our display on the front table is right now.

Roxanne: Give us some titles and why that one.

Lissa: Okay. I will give you one of my person favorites and it’s kind of obvious so forgive me. As you mentioned, I was a long-time speech writer for Hillary Clinton and of course was really hoping she was going to get elected. I do think that she was subjected to a lot of things, some of her own making, but not all, and certainly a double standard as a woman candidate, the first major party nominee who was a woman.

I think everybody should go off and ready We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Adichie. She’s such a fantastic writer. Anybody who’s read Americana knows that, but she really does explore here what it means here to be a woman and kind of gives a very modern definition of feminism that I think is particularly useful anyway, but particularly at this moment when a lot of people are trying to kind of grapple with whether this election was in part about sexism or how much of it was about sexism and what does it mean for women and so on and so forth. That would be one of my top picks.

Roxanne: Let me ask you one question.

Lissa: It’s a tiny little book, too. You can read it really quickly.

Roxanne: Oh, good. See that’s always good information for people to know. So here’s a question. She obviously published this book before the outcome of the election, which is interesting. Do you think what she wrote about informs how we might think about the outcome of the election?

Lissa: That’s a really good question. I think talking about feminism or writing about feminism or reading about it, I think people tend to bring their own experiences to it so it may be one of those books that just sort of evokes whatever happens to be particular to the person reading it.

Roxanne: It’s a little Rorschach-y.

Lissa: Yeah, a little bit, but by the way, also I think men should read it. She’s such a terrific writer so that would be one. Another, and again, this is a huge book now, is Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I’m sure you’ve been selling it at R.J. Julia. For those who don’t know about it, this is a quote memoir written by a guy who’s in his early 30s and he kind of makes fun of himself for writing a memoir at age 30-whatever he is.

He grew up in a very tough part of Ohio that is really could easily be in West Virginia or Kentucky, sort of a real Appalachian part of Ohio from a family that is suffering from many, many of the afflictions that are kind of at work in this election. Poverty, lack of education, drug addiction, domestic violence, you name it. He himself is a white man. He’s a Christian. He’s straight. He grew up poor.

He has a very interesting take on what it was like to grow up with this background. Miraculously, he got out and he ends up going to the Marines and then going to Ohio State and discovers that he’s actually smart and competent at school, which he hadn’t really known up until then. He ends up going to Yale Law School and marries a woman from Yale also, now lives in California in the Bay Area.

He wries a very poignant and painful book. It’s not political. It’s really sort of a cultural expose where he is yearning to understand his former world and his current world and clearly is still having trouble bridging the chasm between them. It’s a very insightful book for people who want to understand who Donald Trump was appealing to and why. Very good story telling. It’s just a very straightforward book, don’t you think?

Roxanne: Yeah, I do. You know what I always think books, fiction or nonfiction, do really effectively is they tell the story so well that you are in the shoes of the story teller. I think he did a very good job with Hillbilly Elegy where there are people in the country who might feel like there’s not a way for them to really understand that environment and that world, and yet he accomplishes that. I think it’s been the appeal of it.

Lissa: Totally agree and a book that has a sort of similar aim, but with a very different kind of context is Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild. This is a sociologist rather than a person who grew up in Appalachia writing a memoir. In this case, Hochschild spent years studying Tea Party supporters in Louisiana and really kind of allows those voices to emerge in this book. It’s a pretty powerful kind of book. It sort of gets to the same sort of thing that Hillbilly Elegy does, but from a very different perspective. Those are two phenomenal books if you’re trying to understand this really powerful cultural dynamic and political dynamic that’s at work right now in this country and not to mention beyond our country.

Roxanne: Yeah. How about one more?

Lissa: Okay. Boy, that’s going to be tough. I guess I’m going to give you The Fight to Vote by Michael Waldman. He’s the head of the Brennan Center in New York. He was actually a colleague of mine back at the White House back in the Clinton Administration. He’s terrific. He has written a book that traces the history of voting rights in this country. People are sort of bored by that and yawn. First of all, the history is fascinating and what it makes you realize is that as soon as the Voting Acts Right was passed decades ago, it was being systematically taken apart. Now we are today ironically at a point where people probably have fewer rights going to the polls than they did even 30 or 40 years ago.

Roxanne: Can you believe you’re even saying that?

Lissa: No, I can’t. That’s why I think this book is a really important book for people to read because it explains to you exactly how this has happened and the orchestration and intentionality with which it has happened and we’re in for more of this, believe me. People need to understand what it means, how it can affect the outcomes of elections, what they can do in response if they believe in a greater democracy. People kind of yawn at the subject, but he’s a great writer and it’s a really, really good and important book. I could give you about ten more that are equally good an important, but I won’t.

Roxanne: Let me ask you two other questions related to the front table because I think these are great suggestions. Now you’re in Washington so you’re in the heat of it. Do you find people want to read more about this or want to read less about this?

Lissa: You know, that is a great question and it’s funny you should ask because before we put up this display table, which we just put up literally right after the election, we had in the week or two weeks leading up to the election an anything but the election table with books about satire and Zen meditation and how to go to your yoga class. Just everything but politics, but the election. We thought that was kind of fun and probably what everybody needed at that point not ever realizing we would have to take it down the second the election happened unfortunately.

No, I think our customers have needed both. Like you said, we’re in the hot bed right now of political emotion. Our customers are very, very much wanting to learn more about some of these issues. They really want to know what they can do. I think that’s the other big piece.

Roxanne: That’s what we’re hearing. We’re hearing they still are la, la, la, la, la. I’d like to be distracted. Tell me a happy book with a happy ending. Tell me everything is going to be okay. What I call the willful blindness pool, which I’m in some days. I’m totally sympathetic.

Then I think there’s a lot of interest in sort of rediscovering the importance of our role as citizens and what makes sense for us to re-participate in the process so that we do have a voice because we’re a democracy. Part of being a democracy is the responsibility of being a citizen.

Lissa: No, absolutely, and it’s also being armed with we’re living as we now know going through the last 18 months of this campaign, we’ve kind of gone into an evidence free zone. Facts don’t seem to matter that much. People don’t even know what’s true anymore. I think bookstores with all these great books can help people kind of anchor themselves in information that is meaningful and useful especially if they want to then try to make a change. No, I agree with you. I do think we go back and forth. Some days you just can’t face it and some days you want to dive into it. It’s nice to have a range to choose from, which is exactly why we’re there for our communities.

Roxanne: Our last question, actually is a two-part question, Lissa. One puts you on the spot. Don’t even answer it. One is what you’re reading now and the other question would be any inkling of what you think is going to be the hot book for the holiday season?

Lissa: Oh boy. That is a tough question, isn’t it?

Roxanne: We’re trying to figure that out still.

Lissa: Yeah. Okay, first of all, what am I just reading? I just finished Swing Time by Zadie Smith, which I really liked a lot.

Roxanne: Great.

Lissa: By the way, I wish Donald Trump would read it. Actually I just wish he would read, but if he were going to read, this would be a good book for him to read if he really wants to understand the contemporary world. She’s just such a great writer. I love her anyway, and I love that book.

So what is going to be big? You know that is such a good question, Roxanne. Wow. I do think Swing Time will be pretty big.

Roxanne: So Lissa, I would say I’m going to give you an A plus as our debut “What’s on the Front Table?” person not merely because we’re good friends or I love your bookstore.

Lissa: I think that has a lot to do with it, but thank you. I appreciate it, but it’s so fun, and I think it’s great that you’re doing this. Nobody better in the entire business to be doing this so thank you so much for having me.

Roxanne: Well you’re sweet. We’re going to have you back on, Lissa. Thank you so much.

Lissa: Anytime, Roxanne. Have fun. Take care.

Roxanne: For a complete list of all the books we talked about today including what’s on the Politics and Prose table and Luvvie Ajayi’s I’m Judging You, just head to bookpodcast.com. Make sure to subscribe to Just the Right Book podcast on iTunes, and while you’re there, please rate and review us. We would love your feedback.

Just the Right Book is produced by Collisions, a division of CRN International. Original music was created by Mark Berman and many thanks to our producer, Christina Torres, and our sound engineer, Pat Keogh.

Thank you all for listening!

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