The Reading Women Podcast is one of my favorite literary podcasts. They’ve interviewed so many female authors, including Min Jin Lee, Lucy Tan, and Crystal Hana Kim. These two ladies are constantly working hard to get more people into reading women i.e. books by women.
Even if you’re not crazy about podcasts, you should try theirs and check out their website too. In this interview, we talk about their favorite authors to read, the subjective nature of a good book, and why reading is ESSENTIAL.
*All photos by Kimberly Murray.
What are you currently reading? Do you usually read more than one book at a time?
Kendra (K) – I’m currently reading Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman, which was shortlisted for Australia’s Stella Prize this year! I like to have one book going in each format: ebook, audiobook, and print.
Autumn (A) – I’m currently reading And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell. I was going to only read 50 pages last night and, the next thing I knew, I had read 114 pages! It’s that much of a page-turner.
Have you always been a reader? What is the first book you remember ever reading? What drew you into reading/why do you read?
K – I haven’t always been a reader, but I have always been an audiobook listener. Since I was a kid, I’ve had chronic daily headaches and migraines, which makes reading print difficult. But my mom always had an audiobook for me to play in my tape deck (going waaaaaaay back here). Listening to audiobooks made me a reader, whether I or not I use my eyes to read or my ears to listen.
[bctt tweet=”I have always been an audiobook listener. Since I was a kid, I’ve had chronic daily headaches and migraines, which makes reading print difficult. But my mom always had an audiobook for me to play in my tape deck.” username=””]
A – Yes, the first book I remember reading was Under the Apple Tree by Odille Ousley. I was around six. From there, I read everything I could get my hands on until I landed on the Nancy Drew Series. We lived out in the country when I was a kid and reading opened up whole new worlds to me that I eagerly wanted to explore.
What is your philosophy on reading? (for example, some people have to finish every book they start)
K – I’m a mood reader, to a fault. If I’m not in a mood for a book, I won’t like it. To combat this eccentricity, I give myself some wiggle room to ensure I meet deadlines. And though I love literary fiction, I need a balanced diet of different kinds of genres, ranging from nonfiction academic texts to sci-fi to poetry. I like a little bit of everything.
[bctt tweet=”I’m a mood reader, to a fault. If I’m not in a mood for a book, I won’t like it. – @kdwinchester” username=””]
A – I used to be staunchly in the “read every book you start” camp, but recently I’ve been allowing myself to quit books if I am just not meshing with them. Part of that is I realize that I might just not be in the mood for that book at that time and that’s okay. Other than that, I just think people should read. It’s so, so, so important. Even if you only read one fiction and one nonfiction book per year, it will make you a better human.
How often do you read? And how do you fit it into your day?
K – Everywhere and anywhere. I used to walk across my college campus, reading the whole way. I’ve read in closets, toy boxes, and back stairways. Even now, I always have a print book with me. Given the choice, I like to read on my back porch or stretched out on the couch. One cannot overemphasize the importance of comfort when settling in for a long read.
A – Basically what Kendra said. I read anywhere—doctor’s offices, auto-shop lobbies, airplanes, birthday parties, coffee shops. If I have a book with me and nothing I’m required to do, then I will try to read. I prefer to read on my couch so my cats can curl up with me.
What makes a good book, in your opinion?
K – What a question! Personally, I think it depends on what kind of book it is and what it’s trying to achieve. Is it the next great American novel, or is it an escapist fairy tale that gives me a break from everyday life? Of course, there are fundamental principles that all books should include—storytelling, plot, prose, etc.—but I don’t think there’s a set-in-stone group of exact criteria for any given book. Different books achieve different things. That’s one thing I love about literature.
[bctt tweet=”There are fundamental principles that all books should include—storytelling, plot, prose, etc.—but I don’t think there’s a set-in-stone group of exact criteria for any given book. Different books achieve different things.” username=””]
A – Oh man, I’m finding this is so subjective. Now that I’ve read so much, I am starting to see that I prefer certain themes/styles in books. Generally, I like books that tap into universal experiences, regardless of the setting/protagonist. But I have recommended some of my favorite books to friends and they have hated those books, so I really think the reader determines what makes a good book.
Who are your favorite authors to read?
K – Virginia Woolf, Jesmyn Ward, Diana Wynne Jones, and Min Jin Lee. I could give you more, but I suspect I’m already over my word count. 😉
A – Flannery O’Connor, Jesmyn Ward, N.K. Jemisin, Carmen Maria Machado, Emily St. John Mandel … and many, many more.
What is a book or who is an author you wish more people knew about/read?
K – Here in the U.S. not many readers have heard of Diana Wynne Jones. And if they have, they’ve read only Howl’s Moving Castle, her most famous novel. Personally, I love her Chrestomanci series. Her writing makes it all look so easy. Only after you turn the last page and close the cover does it hit you; she’s a master storyteller.
A – The book I’ve been recommending more is A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin. She wrote in the 1960s in the U.S., but never became very popular. I was blown away by how insightful her stories were. Definitely a short story collection I think more people should read.
[bctt tweet=”The book I’ve been recommending more is A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin. – @autumnprivett” username=””]
E-book, audiobook or paper? How do you feel about making notes/highlighting books?
K – Each medium gives me a different experience. If I want to annotate, I choose print. With ebooks, I can take an entire library with me on my travels. Since I still have migraines, audiobooks continue to give me opportunities to read when I wouldn’t able to otherwise. Sometimes I read all three formats in a single day! Each one has so much to offer.
A – I tend to read mostly paper books and audiobooks, but I think that’s probably just because it’s what I’m used to. Only recently have I started to write in my books, after years of being against it. Graduate school broke me of that no-marking opinion.
Where do you like to read? Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever read a book?
K – I work freelance, which gives me the freedom to always have something playing in the background. When I’m not too distracted, I listen to audiobooks. Reading print usually happens on weekends or as a binge read that keeps me up until 3am. Perhaps not the best life choice, but so worth it.
A – I try to read a few pages every day. I do work a full-time job, so that does make it hard to fit large chunks of reading time in. Audiobooks are life savers for me because I can listen while I run errands.
Fiction vs Nonfiction?
K – I choose both! Both are too important to be able to choose one of the other.
A – Personally? I don’t have a preference. But I do try to read a healthy mix of both.
What happens to you when you read a good book? (at the beginning, during and after the experience?)
K – I usually give my brain time to settle into the story, who the characters are, the setting, etc. If the author hasn’t kept my attention, or if I find myself making excuses not to pick the book back up, I don’t finish the book. Otherwise, I keep reading, make notes, and, if the book is really good, outline the whole book. After I’m finished reading, I gather my thoughts and write a summary paragraph. From there, I write my review or prepare to talk about it later with Autumn on the podcast.
A – Let’s start at the end. After, I usually blubber for a few hours about how wonderful it was. During, I often take photos of my favorite quotes, and I very often text Kendra saying, “YOU NEED TO READ THIS NOW.”
Do you reread books? Why?
K – Yes! But the book must have the depth to withstand multiple readings. Not every book has to, but I think the books that stand the test of time and the scrutiny of intense study have something special. Usually, when I read a book for a second time, I’m annotating a book I really enjoyed because I was reading it too fast the first time to write anything down! I’m currently rereading and annotating Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet.
A – Not really. I didn’t read very widely when I was younger, so I feel like I have a lot of lost reading time to make up for. But there are some books I’m planning to re-read at some point.
What book do you wish you could experience again for the first time?
K – Any of Donna Tartt’s books. There’s no way I will ever have the same experience with her writing ever again.
What was the last great book you read?
K – I’m not sure about “last” but Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am comes to mind. I loved her different take on the memoir as a form. When I finished it, I felt numb and a few days later I burst into tears just thinking about it. O’Farrell knows how to write such powerful stories.
A – Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin. I am a mystery junkie and Alice did an incredible reading of what this obsession with murdering young, pretty girls says about American culture.
If you had to choose three books that everyone should read, what would they be?
K – Tough call! I have to assume I am not the only one giving the entire world a reading list. Talk about pressure! This answer will probably change tomorrow, but at this very moment, I’d say A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (naturally), Human Acts by Han Kang, and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.
A – Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is the only one that comes to mind. It floored me. She’s such an important writer and she’s writing about people and places that have been overlooked for far too long.
What book(s) are you embarrassed to have read? What books are you embarrassed to still not have read?
K – While I don’t really get embarrassed about my reading life, I’ve been saying for three years that I was going to read Middlemarch by George Elliot. I really need to just make that happen. Maybe this’ll be the year!
A – I don’t really have books like that. The traditional “literary canon” has controlled what people have felt like they should and should not read for so long. I think it’s time that goes away and for people to feel that they have the freedom to forgive themselves for not reading everything they “should read.”
How do you feel about ‘classic’ literature?
K – It’s a thing, but we shouldn’t get our panties in a bunch about it. Great writing happens in all genres. For me, reading a balance of different types of books is key.
A – It’s important in the sense that it helps you understand how the novel came to be what it is today. Context is so important. I recently read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It was not the greatest book I’ve ever read, but it helped me understand where the science fiction genre came from. I feel like my eyes have been opened and I see Frankenstein influence everywhere!
How do you feel about book clubs?
K – The strength of the book club depends on the strength and dedication of its members. If people aren’t willing to participate, it won’t work. Choose your book club members wisely!
[bctt tweet=”The strength of the book club depends on the strength and dedication of its members. If people aren’t willing to participate, it won’t work. Choose your book club members wisely!” username=””]
A – I only recently re-joined a book club and I’ve loved getting to hear perspectives that are not like my own. As Kendra said, book clubs work best when you have people who want to participate.
What book(s) have remarkably changed your perspective on a given subject or life in general and how?
K – A Room of One’s Own changed the way I viewed the world, voicing feelings I hadn’t known how to express.
A – I don’t think I can narrow it down to one book. In the last year, reading more books by women and particularly women of color has radically changed how I view the world.
How do you choose books to read?
K – I make a master spreadsheet of new book releases for Autumn and me to reference. From there, I check out reviews from mainstream publications and individual bloggers and Booktubers. Then I write out a shortlist and work from there. Backlist titles I have been meaning to get around to also go on the shortlist, which I call my “immediate TBR.”
A – Yes, Kendra tells me what to read. JK. I mostly read based on what I need to read for the podcast and what I feel like reading.
What books are currently on your to-be-read list?
K – Right now, Goodreads tells me I have over 1,500 books on my TBR. Ha! But I’m especially looking forward to getting to The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, The White Book by Han Kang, and Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller.
A – According to Goodreads, I have 230 on my to-read list. I know for a fact, however, that does not include all of the 50+ books I currently have in my book cart. I do really want to get to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee this year.
Kendra is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in nonfiction, and holds an M.A. in English literature. Growing up in Southern Ohio gave her a love of rural stories and a desire to see more representation of Appalachia in contemporary literature. When she’s not spending time in the publishing world, she’s taking her corgi, Dylan, to the dog park or indulging in her cooking obsession. She currently reads and writes from coffee shops in South Carolina.
Autumn is a senior writer/strategist at a consulting firm and has an M.A. in English literature. Growing up in East Tennessee guaranteed that a love for stories and storytelling would be part of her DNA. When she’s not writing or strategizing, she’s snuggling with her cats, Agnes and Margot, or starting yet another craft project. She currently lives in Atlanta and spends her paycheck at nearby restaurants.
If you enjoyed this, you’ll love Crystal Hana Kim’s BOOK’D interview.